Sox Reporter

Record-setting Sox need consistency to reach playoffs

Sox Reporter

That’s more like it.

But how long will it last?

The White Sox are back at .500 after pulling a 180 from their “bad day” Saturday. They mustered just six hits in 14 innings during a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Then they turned around for one of their not-at-all-uncommon offensive explosions, launching four consecutive home runs — just the 10th time that happened in major league history — in a convincing win.

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Sunday’s slugfest was the kind of thing this potent lineup has proven itself capable of. But the season, embodied by an 11-11 record, has been a whiplash-inducing ride from one extreme to the other, from the highs of offensive eruptions to the lows of bad days like Saturday.

It’s impossible to get a handle on which one of those extremes this White Sox team truly is as they enter the second third of this 60-game sprint to October.

What is for sure is that they prefer what happened Sunday. I’m guessing the fan base does, too.

“Yesterday is in the past,” third baseman Yoán Moncada, who kickstarted the back-to-back-to-back-to-back jacks in the fifth inning, said after the game through team interpreter Billy Russo. “It was a tough day for us yesterday, but today was a different day. We showed what we are capable of doing.

“We've been working hard every day, we're trying to do our best. We know that we have a very good team, not just a good offense but a very good team. And I think our goal is just to keep working hard every day because the ultimate goal for all of us is to be in the playoffs.

“Hopefully days like today are going to be more consistent on our end."

That’s the tall task staring the White Sox in the face right now: consistency. As evidenced Sunday, which featured yet another solid performance from Dallas Keuchel in addition to that mid-game home run derby, they have the tools to do it. But will they?

The last week has been as emblematic as any stretch through the season’s first 22 games when it comes to the White Sox at times all-or-nothing tendencies. A listless performance Monday sparked Keuchel to comment on the team’s lack of effort. The next two days, the White Sox scored a combined 15 runs in back-to-back wins in Detroit. Then came Saturday, when they looked like the team that hadn’t played in 17 days, as opposed to the Cardinals, who actually hadn't. Sunday, they got rid of that bad taste with a feat baseball had seen just nine times prior.

With so much emphasis on every game in this most unusual season, even modest stretches of winning and losing can seemingly jerk the campaign in one direction or another. And the pressure of the rapid rate at which the sand is draining out of the hourglass might have something to do with the spells of offensive ineptitude.

The offense looked anything but inept Sunday, but until the White Sox string those kinds of performances together more consistently, we’ll have to wonder if this was just another heavy swing of the pendulum.

“Keep playing,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said when asked how the team can solve the mystery of its inconsistent play. “The biggest thing for us is get an out, get every out. We’re playing out to out, pitch to pitch in order to stay in the game. Our offense will do what it’s going to do, but defensively we have to make sure we get every out we possibly can, not make any mistakes. And not pushing it too much. Staying loose and playing the game we know we can play.”

There’s that baseball notion that after two months — a third of the way through a normal season — you’re supposed to be able to get a grip on what kind of team you have: a contender or a pretender. Everything’s different this season. There’s no telling what these White Sox are through fewer than a month’s worth of games, even if the season is more than a third of the way over. An expanded playoff field ought to help them stay in the race for one of the eight spots.

But at 11-11, no one seems ready, or even qualified, to say this was the team that generated so much buzz and talked endlessly about postseason expectations before the season started.

Of course, nothing’s over yet in this weird and sure to be wild race to the finish line.

“No one is pleased with the record,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Everybody has had challenges, but with the challenges we’ve had, we are kind of holding our own. Do we want to be better? Everybody wants to always be better. We want to be better. I think these guys are starting to be better.”

“I like where we're at,” Keuchel said. “Obviously, I think we'd like to be better than what the record shows. But we're hanging around, and that's all you can ask for because you can't just ask this team to win 50 games out of 60 when the foundation hasn't been really properly set. We're winning as we go and taking a step back here or there. But at the same time, overall, I think we're pushing forward.

“We've got to pitch when we don't hit, and we've got to hit when we don't pitch. If we can get that going, we'll be really, really good.”