HOUSTON — The Houston Astros are a good team, one of baseball's true World Series contenders.
The Chicago White Sox are finding that out the hard way this weekend in Texas.
"They're not playing any harder than we are," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after Saturday's 7-3 loss, the third in the first three games of this series, "they're just playing better."
The White Sox, of course, are a good team, too, one sitting in first place in the American League Central standings and boasting one of the game's most dominant starting rotations. Despite significant injuries, they've managed to keep themselves on a path to achieving their sky-high, championship-level preseason goals.
But they're finding out this weekend that it won't be easy.
Surely they knew that already, but scoring just six runs in three games and seeing arguably their best starting pitcher get knocked around and chased after four innings, an atypical result from Lance Lynn, hammered that point home.
Lynn faced these Astros plenty during his two years with the Texas Rangers, during which he flew under the radar as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's continued that excellence with the White Sox, and that a clunker of an outing resulted in his ERA climbing above only 2.00 shows how sensational he's been as a South Sider.
If anyone knows the challenge the Astros present, it's Lynn. And though he's the same guy who said that "no one gives a s---" about contenders matching up in June, he'll know what awaits the White Sox should these Astros be standing in their way come October.
"When they get runners on base, they do a really good job of getting on top of every pitch that there is. That makes them tough," Lynn said. "It doesn’t matter in and out, up, down, it seems like they are ready for it.
"They are doing everything they can to make sure they make those scoring opportunities as good as they possibly can be, so you have to try to be better."
When Lynn face these Astros again, be it next month when they visit the South Side or come October, La Russa thinks he will be.
"I'm looking forward to the next time he faces them," the skipper said, "because he's got weapons he didn't get to use today against them."
The Astros could well be the ones standing in the White Sox way as they make their climb up baseball's mountain. They've followed a similar path to the Astros' to this point, spending years in rebuilding mode only to emerge as a team with legitimate World Series expectations. They want to continue along that path, too, the Astros staying among the game's contenders — on a four-year streak of reaching the ALCS — in the years following their 2017 World Series win.
But to get to where they want to go, the White Sox will have to get through the Astros and teams like them.
"They didn't play any harder, but they played better," La Russa said. "We're capable of turning that around."