CHICAGO -- Nights like Monday at U.S. Cellular Field were supposed to be commonplace, with the Chicago White Sox getting some dominating pitching and the offense extending its reach beyond the fences.
The season has gone nowhere according to plan, of course, but this winter when Jeff Samardzija was added to the pitching staff and a couple of key veteran pieces were added to the offense, it looked like the White Sox had what it would take to be a winner.
When the roster rebuild was complete, sometime around January, a flash forward to Monday night’s 8-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels would not have been all that surprising. Chris Sale pitched well, Avisail Garcia hit two home runs and even Tyler Flowers took one out of the ballpark.
The ugly truth is that before last week, Garcia was on a 46-game home-run drought, and Sale was coming off consecutive starts where he allowed seven earned runs, the first time he had ever scuffled that badly in back-to-back outings.
The White Sox, who have been over .500 for just one day this season, stumbled in the first half because of a weak offense and have been falling flat in the second half because of an ineffective pitching staff.
In some ways, the ability to pitch well for a long stretch shows the staff was talented. And the ability to score runs in bunches like the White Sox have been doing lately showed the offensive talent was there too.
But the pitching couldn’t overcome the offense’s bad days, and even the revived offense didn’t have enough to carry the pitching staff through some down times of late.
The White Sox should have been as flat as a Little League mound Monday after a demoralizing three-game sweep at Kansas City over the weekend. Three one-run defeats seemed to eliminate any last flicker of a postseason dream.
Yet in an up-is-down and down-is-up world that the White Sox have operated in all season, they turned a demoralizing 10-game stretch of 2-8 baseball into the complete package that was Monday’s victory.
“I think that says a lot about our team,” Sale said. “Tough road trip and we played (the Royals) good too. Those were three one-run ballgames. Those are kind of hard to swallow sometimes, but what a way to start off at home. We have a few days here so we can definitely build some momentum from this and move forward.”
Short of delivering the best record in the American League over the next seven weeks, the White Sox will be hard-pressed to make any postseason noise. And there aren’t too many stretches in their previous 4½ months that suggest that kind of play is possible.
And while Monday’s victory did move the White Sox 6½ games out of the second wild card, they would need to jump six teams to make it happen.
“It’s a nice response to a tough trip and these guys, they continue to just grind through it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I thought Chris, it was a nice night for him, to go through it the way he did. He didn't look like he was maxing out. He was throwing hard and everything, but it didn’t look like he was losing command or anything like that.”
Sale's 13-pitch battle with Mike Trout in the fourth inning was a bend-but-don’t-break moment that ended with Trout working a walk. It was the longest at-bat for each player, and an opportunity to pay each other the ultimate respect.
Said Sale: “That’s why he is who he is and he’s done what he’s done. He’s a tough out for anybody, I don’t care who you are. He’s going to battle you. That’s why he’s the best in the game.”
Said Trout: “Everything is flying at you, so it’s hard to pick up the ball. You can’t really sit on one pitch. If you sit fastball, you’ll be out front on that changeup. That’s why he’s one of the best. He’s nasty, for sure.”
Monday was the first matchup of the season between the White Sox and Angels, so the West Coast visitors could be excused if they were wondering how the White Sox can be as bad as 52-58 on the season.
The White Sox often wonder that as well, and will operate under the premise that they can play well against good teams, like they did Monday, until they are no longer playoff eligible.
“As for us in the front office, obviously we have to be cognizant of where we sit in the standings and how each loss makes that road to the playoffs a little more difficult to travel down,” general manager Rick Hahn said before the game. “So we’re aware of the situation and we’re aware of what potentially needs to be done in the coming weeks, but for me, in that clubhouse, the focus has to be on winning that night’s ballgame.”