The Chicago White Sox have three more games against the New York Yankees next weekend in the Bronx, so there’s still a chance to show they’re in the same league.
They might have been considered equals at the outset of the 2022 season, but the four-game series that concluded Sunday suggests they’re in different stratospheres.
The Yankees are the best team in baseball. The Sox are a talented team that isn’t living up to its own lofty expectations. And it showed this weekend on the South Side.
Four home runs and a seven-run eighth inning paced the Yankees to a 15-7 win in Thursday’s opener, and they busted out to a 5-0 lead after two innings Friday, pounding out four more home runs in a 10-4 shellacking.
After the Sox eked out a 3-2 win Saturday on Luis Robert’s walk-off hit, Michael Kopech imploded during a 41-pitch second inning Sunday, issuing four walks, forcing in two runs and allowing a third to score on a wild pitch.
It was a prolonged hiccup during an otherwise dominant outing by Kopech, who allowed only one hit in six innings. But the walkathon and Joey Gallo’s two-run homer off José Ruiz in the ninth proved to be enough in the Yankees’ 5-1 win before 29,500, giving them three of four in the series.
“We had a chance, we were competing today,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “We got blown out of one game. That one score (15-7) was deceptive, so, I mean, I think we can compete with anybody.”
Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu concurred.
“I feel like our team just has a lot of ways that can lead to a win,” LeMahieu said. “We play pretty good defense and have really good pitching, which keeps us in every game. Offensively, we just have a lot of ways to score. A couple games there where we just found a way to win.
”We see them three more times pretty quick. They’re a good team, one of the better teams we’ve seen this year.”
Sox pitchers allowed only two hits Sunday, but the offense managed only four, including an infield hit by Robert when they trailed by four with two out in the ninth.
A lot can change between now and October. Perhaps the return of injured Sox stars Lance Lynn and Eloy Jiménez would be a difference-maker if the two teams meet in the playoffs, or maybe the Sox can win next weekend’s series in New York and show they’re in the same area code as the Yankees.
“We came in here and played good baseball, and at the end of the day we took three of four,” Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “I know they’re probably a little banged up right now. Look, they played well last year, but like I said, they’re a little banged up and we were ready to go.”
Dylan Cease struck out 11 Yankees in four innings in the opener, but every mistake he made was costly. Ditto Kopech with his brief loss of control. How much was Kopech and how much was the Yankees’ patience?
“A little bit of both,” LeMahieu said. “We do a good job of keeping the pitcher in the zone. But he wasn’t making his pitches either.”
Even if the Sox win the American League Central, they might have to beat the Yankees at some point in the postseason to make it to the World Series, a goal that seemed doable at the start of the season.
They can replay the ending of last year’s Field of Dreams game from now until the apocalypse, but until the Sox show they can consistently beat the Yankees, that magical night last August will be treated as an outlier.
La Russa on Sunday inserted José Abreu in the designated hitter spot for the sixth time this season, giving his struggling first baseman a day off his feet. Abreu snapped an 0-for-21 drought Saturday but has yet to find his stroke and has been subpar defensively.
Abreu always has been a reluctant DH. And like managers Robin Ventura and Rick Renteria before him, La Russa appears reluctant to make Abreu at least a part-time DH.
“He plays first most of the time, but he knows that once in a great while (we’re) just getting him off his legs out there because he’s so active,” La Russa said. “It’s hard not to (leave him at first) because you watch him, he makes a lot of plays. But I think he understands, and this year actually he’s been good as a DH. It hasn’t taken away from his hitting.”
Abreu went 0-for-4 and watched his average dip to .197. He has a .190 average and .551 OPS while playing first. At age 35, it might be time for Abreu to at least share first base with Andrew Vaughn because it’s going to happen sooner or later anyway.
La Russa was blunt before Sunday’s game while discussing Dallas Keuchel’s comment about wanting to pitch longer than five innings Saturday, assuring the media that lifting his starter was one of the easier moves he has made.
“We, the team, are mostly appreciative and excited about the five innings he pitched,” La Russa said before pointing out that Keuchel has been “not good” when pitching past the fifth. “With the guys that were coming up, I think the team would have appreciated him saying, ‘Boy…’”
La Russa didn’t finish the thought. He went on another tangent, so we can’t really say what he thought the team would’ve appreciated Keuchel saying after Saturday’s win. We can only speculate that La Russa wished Keuchel had thanked Kendall Graveman for two solid innings and Robert for coming through in the clutch instead of bringing up the managerial decision.
It’s not easy telling players you like and respect they are getting older, but it has to be done. La Russa once credited his close friend and former coach Jim Leyland for persuading him to tone down his tough guy act during his first go-around as Sox manager.
“Jimmy’s always had the gift of being able to chew somebody out today and be laughing with him tomorrow,” La Russa told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 1996. “He was the one who told me in 1982 that I had to let the players see the other side of me, a lighter side, or else they would flame out.”
Unfortunately, a lighter side of La Russa isn’t what the Sox need right now.