CHICAGO – Before the current four-game series against the Detroit Tigers even started, Chicago White Sox players were careful not to put too much weight on the matchup against the American League Central leaders.
Shortly after the White Sox put together a 6-5 victory Monday over the Tigers -- one that was in serious jeopardy before Ronald Belisario closed out the save -- the same concept was being stressed.
“I honestly didn’t even know who was in first place until you guys asked me today,” Conor Gillaspie said after delivering a pair of RBI singles. “The more you can compete on a nightly basis, no matter who you’re playing and who’s pitching, and block those things out, the more success you’re going to have.”
The White Sox know there is a long haul ahead. There are 97 games remaining, to be exact, and simply finding some consistency would be a better thing to focus on than planning a run for the division title in September.
So Monday's measured tone was a reasonable approach.
“I think a lot of emphasis gets put on it, but it really is just another series, especially coming at this juncture of the season,” Adam Dunn said. “Obviously you want to go out and play well if for no other reason than how we played over the last three games.”
Those previous three games, in Southern California against the Los Angeles Angels, ended in three consecutive defeats, with none making an impact more than Saturday's, when Chris Sale couldn’t hold a 5-0 lead in the eighth inning.
The rebuilt White Sox roster still has that new-car smell, and more changes are expected until general manager Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office feel they have the recipe just how they want it. Looking at it that way, there are still more steps needed for this Chicago club to become a true contender -- and establishing some confidence is one of them.
“Any time you’re chasing a team, no matter where it is [in the standings], when you’re chasing a team and they’re the team to beat, for us that’s part of it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You sense the excitement of playing them. But if we lost, it wouldn’t have mattered in August and September. You want to win those games, but right now everybody’s happy you won that game and you’re already starting to focus on tomorrow night at 7 o’clock.”
There were plenty of positive takeaways from Monday’s victory, such as another win from Hector Noesi as a starter. There was Jose Abreu extracting himself from a 1-for-17 slide to hit a home run, his 18th, in the fifth inning. In fact, the entire top of the order contributed, as each of the first four batters in the lineup delivered at least two hits and combined for nine of the team's 11 hits.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season, kind of stirring the drink, getting things going, kind of being the straw,” said Adam Eaton, whose first-inning leadoff triple was one of his two hits. “When we can do that, Beck [Gordon Beckham] and I at the top of the order, hopefully that translates to the rest of the order.
“I do think that hitting is contagious. Having competitive at-bats is contagious. [Tyler Flowers] had a great at-bat late and had a walk, and I think that kind of sets the tone. I think it gives guys confidence throughout the lineup and hopefully we continue to do that.”
Next up is Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander on Tuesday night, and while White Sox players can say it’s too early to put too much emphasis on a potential victory like that, it could go a long way toward building more of the confidence they need. Just the potential for a confidence-boosting victory shows how different this year’s White Sox team is from last year’s 99-loss squad.
“This is a good opportunity if we go out and play well, things go our way, and we can show we can play with these guys, because it is their division to lose,” captain Paul Konerko said. “It would give our guys confidence if we won the series. If we don’t, that’s fine too, [we'll] just keep trucking along and we’ll get better as we go.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys and as a team, as players, guys should get better as they play this year because they’re going to get more at-bats and get more comfortable as they go. I think we should just have that attitude and just take the pressure off and say, ‘Let’s go out and play hard and it can only be good.’ We certainly want to win. Losing is not fun.”