Breathe easy, White Sox fans.
That miserable losing streak is over.
“Obviously that streak was not ideal and not enjoyable,” Dylan Cease said, putting it mildly.
It’s all history now, thanks to a 7-3 win over the visiting Royals on Wednesday afternoon. The White Sox got a stellar effort from Cease, a ridiculously clutch home run from Andrew Vaughn and played error-free defense for the first time in their last 10 games.
In other words, that’s more like it.
“That was a more solid game in every facet,” Tony La Russa said. “Just in a great mood. I can’t wait to celebrate.”
That much was clear, the South Side skipper literally dancing his way into his postgame press conference.
“I had some good friends text me right away,” La Russa said. “I said, ‘It’s just a game, no big deal.’
When even the mystical La Russa is saying a game in April had more meaning than usual, you know the losing streak was weighing heavy.
But as Vaughn pointed out postgame, there are 145 of these things left for the White Sox, who then hope to extend their season past 162 and deep into October. Even after that weight came off their shoulders Wednesday, they’re just 1-8 in their last nine games, meaning they’ll need to figure out how to officially put this stinky stretch in the rearview mirror.
Yoán Moncada wasn’t among the White Sox players booting balls, making wide throws, going hitless and walking 11 guys in one game. But his presence will be a boon for this team, and it could come soon, with the third baseman set to start a rehab stint at Triple-A Charlotte this weekend.
“For me personally, it’s been very, very difficult not being able to be on the field and help the team, especially in this moment,” Moncada said Wednesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “ But there’s just so little I can do. I’m doing everything I can to get ready to come back and help the team.”
Moncada’s no single-handed savior, that’s not usually how baseball works, but his return to health is a very welcome sign for a White Sox team that didn’t see anything go right prior to Wednesday’s win: their All-Star closer giving up walk-off homers, their Silver Slugger left fielder going down with his second serious injury in as many years, their defenders compiling a league-leading error total and their bats quiet as a mouse.
Getting healthy won’t solve all those problems, obviously, but it’s a nice start. Moncada will be joined by relief addition Joe Kelly in Charlotte, who figures to make his first appearance with his new team after completing his own rehab assignment.
At the very least, this team is moving toward full strength.
“That’s some important health coming,” La Russa said. “Got to win some games between now and then, though.”
Games, plural. Which means Wednesday can only be the start of something new, not a positive blip in an otherwise forgettable April.
There’s more to this than just rolling out the red carpet for Moncada and Kelly to make their 2022 debuts. The White Sox not on the injured list – not as large a number as the team would like, obviously – need to make sure they keep up the kind of work that resulted in Wednesday’s breakthrough.
Yes, that includes the things fans are always banging on about, like plate approach and bullpen management and all that baseball stuff. But it’s about attitude, too.
“It’s been tough,” Liam Hendriks said before Wednesday’s game. “The results haven’t been great. The injuries have been tough emotionally. If this happens in the middle of the year, nobody really bats an eye, depending on how we’ve done before that. It’s unfortunate it’s happening at the start. But I have complete faith in this group.
“When it rains it pours. … If we get those couple of dink hits that will fall in, or make a pitch or a line out here and there, the entire kind of vibe changes. … We still need to remain that cocky, that arrogant, that confident group because no matter what, we know we’ve got the talent in this clubhouse and we can go on a run, more than any other team. We need to make sure we set ourselves up to take full advantage of that rather than self pitying.”
The White Sox’ clubhouse culture is just as much to credit for their status as World Series contenders as their talented roster is, and it will need to survive if the team is going to thrive in the wake of a week and a half of sour results and ugly play.
“That’s exactly when it gets tested,” La Russa said of the culture he’s so often praised. “When everything’s falling into place, you can have a good time. It’s when you face adversity that you really have to show what you have. The clubhouse has been very good, day in and day out.
“We’re confident that we’re going to start playing better. When you do that, it starts with your head, and the rest takes over.”
Things were obviously much better Wednesday, and La Russa credited Cease for giving the White Sox early momentum. Cease breezed through five hitless innings before the sixth got away from him a bit on some weakly hit balls. But his effort was the kind the White Sox got used to seeing from their starting staff a year ago. And as time marches on and the rotation gets back to a normal workload coming off a shortened spring, these pitchers can be counted on to provide that kind of outing on a more regular basis.
“I definitely wanted to stop the bleeding,” Cease said. “I think the key is bringing the same sort of intensity every game, really. What’s been done in the past is irrelevant. Every game is a new game. The biggest thing is bringing your ‘A game’ every game.”
But as La Russa mentioned, every facet mattered. And while Cease was dominating the Royals, the White Sox’ defense stopped a nine-game stretch with at least one error. Then the offense rattled off the second largest run total of the season to date.
Before Wednesday’s game, then still searching for solutions to more than a week’s worth of losses, Hendriks identified an issue.
“I think a lot of guys, myself included, are almost putting too much pressure on themselves,” he said. “‘I need to show up because I’m going to be the guy who figures this out.’ Especially in the back end of the ‘pen, it comes down to you all the time. I had this conversation with our bullpen yesterday: ‘Just stay within yourselves.’
“I’m at fault as much as anybody else. It’s going out there and making sure you don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Take each pitch as it is. ‘You are not going to win a game on this singular pitch, but you can lose it if you put too much pressure on yourself.’”
La Russa said he had a similar message to the team the night of Tuesday’s walk-fest of a loss to open this Royals series. Whether that was the key to halting the horrors, whether Cease and Vaughn took that message to heart, we don’t know. But they were the heroes Wednesday, without playing hero ball, to borrow a basketball term.
Now it’s on the White Sox to keep it up, to make sure the nasty-looking play of the last week and a half is a thing of the past. Health will help. The right attitude will help. Striking out opposing hitters and hitting the ball over the wall will help.
Or maybe just remembering what it’s like to win will help.
“It’s a lot more fun winning,” Jake Burger said. “Everybody’s laughing, having a good time, music’s bumping when you come back in.
“We want to keep it that way.”
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