Tony La Russa said it Thursday, when he laid out that banged-up pitchers Carlos Rodón, Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito would be returning to the Chicago White Sox' starting rotation over the following five days:
"I like our chances of being the team we're supposed to be."
The White Sox looked the way they were supposed to Friday night, Rodón delivering five strong innings after getting past some shoulder soreness and the bullpen pumping out one pitcher after another that got big outs en route to a 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox.
Sure, most of the White Sox' offensive output came on only one swing, José Abreu's three-run homer in the third inning, and this team is still missing Tim Anderson, who's recovering from a hamstring issue. But the team will be mighty pleased if a playoff game plays out the way things went Friday, an undoubted postseason atmosphere on the South Side.
"Games like this and games against teams like Boston, Houston, the (New York) Yankees are games that are going to help us to build that momentum to get to the playoffs," White Sox center fielder Luis Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Those games are very close, and you can feel the playoff atmosphere. Definitely having these games are going to prepare us for the playoffs."
If the White Sox are going to be playing their best baseball by the end of September, as closer Liam Hendriks has stated as a goal over and over again this season, they'll need their best postseason asset at full strength and firing on all cylinders. That's the starting staff, which has been dominant for much of the campaign and figures to be the No. 1 reason the White Sox can seriously dream about a deep October run.
Getting the rotation back to full strength and back to that sort of dominance started with Rodón on Friday. He lasted just five innings — he hasn't recorded more than 15 outs in a game since July 18 — but looked good doing so, allowing just a run and striking out seven. Rodón danced out of trouble, turned in some huge strikeouts, responded to a bomb of a fourth-inning home run by inducing three straight pop ups and reached back and found a little extra something when he needed to.
In other words, he was doing the kinds of things the White Sox will need him to do in October.
A five-inning outing in the postseason is nothing to shake a stick at, and getting this kind of performance out of Rodón with the season on the line would surely count as desirable for the White Sox in a few weeks' time. Right now, obviously, they want to make sure he's not overworking that left arm.
"He had good stuff, and he felt good," La Russa said. "He got up to that point where both Ethan (Katz, pitching coach) and I had thought after the fourth that he had had to work harder than we wanted him to, to get out of that one. I think he earned a chance to win it.
"He's shown that he's got that closing ability to get the last out of the inning and not have to turn it over to the bullpen. Five innings, we stretched him today, and I'm sure we'll give him enough rest before the next one."
If those shorter outings are more commonplace in the postseason — heck we could be praising four-inning efforts from the starting pitchers come October — than so, too, are nights where managers empty their bullpen. La Russa used six relievers to hold the Red Sox at bay Friday, all but Ryan Tepera throwing up much needed zeroes, often with runners on base.
Aaron Bummer cleaned things up for Michael Kopech in the sixth. Garrett Crochet got a big out after Tepera gave up two runs in the seventh. And Craig Kimbrel and Hendriks teamed for shutdown eighth and ninth innings, just like Rick Hahn & Co. drew it up when they made the deal for Kimbrel at the trade deadline.
For a unit that's been up and down all season, not always living up to the huge expectations they set for themselves in the spring, this was a near perfect example of how all that talent is supposed to come together in the biggest moments.
"I think if you ask Tep, obviously he would say that he should've went out there and done better," Kimbrel said. "But any time we can come in and have each other's backs like we did tonight — there's going to be times where guys go out there and don't have their best stuff that day. But if we can do our job and come in and put out the fire when momentum's building and things like that, that plays, especially when you get into later in the year.
"To be able to do that tonight is a good sign."
The White Sox will need those arms to do that kind of work in the postseason. And while the relievers will be called on more often than Rodón will, it all starts with solid starting pitching for the South Siders. Rodón is obviously just one piece of that, back from his shoulder-induced delay on the same day the White Sox brought Lynn off the injured list. The self-described "big bastard" is supposed to pitch Sunday against these Red Sox, two days before Giolito is likely to come off the IL and start the first of three games against the Los Angeles Angels.
While Anderson still has no announced return date from his own ongoing injured-list stay, the rotation getting the band back together is a big deal, with enough time left on the schedule for Rodón, Lynn and Giolito to feel ready for the postseason.
If they can do what they've been doing all season long, the kind of thing Rodón did Friday night, and get an all-hands-on-deck effort like the bullpen turned in against a playoff-caliber team like the Red Sox, that's the script that gets these White Sox to the end of October.