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Do they still have yard sticks in school classrooms?
If they don’t, there’s another thing baseball will have to figure out when it comes to relating to a new generation of fans. Someone’s going to have to explain to all those kids what a “measuring-stick series” even is.
The Yankees arrived on the South Side with the best record in baseball, this weekend’s four-game set pitting the White Sox against a team that, at the moment, seems destined to not only reach October but compete for a World Series title.
The White Sox – riding an early-season rollercoaster that’s featured an eight-game losing streak, a six-game winning streak, a whole mess of injuries and a low-scoring offense – have not exactly looked the part of the class of the Central Division and a preseason World Series favorite.
Considering their swift exit from last year’s postseason – losing the ALDS to the Astros in a series that indicated they weren’t yet on the level of the best teams in the Junior Circuit – proving they belong in the AL’s upper echelon will be a necessary step toward reaching their championship-level goals.
But don’t call this mid-May meeting with the Yankees a “measuring-stick series.”
“Look, man, if you’re saying how we do in a four-game set in May against the Yankees is a measuring stick,” Rick Hahn said the day of the White Sox’ home opener, exactly a month before the start of this series. “It’s fun for fans to look at it, and when you get the playoff-like environment, you feel that added energy. But in the end, this is a six-month marathon, and at any given snapshot, whether it’s the home opener or mid May or early June, you’re probably dealing with some things that you won’t be dealing with come October.
“Sure, maybe it’s nice to get a little snapshot for where you sit at a given point in the season, but in the end, where you end up is all that really matters.”
That’s very true, and certainly the White Sox expect to be a much different team come the end of the year, if for no other reason than the restoration of their roster to full health. That this series started without Eloy Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn in the lineup and without Lance Lynn in the rotation is a big deal, and should these teams meet in October, any discussion of this weekend’s results will come with those massive caveats.
At 15-15 through the season’s first 30 games, the White Sox are obviously expecting to be playing a different kind of baseball by then. Otherwise, there won’t be an October matchup at all.
But as obviously correct as Hahn’s words were, a reality-check reminder not to get overhyped about anything in the season’s early going, it’s easier said than done to not whip out those aforementioned yard sticks.
The fact that these were the Yankees, that this was the best team in baseball, colored everything the White Sox did in the series’ opening game Thursday night.
“Can you believe Dylan Cease is doing this against the Yankees?”
“Sure, Cease’s stuff is excellent, but these are the Yankees.”
“The White Sox mounted this comeback against the Yankees.”
“This is what happens when you walk the Yankees.”
Cease’s start was as peculiar as it gets, a pitcher making White Sox fans think about a Cy Young kind of season kept those high hopes intact, 11 of the first 12 outs he recorded coming via the strikeout. He dominated Yankees hitters in that regard, looking like the kind of pitcher who could take on any lineup on any day and fuel huge victories over the game’s best teams on its biggest stage.
He simultaneously managed to get dominated by a Yankees lineup that made him pay for every little mistake. Those 12 outs were the only outs he recorded. After four innings, not only had he racked up double digit strikeouts, but he had given up six runs on five extra-base hits, two Giancarlo Stanton home runs and a couple walks. He was knocked around the yard, even the White Sox’ best starting pitcher, at the moment, not enough to silence an unrelenting offense.
“It’s definitely the weirdest stat line I’ve ever been a part of,” Cease said.
Gee whiz, this measuring-stick business is tough. Should’ve kept the yard sticks in those 1990s classrooms. For sword fights, as was their intended purpose.
The White Sox’s bats showed up for the second time this week, and Yoán Moncada’s three-run homer tied the game at 7 and signaled the future of this lineup, when it’s whole again, when it’s clicking again. It can be a dangerous handful for any team, even the team with baseball’s best record.
But for the second time this week, the White Sox’ bats chose to show up on the day of a massive bullpen implosion. And like a nine-run output ended in a 12-9 loss Monday, a seven-run output ended in a 15-7 loss Thursday.
Before you even gripe about the White Sox infield letting two runs score on an Aaron Judge ground ball or Tony La Russa opting to bring Tanner Banks into the game for a third consecutive relief appearance with at least one run allowed, gripe about the fact that Joe Kelly couldn’t stop walking guys.
Kelly’s here because of his experience in the biggest moments. He’s here because of his postseason success, the two World Series rings on his hand. And after a breezy couple outs to start the eighth inning, what did he do? He walked four of the next five hitters and got charged for five of the seven runs the Yankees poured on before the third out of that frame was recorded. Sure, Banks’ pitches got hit really, really hard for a two-run single and a three-run homer after Kelly’s departure. But that inning got out of control because Kelly couldn’t stop putting guys on for free.
“It doesn’t matter (if it’s) two outs, one out, no outs. Walks are not it,” Kelley said. “I’ll go back and look and see what mechanically I was doing. But sometimes you just got to pitch better.
“They’re good hitters. I’ve faced them numerous times. Free passes are usually not the way to get them out. But I’ll face them again and throw it right at ‘em.”
The White Sox – for the second time in four days, I might add – were hit with a brutal late-game defeat. This one probably didn’t sting quite as much as Monday’s, when the Guardians erased a six-run lead in the ninth inning. But it wasn’t an easy one to swallow, either, the game tied with two outs in the top of the eighth and the end result an eight-run blowout loss.
“You had to see it to believe it,” La Russa said, somewhat stunned he was summing up the result he was during his postgame media session. “I still don’t believe it.”
So maybe Hahn’s on to something. Maybe we should fight that desire to measure the White Sox against the Yankees this weekend.
Because Kelly’s not going to be walking guys all year, not with his track record.
A bullpen that has been mostly excellent through the season’s first month isn’t likely to spend the summer experiencing multiple meltdowns a week.
The middle of the order will be roused from its early-season slumber, as José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal can’t keep hitting a combined .187.
Jiménez, Vaughn and Lynn won’t stay on the sidelines all year long.
The Yankees are good and likely to stay good. The White Sox, to borrow a term Hahn used earlier this week, seem to still be finding their sea legs, and where they are now is not likely to be where they are come October.
But there are three more games between these two teams to watch this weekend. Good luck keeping those yard sticks on the chalkboard shelf.
Oh man, kids don’t know what a chalkboard is, either, do they?