Don't try to talk to Tony La Russa about October.
He's not ready to talk about his team heading there just yet, not eager to run afoul of the baseball gods.
Indeed, the South Side skipper is correct, the Chicago White Sox haven't clinched anything yet. But math is inarguably on their side as the postseason nears. Wednesday marks the start of the regular season's final month, and the White Sox own baseball's largest division lead.
The White Sox intend to play to the whistle, so to speak, but they can count, too, meaning they're taking action to put themselves in the best position for the lengthy October run they've been discussing since the spring.
Lately, that's meant managing players' workloads in an effort to have them as fresh and as healthy as possible come the postseason.
Tuesday, that meant the decisions to sit Tim Anderson, once again bedeviled by the sore legs that knocked him out of four straight games on the team's most recent road trip, and send Lance Lynn to the injured list with right knee inflammation.
It's pretty clear that had either malady popped up after the postseason began that these two key cogs would be playing. But with a month to prepare for October, they aren't.
Lynn is expected to miss just one start as the White Sox take advantage of three off days in eight days and rearrange their starting staff accordingly.
"Started dealing with it after the start in Iowa. It hasn't gone away," Lynn said. "It's one of those things where we probably could have kept going, but we didn't want to risk putting something in jeopardy where I was going to be worrying about things coming down the stretch for the playoff push or in October. So using this time with the off days and a little break here to make sure I'm ready to go for the playoff push and into October, if we get that opportunity."
Anderson, meanwhile, might not feature at all in the White Sox' brief two-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates this week. After sitting out of Sunday's series finale against the Chicago Cubs, that would mean three straight games missed — and thanks to the schedule, five consecutive days of rest — after that four-game stretch of sitting out a week ago. La Russa said he hopes to have Anderson back in the lineup for the start of a weekend series against the Kansas City Royals.
"He's still got soreness, stiffness," La Russa said before Tuesday's game. "When you're legs are such a vital part (of your game) — you look at the range, left and right, bracing and throwing, and then hitting and running bases — they're going to get sore.
"Hopefully he's OK for Kansas City. But we're going to get his legs strong and fresh before we play him again, hopefully this weekend.
"It's not an injury, we don't think. They're sore, stiff. And it's not smart to push it."
The importance of these two can't be overstated, of course. Lynn has made himself arguably the American League Cy Young frontrunner with a sensational season. Anderson has been one of the most important players on the team for years now, not just a spark plug at the top of the lineup, but a team leader and an elite hitter who makes things happen, has a knack for big moments and brings energy to the team in every facet of the game.
Being without them now is obviously not ideal. Being without them come the playoffs would be disastrous, hence the team's cautious approach now.
Nothing about the way either player has been discussed should generate any sort of panic among the fan base, as the whole reason Anderson and Lynn are sitting right now is to allow them to be as healthy as possible once the games reach their most important and the season is on the line.
But in addition to using September as a way to improve for October, to iron out inconsistencies and allow recently returned players to round into their best form, the White Sox will now be using the final month of the regular season to get as healthy as possible. That includes Anderson, who come Wednesday could miss seven of his team's last 11 games, and Lynn, who discussed Tuesday an ailment that will require treatment.
Let's just say it's something to monitor, even if it's nothing that deserves any long-term worry at the moment.
Meanwhile, even more reinforcements could be coming the White Sox' way.
La Russa said Tuesday that outfielder Billy Hamilton is expected back with the team Wednesday, when rosters expand. He's been on the IL for a long while with an oblique strain. Now that once-injured outfielders Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are finally back, the White Sox can deploy the speedy Hamilton in the role they envisioned prior to the injuries that thrust him into an expanded workload. He can be the game-changing speed threat that could make the difference in a playoff game.
La Russa also informed Tuesday that outfielder Adam Engel is scheduled to start a rehab assignment later this week. Engel has only played in 33 games this season, but when he has played he's been very effective at the plate, in addition to his usual excellence defensively in the outfield. He was supposed to be the team's fourth outfielder when the season began, but after the Adam Eaton experiment failed, he could wind up getting the bulk of the starts in right field come the postseason, if he's healthy enough to contribute that regularly.
Remember, too, that relief pitcher Evan Marshall is currently on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte and could provide a boost to a bullpen that's loaded with talented arms but has been a frequent source of fan frustration this season, even after the trade-deadline acquisitions of Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera.
So while La Russa played coy about what his team would be working on in September, what improvements he was looking for, one thing is almost certainly on his to-do list: get healthy, or be as healthy as possible. That's what these moves are all about.