Surging White Sox to test Pirates’ improved bullpen

Sports

The Chicago White Sox, who open a two-game series Tuesday against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, are in a groove.

The White Sox (26-15) have won four straight games, 16 of their past 20, and are 5-2 on a nine-game, 10-day road trip.

“It’s been a long road up to this point, but we set up in spring training with a lot of confidence knowing what our team’s capable of, and now we’re going out and showing it on a nightly basis,” Chicago starter Lucas Giolito said.

And, as with many strong teams, the status quo isn’t enough.

“Even though we are playing good right now, I think we can do more and be even better,” reliever Alex Colome said through an interpreter. “We are working hard to improve and get better every day. We haven’t reached our top potential yet. That’s something we are working on, to finish the season as strong as possible.”

For the Pirates, given their record (13-26), accomplishments are measured in a more modest way. Still, they see some encouraging signs.

They are coming off a four-game series split against Cincinnati and are 9-9 since Aug. 21.

One recent strength is a bullpen that had to be cobbled together because of injuries. The backbones now are Geoff Hartlieb, Sam Howard, Chris Stratton, Nik Turley and Richard Rodriguez. The injured include Keone Kela, Nick Burdi, Michael Feliz and Clay Holmes.

“I feel like the bullpen’s been pretty strong so far. I feel like we’re pretty good at keeping it loose down there,” Howard said. “Everyone’s good at their own routine and know what they need to do to get ready. What we have working down there is pretty good, and hopefully it keeps going in the right direction.”

Over the first 20 games, the Pittsburgh bullpen had a combined 5.96 ERA. Over the subsequent 19 games, it has been 2.74.

“When you have a couple guys from last year (who were) maybe on some other teams that weren’t in leverage situations, maybe were in mop-up situations, and now this year they get the opportunity to get in those leverage situations — winning tight ballgames, within one run — the teaching points do come,” Pittsburgh pitching coach Oscar Marin said. “I think, because of those teaching points, these guys are getting better each time out.”

It would seem the Pirates will need not just the bullpen but everything working well against the White Sox, based on an earlier series. The Pirates played two in Chicago on Aug. 25-26. The White Sox swept that short series by a combined score of 14-3. That included Giolito’s no-hitter.

On Tuesday, Chicago right-hander Dylan Cease (5-2, 3.29 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Joe Musgrove (0-4, 6.62 ERA).

Cease will be making his ninth start, sixth on the road. He is coming off a win Thursday at Kansas City when he gave up three runs and four hits in five innings.

He has never faced the Pirates.

Musgrove, Pittsburgh’s opening day starter, will be making his second start since coming off the IL. In his return, he gave up two runs and three hits in three-plus innings, with four strikeouts and no walks in a loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. He is expected to be given a longer leash Tuesday.

He has a 0.00 ERA and one save in two career relief appearances against the White Sox, both while he was with Houston in 2017.

–Field Level Media

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