Since Luis Robert went down with a strained hip flexor, we’ve heard the White Sox talk a lot about how their World Series expectations haven’t changed. But truthfully, the words never carried much weight. What’s a team that spent an entire offseason and spring camp hyping themselves up as the best team in baseball supposed to say after losing two of the most important hitters in the lineup?
“Sorry, we’re screwed”?
Of course not. They’re going to boast about their depth and flaunt their highly-touted pitching staff, and claim their end goal is the same. But after Sunday’s 9-3 win and a darn-near perfect sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the notion that a title’s still at play feels a lot less hollow.
The White Sox, who lead the AL Central by one game, have dealt with more adversity through 32 games than most teams will in a season, and there are check marks in the loss column to show for it. Momentum has been an issue for this team, as with each convincing stride, a setback followed suit. But the White Sox reached full velocity in Kansas City over the weekend, and you start to realize that if the first month of the season was the team at its worst, we’re in for a heck of a year.
On the heels of what could be the best four-straight games any starting pitching staff will have this season, Lucas Giolito took the mound for the series finale at Kauffman Stadium.
He gave up a run on two hits in the first inning, and it looked like a viable beginning to another bad start for Giolito. Turns out, it would be the only run he’d allow in five innings of work. He admittedly didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, and gave up two more hits and two walks before Evan Marshall, who gave up a home run in his last appearance, replaced him at the start of the sixth. After walking two batters, Codi Heuer came into the game and walked a third straight, which led to a run on a fielder’s choice. In the seventh, Heuer gave up a triple and a sacrifice fly before Aaron Bummer was called on to end the inning. Bummer and then José Ruiz each went one, two, three to seal the deal.
It wasn’t the tidiest bullpen performance, but there was clearly room for error thanks to another offensive knockout.
Standouts included José Abreu, who drove in three runs on a single and a double, and Yermín Mercedes, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs on a triple – I know, right? – and a double.
Mercedes talked about breaking out of his recent skid after the game.
“When you're working hard, you see the results,” he told reporters. “I just want to see the good results. Today was good. Two base hits, double, triple, a couple of RBIs. Just working on it and keep doing it."
There were other bright spots in the game, too, like Yoan Moncada’s exceptional defense and Danny Mendick’s successful stint in right field.
The rout of the Royals underscored the White Sox’ most dangerous weapon: If the offense isn’t there, pitching can win you games; and if the pitching isn’t there, the offense can win you games. A team like that is difficult to beat.
There’s been a lot of noise surrounding this club over the past month, and this past week in particular, and through it all, they’ve stood united, not allowing anything but their performance on the field to define them.
“We’ve got outstanding heart, outstanding spirit,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the game. “Like today, they scored in the first and we watched Lucas battle out of that thing, and they come out there and took a bunch of great at-bats.”
I repeat: A team like that is difficult to beat.