Dallas Keuchel spoke, and the White Sox responded.
That was an easy way to read what happened this week in Detroit.
After a seemingly listless performance in the series-opener — a 5-1 defeat that followed the sting of a missed opportunity against the Cleveland Indians one night earlier — Keuchel addressed the team. Then he told reporters what he told his teammates.
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“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss last night,” the veteran left-hander said Monday. “We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. … We've got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we've got some guys going through the motions. So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we're going to have to start that now.
“When you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it's very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get go.”
The White Sox won the next two games in Detroit, scoring 15 runs on a combined 18 hits.
So Keuchel woke everybody up. His words spurred these White Sox.
“I think the conversation that we had with him, that he had with us, it didn’t really effect the way that we played the last two games,” first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think that we would do that either way.
“I do appreciate the conversation that he had with us. He had some concerns, and he’s a veteran. He shared those concerns with us, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a secret that the first game in Detroit wasn’t one of our best games. That was a bad game for us. But it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do good. It just was one of those games where we couldn’t do better in that particular time. The next two days, we did perform and we did what we were supposed to do.
“That’s why I think there’s no reason for people to put the spotlight on what Dallas said because we won the last two games. I think we would do it either way.”
Before anyone thinks of making the leap to clubhouse controversy, know this. Abreu, who’s been described as a team leader and certainly has been a mentor and a role model to the young players around him over the last few seasons, has been a vocal proponent of two things: the need for players to work hard and do the things they’re supposed to do to put themselves in position to win, and the high level of talent these young White Sox have.
With rebuilding cornerstones like Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and now Luis Robert firmly under his wing, it’s understandable Abreu would be protective of them and their fellow youngsters when called out for a lack of effort. And why shouldn’t he if that’s not what he’s seeing? Few are closer to those guys on a daily basis, and he would know if they weren’t living up to his own high standards when it comes to work ethic. Of course, Keuchel didn’t name any names, and those closest to Abreu might not have been the ones he was referencing Monday night.
Abreu has spent years talking up how good this group of players can be, and he knows what it's capable of. It's no surprise that he believed the White Sox capable of turning in a better performance than the one they did Monday night, and that belief would have been the same whether Keuchel opened up or if no one said a word.
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For what it’s worth, another White Sox mainstay was more willing to connect the dots between what Keuchel said and what happened in the days that followed.
“I hope they had some effect,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday. “I hope it affected them. I think any time you have a peer trying to motivate you, it's a good thing, especially somebody who's been around a little bit.
“As we've talked about before over the last three or four years, at some point we want the players to go ahead and take ownership. We've had guys doing it subtly, you guys haven't heard about it. In this instance, you heard about it. And I hope it did have an effect.”
This seems less like the White Sox answering the prayers of talk radio with a brewing battle inside the clubhouse and more just an interesting comparison of vantage points.
Keuchel knows what it’s like to win. He’s got a World Series ring on his finger. But Abreu knows this team. He knows these guys. Keuchel’s a newcomer, but one brought in partially because of his winning experience. Abreu has no winning experience in the major leagues, all six of his previous White Sox seasons ending in sub-.500 finishes, but perhaps no player in that clubhouse is more familiar with the intricacies of this franchise’s rebuilding process. And the White Sox made what seemed like an easy decision to keep him a central part of it with his three-year contract in the offseason.
This season — before it was all jumbled up by the pandemic — was supposed to be about the White Sox finally reaching the stage of their rebuild where they started to win. But it was also supposed to be about getting to that point. A schedule squeezed down to 60 games, and an American League playoff field expanded from five to eight teams, might have given the White Sox a better chance to do something they haven't done in more than a decade. But the shortened season robbed them of the typical six-month marathon in which a team can evolve into a winner.
Keuchel and Abreu both have important roles to play in getting the White Sox to where they want to be, and both of those vantage points will be critical along the way.
Remember: They both want the exact same thing.
“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during spring training, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years to be any different.”
“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said around the same time. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.
“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.
“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”
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