Jason Kipnis is not wrong.
The Cleveland Indians second baseman (and native of the Chicago suburbs) might have been feeling the sting of dropping three of four on the South Side, or perhaps he, too, isn’t happy when Tim Anderson celebrates home runs. But he offered this pearl of wisdom after Sunday’s game:
Indeed, it is too early to be celebrating a second-place trophy. But the White Sox seem to have staked a claim to being the second best team in the AL Central during a buzz-worthy week on the South Side in which they took six of seven from the Indians and the Kansas City Royals.
Winning a pair of series against struggling teams shouldn’t vault the White Sox into the conversation of the best the American League has to offer. It hasn’t been so long that everyone’s forgotten them getting their brains bashed in by the Minnesota Twins just a week ago.
But there perhaps hasn’t been a better example of tangible rebuilding progress in the last two and a half years of this process than what happened this week at Guaranteed Rate Field. “Turning the corner” might also be an ambitious description, as that’s likely to be a gradual turn rather than one that requires yanking up on a handbrake.
But the White Sox are playing well, they have a bunch of guys playing well, and they are winning games. During back-to-back seasons that featured a combined 195 losses, winning games is about as refreshing as something can be. At this point last season, the White Sox were 20-39, 19 games below .500. After this feel-good homestand, they’re 29-30, just one game below .500.
“It’s been a long road,” Lucas Giolito said Sunday after his latest gem. More on him in a bit. “It’s just really cool to see a lot of these younger guys start to step up, take a bigger role. We’ve all learned so much from our past failures, and I think that we’re all just kind of growing up as a team, coming together.
“Especially with some of the fresh faces we have this year leading the way, the culture in this clubhouse could not be better. It’s the best I’ve ever seen in baseball. I’m just excited to be a part of it and continue to go on this roll.”
Giolito has perhaps been the biggest star of this recent surge, illustrated by the swarming press gaggle around his locker Sunday. He could be rewarded for his incredible turnaround with American League Pitcher of the Month honors when they’re handed out Monday. But even if he gets edged by Twins hurler Jake Odorizzi, it won’t take away from what Giolito’s been able to do in 2019.
Remember that this was the guy who had baseball’s highest ERA and WHIP among qualified starters last season, and he walked more batters than any pitcher in the AL. Now he’s the owner of a 2.54 ERA that ranks as the third best among qualified starting pitchers in the Junior Circuit, behind only Odorizzi and Justin Verlander.
Over his last six starts — which have all been wins, by the way; Giolito is one of just five pitchers in baseball with at least eight wins — he’s got a 1.03 ERA with 48 strikeouts compared to just eight walks. He walked 90 hitters last season. Sunday, he turned in his first walk-less start since May 29, 2018, just his fourth in a White Sox uniform.
White Sox fans can probably answer the question of how nice that is to see all by themselves, but let’s give the manager a chance, shall we?
“Satisfaction,” Rick Renteria said of watching Giolito pitch. “He's put in a lot of work, everything he's done. He's attacking the strike zone, very effective, mixing in all his pitches, commanding the strike zone, first-pitch strikes. All those things you want him to do. … He's pitching with a lot of confidence. I think he's pitching because he knows who he's becoming, who he is. He's trusting it and letting it happen.”
“Very satisfied,” Giolito concurred. “A bit of a relief after last year. I know a lot of people were doubting me. At times I doubted myself. I went into the offseason with a new plan and the plan is working so I’m going to stick with it.”
And speaking of Verlander, the guy catching Giolito, James McCann, has some familiarity with the future Hall of Famer after catching him in Detroit. No one’s going to say that one terrific stretch elevates Giolito to Verlander status quite yet, but are there any similarities between what made Verlander so successful and what Giolito’s been doing of late?
“One of the big things we talked about during spring, and he already had a little bit of it, was just that routine,” McCann said. “That's something you see that separates a guy like Verlander, or (Max) Scherzer or (David) Price. It's the same thing after every start, in between starts.
“Whether they go out and shove and throw eight innings shutout or if they get hit around a little bit, they keep the same routine, the same mentality and same mindset. And that's something he's doing really, really well right now and I think it's helped him take it to the next level.”
We could go on and on about Giolito all day, but in order for the White Sox to be playing like they played on this homestand, they need to be getting good performances from more than just one starting pitcher. And they have.
Anderson was at it again Sunday, belting a home run off the impressive Zach Plesac for the White Sox only run through the game’s first seven innings. And while he didn’t launch his bat like he did against the Royals back in April, you could tell he’s still locked into his mission of bringing more fun to the game.
“I knew I got it,” he said after the game, “so I had to walk it out.”
Anderson came through in the clutch in the bottom of the eighth, too, adding an insurance run with an RBI double. He’s batting .330 on the season, still one of the top marks in the AL.
But it’s the plays Leury Garcia and Ryan Cordell made in the outfield, the slick double plays being started by Yonder Alonso — who Giolito called a “vacuum” after the game — over at first base, the still impressive numbers of Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada. And let’s not at all gloss over the All-Star caliber closing of Alex Colome, who made it a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities Sunday. Though he gave up a leadoff double in the ninth inning, it was just the second hit against him in a save situation this season.
Again, Kipnis is on to something. They don’t give out any trophies in June, let alone one for finishing 10-plus games behind an elite Twins team. But for a White Sox organization that’s preached patience through so much losing over the first two seasons of this rebuilding process, a week like this is a reward worth celebrating. It might not end up meaning much more than a fun week. But I’ve got a feeling White Sox fans will take a fun week over the alternative.
What’s real promising is the positive signs this week featured for what comes next, for the seasons when this team is expected to move from rebuilding to contending.
“Everybody's been hoping to see the talent these guys have come to fruition,” Renteria said. “They're starting to scratch the surface. They should be excited. These are the real guys right now. They're going to continue to work and get better.
“That doesn't mean we're not going to have hiccups or have a bad run. It just means you have some guys that are starting to understand and trust themselves and what they're capable of doing and you're starting to see some of the fruits of that.”