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Sox show contender stuff at start of run against AL's best

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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"It kind of goes back to those one-run games, those 3-2 games and how guys will react in those situations that kind of separate toward the tail end," Chicago White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton, a veteran of a recent World Series winner, said last month. "Those dog days, we'll find out what type of team we really are."

The traditional "dog days" of the baseball season haven't hit quite yet. But the White Sox are into the summer. And because the schedule is what it is, they'll spend the next couple weeks finding out what type of team they really are.

The South Siders kicked off a two-week stretch of games played mostly against fellow American League contenders Tuesday night. They'll play three against the Toronto Blue Jays this week, and after a weekend trip to Detroit will get the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros for seven straight.

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For a team that's done a lot of its winning against AL Central foes, seeing other playoff-caliber groups will say a lot about how far into October these White Sox can go.

To get things started the way they did Tuesday was a positive sign.

"It's the kind of game that teams that contend win," manager Tony La Russa said after a 6-1 comeback victory.

The White Sox looked the lesser offensive club as the Blue Jays' young stars from the "Kids of Guys You Watched Growing Up" collection made some hard contact against Carlos Rodón while the latest edition of the South Side Hit Men couldn't solve Robbie Ray, who entered with the most home runs allowed in the AL.

 

But Rodón, despite not being dominant and putting a lot of guys on base, managed to be pretty excellent in his own way, another White Sox starting pitcher putting the team on his back. He fought through five innings and one jam after another, yielding just one run.

"All hail Carlos Rodón," La Russa said. "What he did those first five innings to keep it at one run, he's the star of the game and everybody knew it.

"It was a refusal to give in and think, 'Hey, it's not my night.'"

Indeed, Rodón made it his night, continuing to impress in a variety of ways in this rejuvenating season. An effort like Tuesday's, as much as something like the no-hitter he threw against the Cleveland Indians in April, can allow the White Sox to dream of a deep rotation that can take them deep into the postseason.

"I've had games like that when I'm out in the second inning with nine runs and I'm hitting the showers," Rodón said. "Pitching in games like that before, I think I've learned a few things on how to get out of those jams."

But while the starting pitching can drive the bus for these White Sox, everything else will need to click, too, if they want to achieve their sky-high, championship-level goals. The bullpen chipped in Tuesday, getting a particularly strong moment from Evan Marshall, who worked his way out of a tough two-on, one-out jam in the seventh by striking out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and picking Marcus Semien off second base.

The offense, though, was what needed to show up to erase that minimal 1-0 deficit, to show that even without Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert it can still slug with the game's other impressive offensive teams. And that's what happened.

Andrew Vaughn continued to build a rookie campaign worth paying attention to, mimicking the clutch homer he hit off New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman by blasting a game-tying shot in the seventh inning that chased Ray from the game. Without Ray to flummox them further, the bats woke up and hammered the Blue Jays' bullpen for five runs in the eighth.

It was Vaughn, of course, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the game still tied, coming a few feet away from a grand slam that would've blown the roof off Guaranteed Rate Field. Instead, it was a sacrifice fly, but the rookie came up with the game's two biggest RBIs.

Vaughn has done well to answer the biggest question that he carried into his rookie season: Could the White Sox count on him to produce as a regular for a team with World Series expectations? He's done the answering with his actions. La Russa put some words to it Tuesday.

 

"He's starting to build up a nice bunch of (moments) that he can feel confident that he's good in clutch situations. We can name several, but that was one of them," the South Side skipper said. "I think Andrew is solidifying, not just in his own mind but with his teammates, that he belongs here and we can count on him."

Indeed, the entire offense, even without two of its biggest boppers, is coming through on a regular basis. And the combination of pitching and offense has given the White Sox a jaw-droppingly good run differential of plus-90, the best mark in baseball, through the season's first 60 games.

"We have the fight, 1 through 9 and every pitcher we got who goes to the mound. It's unbelievable," Vaughn said. "We can go out there and know we have a potent lineup and just got to get our shot."

It's a formula that smacks of a true contender. Now they just need to show they can put it to good use against teams that have some similar stuff going on. Remember, the last time the White Sox ran into another one of the Junior Circuit's big boys, they were swept out of The Bronx.

At the end of this stretch against the rest of the AL's best, they'll know a lot more about themselves. And we'll know a lot more when it comes to figuring out whether these White Sox are as real as they've looked through two-plus months of baseball.

"If a team is playing you in the major leagues, they're capable of beating you in a series. So what we want to do is be very consistent in how we play," La Russa said. "But you also want to recognize that these three teams — two teams from the East and one from the West — they're going to be up there fighting for playoff spots.

"Two weeks from today, we'll see where we are."

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