Sox Reporter

Walk-offs, first place, trade rumors: Sox livin' contender life

Sox Reporter

The White Sox are more than just capable of contending in 2020.

On Sunday alone, the White Sox got their second no-hit outing from a starting pitcher in a week, got a walk-off homer from a newcomer for the second time this weekend, were mentioned in trade rumors involving one of the best pitchers in baseball and moved into a first-place tie atop the AL Central standings.

Otherwise known as livin' that contender life.

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"We’re playing very good baseball. We’re playing solid baseball, and I think that the mood of the team is it doesn’t matter who we’re facing. We’re going out, trying to beat them," outfielder Luis Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo after launching a walk-off three-run shot to beat the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon. "The confidence level is high, and we know what we can do."

They're letting everyone know it, too.

The White Sox sure looked primed for an ascent into contention mode after spending the previous three rebuilding seasons losing a total of 284 games. The young core broke out in a big way last season, and the front office made one addition after another during the winter, adding the kind of veteran heft that mixed with the youngsters — both already at the big league level and still waiting to make their major league debuts — to bring realistic playoff expectations to the South Side for the first time in a long time.

 

But after talking the talk of high hopes and playoff possibilities in the preseason, they're now walking the walk. The White Sox have gone 10-2 in their last dozen games. They have the top offense in the American League, second in baseball, with an .818 team OPS. They lead the AL with 64 home runs. Their pitching's been pretty good, too, a 3.75 team ERA ranking fifth in the Junior Circuit. They have a plus-42 run differential, best in the AL and second in baseball.

And after Robert lifted that three-run homer over the left-field fence Sunday, they're back in a first-place tie with the Cleveland Indians. They're a game and a half ahead of the suddenly scuffling Minnesota Twins, who they'll play three times in the next three days, the biggest series the White Sox have played in years.

In the last two weeks, the White Sox have matched a major league record by hitting four consecutive home runs, set a new major league record with 27 homers in a seven-game span, watched José Abreu homer his way into MVP consideration with four long balls in four consecutive at-bats, taken a series from the Crosstown-rival Cubs on a flag-planting weekend at Wrigley Field and watched Lucas Giolito continue to evolve into one of the best pitchers in baseball with his 13-strikeout no-hitter.

There's less than a month to play in this bizarre, shortened 2020 campaign, and certainly in this 60-game format, the season can be jerked in one direction or another in a hurry. But the White Sox are among baseball's true contenders.

"This is what we knew we had, and it's been nice," starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said last week. "Quality at-bat after quality at-bat. That's not fun for the opposing pitchers. … When you've got a hot team, pretty much top to bottom, that's tough to navigate through.

"I'm glad I'm on this side right now. And we have the ability to keep it going, so I'm anxious to see pitching, defense, hitting. I'm anxious to see where it does head the last week of August and then the last 30 days in September."

The last week of August has come down to the last day of August, and this year, that means the trade deadline. A true contender, it should be no surprise that the White Sox are have been frequently mentioned in the rumor mill.

Their offense is menacing and their starting rotation has put up some good numbers. But past Giolito and Keuchel at the top, there are questions about consistency, and a starting-pitching upgrade would certainly be beneficial. In the past two days, that's meant the White Sox being tied to the top two starting pitchers on the market: the Indians' Mike Clevinger and the Texas Rangers' Lance Lynn.

As ridiculous as it might seem that the Indians would deal one of baseball's better pitchers to a division rival they're actively competing with for the Central crown, that's where reports put things Sunday.

Such is life at the trade deadline. Such is life in contention mode.

Of course, general manager Rick Hahn has been carefully crafting this rebuilding project for years now, and he doesn't want to upset his long-term vision to contend in 2020. Clevinger and Lynn are both under club control past the end of this season. But there's a balance to strike when deciding what to give up, especially when his work has made a seemingly lengthy contention window possible.

That said, these are the problems Hahn wanted, those "good problems to have" he alluded to throughout the last several seasons when discussing down-the-road hypotheticals. When the time came to weigh trading good prospects for a good player because the team was playoff bound with championship aspirations, he knew that was going to be preferable to losing 100 games. And it is.

The same goes for manager Rick Renteria. He'll take lineup scrutiny and questions about who pitched when over playing meaningless baseball in August and September.

These games are as meaningful as any this group of White Sox has played. And that's what this rebuilding project has been all about, to get to these games and the ones that come after.

"We were waiting for the last couple years, and now it's happening," outfielder Eloy Jiménez said last week. "We have a really good team."

Walk-off wins. First place in the standings. A white-hot offense. Trade rumors about the biggest and boldest pitching upgrades.

This is contender life. And the White Sox are living it.

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