“With the team that we have, with the lineup that we have,” Luis Robert said, “four runs is nothing.”
You know, it seems like it’s getting a little too obvious to say it, but this sure is a different kind of White Sox team.
No duh, you’ll say, pointing to the AL Central standings, where the White Sox enter the final month of the regular season all alone in first place after a wild 8-5 comeback win over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night. These aren’t the rebuilding White Sox anymore. These are the contending White Sox.
It’s getting hard to keep track of all the team’s various feats, the big moments from an insane two-week stretch that has now seen the White Sox win 12 of their last 14 games. Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter, four consecutive dingers, José Abreu’s personal home run derby against the Crosstown-rival Cubs and two walk-off wins against the Kansas City Royals over the weekend.
Well, they added another Monday night in Minneapolis.
It didn’t look pretty from the outset, the White Sox committing three errors in a nightmarish second inning. They were down 4-0 early and stranding runners all over the place. And the Twins weren’t making things any more aesthetically pleasing, walking guys left and right and confusing the heck out of everyone with a bizarre bases-loaded, dropped-line-drive play. Not exactly the stuff pennant races are made of.
But the White Sox turned up the intensity and got the clutch hits they needed. Adam Engel singled in a pair, and Abreu delivered another MVP moment with a two-run, game-tying double in the sixth. After the Twins grabbed the lead back, Robert launched a homer to dead center to tie the game up again. Two innings later, his ground-rule double drove in the go-ahead run, and Nomar Mazara singled in two more not long after.
Four runs wasn’t exactly nothing. But the White Sox came back. You know, like true contenders do.
“It's what we've been waiting for, man,” Giolito said after the game, marveling at how fun winning can be. “It's been a lot of losing baseball the last few years. We knew what we were capable of, and now that we're starting to show it, coming out every single game with confidence, all nine players on the diamond, it's a lot of fun.
“This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball, not even close.”
Right now, the Twins aren’t quite the menacing threat they were a year ago. The Bomba Squad hasn’t been doing much mashing of late, riding into this series the losers of five in a row. As was the case in the preseason, their pitching staff shouldn’t have anyone shaking in their boots, but it’s been the offense that’s let them down after last year’s 100-win campaign.
Still, that’s only how things stand right now, and if this short season has shown anything, it’s that it doesn’t take much to jumble everything up. Two weeks ago, after being swept in a doubleheader by the St. Louis Cardinals, who hadn’t played in two weeks while quarantining due to positive COVID-19 tests, the White Sox playoff aspirations looked to be in trouble. The next day they hit four home runs in a row, and they’ve spent the last two weeks rocketing to the top of the American League.
All that's been missing was some winning baseball against the Twins and Cleveland Indians, who took six of the first nine games the White Sox played against their main AL Central competition. The White Sox showed what they could do against the first-place Cubs, but they’d yet to show they could do it against these two division rivals.
Then came Monday night, a heck of a start to what is the most important series of the year to date.
Hours earlier, there was some consternation that despite all the winning, the White Sox weren’t acting enough like contenders, that they didn’t do what contenders do and make a big splash at the trade deadline. They didn’t come away from a busy Monday across baseball with Mike Clevinger or Lance Lynn, no starting pitcher to deepen their rotation.
Instead, Rick Hahn opted to preserve the carefully crafted rebuilding plans that have the team set up for long-term success.
Hours later, it was easy to see why.
Robert was once — and still technically is — a highly touted prospect, part of the White Sox bright future. A little more than 30 games into his major league career, he’s setting baseball on fire. In the last two days, he’s hit a walk-off home run, a game-tying home run and a game-winning ground-rule double. To put it mildly, he’s acclimated to big league pitching quite nicely. And though he’s still a huge reason why the White Sox have such a bright future, he’s also a huge reason why the White Sox have such a bright present.
“It's incredible,” he said, after his latest batch of late-inning heroics, through team interpreter Billy Russo. “It's incredible, the vibe that you have when you're able to respond in those situations, just how the team reacts. It is a fun moment for us. We're enjoying the good times. It's a good atmosphere in the clubhouse, and we're just trying to take advantage of it.”
“He’s just scratching the surface, ladies and gentlemen,” manager Rick Renteria said. “This kid’s going to be really, really good.”
Going to? You mean there’s more?
Yeah, there is. And the same goes for the White Sox as a whole, hence why Hahn opted not to abandon the plan. Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning. Why should they have gone anywhere? The plan is working. This was what the White Sox envisioned, what’s happening right now.
And what’s happening right now is the White Sox are all by their lonesome in first place. They’re on absolute fire. They’re one of the best teams in the American League.
This is the contention White Sox fans have been waiting for.
“Top to bottom this team, we’re doing it on all sides of the field: offense, defense, bullpen, starting pitching’s been good,” Giolito said. “The cohesion we have, how close we are, teammates, friends, it’s pretty hard to beat.
“I think that I like our chances here. We've got a very good vibe going.”