Nineteen games to go.
That’s what stands between the White Sox (26-15) and their first postseason appearance since 2008. With the third-best record in baseball through Sunday, and after a four-game sweep of the Royals and 16 wins in their last 20 games, they go roaring into the home stretch. The Sox are tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the last three weeks.
Even so, the Indians and Twins are right on the Sox’ tail in the race for first place in the American League Central, and they will have to hold them off with a starting rotation that has endured nonstop casualties and a bullpen trying to hold its own without left-hander Aaron Bummer.
Maybe the Sox, who lead the AL in home runs, slugging and OPS, will simply mash their way to the postseason and render their pitching challenges obsolete.
Here are four questions facing the Sox as they rested on Labor Day:
Will Dallas Keuchel and the starting rotation hold it together?
General manager Rick Hahn declined to add pitching at the deadline, and now depth poses a big problem. Keuchel, the No. 2 starter behind Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito but their best and most consistent overall, is the latest concern after leaving Sunday’s game following five innings.
Hahn noted a return from the injured list for Carlos Rodon (shoulder) as an impending reinforcement, but Rodon is out at Schaumburg with a sore back. Reynaldo Lopez (8.38 ERA) was sent back to Schaumburg after being ineffective. Dylan Cease’s 5-2 record and 3.29 ERA look better than his fielding independent pitching ERA (6.32), and his strikeout numbers (6.1 per 9.0 innings) are down significantly from his rookie season. Perhaps Gio Gonzalez (5.11 ERA) will come off the IL and lend a hand.
Two of rookie Dane Dunning’s three starts have been good, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and his workload and stamina warrant close monitoring. Keuchel (2.19 ERA) tried easing concerns, expressing optimism about making his next start Saturday. Stay tuned.
Will Aaron Bummer return to boost a heavily worked bullpen?
The Sox have had one start in their last nine go longer than five innings, which is asking a lot of a bullpen missing Bummer (left biceps nerve), their top lefty and arguably best reliever overall. The Sox say he might be back. It’s a big if, and if he is, it will be a huge plus especially against tough lineups and in the postseason.
Steve Cishek (5.87) and Jimmy Cordero (6.23) have struggled and Jace Fry is the latest to go on the IL, but Matt Foster (1.53), Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer (2.45), Ross Detwiler (1.59) and closer Alex Colome (1.15) have done the heavy lifting.
Will the Sox sustain this entertaining, power-packed offense?
During their 16-4 stretch, they averaged 6.5 runs a game. Is that sustainable?
Perhaps not, but having so many threats — Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Rookie of the Year candidate Luis Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and even a less than 100 percent Yoan Moncada in the first six or seven spots in the order makes the Sox as close to slump proof as can be.
What does the schedule look like?
After playing the Pirates on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Sox enjoy their last off day Thursday to gear up to play 17 games in 17 days. In order: Pirates 2, Tigers 3, Twins 4, Reds 3, Indians 4, Cubs 3. The Sox are 19-4 against teams with losing records and 7-11 against teams with winning records.
If the season were over Sunday, here’s how the first round (best of three) of the AL playoffs would look like: (1) Rays vs. (8) Yankees; (2) Sox vs. (7) Twins; (3) Athletics vs. (6) Astros; (4) Indians vs. (5) Blue Jays. The Sox are 2-4 against the Twins.
The Sox have already packed a year’s worth of highlights in two-thirds of an abbreviated, yet challenging 60-game season.
Fasten your seatbelt, and enjoy the finish to the best amusement ride in town.