HOUSTON — A 6-1 loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series left the White Sox with a what-if situation to ponder.
It wasn’t so much about using Lucas Giolito in Game 1 as opposed to Lance Lynn, who allowed five runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings as his struggles against Houston continued Thursday at Minute Maid Park. Even if Giolito started Game 1, Lynn would have still gone in Game 2 at Houston.
The quandary was more about whether Carlos Rodón was ready to pitch in one of these first two games and possibly push Lynn back to Game 3 at Guaranteed Rate Field, where he had a 7-3 record with a 2.56 ERA in 17 starts this season. Rodón, who has dealt with shoulder soreness and fatigue, could be in line to start Sunday night in Game 3 with Michael Kopech waiting behind him.
The White Sox are hoping not to be facing a 2-0 deficit when taking the field, and are prepared for whatever Rodón can provide.
“When Carlos is on the mound, good things have happened for us this year,” said White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz prior to the Game 1 loss. “We’ll take anything. We’ll take five outs. We’ll take five innings. Whatever he’s able to do is a huge bonus for us.”
This second-guessing should not be taken as an affront to Lynn’s overall body of work. The big right-hander rightfully will receive AL Cy Young Award consideration after posting an 11-6 record, 2.69 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 157 innings. But he has not pitched well against the Astros.
According to FOX Sports, Lynn has an 0-6 record with a 9.18 ERA over his last 33 1/3 innings and six starts when facing Houston. He has given up 36 earned runs over 60 1/3 innings lifetime at Minute Maid. Rodón finished the regular season at 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings but also has a 0.64 ERA vs. Houston in two starts.
Seventy-four of Lynn’s 76 pitches were fastballs (four-seam, sinkers, cutters) — 97.4 percent. That’s the highest rate of fastballs thrown in a postseason start in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008), and the Astros took advantage when Lynn missed his location.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa mentioned postgame Lynn’s displeasure with some of the pitch sequencing used in certain at-bats. Lynn used all his pitches but added he didn’t hit his spots when needed.
“He relies on the fastball if it’s working, but he’s got a cutter. He’s got a slider. He takes a lot off,” La Russa said. “He’s got a changeup. He’s got a sinker. I think that’s his regret at this point. He could have mixed things up more.”
“It wasn’t good. I wasn’t making pitches when I needed to. I gave up some two-out runs on pitches that could have been better,” said Lynn, who allowed three two-out runs. “When all is said and done, I just wasn’t making the quality pitches I needed to. That’s pretty much it.”
Houston grabbed momentum with Thursday’s victory. In postseason history, teams with a 1-0 lead in any best-of-five series have won the series 101 of 140 times. In the Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning Game 1 at home advanced 33 of 43 times, excluding 2020, when games were played at a neutral site.
Those facts shouldn’t spell out gloom and doom for the White Sox. Not for a resilient group such as the South Siders, who have battled through key injuries all season. Not with Giolito and his career 1.57 ERA at Minute Maid on the mound Friday.
During La Russa’s last Division Series, the 2011 Cardinals dropped an 11-6 decision to the Phillies in Game 1, were down 2-1 in the series and still came back to win. They eventually claimed La Russa’s third World Series title.
“You’d like to have it. It’s definitely an edge. I can give you a couple handfuls of times we lost the first game, like 2011, and came back and did all right,” La Russa said. “You’ve got to win three, but every one you get is valuable. And the first opportunity, we definitely wanted it, and they got it. We’ll be ready to compete tomorrow.”
“It’s a long ways from over. These guys are a quality team,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “You especially want to win that first game. That’s why you play for that home-field advantage. That’s why it was so important. So we’ve got our work cut out tomorrow, and it’s a good feeling to win that first one.”