White Sox decide on closer, choose Thornton over Sale

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The dust has settled on the White Sox’ internal battle for ninth inning duties.

According to Brett Ballantini of CSN Chicago, manager Ozzie Guillen announced Saturday in camp that veteran left-hander Matt Thornton will serve as the club’s primary closer when the regular season opens next month.

Thornton was labeled as the “frontrunner” for the ninth inning gig as early as February 3, but Guillen and Co. wanted to give young southpaw Chris Sale a shot to prove himself this spring and so they turned it into a kind of competition.

Thronton, 34, has posted a 3.00 ERA and a 5/1 K/BB ratio in six Cactus League innings this spring. Sale, 21, has allowed seven runs — six earned — over 8.1 innings for an ERA of 6.48.

“I talked to Thornton,” Guillen said. “I said he would get the chance to be the closer … A good percent of the time, he will be the guy … Matt Thornton earned it. We have a lot of confidence [in him]. He is the guy [who] can do the job better. Sale, we [would] have to put a lot of things on his shoulders. This kid pitched well last season, but we would put a lot of pressure on him to be the closer.”

Sale will serve as an eighth inning setup man behind Thornton this year. He might also get spot starts here and there if there’s an injury to someone like Jake Peavy in the Pale Hose starting rotation.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.