A post-clinch hangover?
Apparently it's all too real for these White Sox.
Well, they're sick of the headache.
After beating the division-rival Minnesota Twins last Thursday, the White Sox dropped two of the three games they played against the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend, then lost the first two games of a four-game set against the Cleveland Indians on Monday and Tuesday.
All told, they've lost four of their last five and five of their last seven. And while those kinds of stretches are commonplace for even the best teams in baseball on annual basis, the White Sox are having their stumble at seemingly the worst time, with the playoffs starting in less than a week.
Of course, there's a worse time for such a trip-up to occur: next week, when how far the White Sox go in the playoffs will be determined by how they fare in a high-stakes best-of-three series to start the postseason. There are only five games left on the regular-season schedule, a short amount of time to snap out of this funk and assure that this skid doesn't last into October.
That's the challenge in front of the White Sox. Their leader is here to say the hangover ends now.
"After we clinched, we relaxed a little bit. That was why we got in this moment," first baseman José Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo before Wednesday's game. "But for good things to happen, you need bad things to push you. I think this is probably not the way we wanted to do it, but this is the time preparing us to be stronger and a way better team.
"We are on the right track because I truly believe that this moment is making us stronger, it’s making us better as a team. It’s preparing us better for the postseason. ... These final five games are going to be different, and the postseason is going to be good. We are going to be prepared for what is coming. We are going to be prepared for that postseason run.
"The last couple of games have been a challenge for us, and I think that shows us what we need to do in order to be a better team, especially moving forward for the postseason. I think this moment has made us better.
"I think that starting today, you're going to start seeing a very different team, a better team than you saw before. It's going to be really important for us to take this moment as a big challenge, as a big learning process for us going forward to the postseason. ... This is just another opportunity for us to get better and be more prepared for what is coming."
It's an important message from the guy described as the White Sox "captain," the guys who is the front-runner to win AL MVP honors, the guy who is putting the team on his back each and every night. As noticeably troubled as much of the White Sox lineup is at the moment, Abreu hasn't let up one bit. He came through with some key RBIs in each of the first two games in Cleveland, starting a four-run inning with a two-run hit Monday and hitting a game-tying homer Tuesday.
Whether this is Abreu attempting to whip his team into shape or him just relaying a collective mindset, it's the truth: The White Sox need to be better than this if they're going to meet their re-calibrated expectations for the 2020 season. Back in February, it was all about reaching the playoffs. Now that they've done that, it's about winning the World Series.
Well, to do that they'll need to play much differently than they have on this road trip through Ohio.
How will they do that, exactly?
"How are these guys going to come back?" manager Rick Renteria said. "They have to stay loose, they have to stay relaxed. I don't want anybody panicking, I don't want anybody feeling like they have to prove something. They've just got to go out and play the game.
"I think we all had a nice conversation about the importance of continuing to push forward, trying to finish the season on a high, trying to continue to play well, trying to win ballgames. I think everybody kind of saw that. I think it's no secret in that clubhouse as to what they thought they were feeling or how we were going about it."
As mentioned, time is short. The White Sox have two more games in Cleveland, then come home for the final series of the regular season, a three-game weekend set against the Crosstown-rival Cubs. That's all before the playoffs start next Tuesday.
With half the lineup scuffling at the moment and the pitching staff having its own tough moments during this rocky stretch, it's going to be a lot more involved than Abreu just saying that things are going to be better.
But the White Sox have also shown in this shortened season that they have the ability to change things in a hurry. They were 10-11 after getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in an Aug. 15 doubleheader. Then they won seven in a row and 23 of their next 29. They have a potent offense that's capable of exploding at seemingly any moment. And though Cleveland is throwing Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac the next two nights, the White Sox counter with their own 1-2 punch of Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel.
Has the sky fallen? Not by a long shot. Are there reasons to be concerned that the White Sox losses are piling up at a very inopportune moment? Yup.
But while Abreu's words carry weight, Renteria laid it out Tuesday night.
"They know where we are at. They know it’s not about talking about it. It’s about going out there and performing," he said. "We have five games left. We have to put ourselves on track."