"If it was October, he'd be in there."
Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa knows what's important, knows how to win the World Series. It's why he was brought in for a second stint on the South Side, after all.
And if the White Sox are going to be able to empty their players' tanks on a daily basis come October, they need to not be doing it on a daily basis in August.
That's why Tim Anderson got a second consecutive day off Sunday, the White Sox wrapping their weekend series against the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays without the services of the guy who won the series' first game seemingly all by his lonesome on Friday night.
"His legs are still barking. We don't want to push him," La Russa said. "It's more preventative, get rid of some of that fatigue and soreness, hopefully have him ready for tomorrow. He's not hurt, he's just sore.
"Just wear and tear. He plays at such a high level. ... Talked to the trainer last night and said let’s just give him another day."
That might sound counterintuitive to fans who want to plug the best nine players into the lineup every day and run them out there 162 times like a video game. But to borrow one of La Russa's favorite maxims, these are men, not machines. Baseball's a six-month slog before the playoffs even start, and though soreness may never be debilitating, it adds up.
The way to have a roster as fighting-ready as possible come the playoffs is to dole out regular rest throughout the regular season. La Russa's made a habit of that not because he's trivializing the meaning of certain regular-season contests — the guy whose daily mood rides on the outcome of each game even made sure to point out that Sunday's series-deciding bout against the Rays was an important one — but because he's got the road map to the end of October and he's trying to follow it.
Rest days for everyday players like Anderson might earn the loudest social-media gripes. But the White Sox will pay the closest attention to getting extra rest for their starting pitchers.
The rotation has been mostly dominant this season, helping carry the White Sox to the largest division lead in baseball on the backs of Cy Young-type seasons from Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón and increasingly ace-like efforts from Lucas Giolito. With the intent of having those high-caliber arms as dangerous as possible to opposing lineups come October, the White Sox have plans to buy their pitchers extra rest over the regular season's final month and change.
"Obviously, we still have a lot of work ahead of us," White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz said Saturday. "We need to continue to play well and pitch well and win some ballgames to be able to take care of our business and get to the playoffs. But after this stretch (of 16 consecutive games without an off day), we do have some off days that will really benefit us to where we can kind of manipulate the workflow for the guys.
"And guys need breaks. So it's something that’s constantly thought about and definitely on our mind. And whenever we can — Lucas throwing seven innings (Friday) and going 90 pitches is great — we don't want to have to always push our starters, so they can recover and be strong for the next one.
"We're really looking forward to getting to those off days and being able to let guys have six days, a week off (in between starts), shuffle guys if need be and really manipulate things then."
That strategy could prove wildly effective — and downright necessary — as starting pitchers return to their typical workloads following last year's shortened 60-game season. While Lynn has been a pillar of consistency and durability in his career, Rodón is logging the highest number of innings that he has in years after being limited by significant arm and shoulder injuries. Dylan Cease is, as surprising as it might seem, in his first full length season in the major leagues. Dallas Keuchel has been discussing his efforts to keep himself strong for season's end since the start of spring training.
So spacing out their starting pitchers and resting stars like Anderson can be viewed through a similar lens. It's a way to assure the White Sox are as ready as possible for an extra month of the campaign, as ready as possible to give everything they can to achieve their ultimate goal: to bring a championship to the South Side.
If this was October, Anderson would have played Sunday.
It wasn't, so he didn't, an effort to make sure he's ready to play when October does come along.