Lance Lynn called the Chicago White Sox series with the Tampa Bay Rays — a clash between the two best teams in baseball — a good June challenge.
With an emphasis on what part of the calendar in which this clash comes.
"Yeah, it's June," the big right-hander said with a laugh. "No one gives a s---."
It sure seems that this matchup between the top two winning percentages in the game — something the White Sox haven't been involved in in 15 years — could say plenty. And even Lynn admitted to the White Sox "aspiring" to be the kind of team the Rays were Monday night, one that did all the little things and made fewer mistakes in a 5-2 final score.
The Rays, after all, were the American League representatives in last year's World Series, and they've carried that success over into 2021. Meanwhile, the White Sox are still climbing toward baseball's mountaintop, going from rebuilding to contending.
But the White Sox messaging on big series against big opponents has been pretty consistent all year. So no reason to stop now, right?
"If for some reason we were playing less than 100 percent against the (Detroit) Tigers, that wouldn't have been acceptable to our standard of play," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said before Monday's game. "We gave the Tigers our best shot, we're going to give the Rays our best shot."
Of course, there are some unavoidable things the Rays do that the White Sox, to borrow Lynn’s term, aspire to do themselves. They are the reigning AL champs, reaching the same championship round the White Sox hope to play in this fall. They beat good teams, and now have 27 wins over teams with a record north of .500. The White Sox have only 11, tied for the fewest in the AL.
But for players, who look at each individual play so intensely, the true example the Rays set Monday showed how small the margin for error is when the game is played at such a high level.
The Rays got to Lynn, who had been among the game’s most un-get-to-able pitchers, leading baseball with a 1.23 ERA coming in. They hit a pair of homers off him.
It looked like the White Sox might have caught a break with Rays starter Tyler Glasnow out after four innings with an elbow injury. But the only thing that’s been better than the Rays’ rotation has been the Rays’ bullpen, a championship team with the arms to back up an injured star.
Of course, backing up an injured star — or three or four — has been how the White Sox have soared to the top of the AL Central. But even hits by Leury García and Danny Mendick weren’t enough Monday, and the lack of offense amplified the mistakes the White Sox did make, Tim Anderson killing a rally right after he started it by getting picked off first base in a tight game and José Ruiz gifting the Rays a run by whiffing on a feed from José Abreu at first base.
They were the mistakes that the Rays didn't make.
"You always know they are going to give you a tough game. They are going to pitch well, play defense, and then tonight they did some timely hitting," Lynn said of the Rays. "They are a really good team. We knew that coming in and they were able to get some runs early and then they were able to add on late. That’s what we aspire to be.
"We have some guys seeing what a team that was in the World Series looks like."
The White Sox would like to think they look like that, too, a team capable of reaching the Fall Classic.
Whether they did or not Monday, or have or not to this point this season, though, is not what's important. That's why, win or lose this week, they won't overblow the results of this three-game set. What is important is what they look like come October.
That's when people start giving a s---.