As Rick Hahn has said again and again, this White Sox team is going to be judged less on how many games they win and more on how they win them.
Well, chalk up positive marks for both categories after Thursday night’s comeback victory against the visiting New York Yankees.
The Bronx Bombers came to the South Side in first place in the once again hyper-competitive AL East, jockeying with the Tampa Bay Rays and perhaps trying to rack up as many wins as possible before the defending-champion Boston Red Sox get clear of their World Series hangover. But the sub-.500 (for now) White Sox got the last laugh in Act I of this four-game set, erasing a 4-0 deficit thanks to a pair of clutch homers from Tim Anderson and Leury Garcia.
Anderson’s game-tying, three-run blast in the fifth inning was the kind of great sign Hahn is referencing when he talks about the goal for the 2019 season, a young core player continuing a breakout campaign that cranks up the brightness on seasons to come as much as it does for the current season. Anderson is still in that All-Star conversation at shortstop and could make the team even if he doesn’t get elected a starter.
After Eloy Jimenez had a big night against the Washington Nationals two nights prior, Anderson playing a starring role Thursday is the kind of winning — or just the kind of play — that this front office wants to see as the rebuild moves toward the contention window potentially opening as soon as next season.
“I like those moments. Those moments are the moments you want to be in,” Anderson said. “Not being afraid to fail. Just keep going and continue to work and keep getting better. I like those moments.”
But for all the continued signs of progress from that Anderson-Jimenez-Lucas Giolito-Yoan Moncada core, contending teams need role players, too.
No one is ever going to suggest that Leury Garcia will have a good enough 2019 season to block the rapid rise of Luis Robert, who’s destined to take over in center the second the White Sox deem him ready for the major leagues. Given the way he’s massacred the ball in the minors this season, it wouldn’t even be shocking if that were to happen before time runs out on the 2019 campaign.
But Garcia has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him as the White Sox everyday center fielder. That job figured to belong to Jon Jay back in spring training, but here we are in mid June and Jay has yet to make his White Sox debut. Meanwhile, Garcia hasn’t exactly showed the makings of a future star, but he’s performed really well. Expected to be little more than a versatile bench player, he’s hitting .278 after a couple of RBI extra-base hits Thursday night. His home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh broke a 4-all tie and ended up the difference.
That Garcia, whose one-year deal in the offseason was met with little reaction from fans, gave the White Sox a win over the first-place win against Adam Ottavino, the high-priced free-agent reliever some fans wanted imported into the South Side bullpen, was noteworthy.
Things can certainly change, but right now Garcia is showing the kind of value that should intrigue a White Sox front office looking to construct a winning roster in the near future. He can play every position besides first base, pitcher and catcher, and if he brings a reliable bat along with him, who wouldn’t want that coming off the bench?
“It has been great. I've been trying to take advantage of this opportunity because I know the importance of it,” Garcia said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think I've been taking advantage of it, and I feel very good and happy for this opportunity.”
And then there’s the aforementioned South Side bullpen, which had one of its more notable performances Thursday night. After Alex Colome threw nearly 40 pitches to win Tuesday’s game against the Nationals, the White Sox relief corps had to do the job without their dominant closer. So Josh Osich, Evan Marshall, Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Bummer turned in 3.1 shutout innings. Herrera has shown recent flashes of returning to his old self. Bummer bounced back from a rough night Tuesday for his first career save. Marshall threw up another spotless inning.
This isn’t to say that the back end of the White Sox next contending bullpen will include all these faces. But to have a growing number of reliable arms in the relief corps is nothing but a positive.
“It’s awesome to see,” Bummer said. “It’s kind of that rhythm that the bullpen is in. We are going to go out and get the job done.
“As a whole, I think the entire bullpen is throwing the ball extremely well. It’s a lot of fun to be down there. Hopefully we can continue to build.”
The list of positives keep growing for the White Sox, who took three of the first four games they played against the Yankees this season. It’s hard to declare this one win a statement game or this weekend a pivotal one, in the traditional sense, especially in an American League that already seems to have a determined outcome. The Yankees and Rays seem like postseason locks, the same for the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. That leaves one playoff spot up for grabs between a host of teams hovering right around that .500 mark.
But even if the White Sox don’t vault themselves into the postseason race (in June) this weekend, they can add the way they’ve played against one of the game’s elite teams to their growing list of positives.
“We talked about that before the game, the importance of this weekend for us,” Garcia said. “We played hard today, as always. We always go out there, try to do our best and to win games.
“We know that we're facing a very good team, but we try to do our best with our best effort. It was a good win tonight, a team effort.”
It was. Inside the White Sox clubhouse, they’re viewing this series as important because of what it could mean for their standing in 2019. But as Hahn has mentioned all along, regardless of what that win-loss record ends up looking like, it’s the way these White Sox play that counts. And with a premier opponent across the field, how they play this weekend is important for 2019 and 2020 and beyond.