“This one hurts a little bit.”
Rick Renteria summed it up well.
The White Sox were on national TV, with a chance to take a series from a division rival. They did just enough against the best pitcher in the American League. They came back in somewhat dramatic fashion in another game dripping with playoff feeling. Their ace pitched great and turned it over to what’s been a nigh-untouchable back end of the bullpen.
And then …
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Despite all that, the White Sox left Guaranteed Rate Field with another loss Sunday night. Instead of leapfrogging back over the Cleveland Indians and back into second place — an unexpected Minnesota Twins losing streak gave the White Sox a chance to be just a game out of first place — they tumbled back to .500 and fourth place in the constantly shifting AL Central standings.
Even in this most unusual season, this is still baseball, and all that can be flipped around tomorrow night. But with a chance to do something big on a national stage, they let one slip away.
Will it be the difference in the division standings come the end of the season? Who knows. But with every game meaning so much in a 60-game sprint to October, this is like dropping two or three in somewhat crushing fashion all at once.
Lucas Giolito was walking guys early and often in this one but settled down brilliantly and ended up relinquishing just two runs in his seven innings. He figured things out midway through and finished with nine strikeouts, including three in his final inning, in which he mowed down that trio of Cleveland batters and strode off the mound screaming.
Meanwhile, the White Sox won their showdown with Shane Bieber, who entered as and probably still is the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. He added eight more strikeouts to his season total Sunday but gave up three runs. José Abreu hit a solo homer in the second, and James McCann did the same in the sixth. Yasmani Grandal’s RBI double gave the White Sox a lead heading to the late innings with a win in their sights.
But Evan Marshall’s season-starting scoreless streak came to an end in the first inning after Giolito’s departure. That tie spun the game into extra innings, where the league’s new rule putting a runner on second to start every extra frame bit the White Sox in their first experience with it this season. Cleveland only hit one ball out of the infield in Jimmy Cordero’s busy top of the 10th, but they scratched across two runs, including the tie-breaker on a squeeze play.
One run in this new extra-inning reality is almost to be expected. A second is difficult to overcome. The White Sox cashed in their own free runner in scoring position not long after and put runners on base against Cleveland closer Brad Hand. But a 45-minute rain delay washed away that momentum, and the White Sox left the runners where they stood.
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Baseball players like to take things one game at a time. They know tomorrow’s a new day in this sport. And they’re not terribly fond of admitting that one opponent means more than any other. But all the circumstances aligned for a golden opportunity Sunday night, and the White Sox felt the sting of letting it slip.
“This one hurts a little bit,” Renteria said. “They all hurt, but this one hurts a little bit because these guys really battled today. … It was a really good ballgame, but we wanted to be on the right side of it.”
The White Sox are already more than a quarter of the way through their season now, with nine of the 20 scheduled games against the Twins and Indians behind them. They won only three of those first nine, losing all three series two games to one.
That’s no way to compete alongside the division’s incumbent powers for a shot at the Central crown. The White Sox seem capable of having the most balanced group of the trio, but so far they’ve been bludgeoned twice by the Twins’ powerful bats and repeatedly silenced by the Indians’ sterling rotation. There’s no other option but to start figuring out how to tango with those elite units.
Sunday was a decent stride in that department, doing more damage against Bieber than the Indians could do against Giolito. But in order to be a contender, every unit has to be firing on all cylinders. Giolito held up his end of the bargain Sunday night, and the offense did what it could to Bieber, which seemed like enough. But games spin on after the starting pitchers depart, and what’s been an excellent White Sox bullpen was touched for three huge runs, while the White Sox offense mustered just six hits on the night compared to 16 strikeouts — half those Ks coming in the game’s final four innings.
As Giolito pointed out, as capable as the White Sox seem on paper, everything needs to click for the White Sox to run with the Twins and Indians.
“I think we stand well,” Giolito said, summing up the White Sox position in the division race. “It's just losses like this are tough. But all we can do is learn from it and move on, take care of business on this next road trip.
“When our offense, pitching and defense comes together, we can beat anybody. We've seen that this year against the Twins and the Indians. We've just got to try to get everything in sync more often.”
With a seemingly ever-growing list of injuries and some big question marks behind Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, that will be easier said than done.
They had an opportunity to grab a big one Sunday night. Instead, the White Sox are hurting.
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