Another hitter or two would be good but the White Sox have discovered that playing fundamental baseball could possibly help them back into the mix.
Winners in nine of their last 11 games, the White Sox will head into the All-Star break no worse than four games under .500 after Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Cubs in front of 41,596 at Wrigley Field.
As it is, the White Sox are back to three under .500 for the first time since June 12 after Chris Sale delivered yet another gem, the defense turned in both sterling and routine plays and the offense cashed in on its limited opportunities. The White Sox --- who are still 5 1/2 back in the wild-card race behind eight teams --- send Jose Quintana to the mound Sunday in search of a series sweep of the Cubs.
“That’s the way we’re going to have to play,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, noting his club has put itself in this position. “We have to play good, clean baseball and I think the way our infield is starting to shape up, the way we’re playing defensively and the way our guys are pitching … you find that inning when you can push one across. We got fortunate on the play with the ground ball (in the seventh) and we cashed in on it.”
The team’s seventh inning rally is one of the aspects they’ve struggled with all season -- the knockout blow.
The White Sox held a 2-0 advantage with a man on first and no outs when Kris Bryant offered a gift with a two-base error on Avisail Garcia’s weak grounder. Bryant’s throw wound up in the visiting dugout and the White Sox made it count. Alexei Ramirez singled on a 3-0 pitch from Jon Lester for his first RBI since June 21 -- a span of 62 plate appearances -- and Tyler Flowers followed with a booming, two-run double to center.
Given that Sale -- who allowed a run and six hits while striking out 10 over seven-plus innings -- was already at 100 pitches the timing couldn’t have been better.
“That makes some decisions easier for Robin,” Flowers said.
An epic run by the pitching staff over the team’s last 11 games hasn’t hurt, either. During the stretch, White Sox pitchers have a 1.75 ERA with 107 strikeouts in 103 innings, including 30 straight scoreless frames, the team’s longest stretch since 1986. White Sox starters have a 1.99 ERA with 80 strikeouts and have averaged seven innings per start over 11 games.
“Everybody is doing what they are capable,” Flowers said. “I guess you can say we are kind of hot, but I wouldn’t even say that. I think we are just executing gameplans, focusing on each pitch, executing that pitch and that puts us in a better spot for the next one.”
Ventura applauded the team’s players for their professional attitude in tough times. Despite an offense that has sucked the life out of the club all season long, Sale and other pitchers have made a point not to point fingers. General manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week one player emphasized those in the clubhouse are intent upon showing him the team needs more time instead of being broken up into trade pieces.
Sale has enjoyed the atmosphere and wants to see it continue in the second half.
“It’s fun,” Sale said. “You’re coming in here laughing, joking, hearing some music playing. It’s always a good time. You get on rolls like this, you’ve just got to keep going. Been through a bump in the road. You look at it as that and keep going.
“I’m not a stat guy or anything, but if we keep winning games we’re going to put ourselves in a pretty darn good position.”
A big reason they’re still even within striking distance has been an improved defense.
Whereas they’ve struggled up the middle most of the season, the White Sox, who still rank 29th in Defensive Runs Saved with minus-47 according to fangraphs.com, have received better play from shortstop Alexei Ramirez and, even to a degree, second baseman Carlos Sanchez. Gordon Beckham continues to produce as has rookie Tyler Saladino, who has looked smooth in two games at third base. Outfielder Avisail Garcia has made two nice catches in victories over the Cubs.
Over the past 11 games, the White Sox have committed six errors with four coming in a 9-1 loss to Baltimore last Sunday.
Ventura believes his team has started to discover its identity after an eight-game losing streak sent them to 10 under and had many pundits in town calling for the fourth-year manager’s head.
Now the question is can they maintain it, something they haven’t been able to do all season. Ventura wants his players to continue to stay grounded and not focus too much on the big picture.
“Playing the way we were and losing games, morale can get down,” Ventura said. “But you continue to come back and we have some professional guys in here who continue to grind away. You don’t look too far down the line or think too much in the past -- you just play today. They’re starting to feel that.”