HOUSTON — After the Chicago White Sox took two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays to briefly become the best team in baseball, catcher Yasmani Grandal said that the head-to-head series victory against another American League contender didn't say anything about this group of South Siders. It was only June, after all.
It's still June, not October. But does a four-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros say anything?
"My butt is so sore from being kicked four days," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said, "it hurts to sit down."
It was an ugly, nightmarish weekend to forget in Texas for the White Sox, who could hardly muster anything offensively while the Astros' bats, the game's best, mostly mauled the South Side pitching staff. After Sunday's 8-2 final, the White Sox left The Lone Star State having been outscored 27-8 in four days.
Not that a trademark image was required — neither Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn nor Dallas Keuchel could last longer than four innings in their respective starts — but defensive miscues Sunday put a nasty punctuation mark on the weekend, Tim Anderson dropping a ball during a rundown and three White Sox defenders watching a pop fly fall in between them in the outfield.
Get the White Sox out of Houston.
"Not a lot of good, a lot of bad," Keuchel said after his sour Houston homecoming. "It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping."
But as Anderson always says, these are the kinds of opponents the White Sox want to face, the types of high-stakes games they want to play in. There's nothing high stakes about anything that happens in June, as Lynn will be the first to tell you, but the White Sox won't be able to avoid teams like the Astros during their chase for a championship. And it's not that they want to.
Though a pitching staff that spent two and a half months mowing down the opposition was well handled by the potent Astros lineup. The White Sox couldn't come up with any offense to counter against a very good Astros staff, and they couldn't find the win column during their four-day stay.
So what does it say?
Mostly, the White Sox continued insistence that it's still too early to be drawing huge conclusions, still too early to panic about the offense, makes plenty of sense. While it's clear something needs to change, that something can be any number of things over a lengthy period of time. A trade tomorrow might not be as impactful as Eloy Jiménez or Luis Robert returning in a couple months.
The biggest story surrounding the White Sox remains that they are ravaged by injuries, and with Jiménez, Robert and Nick Madrigal in the lineup, the offensive output would likely have been different over the last four days.
But that, too, is the biggest problem that Rick Hahn and his front office need to solve. It's not that the reserves who have stepped up in the absence of injured stars haven't done an admirable job. They have. It's that the White Sox are trying to win the World Series, and it's difficult to expect a lineup increasingly reliant on bench players to put together championship-caliber performances on a nightly basis.
Maybe the solution is as simple as waiting for the big boppers to get healthy, though how long that will take is far from certain. Maybe the solution lies in the minor leagues, where Jake Burger is playing second base these days, Gavin Sheets is a corner outfielder and both guys are hitting well. Maybe the solution can only be found on the trade market, the kind of impact bat necessary to truly plug the holes created by the injuries to Jiménez and Robert, and the deadline becomes a defining moment for this team — albeit one that's still a month and a half away.
In the end, the season is nowhere close to being on the line on the first day of summer, and the White Sox are still a first-place team, even after four straight losses. But they went up against another contender and got soundly beat this weekend. You can bring up the atypically rough pitching performances, but this was the best offense in baseball and certainly no pitching staff should be expected to win a four-game series against that kind of lineup when given just two runs a game.
"What did we really do well? We really didn’t do anything well," Keuchel said. "You can’t really pinpoint one thing or another. It’s just everything was kind of bad.
"We have an off day tomorrow. I fully expect us to enjoy it, kind of rest up. And if we’re not ready to go on Tuesday, then something might be said. But I fully expect us to come ready to go on Tuesday.
"We’ve played a really hard schedule, and we’ve played some really really good ball, mixed in now with the last four days. But by no means does this series really dictate what we’re going to do going forward or (that) somebody needs a talking to or whatever."
In the most memorable trip to Houston for the White Sox, they finished off a four-game sweep and won the World Series. This weekend, they felt what it's like to get swept out of this ballpark, another contender showing them it won't be an easy road to the top of the AL.
It might only be June. But if the White Sox want 2021 to end the same way 2005 did, things are going to need to get a whole lot different between June and October.
"We ran into a really good offense," Keuchel said. "And we've got a lot of work to do if we want to come back here, maybe, in the playoffs and win the series."