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White Sox Thu May 09 2013

Trio of Lesser Known Sox Pitchers Proving Reliable

Sox_200.pngIt's been an odd White Sox season so far. It's still early May, only 19 percent of the season is in the books, and the much-discussed Red Line construction project hasn't even kicked in yet. The Sox are 14-18, and as much as they should be counted out because of their dreadful offense and embarrassingly sloppy fielding, the starting pitching has been remarkably good.

It has really carried the team so far. Out of the team's 32 games, the rotation has accumulated 20 quality starts, and starters have the ninth-best ERA (3.58) and the 10th-best WHIP (1.20). Even more amazing, this isn't the 1971 Orioles. The Sox have Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, who have been awesome as always, and three young, back-of-the-rotation pitchers.

The Sox are being held together by Jose Quintana, Dylan Axelrod and Hector Santiago. With Gavin Floyd done for the season and John Danks still slowly getting back into pitching shape, the Sox are down to their last options. Going back to last year, Quintana was good for most of the season before fading hard late; Axelrod got a spot-start once in a blue moon but spent most of the season in Triple-A; and Santiago started the year as closer, and got irregular bullpen work and long relief appearances.

Instead of turning the Sox into the Astros for three-fifths of their games, the trio has pitched very well this year. Axelrod and Quintana have ERAs in the threes and WHIPs in the 1.2 range. Axelrod won't overpower anyone, but he's been keeping fly balls in the ball park (.59 ground ball to fly ball ratio, but only four homers allowed) with five pitches and he hasn't had a bad outing in a month. Quintana can be a little shakier, but when he's on, he can throw six or seven shutout innings and get seven strikeouts with his low-90s fastball.

Santiago has been the biggest surprise, but then again, he's always had good stuff - a low-90s fastball, changeup and screwball. He just never found a role within the pitching staff, bouncing around until finally getting a chance to start regularly after Floyd got hurt. You never want to get too excited after just two starts, but Santiago had a gem of a start last October in Cleveland: 10 strikeouts, one hit, one walk and no runs in seven innings. He has potential. He just missed making the rotation at the beginning of the year because the Sox undoubtedly wanted to keep the lefty in the bullpen for flexibility. Instead, he's in the rotation now, and he's foiling perfect game attempts (even if he's forgetting to bat).

The question is, can they keep it up? None of the back-end starters have thrown more than 136 innings in a major league season (only Quintana broke 70 IP), and it looks pretty clear that the Sox will have to ride them, or at least two of them if Danks returns, for as far as they can go. If they ease up a little, then the Sox should be fine if their offense comes around (Dunn can't hit .145 for the season, right?). If the hitting stays putrid, and Quintana, Axelrod and Santiago completely sputter? It could get really ugly on the South Side.

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