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Playoff atmosphere thrills Sox, casts glare on silent bats

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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HOUSTON — The Chicago White Sox held baseball's best offense to two runs.

Problem is, they scored just one run. Math's a bummer, sometimes.

"When you score one run against an offense like that, you're bound to lose the game," White Sox catcher Zack Collins said. "But for the most part, if we hold that team to two runs per game, we win most of those games."

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Of course, there are other good pitching teams in the majors. And even though the White Sox have plenty of experience watching their strong starting rotation mowing down the opposition — including Friday night, in another Carlos Rodón outing that included a no-hit watch — it's worth a reminder that there are other staffs that can do the same.

The Houston Astros have done it twice in two days.

A 2-1 walk-off defeat against the Astros is not something to be ashamed of, particularly when it comes in June. But thanks to sky-high expectations set before the season started, every loss breeds frustration in the fan base and a curiosity of how things could go wrong, even just once, for a team that's built to win it all.

"We've just got to score a little more," Collins said.

Indeed, the White Sox offense was supposed to strike terror into the hearts of opposing pitchers. It was the American League's most powerful a season ago and looked to be even better while expecting bounce-back campaigns from Yoán Moncada and Yasmani Grandal; full seasons, as opposed to two months, from Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal; and the addition of slugging prospect Andrew Vaughn.

 

Then came one giant hole blasted in the lineup after another: first Jiménez, then Robert, then Madrigal down with significant injuries.

The reserves who have stepped in in place of the injured stars have done a more than admirable job keeping the White Sox championship hopes afloat two and a half months into the season. The offense has mustered just three runs in 18 innings in Houston, but the White Sox remain in first place and among the game's true World Series contenders.

But is this lineup — the one missing three hitters the caliber of Jiménez, Robert and Madrigal — capable of fulfilling those World Series expectations without any augmentation?

With the trade deadline approaching, the White Sox would figure to be interested in fortifying a lineup that's nowhere near what it was envisioned to be, not from a production standpoint, necessarily, but from a construction standpoint. Internal solutions to the injury issues have worked for two months. Will they work for six, or however long it is until Jiménez and Robert are able to return? Madrigal, already, is done for the year.

It's not worth overreacting to a couple losses to another contender. It's certainly possible the White Sox go off in the back half of this four-game set and these two days of silence from the lineup become a distant memory. Heck, it was just two days ago they scored eight runs against a pretty good pitching team from Tampa Bay.

"I don’t think we are worried at all," Collins said. "Exactly what they did to us the last two nights is what we’ve been doing to people all year. It happens.

"I don’t think anybody is worrying we aren’t going to come back and score runs."

Regardless, a team chasing a championship should be expected to do what contending clubs do at the end of July, and offensive improvements might top Rick Hahn's shopping list.

Other than that, the White Sox are getting a taste of what they wanted. They might have been saddled with a second straight loss Friday night. But the sort of postseason atmosphere that's been commonplace at Minute Maid Park since the Astros vaulted out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode was right there in the White Sox face.

And unlike the throw from right field that actually hit Vaughn in the face while he was finishing off a sixth-inning double, they loved it.

"That’s as close as you can get to playoff atmosphere," Rodón said. "It was fun to be out there and hear that."

Because "no one gives a s---" about contenders making statements in June, even a four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, which is entirely hypothetical at this point, will do little to knock the White Sox off the road they hope ends in a World Series win.

 

But the type of playoff lifestyle they want to live is only desirable when paired with winning. Perhaps, eventually, the White Sox, who seem to always get a winning chance from their starting pitchers, will be forced to find a better way to ensure such a result.

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