Starting line: How White Sox's rotation could line up for playoffs
Ideally, the White Sox start Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease against the Astros next week, win all three games to sweep the American League Division Series and move on to the AL Championship Series.
Realistically, the Sox are preparing for a much tougher challenge from a Houston team that rolls out a high-powered offense and currently holds home-field advantage for the ALDS.
If the best-of-five series goes to the final game, the White Sox will need four starting pitchers. Let's take a look at the potential rotation:
The hunch here is Giolito gets the ball in Game 1.
The right-hander missed the first two weeks of September with a hamstring injury, but Giolito has looked healthy and revitalized over his last three starts while going 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.
"I've been putting heavy emphasis on finishing strong and being prepared going into the playoffs," said Giolito, who makes his final regular season start Saturday against the Tigers.
Not only is he pitching well now, Giolito started against the Astros on July 17 and got the win after going 9 innings and allowing 1 run on 3 hits.
The AL Cy Young favorite in late August, Lynn has tailed off over his last four outings while giving up 14 earned runs over 21⅓ innings.
The veteran workhorse missed two weeks with a knee injury before returning to the Sox's rotation on Sept. 12.
In his last start, at Cleveland on Saturday, Lynn allowed 6 runs in 6 innings and experienced some back discomfort.
The right-hander starts against Detroit Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field and is looking to build some momentum for the playoffs.
"We're still fine-tuning some things on certain sides of the plate," Lynn said after his last outing vs. the Indians. "Other than that, everything's right where it needs to be for one more tuneup before the playoffs."
The Sox have been plagued by key injuries all season, but they caught a break when Cease was hit by a drive off the bat of Cleveland's Bradley Zimmer in his last start.
He survived with a right triceps contusion, and Cease should be close to 100% when he takes the mound against the Tigers Sunday in the final game of the regular season.
The 25-year-old righty lines up as the White Sox's Game 3 starter on the strength of his last games -- 10⅓ scoreless innings with 19 strikeouts.
If Game 3 is played at Guaranteed Rate Field, Cease really makes sense.
In 15 home starts this season, he is 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA. In 16 road starts, Cease is 7-5 with a 4.69 ERA.
A healthy Rodon would have started one of the first three playoff games, but the left-hander has been slowed by more shoulder soreness.
Rodon did get back on the mound Wednesday night against the Reds, and he did pitch 5 scoreless innings.
On the flip side, Rodon's fastball hovered around 90 mph and that's well below what he usually throws.
"Some days I'm not going to have it all," Rodon said. "To put it in perspective, I threw 11 innings last year. This year I've thrown 132. That's 10 times the innings count. That's a lot on a body.
"But I'm not going to use that as an excuse. As you see, I still go out and go do my job."
If Rodon isn't feeling well enough to go in the postseason, or if he does get the ball on a limited pitch count, the Sox have more depth than most teams.
Reynaldo Lopez has been very good since coming up from Class AAA Charlotte for the second half of the season.
Splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen, Lopez is 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA in 19 games (9 starts).
"I'm doing all that they are asking me to do and my mindset right now, all I want to do is help this team win games," Lopez said.
Michael Kopech would be a candidate to start if there's a problem with Rodon, or he could be used in long relief.
Kopech pitched a season-high 3 innings vs. the Reds Wednesday and didn't allow a run while lowering his ERA to 3.53.