TORONTO -- The Chicago White Sox have struggled at the plate and at delivering quality starting pitching performances. Yet despite these large issues, the team has had opportunities to win almost every game this season. Eleven of the club's 13 games have been decided by three runs or less and Chicago leads the league with seven one-run games.
The biggest reason for all these nail-biters? The Sox's bullpen, which already seems to be in midseason form as the lineup and rotation try to gain its footing. Monday's 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was just the latest example after starter Gavin Floyd allowed four runs in his 4 1/3 innings of work, Hector Santiago, Matt Lindstrom and Donnie Veal held Toronto scoreless the rest of the way.
"They do a good job. For us, even last year, this is the kind of baseball we play and they're used to it," manager Robin Ventura said. "It being a close game, I don't think that's an issue. They're just going out to pitch and give us a chance."
Chicago's bullpen has a combined 1.79 ERA this season, topped only by the first-place Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics among all major league teams. The issue, of course, is that the Sox relievers are often coming into the game after damage has already been done. The White Sox starting rotation has a combined ERA of 5.03, and the difference between the starters and relievers is the third-largest such gap in the league. The Minnesota Twins' bullpen ERA is 3.44 runs better than their starting counterparts while the St. Louis Cardinals have the opposite problem, as their rotation has a 2.13 ERA while their bullpen's ERA stands at 5.92.
The bullpen's performance has largely been carried by four relievers. Matt Lindstrom, Hector Santiago, Donnie Veal and closer Addison Reed have combined for 25 innings and 23 appearances this season and have yet to allow a run between them. Their dominance has given Ventura lots of options late in games, as he noted that Lindstrom "can do a lot of different things" and Santiago is "kind of like a Swiss army knife" in terms of his versatility.
"Hector's a bit of everything. He's closed, he's been in between, been the lefty guy, long guy, a starter, so there's a lot of different ways you can use him," Ventura said. "But when he comes in, the biggest thing is that he's effective and he gets the job done. How we use him from this point forward, he's probably forcing our hand to use him a little bit more."
As good as the White Sox pen has been, however, their effectiveness is bound to break down if the rotation can't start picking up the slack. After the relievers combined for 10 2/3 innings during Chicago's three-game sweep in Washington last week, the team called up right-hander Deunte Heath from Triple-A Charlotte to give Sox a fresh arm.
An eight-man bullpen is larger than usual and carrying the extra reliever means a shorter bench --- the White Sox have only three bench players on Tuesday's game against Toronto.
"It was getting close there in Washington which made us go to 13 [pitchers]," Ventura said. "How long do we do that I don't know but it's one of those that I don't want those guys to feel they're overtaxed. There's no easy innings the way we play, so when they come in it's all-out all the time."
&149; John Danks threw six innings in an extended spring training start as the left-hander continues to recover from shoulder surgery. Ventura said Danks looked good in his outing and will pitch again on Saturday before coming to Chicago to spend time with the team. It isn't yet known when Danks will be able to return to major league action.