The White Sox have done what they have needed to do this season: They’ve beaten the living daylights out of the Kansas City Royals.
There are three more games remaining between the division rivals this weekend after Thursday night’s thunderous return to form for a White Sox team that just dropped back-to-back games in their most important series of the year in Minnesota. But an 11-6 victory in the Show Me State will do plenty to erase the taste of the ugly one a night earlier in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
“It was definitely a priority to come out and jump on them,” Tim Anderson said. “I guess we had to see how bad we could be to see how good we could be. Definitely a great win to bounce back from last night, because last night was ugly.
“I think last night was so bad that we were all ready to get back out there to get better results. It showed tonight. It showed what kind of ballclub we are one through nine. Everybody was ready.”
Indeed, this is a team we’ve seen plenty in 2020, the lineup that destroys opposing pitching and never gives it a rest. Thursday featured its latest explosion.
They hit three home runs, as they’re wont to do. Anderson delivered against the Royals, again, using up his latest bat flip on a second-inning walk, making it so he had to settle for a mere bat drop on his solo homer two innings later. Edwin Encarnación hit a ball out to left field that looked very impressive only until Luis Robert obliterated a baseball 458 feet in a similar direction.
After four errors and just four hits one night earlier in Minneapolis, the White Sox were happy to bust out their own batch of boomsticks Thursday night.
“Today's game was important,” Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Getting the victory was important, but as important as it's going to be in tomorrow's game or the next game.
“At this point of the season, every game counts and every game is very important, especially in the position that we are in right now.”
As the White Sox chase after the franchise’s first playoff berth in more than a decade, nights like this will certainly help. There are three more games against these Royals. In the first seven, the White Sox have won six of them. That’s big news after the 2019 edition of the Kansas City ballclub — which lost 103 games — took the season series a year ago.
Feasting on the division’s bottom-dwellers is a mandatory thing for any contender, and the White Sox have used games against weaker competition to fuel their midseason ascent to the top of the division standings. They’re a half game out of first place after Thursday’s win. They are 16-4 against opponents with .500 records or worse: the Royals, the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Getting to the playoffs in any fashion would be an accomplishment well worth celebrating for these White Sox, considering how long it’s been since South Side fans got to watch their team in October. But the team has made it very clear it’s dreaming of bigger things. Making noise come October, or even winning the World Series, hasn’t sounded all that crazy as the White Sox have unleashed one of baseball’s best offenses, set home-run records and watched their ace throw a no-hitter.
In order to do meet those high expectations, though, they’ll need to start putting on shows, like the ones the Royals are certainly sick of, against winning teams. Against the Minnesota Twins, the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs — the four teams with above-.500 records the White Sox have played this season — they’re just 7-11.
Though the expanded playoff field seemed to have the potential to reward even a team with a losing record with a playoff berth, if the season ended today, the eight playoff teams in the AL would all be north of .500. That means a good team will be awaiting the White Sox in the postseason’s best-of-three wild-card round. So far, they’ve won just one of their six three-game series against winning clubs.
Of course, that’s not something the White Sox are concerning themselves with right now. As Robert mentioned, the cliché though effective approach of taking things one game at a time is what they’re working with. Rick Renteria has been asked about big series against big opponents when they've popped up throughout the season, and his answer has often been the same, that the White Sox treat all opponents the same way and take no game for granted.
No one’s suggesting they deviate from that strategy or start underestimating the Royals and Pirates. It’s a good thing they haven’t. But as fun as the “light shows” have been against weaker competition. There’s a big question out there that’s gone unanswered to this point: Can they do it against the big boys, too?
The three-game set in Minnesota wasn’t exactly a good three-game representation of what these White Sox have been about. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel had off days, making early exits even if they didn’t give up too much on the scoreboard. A defense that’s looked sharp had its worst performances this season. And an offense capable of so much went to sleep after the first night, scoring a combined three runs in the series’ final 18 innings.
It was a three-game snapshot, sure, and a unrepresentative one at that. But how far the White Sox can go come October will come down to a three-game series in the postseason's opening round.
They need to keep feasting on the weaker clubs, and they’re showing no signs of quitting that. Sorry, Royals.
But the regular season’s final 14 games feature 11 against the Twins, Indians and Cubs. It will be then that we find out what the White Sox can really do against baseball's other contenders.