While Sunday night’s White Sox win over the Cubs at Wrigley won’t officially count in the standings, it was an excellent way to mark baseball’s return to Chicago after the four month sports layoff. Well, on the South Side that statement is true, at least.
After a slow start against the Cubs’ Opening Day starter Kyle Hendricks, the White Sox found themselves trailing 2-0 through too. However, a few innings later the lineup woke up and got their scoring started in perhaps the most unlikely of places, with Adam Engel parking a ball onto Waveland in the 5th.
— Sports ON Tap Chicago (@SONTChicago) July 20, 2020
The Sox kept the scoring going, hanging a 6 spot in the inning when it was all said and done to take a commanding 6-2 lead. The lead then got all the way out to 7-2 after a wild pitch in the 7th brought Zack Collins in to score.
The Cubs made it at least interesting, bringing the tying run to the plate in the 8th and exploiting Carson Fulmer’s struggles as the game went to 7-3. Luckily for the Sox, Codi Heuer came on in relief and slammed the door, giving the White Sox ultimate bragging rights for the evening. Ballgame over.
While there is plenty to talk about, from the offensive explosion to the sneaky good pitching performance from a White Sox team that featured Drew Anderson and Ross Detwiler heavily, I’m going to focus on a few main things that I took out of this exhibition Opener.
Luis Robert Impressed with His Approach
After spending time yesterday morning putting together my thoughts on what Luis Robert’s 2020 season would look like, I was looking to see how his approach would be in his first game against another team in Chicago. Facing Kyle Hendricks would be a test for him, and after his first at bat I was certainly worried. A complete overreaction yes, but he looked overmatched striking out on 3 pitches.
Deuce(s). ?? pic.twitter.com/FG1FnJL5AM
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 20, 2020
Going down without much of a fight on three pitches was not the most graceful way for Pantera’s career here to start. However, his next at bat was a much better sign of things to come, as he battled back from a 1-2 count to force a 5 pitch at bat that resulted in a single.
Of course, he topped that off with a ground rule double into the ivy that he ripped off Jharel Cotton in the 5th to push the White Sox out to a 5-2 lead.
— Sports ON Tap Chicago (@SONTChicago) July 20, 2020
While seemingly every Sox player was knocking the cover off the ball against Cotton (more on that later), this double coming in an 0-2 count is certainly a good sign that Robert was able to take advantage of an inferior pitcher, and still look for contact in an 0-2 count. While a home run would’ve been great to see, I’ll take Robert’s first game as a sign that his ability to adjust mid-game may be more advanced than my worst fears had anticipated.
The 5th Inning Explosion was An Absolute Thing of Beauty
I know, I know, it’s one inning of one exhibition game, but I cannot overstate how that 5th inning felt as I watched it unfold in real time. For years, I’ve been used to seeing the White Sox slowly give up games, unable to get out of holes they dug themselves. A 2-0 deficit against Kyle Hendricks seemed like it was becoming one of those times.
However, then seemingly out of nowhere, a switch flipped and the revamped White Sox offense took charge. Adam Engel hit the aforementioned tape measure blast, which was then followed by Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu singles. Just like that, Kyle Hendricks was out of the game, with 83 pitches thrown in 4.2 innings.
Jharel Cotton came on in relief, and the game just turned into batting practice for the White Sox.
It was a bit of a sequence there pic.twitter.com/GU9T9L3vDK
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) July 20, 2020
The new guys are fitting in just fine. pic.twitter.com/b8UpMN2DiR
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 20, 2020
Four blasts of 100+ mph exit velocity that resulted in extra bases later, the game was out of hand. Sure, Cotton isn’t a Cy Young caliber guy, but that’s besides the point. Just look what they did to Hendricks – the White Sox offense pestered him to the point where he was pulled early, and then teed off against a bullpen arm they could crush.
Featuring a lineup without any massive holes in the heart, if the White Sox can work counts against starters they will be able to put themselves in position to feast on relief pitching. This is going to be absolutely key in a shortened season, so seeing the White Sox offense string together a big inning that so often has done the White Sox in on the flip side was a welcome sight to baseball’s return.
I don’t want to overreact to one game, but this was beautiful.
The way this lineup can just flip a switch from 0-2 to 6-2 in a heartbeat is something we haven’t seen in a decade plus. Yes it’s one exhibition game but this is absolutely beautiful
— mayor of section 509 (@BovHahn) July 20, 2020
Carson Fulmer Needs to Have a Change of Scenery
Look, if I’m not going to overreact to the positive aspects of the game, I need to balance out the negatives too. On paper, Carson Fulmer’s night wasn’t all terrible, as there were some things to like. He struck out both outs he got, only gave up one hit and one run, and for all the griping on Twitter he kept the lead intact.
Of course, there were plenty of things not to like. Those would be the 3 walks and the 47% of his 32 pitches that were thrown for balls.
The rust argument is tough here too, since every other White Sox pitcher fared pretty well, with Drew Anderson reining things in after a rocky start. Ross Detwiler, Jimmy Lambert, and Codi Heuer all looked incredible in their first action against a live opponent.
Even more frustrating is the fact that he was getting ahead of the count against several batters, only to dance around later in the count and walk them. While every other pitcher was able to throw strikes consistently, with the exception of Anderson early on, Fulmer just couldn’t hit the zone.
All of which makes Fulmer’s struggle stand out so much more. I’ve really wanted Fulmer to succeed here, and I do still feel some of the blame lies on the organization for not developing him properly. He wasn’t given a clear role, and the constant shuffling between roles and Chicago and Charlotte are an easy thing to attribute struggles to.
The stuff is clearly still there, but he just can’t put it together here. While I really hope the best for Carson Fulmer, it’s just incredibly clear if he ever does put it together it will not be in Chicago. I don’t want to call for jobs after one exhibition game, but a change of scenery is the best way forward for all parties. As last night showed, there are plenty of other options for the White Sox to turn to out of the bullpen in 2020, and Fulmer’s lack of options shouldn’t be the only reason he is sticking on a 30 man roster.