A loss to the Cubs on Sunday didn’t do anything to curb the optimistic atmosphere in the White Sox clubhouse heading into this week’s All-Star break diaspora.
The White Sox tipped their collective hats to right-hander Jake Arrieta, whose complete game powered the Cubs to a 3-1 win in front of 41,688 at Wrigley Field, and expect to reconvene on Friday for a doubleheader against the first-place Kansas City Royals with an eye on moving off the periphery of the American League playoff race. With nine wins in their last 12 games, the White Sox finally feel like they’re trending in the right direction after three months of bad defense and spotty offense relegated them to the bottom of baseball’s food chain.
“We played well the last two weeks,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We had a good run at it going into the break. We played well, we pitched well, we played defense and scored some runs when we needed to. Today we just ran into a really good pitcher.”
This is a team that’s encouraged by its recent results, but still sees plenty of room for improvement.
In this 12-game stretch, the White Sox earned five one-run wins and averaged 2.9 runs per game. Only twice did they win with a comfortable margin of more than two runs.
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The White Sox won all these games, and sit three games under .500 at the break, in spite of their offense thanks to elite-level pitching and improved defense.
“We’re not having the games with two, three, four errors that are costing us runs,” first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche said. “And if we do have a little mishap, the pitchers are bailing us out. This series there were a ton of double plays for big outs and just better offense. We’re taking the pressure off the pitchers a little but it’s still not great.
“It seems like it’s a one-run game, two-run game every night with very few comfortable leads, but we’re winning games so we’ll take it.”
Still, two weeks of good baseball hasn’t wiped out three months of problems that began on Day 1 in Kansas City. White Sox position players have combined for about -4 WAR, easily the worst total in baseball. Five teams sit between the White Sox — who are tied with the Cleveland Indians in the American League standings — and the second wild card spot.
The uphill climb isn’t lost on Ventura and his players, but there’s a sense that if the offense can come out of the break strong there’s a chance the White Sox could play relevant baseball in August and September.
“You hope the offense comes around,” Ventura said. “But we’ve had enough in the last couple of weeks to win quite a few games. You want to see it get better. If we can score some runs, we have pitching to win some games.”
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Whatever momentum the White Sox have will be wiped out over the next four days, with everyone but Chris Sale — who Ventura doesn’t want to pitch in the All-Star Game — getting some time off. There were differing opinions on the timing of the break in the clubhouse, with LaRoche excited to recharge this week while center fielder Adam Eaton took the opposite approach.
“I wish we didn't have the All-Star break to be honest,” Eaton said. “(We) continue to play good baseball on a roll but we'll take the three, four days we have and rest up and hope to make a big push in the second half.”
The White Sox can’t afford to struggle out of the break, not with one losing streak increasing the threat of Jeff Samardzija will be dealt before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. And it won’t be an easy stretch: The White Sox play six games against Missouri’s two first-place clubs — the Royals and Cardinals have been among baseball’s best teams all year — before embarking on an eight-game road trip to Cleveland and Boston.
But two weeks ago, after a gutting loss to Detroit sent the White Sox to 10 games under .500, the questions surrounding the White Sox weren’t if they were going to sell, but when. Now, it’s fair to ask if this team can pull itself over .500 and closer to a playoff spot over the next few weeks.
“It’s still not an easy road,” Ventura said. “But you continue to feel optimistic about what you saw in the last couple of weeks.”