CHICAGO – They are not yet where they want to be, but the White Sox are in a much better place than they were the last time they dropped in at Wrigley Field.
Considering they lost 100 games last year for the first time since 1970, there was no shortage of low moments for the Sox.
Their first two games at Wrigley were notably painful.
Carson Fulmer started the series opener May 11, 2018, and the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft was completely overmatched in an 11-2 loss.
Fulmer lasted only 12/3 innings and gave up five runs on three hits and four walks. The right-hander made one more start after the Wrigley waxing and was exiled to Triple-A Charlotte for the remainder of the season.
The Sox weren’t much better in the second game, falling to the Cubs, 8-4. The 11th loss in 12 games dropped their record to 9-27.
Lucas Giolito managed to get the win in the final game of the series, but the Sox’s right-hander issued seven walks in 52/3 innings.
“I was all over the place,” Giolito recalled. “That was definitely a little different than how I pitch now. I’d say I was effectively wild that day. I’m looking forward to going in there and filling up the zone.”
Giolito gets the start against the Cubs on Wednesday night, and the 24-year-old righty is a big reason why the Sox are in much better shape heading into the two-game interleague set at Wrigley.
Through Sunday, Giolito led the American League with a 2.22 ERA and was tied for first with 10 wins.
Last year, he had the highest ERA (6.13) in the majors and the most walks (90) in the AL.
“It feels nice after the year I had last year to come into my own and do my thing,” Giolito said. “The work’s not finished.”
After Giolito, there is a serious drop-off in the Sox’s starting rotation.
Reynaldo Lopez (6.31) has the highest ERA in baseball, and he is closely followed by Ivan Nova (6.28), who takes the mound against the Cubs on Tuesday night.
Carlos Rodon is out for the season after Tommy John surgery, Ervin Santana was released after making three forgettable starts, Dylan Covey is on the injured list with shoulder discomfort, and Manny Banuelos and Odrisamer Despaigne have not done well as fill-ins.
With such poor starting pitching after Giolito, it’s rather remarkable the Sox (34-36) are so close to the .500 mark.
The bullpen is much better than last season with new closer Alex Colome, Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer and Kelvin Herrera, and the unit has picked up plenty of the slack left by the rotation.
Offensively, the Sox are more balanced than they were last season, and it starts at the top with Leury Garcia.
While he holds down the starting job in center field until monster prospect Luis Robert arrives from the minor leagues, Garcia is making the most of his opportunity. In addition to batting .276, Garcia ranks 10th in the AL with 47 runs scored.
Yoán Moncada (back) hopes to be healthy enough to play against the Cubs. A switch-hitter like Garcia, Moncada has been a fixture in the No. 2 slot, and he’s not striking out nearly as much as last year, when he led the majors with 217.
Finally seeing some runners on base when he comes to the plate, No. 3 hitter José Abreu leads the league with 54 RBIs.
Shortstop Tim Anderson and catcher James McCann are both receiving All-Star consideration, and left fielder Eloy Jiménez has become the bat to watch in the Sox’s lineup.
The rookie struggled in April and missed most of May with a sprained ankle. In June, Jiménez has settled down and locked in, hitting .319/.373/.702 for the month to go with five home runs and 12 RBIs.
Originally signed by the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic, Jiménez can’t wait to make his Wrigley Field debut.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy every single day. I’m going to play hard.”
Jiménez is a big piece of the Sox’s future, and so is catching prospect Zack Collins, who reportedly is joining the club Tuesday from Triple-A Charlotte.
The Sox are only going to improve moving forward, but they are feeling much better about themselves than the last time they played on the North Side.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Honestly, we’ve got to take care of each day. The rest of it takes care of itself. The ultimate wins and losses, there’s a heightened sense of excitement when you play two city rivals, which is great for the city and great for all of us. We look forward to going out and playing.”