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Usually losses are the games that offer the most valuable lessons. Tonight, the White Sox learned a lot of loss-like lessons from what turned out to be a satisfying win.
Lesson No. 1: Trying to post zeroes after putting the leadoff man aboard is a hard way to live.
The Twins reached base to start the first six innings, and not all on their own:
- Ground-rule double
The Twins managed to only score one run out of all this, when Dylan Cease’s leadoff walk of Ehire Adrianza came around to score on a two-out single by Jorge Polanco. Cease was one pitch from getting out of the inning, but he threw a second low fastball when Yasmani Grandal wanted one high, and he paid there.
Lesson No. 2: So is walking the bottom of the order.
Cease walked five batters (one intentional) over four innings. Codi Heuer and Gio González walked two apiece, and Alex Colomé added one to get to double digits.
Most annoying was their inability to pitch to the No. 9 hitter Adrianza, whose leadoff double in the third inning apparently scared the White Sox into walking him his other three times up to bat. That created a lot of traffic for the heart of the Minnesota order, and that’s usually the way ballgames against the Twins get out of hand.
Lesson No. 3: The Twins probably won’t strand 15 again.
The Twins went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position. One of those hits was the aforementioned Polanco single, and the other was a Josh Donaldson grounder that Tim Anderson stopped behind second base, which prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the sixth. Evan Marshall came in to replace Heuer and struck out Nelson Cruz to end the bases-loaded threat.
Speaking of which…
Lesson No. 4: Nelson Cruz is mortal.
Granted, the White Sox probably won’t want to face him with the bases loaded the rest of the series after doing so twice tonight. Nevertheless, while the White Sox appeared to dig their own grave by loading the bases for Minnesota’s biggest bat, they avoided burying themselves.
Cruz went 0-for-4, and he stranded nine by himself. Cease got him to ground into an inning-ending double play with two on in the third, Marshall got him to swing over a changeup for strike three in the sixth, and after González and Colomé teamed up to walk the bases loaded all after two outs, Colomé induced a harmless grounder to short on the first pitch.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend deploying this strategy until Cruz’s 50th birthday, but maybe White Sox pitchers will face him with confidence when necessary knowing that he can be beat.
Lesson No. 5: The White Sox still have work to do against right-handed pitching.
While the White Sox’s pitching stresses were more pronounced, the Twins didn’t have it easy themselves. José Berríos only recorded one 1-2-3 inning, working around six singles, a walk and a hit batter over five innings while striking out two. That walk — of the leadoff variety to Yoán Moncada — came around to score on a Nick Madrigal blooper inside the line for the game’s first run. The Sox eventually loaded the bases for José Abreu with two outs, but his grounder up the middle found the shift to end the inning.
The White Sox stranded 12 themselves, and while they went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, they had to wait until the eighth inning for the last two of those hits.
It helped that Rocco Baldelli brought in his left-handed closer Taylor Rogers, and it helped that Rogers walked Moncada and Luis Robert to start the inning (Robert fouled off a few crushable pitches but at least made himself useful).
Adam Engel then came off the bench for Nomar Mazara, fouled off a bunt on the first pitch, and then hinted at a bunt with some pre-pitch motions. The Twins bought the fake and started their wheel play, and Engel pulled the bat back and poked a grounder through the vacated shortstop position for the go-ahead single. Tim Anderson followed by giving Colomé further cushion with a double off the wall to chase Rogers from the game.
In came righty Jorge Alcala, and he struck out Grandal and Abreu to prevent further damage.
Lesson No. 6: Eloy Jiménez needs a defensive caddy.
Colomé did his job in the ninth by getting a pair of weak popouts to Moncada to start the inning. Byron Buxton finally put a good swing on one, resulting in a roped-but-catchable liner to left. Alas, Eloy Jiménez coudn’t track the hook, and the ball glanced off the tip of his glove and stuck underneath the outfield padding.
Jiménez almost yielded his second inside-the-park homer of the year, holding his hands up as Buxton circled the bases, but it’s a reviewable play, and at least Jiménez committed to the ground rule, instead of aborting it halfway through.
In a season with months remaining, it makes sense to play Jiménez nine innings. While driving for the AL Central title and with Jarrod Dyson on the bench, it makes more sense now to pull him when the Sox are leading in the ninth. He might’ve been the first batter due up in the bottom of the ninth, but his misplay would’ve been the reason the Sox needed to hit.
*This was Cease’s Ceasest start of the season. He actually had all four pitches working for moments, and he induced six swinging strikes, including a punchout of the unpunchable Willans Astudillo to escape a jam. Yet he also threw 99 pitches over 4⅔ innings and got only 10 whiffs on the night.
*Moncada’s walk rate is one of the silver linings of his COVID-compromised season. He drew three more tonight, and two of them turned into runs. He also took away a hit from Astudillo with a fine backhanded play on the line.
*Edwin Encarnación went 0-for-4 with five stranded, and the Twins pitched around Jiménez to get to him in the seventh. His average is down to .168.
*Renteria might reconsider his thought process for left field, but his aggressive deployment of his best relievers to defuse two-out jams and the successful fake bunt with Engel shows that he had a sense of the moment.
*However it happened, this happened:
*Rick Hahn has his first winning season.