Astros 6, White Sox 1: No cracking Lance McCullers Jr.

In the White Sox’s first game of last year’s postseason, they benefited from a favorable pitching matchup on paper that materialized in practice. They had Lucas Giolito against a lefty in Jesus Luzardo, and everything went according to plan in a 4-1 victory.

This year, the script was stacked against the White Sox. Lance McCullers Jr. is lab-designed to destroy the White Sox as a righty who only has to use his fastball when he wants to and gets both strikeouts and ground balls, while Lance Lynn’s array of fastballs has never impressed the Astros.

Those two things played out accordingly. McCullers got more soft contact than strikeouts, but dominated just the same over 6⅔ innings. Lynn’s location wasn’t on, and things like leadoff walks and ill-timed wild pitches added more stress than he could absorb. The White Sox fell behind 5-0 on Lynn’s watch, and eventually 6-0 before the offense could find its good swings, mostly against pitchers who weren’t McCullers.

If the game had inflection points, they weren’t likely to change the outcome much. For instance, Yoán Moncada probably should’ve thrown to first to retire Alex Bregman, rather than make a low-probability throw home to nab José Altuve on a contact play in the third inning. Altuve had reached on a leadoff walk, took second on a Michael Brantley sac bunt (unsuccessful attempt to single against the shift, foiled by Moncada), then took third on a wild pitch. Moncada made a nice sliding pick, but he hesitated the slightest amount with his throw home, as if his body was telling him “take the out.” Moncada instead chose an attempt to keep it a 1-0 game, but it didn’t work, and Bregman ended up coming around to score on a Yordan Alvarez double to make it a 3-0 game.

The other involved pitching to Brantley an inning later, after Altuve doubled Kyle Tucker to third with two outs. Brantley came to the plate with a base open, and Lynn could have walked him to bring Alex Bregman to the plate instead. Brantley, who had two unimpressive at-bats to start the game, came through on his third with a single through the right side to put the game in low-leverage territory.

Reynaldo López, Garrett Crochet and José Ruiz took it from there, with López allowing the only other run on an Alvarez solo shot. Maybe if La Russa goes to the bullpen earlier, the Sox are able to keep the Astros below five runs.

But then there’s still the matter of figuring out McCullers, which the White Sox could not do until the very end. Through the first six innings, he limited the Sox to a Luis Robert HBP, a Yoán Moncada single and Robert reaching on an error that probably should’ve been called a single. The Sox only hit three balls harder than 90 mph during that time, and Moncada’s single was the only one that got off the ground.

They started hitting McCullers harder as he approached the 100-pitch mark, although three singles in the seventh inning failed to generate a run because of a Yasmani Grandal double play in the middle of it. They finally broke through in the eighth with a two-out rally off Kendall Graveman, which Tim Anderson started with a single. Yoán Moncada drew a walk, and José Abreu did his RBi thing with a single to right to score Anderson to spoil the shutout. Up came Grandal, who worked a deep count before lining out to deep center at 104 mph.

They also faced closer Ryan Pressly in the final inning, including a Robert single for what should’ve been his third hit of the game. The Sox can build off this, at least provided that Giolito offers more than Lynn at the front of Game 2, and provided that some of their hits are more than singles.

Bullet points:

*Lynn threw fastballs on 74 of 76 pitches, which made a sort of history.

*The Astros only fared slightly better than the Sox with runners in scoring position (2-for-8 vs. 1-for-8), but getting runners to third increases the ways to get a guy home.

*Robert was thrown out trying to steal second on Martin Maldonado after his second-inning HBP. The Astros had a guy in motion a few times, but the running game didn’t factor into this one.

Houston leads 1-0 | Box score | Statcast

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Shingos Cheeseburgers

Sure, the White Sox ran into a decidedly unfavorable matchup in game one of a five game series but it seems kinda important if the goal is to have an extended run of postseason success to construct a roster where you avoid that exact scenario.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

Add a really good lefty hitter and they’re still not going to score 5+ runs against McCullers. Good pitchers shut down good offenses. Today it was as much about a very mediocre Lynn as anything.

Last edited 10 months ago by LamarHoyt_oncrack
shaggy65

For what it’s worth, this felt like a typical White Sox loss. Even if we struggle against the odd starter we always have plenty of traffic on the bases against bullpens–even good ones. We’ve had a good record of carrying positive momentum into the next day and bouncing back after a game like this.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

I know this was the same poor offense we saw a lot in the 2nd half, but McCullers would shut down a lot of teams, to be fair. That dude is good. I’m not sure the Sox are going to be able to solve him in a game 5 in Houston anyway, but they had better bring their A game tomorrow to have any chance of that.

Marty34

Disappointing that we started Garcia, Engel, and Sheets.

shaggy65

Disagree. I think this was the best lineup the Sox could field against McCullers. Garcia has been clearly better than the Sox’ version of Hernandez, Sheets had a good September and is on the team specifically to face tough righties. Engel has proven to be deserving of a starter’s role when healthy. And Vaughn has looked lost for awhile now. I think a case could be made for rostering and starting Goodwin, but he’s had a lousy 2nd half, an injured back, and I doubt he would have been the answer against McCullers either.

Marty34

I was thinking more big picture. Second year in playoffs during this window and there are no better options for a large market team that banked tens of millions during a brutal rebuild. Unfortunately holding the line on player salaries is just as important to Reinsdorf as winning is.

gibby32

Boring. I am bored with this theme in February, but in October, it just seems like a silly preoccupation.

vanillablue

Very dispiriting way to start things off. Astros just looked like the better team all around. Hopefully Giolito can shut them down tomorrow.

soxexile

I can’t begin to understand why TLR started Lynn rather than Giolito. Has anyone seen an explanation for that?

Right Size Wrong Shape

You really want to win one of the first two games, and Giolito vs. Valdez gives you your best shot.

Infield Grass

This to me is the logic and the best win probability play. Starting Gio in this game 1 would have been a waste given the pitcher the Sox were facing.

peanutsNcrackerjack

I’ve been defending TLR all year, and I still think he’s the right fit for this version of the White Sox, but couldn’t agree more that starting a guy who throughs 90+% fastballs and has a history of being lit up by the Astros doesn’t make sense. Lynn should be sat down and hope he gets to pitch in the next round, but not against the Astros. Cease and Rodon have the kind of stuff that can get fastball hitters chasing. I’m even a little worried about Kopech and Hendricks against this team.

metasox

Who would get a start in place of Lynn? Assuming Giolio gets 2, Cease and Rodon both 1, someone needs to cover an additional game

peanutsNcrackerjack

That’s five. Lynn already pitched #1. If you are asking if we had a do-over, then a bull pen day that includes Keuchel who is playoff tested.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

It’s a failure in scouting/game calling. You can just not start Lynn so at the very least you have to mix it up against a team that preys on his basic profile. Instead the Sox leaned into their own weakness and now have to win three of four against a superior team.

ImmortalTimeTravelMan

The White Sox were never going to hold one of the best offenses in baseball to nothing regardless if they had started Lynn or not (starting him was still a bad idea). They’re only chance was some of their offensive stars showing up to out slug Houston. I’m not convinced Gio is going to hold the Astros back either. It remains to be seen if the White Sox can produce consistent offense against a team that isn’t in a rebuild.

As Cirensica

They can’t hold one of the best offenses in baseball? Lopez, Crochett and Ruiz only allowed 1 run in 4.1 innings. And that’s the weakest pitchers of our bullpen. They can be held.

Alfornia Jones

You can’t beat pitchers like these without working counts. If McCullers isn’t at 100 pitches by the 5th, hard to win. Needs to be a concerted effort by the whole lineup to milk the starter, but they don’t do it in the regular season either. It’s going 5 so they’ll need to play AL East style next time.

calcetinesblancos

It would be nice for a few of our guys to alter their approach now that the playoffs are here.

LuBob DuRob

Re: Lynn getting game 1 call.

IMO, It was only the wrong move if Gio gets hammered on short rest in G5. It would feel a lot worse if Gio just pitched 8 innings of 2 run ball.

soxygen

It looks like Giolito could start game two and have four days rest for game 5. Two off days.

LuBob DuRob

Yep, my bad, so it’s all good.

Unless we’re suggesting Lynn shouldn’t get a start…

metasox

With a healthy Rodon, I could maybe see making more of an effort to avoid Lynn.

LuBob DuRob

That would’ve definitely changed the equation

Right Size Wrong Shape

A healthy Rodon starts Game 1 or 2. But that’s not the world we live in. The Sox staff is good, but not so good that you can just not pitch one of your best pitchers in Lynn.

As Cirensica

With a healthy Rodon, and an effective Cease, and Gio, we might even skip game 5, and McCullers.

soxygen

In regards to the significance of who started game 1 and whether that was the right thought process, here is my analysis:

It makes sense if he was thinking was that Giolito will go in games 2 and 5, and that no matter what happened early in Game 1 he was going to lean on Lynn and Lopez to absorb as much of the game as possible.

Tony was able to lean on Lynn & Lopez for 5 2/3 and get another 1 1/3 from Ruiz, so that part worked out – our best relievers aren’t spent. (I was worried when Lopez gave up that blast right away, though).

Now the question is whether Tony will actually start Giolito over Lynn in game 5 if we get there. On that count we’ll have to wait and see.

roke1960

Well, if it gets to game 5, it has to be a no-brainer that Giolito gets the start on regular rest. The only way Lynn should pitch again in this series is if Rodon has a very short start in game 4, and Lynn picks up an inning or 2. A guy who throws mostly fastballs is not a good guy to throw against Houston.

Root Cause

We need to plan a lineup to win 3 in a row and that is doable. I don’t want to see game 5 that is a sequel to game 1.

xubrent

Agreed. Game 5 means we have to face McCullers in Houston again. I would rather make Astros throw him out there to avoid elimination in Game 4 in Chicago. Of course that’s a funny wish to make considering where we currently stand.

billm2214

Sox looked like they didn’t belong. They looked nervous and over-matched in all phases Hopefully they get some fire in their belly fast! Better to go out fighting than sleeping.

GrinnellSteve

Right after the All-Star break the Sox lost their 5th straight to Houston. Cease pitched well but gave up 3 runs. Bummer imploded. Sox lost 7-1 to McCullers. Over 5 games the Sox had proven they didn’t belong on the same field as the Astros.

But the next day Giolito pitched a complete game against them. The day after Rodon, Kopech, and Hendriks allowed one Houston baserunner. In 2 days the Sox outscored them 14-1. Houston had FOUR baserunners in the two games. The Sox hit 7 homers.

I’d rather have won and looked good doing it, but today’s performance has no bearing on tomorrow’s game.

Not picking on you, Bill. Just putting this out there for people to think about. Of course 2 more stinkers and the season is over, but it can all turn on a dime.

billm2214

I hope you’re right, Steve. I was at the Giolito complete game at Sox park in July. A blowout and a lot of fun. No doubt the Sox have talent but I still haven’t seen the competitive mentally-tough approach required of winning teams in the playoffs. Maybe getting their butts kicked is the wakeup they need.

Joliet Orange Sox

I think this discussion of not having “fire in the belly” or a “competitive mentally tough approach” is in the same ball park as talking about a team lacking “heart” or “the will to win”. It may apply to some (not all) bad baseball teams but I think this is generally a silly discussion to have about a team that won 93 games.

Baseball is a game of fluctuations and matchups. McCullers is a really good pitcher against every team but who is a particularly tough matchup for the Sox offense. I think most of us on this site have followed every Sox game for a long time and we’ve all seen players on good Sox teams and on bad Sox teams have hot and cold days/weeks/series/seasons.

Let hope the Giolito matchup works out well for the Sox and that the fluctuations go the Sox way.

Last edited 9 months ago by Joliet Orange Sox
billm2214

Hey look, I don’t want to get into a back and forth here. I do think the current Sox team has “heart” and a “will to win”. I just don’t think they’ve demonstrated yet an ability to win games in unfavorable matchups which imho is necessary to win a championship. The really good teams seem to win games even when the metrics, matchups, back-of-the-baseball card, whatever, says they shouldn’t. I haven’t seen that from this group of players this year yet. Blaming losses on unfavorable matchups is good analysis but the great teams seem to transcend it and still win. As a lifelong Sox fan I hope they become one of those teams. Hopefully it starts tomorrow with a great game from Giolito!

Elena

Let us not, for God’s sake Bill, misquote the immortal Hawk Harrelson by referring to “A” will to win. It is “THE Will To Win,” TWTW. Thank you.

roke1960

This is a very good point, Steve. The Sox should have the advantage in pitching matchups over the next 3 games, assuming Rodon can give them at least 3-4 innings.

calcetinesblancos

TLR is a bad manager. We have multiple long relievers who can toss a lot of innings, so why did he leave Lynn in until the game was out of reach?

I also think you have to let their Lance throw more pitches early. Make him throw strikes. We swung at too many bad pitches and didn’t swing at the good ones.

soxygen

I actually think that the decision to leave Lynn in as long as he did was a positive. Once he decided to start Lynn, the real question was how many of our good relievers he would need to burn up in game 1 to get through a 9 inning game. If you’re going to start a guy in game 1 who gets hammered by the Astros, don’t let it affect your ability to bring in good relievers from the pen in game 2 because we can afford to lose one in Houston but not both.

As Cirensica

We scored ONE run! Our relievers could have thrown a not hitter after the 3rd and we still would have lost.

670WMAQtheElder

This thing that Lynn threw nothing but fastballs needs to be double-checked. According to Gameday he was throwing his usual mix of pitches, not just fastballs. His problem was location. And Lynn said postgame that he was throwing his usual mix.

Yesterday’s game was just the way baseball goes. The Astros hit balls where we didn’t have guys. Their pitcher was lights out. Ours wasn’t. Two walks and they both scored. A WP to get the guy to third. A tight play at the plate, just a hair too late.

Today I hope Robert bats second and the coaches rethink the shifting. Seemed like we had guys in the wrong places, like Garcia on Brantley’s two RBI single. Let’s get em today.

As Cirensica

Thanks. Well said.

Teams that make it to next stage can lose one game in these playoffs settings. McCullers was just fantastic. They hit 10 hits, we collected 7. I even think we had the same number of runners than the Astros (albeit they hit only in 8 innings) counting the error, HBP, and Moncada’s walk. Jose Abreu, who was still sick, had 2 hits. We’ll destroy them today. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch the game as I work.

Last edited 9 months ago by As Cirensica