White Sox think it’s ‘never too late’ for the ‘best baseball we’ve played all year’

DETROIT — The question was about the team’s state of mind, but Liam Hendriks, closer to the White Sox, caught two words: “too late.”

“It’s never too late until we’re out,” Hendriks said. “Let’s stop saying it’s too late because it’s not too late until we’re knocked out.”

“I can’t control what they do there, but we’ll keep playing and winning streaks,” outfielder AJ Pollock said, before acknowledging that the Guardians’ recent pace could soon make winning streaks insufficient. . “Yeah, they’re super hot right now.”

The degree of difficulty steadily increased as Johnny Cueto’s illness and Michael Kopech’s inflamed shoulder disrupted their starting pitching plan for the weekend, but the Sox picked up another series victory in Detroit on Sunday. Their 11-5 triumph takes them to 12-4 against an even more disappointing Tigers side this season.

While Vince Velasquez praised the organizational communication that set him up to start in place of Cueto and pitch four innings on Sunday, Tanner Banks woke up at 3:30 a.m. Sunday for a flight out of Norfolk, Virginia, and pitched three innings. But after two awful nights for the offense, Sunday’s breakthrough in the fifth inning was a great display of the power and patience the Sox were supposed to show all year. Neither Eloy Jiménez nor Gavin Sheets forced contact in a two-out RBI situation in a tie game, drawing steps to set up Andrew Vaughn, who adapted to the flurry of leads he faced of Tigers reliever Jason Foley, and waited on a 2-2 hanging slider that he belted for a grand slam.

“He was throwing hard pitches and left one in the middle and I put a good swing on it,” Vaughn said, making it simple after two nights of offensive frustration. Even as an offensive hero and team leader with 17 homers, he seemed impressed with the force of nature that is a healthy Jiménez, who completed a triple short of the cycle and threw a 450-foot homer that, according to Vaughn, “looked like a gunshot.”

It may not be enough.

Hendriks was speaking after Friday’s 3-2 loss, when the silent attack and second fielding error of his career set up the routine steal he induced from Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes to become a sacrificial fly, tackles the extra runner in the 10th inning. Every sweep the White Sox fail to achieve at this point requires another, the first of which is this week’s showdown with the Guardians. Even taking just two of three against Cleveland would give the tiebreaker of the season and force the White Sox to overtake the division leaders in at least three games in the last 12 games of the season.

“You don’t want to think like going sweeping,” caretaker manager Miguel Cairo said. “You focus on Tuesday, play really hard, go out there and dig in, you’re going to win or you’re going to lose. Hopefully it will be on our side. We just have to focus on one game at a time.

“You have to play one game at a time,” Vaughn echoed. “The next day is not given.”

“We have to win the first, then we have to win the second, then after that we have to win the third,” Pollock said, cracking at the end.

So like a sweep?

“You can’t sweep if you lose the first game,” Pollock countered. “So you have to win that first game and then, yes, you have to keep pressing the pedal.”

Sweeping the A’s and the Tigers proved less obvious, even for a White Sox team openly playing its best baseball of the year under Cairo, who is 13-6 serving Tony La Russa. Sweeping the Guardians would be a pretty big order if Cleveland was just a team that played nine games. 500 since the All-Star break. Scanning this The Guardians team is an even more specific test for a Sox club that has been challenged offensively by Cleveland’s usually tough pitcher, challenged as a pitching staff by the most avoidant formation in baseball, and the most intensely challenged defensively. . The Guardians lack power and proven offensive mainstays, but they match their touch with an undulating team speed that they deployed relentlessly and successfully against a White Sox defense that is vulnerable.

The Guardians sprint singles downfield, steal bases, shoot for doubles and attempt outside arms to get past the cut-off man. For a young team that wasn’t considered to have the pieces in place to think about the playoffs, Cleveland was effective in demonstrating what the loaded White Sox lack.

“If we go out with a bang like we did today, we keep playing fundamental baseball, we keep applying pressure, we keep trying to take the extra base, that’s something to fight back obviously. against them,” Velasquez said. “Cleveland did it against us. They are always on the accelerator pedal against us, from the first moto to the ninth. Even going against Minnesota, winning in 15 innings, that’s a tough thing to endure and to have, but I think we have the potential as a team to do something like that. It’s just about finding the attributes and applying them all together as a team.

It would be the kind of identity shift necessary for such a triumph. This entire season, into recent weeks, has belied the notion that the Sox’s hoarded talent would overwhelm their structural flaws, defensive shortcomings or calculated roster risks. Even Sunday, Pollock, the opening day right fielder, covered Comerica Park’s spacious center field while flanked by a converted first baseman, as Luis Robert sat with hope that two days rest could restore efficiency to his left wrist. And half of the pitching urgency the White Sox faced was the fallout of Kopech feeling the effects of what was always going to be a rocky transition from the bullpen last season and hitting a career-high 119. 1/3 sleeves.

“I felt like I was adjusting well at first, but there’s a hill you have to climb, and I feel like I’m going up a bit right now,” said Kopech, who doesn’t. couldn’t let go of his shoulder during his enclosure session. Thursday. “It’s hard to get something done if you don’t know and you know it’s not right. I’m probably happy to take the time. I wish it had happened at another time, but that’s where we are right now. As long as I don’t cause any long term damage, I’m going to come back and give the team what I got here in the end.

The White Sox didn’t rule Kopech out for the season after his MRI showed inflammation in his throwing shoulder, which may have been related to his problems in both knees, but they made an implied statement about his timing. recovery by not backdating its placement on the injured. listing. Kopech is not eligible to pitch again until the penultimate game of the regular season. Even before considering what role he would fill upon his return, even before considering whether this was an expected outcome for someone making the role transition Kopech went through, and how much strength the Sox had chance that Davis Martin has rightfully filled in, it’s a guess that there will be a season worth bringing Kopech back by then. Sunday’s win and Guardians loss just got the deficit in less than four games.

Sox players and officials like to point fingers at this upcoming series against the Guardians and say the Sox are in control of their own destiny. But they need the help of Sonny Gray and the twins on Monday to get the Guardians to town with even the chance losing control of the AL Central in those three games. And even when they arrive, the Sox not only need to control their own destiny, but master it. At least, even with all their injuries, that finds them as ready as they can be this season.

“I feel like this is the best baseball we’ve played all year,” Pollock said.

(Photo by Andrew Vaughn: Brian Sevald/USA Today)

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