Zach Stewart's near-perfect game in Minnesota and Dylan Axelrod solid start against Detroit were the type of small, pleasing moments for the fans that are still around to be had in the September doldrums. Just a couple guys with mediocre stuff making the most of the opportunities having a pointless month of games offers
So long as that's all it is.
Stewart has upped his strikeouts of recent to post a kinda workable 6.02 K/9 rate in starts with Chicago alongside his good control, and a 3.81 FIP suggests he's holding his own. Dylan Axelrod did even better, somehow striking out 8 members of the Detroit Tigers in 6 IP on Wednesday. Well, Wilson Betemit helped.
Both pitchers fulfilled the essential hope for a minor leaguer chucked into the show: Don't get blown away, don't re-enact that scene from The Scout, don't be Arnie Munoz.
The problem is Stewart and Axelrod aren't raw, toolsy projects who need to reigned in or absorb seasoning. They're 25 and 26 years old with very limited pallets to work from. In fact, as Jim Margalus pointed out, Axelroad's intimate understanding of his limitations was one of the primary factors in his success.
Both feature an average-ish fastball, and a slider that comes and goes, with changeups that's success are dependent on the ignorance of their existence. In other words, they'd look great jogging in from left field, on a contending team even.
The White Sox are making no secret of the fact that they intend to cut payroll in the off-season, and why wouldn't they? If you're going to get 80 wins, at least get a deal!
While the rotation still has 5 legit members even if Buehrle does not re-sign (Peavy, Danks, Floyd, Humber, Sale), the push to free up cash could tempt them to deal the highly-movable Floyd or Danks. It depends a lot on whether they perceive themselves to have a glut of starting pitching, or at least someone capable of planting themselves in the 5th slot without utter disaster.
In a re-building season, giving someone of Stewart's pedigree a legit chance would be fine. In a scorched Earth, burn-every-contract-alive scenario, Dylan Axelrod...well, he might have better results than Todd Ritchie if buried near the back. But with the Sox still a lock for a $100 million payroll, and Kenny Williams reportedly still in tow, neither are those are bound to be on the menu.
The White Sox are going to try to compete, though likely not as recklessly, and likely without huge additions to the lineup. As such, they probably cannot afford to sap strength from their primary advantage in the AL Central - starting pitching depth.
Stewart and Axelrod have performed gamely, but an attempt to ride them (mainly Stewart) to compete on the cheap in 2012 will find the Sox in no man's land again. These guys have proven they can contribute in some form (6th starter, long man, Honorary Lucas Harrell, etc.), but the core of this team must remains what it is.
Maybe that's the problem with this franchise, but these two aren't the solution.
As a fan, it's a weird position to be in. It'd be great if Stewart does well, and flashes the ability to be a cheap and productive member of the pitching staff, but his success could directly lead to management jettisoning more valuable contributors. Dylan Axelrod is cute, but the idea of relying on him is horrifying. Only a farm system such as this one would raise such reservations about the success of youth.