This season has witnessed the White Sox go to a six-man rotation because they had too many good starters, now they might possibly go to a four-man rotation due to the realization that their top four starters are blatantly better than any other candidates.
In short, Philip Humber's performance has confused the bejeesus out of everyone at every turn.
The combination of the White Sox desperately needing to make 5-game winning streaks the norm and healthy collection of off-days on the horizon makes a parsed-down rotation possible, but still temporary.
There will inevitably be a need for a 5-man compliment down the final month and a half, and with both Humber and Zach Stewart still preparing for their next starts until further notice, there's opportunity for both of them to force their way in with an impressive effort.
If for no other reason than it would be the first in a while.
Humber has opened the door with 5 straight starts worth of regression fever. Since shutting out the Cubs for 7 innings (where he also seemed to be struggling to get by), Humber has averaged under 6 innings a start and posted a 7.52 ERA while getting knocked around and out of the park.
But while his strikeout numbers and reliance on hitters just flying out to center for no reason have portended doom all season, he's posted a 6.84 K/9* and a 2.39 BB/9 while things have been 'going bad'. Those aren't star numbers, but that's certainly someone you can justify handing the ball to, even if he regresses all the way back to his 4-ish xFIP.
(*That figure is inflated by an 8 strikeout effort against Detroit, but then again Detroit is one of the best offenses in baseball. Call it even)
Zach Stewart on the other hand, offers mystery, unknown actual potential, and best of all; league unfamiliarity! The secret to momentary success!
Stewart of course is troubling because his lack of whiffs with his slider makes even the contact-oriented Humber look nasty, and his limited complement of offerings (fastball/meh slider) seems ill-suited for multiple go-rounds through the order.
Despite that, he wrangled through 6.1 IP against the Twins while only allowing a single run, so disaster hasn't struck yet. Stewart throws strikes and fashions himself a groundball-maven. Restricting free passes and guiding hitters into the strength of the White Sox defense could show some success.
But at this point, he's just unknown, and with probably only a start or two more to prove himself, his lack of flash doesn't give much temptation to take a chance on him without a proven track record.
No, an ERA over 4.00 in mostly Double-A this season doesn't count as a proven track record.
In a parallel universe, I would really like Zach Stewart. He's young, cheap, has curiously curly hair, and looks to be willing to accommodate my irrational hatred for walks.
But given the circumstances--where he was acquired in a blatant salary dump (purposeful, but never exciting), touted as a starting prospect despite a resume that says 'middle relief'', and jammed into a full rotation in the midst of a pennant race just out of simple curiosity--I'm finding it hard not to slightly resent his presence.
Another productive outing would go a long way toward validating his place in the rotation, and if his next start significantly one-ups Humber's in quality (particularly if Humber flames out), he just might have one.
So in other words, Phil's got this.