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The good news is that the White Sox only have to win one out of two in Houston in order to tilt the five-game series in their favor. They lost the game that looked like a bad matchup on paper, and now the duel that looks more favorable awaits them. Framber Valdez is no pushover, as Sox hitters learned on June 19. But they can also rough him up, as they learned on July 18. They’ve hit 25 percent of the homers he’s allowed on the year, and in less than 10 percent of the innings he’s thrown. Lucas Giolito has been much harder for the Astros to solve.
The tricky part is getting the job done, but that’s why we watch, and that’s why advertisers pay to have their products shown alongside it, and sometimes over a Yasmani Grandal double play if they’re lucky.
Lance Lynn got beat because his strength runs headfirst into the strength of the Houston Astros, and he’s finding it damned difficult to win such a fight one-on-nine. It’s a lot easier to beat those odds when, like Lance McCullers Jr., your strength slots right into an opponent’s chief weakness. The mounds were the same height, but McCullers held the high ground.
There’s evidence that McCullers is the deciding factor, because the Sox produced all four of their 100-mph batted balls over the last three innings. Now it’s their job to do what they can to avoid seeing him again, at least on full rest.
There are items to revisit. Lynn might want to throw more sliders, curves and changeups, which shouldn’t be hard since 74 of his 76 pitches were fastballs. Three non-heaters would suffice. And speaking of three, Tony La Russa might want to more strictly adhere to TTOP for the third time through, especially when the plate appearances are condensed within the first four innings. Then again, Garrett Crochet entered later in the game to face Michael Brantley with two outs, and Brantley singled to the left side as if to show that the fourth inning might not have been so simple to solve.
The White Sox are a team that’s built on starting pitching, and that starting pitching has to show up more often than not to have a real chance at this thing. The offense is OK, but vulnerable. The bullpen is fine, but it’s not one that has a whole lot of experience jumping into high-leverage situations early in the game. Moreover, they’re staring at wholestaff efforts to get through Games 3 and 4, as Lynn on short rest wouldn’t seem to be an answer for the latter. If the chief argument over the strategy is whether the staff leader should’ve been pulled in the fourth inning in order to stand a better chance at preserving a three-run deficit, it’s safe to say the players lost it.
It’s just as easy to imagine the players finding it, which is why I’m treating the first two games as a package deal. If enough Sox can do their jobs this afternoon, they can leave Houston with a win and an instructive loss, which would be an acceptable outcome in a five-game series between evenly matched opponents. There isn’t a specific need to panic, mostly because if the Sox drop today’s game, you’ll have the next 50 hours free to devote to terror.
(Photo by Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports)