Sox feel 'pretty rough' after second straight walk-off loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Yes, according to Lucas Giolito, the White Sox are feeling much the same way their fans are.
As if they needed any words to tell them that. A picture's worth a thousand, so they say.
José Abreu spent his pregame media session admitting that these White Sox took their foot off the gas after clinching a playoff spot last week and vowing that they'd play different, better, over their final five regular-season games.
Hours later, the White Sox were in the same place they were a night prior: on the losing end of a Cleveland Indians walk-off home run and watching their lead in the AL Central standings shrink. After the Minnesota Twins followed up the White Sox loss with a win, that lead was gone. The White Sox are a second-place team for the first time in nearly three weeks.
Losing four games in a row, five of six and six of eight is not some eye-popping baseball aberration. These things happen, even to the game's best teams, a group the White Sox have been among for much of this shortened 2020 season. But this batch of losses is coming at a seemingly terrible time for the White Sox, who cruised through much of the middle of the season, thumping lesser competition like the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, only to stumble on the doorstep of the franchise's first postseason series in a dozen years.
Manager Rick Renteria has felt positive about how his team has responded to this recent bout of losing, both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, despite the end results. Indeed, the White Sox hung right with the Indians on both occasions, coming back from early deficits in both games. Abreu has continued to carry the team in an MVP style, with clutch RBIs in all of the first three games in Cleveland. Giolito was terrific Wednesday, allowing two runs in six innings, striking out 11 in a duel with AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber.
But each positive response has been met with another gut-wrenching loss. And that's what had Abreu and Eloy Jiménez lingering in the dugout, the TV cameras catching their stunned and saddened expressions Wednesday night. They looked like they felt "pretty rough."
"I think they're sitting out there because they're showing you guys they care, they're showing you guys they're not giving up, they're showing you guys that they are trying to get it done," Renteria said. "When you see them sitting out there, they're feeling it. They understand where we're at, they understand we need to play better or at least have the outcomes that show better and continue to move forward.
"We came into the clubhouse today, (and) I wrote on the board 'new day, it's a new day,' in Spanish and in English. Most people are pessimistic, I'm optimistic. I'm going to continue to be optimistic and continue to push. I can't afford to be pessimistic, there's no room for it."
The White Sox have shown this season that they're capable of big things in a short amount of time. They flipped a switch after being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in an Aug. 15 doubleheader, blasting off to the top of the American League. They've produced offense in an instant with their thunderous pop. They've gotten stopper-style pitching performances and a season's worth of solid relief pitching.
But they're running out of "new days."
There are just four regular-season games left, one more against the Indians and three against the Crosstown-rival Cubs. Playoff seeding, which seemed like it wouldn't be a problem just days ago, is now completely up in the air as the White Sox jockey with the Twins for the division crown, with the Indians hot on their heels. What was predicted as a three-team race before the season began is just it as the regular season approaches its final weekend.
In an eight-team AL playoff field, winning the division might not be as essential as it has been in years past. There's no real home-field advantage to speak of without fans in the stands, even if the top four seeds get to host the best-of-three series to start postseason play. The White Sox might wind up even benefitting from a seeding drop if it means avoiding hot teams like the Indians or the New York Yankees in the first round.
Of course, don't tell the championship-starved White Sox that. They'll acknowledge the realities, of course, but they really want that division title, which would also be their first in 12 years.
"In the grand scheme of things, I think it would be great for us to win the division," Giolito said. "We still have some games to make that happen. That would definitely be a huge boost, and that would be fun for all of us, including the White Sox fans, of course.
"If we just continue to play strong, we will have that home-field (advantage), which I think is good for us. That's all we can control. We come back tomorrow, put a good product on the field, have a solid game, hopefully get that win and then ride that into the next series before playoffs start."
Time, though, is short. Half the White Sox lineup is slumping hard, no one harder than Luis Robert, who's gone from surefire Rookie of the Year to an invisible man, with a .086 batting average and 30 strikeouts in 20 games this month. Yoán Moncada turned in a clutch moment Wednesday, with a triple that allowed him to score the tying run, but he's got all of two hits — both triples, interestingly — in his last 10 games. Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara continue to slog through their season-long struggles. And even MVP candidate Tim Anderson, who for a while there was a good bet to get multiple hits a night, is in a quiet mini-rut, 2-for-16 in the Cleveland series.
When the offense does that, no wonder the losses are piling up. Of course, it's also no wonder the scoring has been limited in the last three games against the Indians' top-notch pitching. But including the two losses to the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend and the loss to the Twins last Wednesday, the White Sox have averaged just 2.3 runs per game in their last six losses.
"Having this little stretch here is a little bit of that wake-up call," Giolito said. "It shows us that hey, we're not invincible every time we go out. We still go out onto the field with the intention to win that game. But things are going to be tough at times, and it's going to take us kind of picking each other up where we need to and believing in ourselves to get out of it."
Can they flip the switch back to where it needs to be in time for the playoffs? A best-of-three series does not allow much margin for error. And though they'll have Giolito and Dallas Keuchel on the mound, they'll need some runs to avoid an early exit. Maybe seeing the Cubs, who they scored 18 runs and hit 12 home runs against in the first series between the two this season, will rekindle the offensive flame.
Whatever will get them right, they need to find it in the next four days. Otherwise, they'll have skidded right into the playoffs searching for everything in what Keuchel called "the real games," where their season will be on the line.
"We cannot drop our head," Renteria said. "Those guys are the ones in there playing every single day between the lines, they can't afford to drop their heads and start feeling sorry for themselves, and I don't think they do. I think they're feeling it like they should as professionals do when you're playing and you're playing hard and you're trying to grind it out and you don't have the outcome you want.
"Those guys are feeling it in there, in that clubhouse right now, as they should. And then they need to leave it in there and put it behind them and get ready for the next one."