White Sox 4, Astros 3: Fifth straight win after starters duel to draw

For a second straight night, the White Sox spent the first two-thirds of the game showing why this season has been so disappointing, only to pull off another stunning late-inning rally that gives everybody a new lease on life.

Unlike Monday, when the White Sox scored all four of their runs in the eighth inning to turn a two-run deficit into a two-run lead, they spread out their late surge over two innings. Like Monday, Yoán Moncada still found a way to finish it off.

After Eloy Jiménez started the eighth with a leadoff walk against Hector Neris and José Abreu singled through the left side, Yasmani Grandal took the air out of Guaranteed Rate Field with a slow-developing, still-successful 3-6-1 double play. That’s when Moncada resuscitated the Sox by muscling a second-pitch fastball into center field. It wasn’t as sure as his go-ahead hit the night before, but although it had some hang time, it still fell in front of Mauricio Dubón to put the Sox ahead 4-3.

Liam Hendriks offered no quarter, retiring the side in order and punctuating the save with a strikeout of Yordan Alvarez.

Moncada finished what the White Sox started the inning before. Just when it looked like Justin Verlander could claim the upper hand in the highly touted duel against Dylan Cease, both came away with no-decisions.

It started ignominiously, as Josh Harrison cost the Sox their first extra-base hit on his wall ball to left because he forgot to step on the bag rounding first, forcing him to sheepishly retreat. Fortunately, Seby Zavala muted the effects by drawing the Sox’s first walk of the evening, even after falling behind 1-2.

Lenyn Sosa’s spot was due, but Tony La Russa tapped Gavin Sheets for the matchup advantage. Sheets also fell behind 1-2, but when Verlander tried to bury a slider down and in, he only accomplished “in.” Sheets was ready for it, and he rifled it into the right-field corner, scoring both Harrison and Zavala. Better yet, he took third when the throw in missed the cutoff man.

Alas, Verlander turned to his high-90s emergency fastball to strike out AJ Pollock, and then he capitalized on a favorable count by getting Andrew Vaughn to roll over a slider to short.

Still, a stout White Sox bullpen allowed the offense all the time it needed.

Tony La Russa didn’t take the surest path, although the debatable choices can be called calculated risks. With the White Sox having won four in a row and needing high-leverage guys night after night, he didn’t force his winning bullpen into the game before it was necessary. When the Sox trailed 3-1 entering the sixth, he used José Ruiz. When Ruiz pitched around a two-out double to preserve the margin, La Russa turned to Vince Velasquez in his first appearance since the IL. After Velasquez stranded two in a scoreless inning, he turned to Jimmy Lambert, who pitched around a two-out single with more great stuff.

La Russa gambled and won, for when the Sox tied the game in the eighth he had all of his best options available for the ninth and 10th innings. It turns out he only needed to cover the former.

Up until the seventh inning, the White Sox used whatever national audience the pitching matchup drew to inform everybody why they aren’t leading the Central. Their first seven hits were singles, including four in the second inning that only amounted to one run. Cease’s streak of 14 consecutive starts with two or fewer earned runs evaporated when Vaughn failed to catch Alex Bregman’s two-out drive on the right-field warning track.

Cease didn’t pitch all that well himself. The Astros tagged him for six hits, five for extra bases, including a Jose Altuve solo shot in the fifth that made it 3-1. He also walked three batters while striking out only four, which was to be expected when facing the Astros. He had the tendency to leave breaking balls up and high fastballs down, and some of it seemed attributable to adrenaline — not necessarily from the pregame hype, but due to the one-run deficit against the Cy Young favorite.

Verlander came away with the edge — his ERA only rose to 1.95, while Cease’s is 2.09 — but this game won’t decide the award. But with Cleveland losing and the White Sox closing the gap to 1, it does make a key dent in the more important race.

Bullet points:

*Cease committed an intentional balk in the fifth inning, dropping the ball in order to move Alex Bregman to third base after his two-out double. Bregman was standing on second during Kyle Tucker’s go-ahead double in the third inning.

*That Tucker double was the Astros’ only hit in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, while the White Sox went 4-for-10.

*Abreu had three hits to raise his average to .307.

*The White Sox have won both games they’ve seen Verlander, which is the first time they’ve strung together consecutive wins in such games since 2013. If he still wins the Cy, at least the offense can say they tried to stop it.

Record: 61-56 | Box score | Statcast

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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ayeitsfabes

A wins a win, but probably don’t have a need for heroics and comebacks if the Sox had an actual right fielder.

Right Size Wrong Shape

So you’re saying it’s more fun this way?

dwjm3

I hate our right field situation as well, but can we just enjoy the win for a couple of hours. Sheesh our fanbase is giant wet blanket.

Yolmer's gatorade

A good outfielder makes that play, but not sure an average one does. It wasn’t an easy play.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I think that play would have been made by any right fielder not named Andrew Vaughn. If he can get a glove on it, anyone else can catch it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Right Size Wrong Shape

.540 xBA. Not exactly a layup.

Joliet Orange Sox

xBA is based on Exit Velocity and Launch Angle and does not really account for Spray Angle. That ball was well hit but Vaughn was well positioned for the Spray Angle it was hit at. We can’t conclude that ball would be caught 46% of the time based on the xBA of 0.540 (and I realize that is not what you are saying but some fans misinterpret it that way).

I don’t think Vaughn is the only RF who would not catch that ball but most RF’s would catch that ball.

Yolmer's gatorade

Yeah, he probably should have made the play. A ball hit to the wall and hard at or to the right of a right handed right fielder is always going to be a tough play. You can’t really circle around the ball. Sheets might have made the play because he is a lefty. Vaughn is almost passable in left. You can’t really get upset with him for missing 2-3 star plays since he should just be getting spot duty in leftfield.

As Cirensica

Agree. Even if Vaughn were an average runner, he might have caught that flyball. He was a tad bit late because he does not have the legs to be playing in the outfield.

metasox

Yeah, Vaughn’s legs really give him no margin for error or adjustment. Even Sheets looks more natural out there

a-t

The metrics agree with you. UZR thinks they’re equally horrible, but DRS and Statcast’s OAA/RAA think Vaughn is dreadful and Sheets merely pretty bad.

metasox

You know things aren’t going well when Sheets is your defensive replacement

Right Size Wrong Shape

Zavala has a knack for looking lost early in games only to draw important, tough walks late in games. And Lambert in the pen has been a revelation.

calcetinesblancos

It seems like he’s been up here a fair amount but he actually only has 251 career MLB plate appearances. So every game he’s still learning how to battle big league pitching.

jorgefabregas

Hooray

Yolmer's gatorade

The Sox had a fair amount of hard contact that just made it to the warning track. Some might have been doubles or homers last year. They deserved the win I think. Cease hung a couple sliders and left somes fastballs down, but it was probably a draw when accounting for batted ball luck.

a-t

And that’s why you invest in the bullpen— three scoreless innings vs the fearsome Astros offense via the highly paid trio of [checks notes] Ruiz, Velasquez, and Lambert?

Joking aside, Lambert has been pretty good in full-time relief. 2.97 ERA, 3.54 FIP on the year is eminently respectable. Liam won’t be available tomorrow but Diekman, Reynaldo, and Graveman now all have two days of rest, in the event of another close one. Kelly too if he’s available.

ShorewoodWhiteSoxFan

Did you have to bring up Joe Kelly? Let’s not give Tony La Russa any bad ideas.

a-t

He’s been good lately before the outing where he got taken out w lightheadedness

gibby32

You have proved that you are not paying attention. Kelly had something like 12 straight appearances without giving up a run until the last one. And in the last one, he had to leave with light-headedness and Ruiz (I think) gave up the inherited runners. Kelly has been excellent after a show start.

chipporter

It was with great interest that I watched to see if (not rooted for, mind you), Cease would fold like he has in the past under pressure. While he didn’t fold, he didn’t rise to the occasion either.

Great, exciting win however.

Right Size Wrong Shape

That narrative can die any time now.

ShorewoodWhiteSoxFan

Yeah, I’d like to see you pitch almost 3 months and give up 1 or less runs every time. Find something else to complain about tomorrow and Thursday. I will be waiting.

soxygen

That sounds menacing!

fustercluck

fewer

LoveLittleLouie

Very happy to see Cease battle a strong team in a high leverage game when he does not have his best command. No need to pull him mid inning. Put us in position to win.

Big improvement and step up in class.

StockroomSnail

MORE! MORE! MORE!

Hang those that speak of less!

calcetinesblancos

Loved seeing Yoan so fired up. I think the Cueto comments made everyone realize that now is the time to start giving a shit, if ever.

ShorewoodWhiteSoxFan

Totally agree with you. Great observation on your part.

HallofFrank

My brain works in numbers and I love analytics. But I also enjoy stretches like the last week when it becomes clear that these dudes aren’t robots. I agree with you—loved seeing that from Moncada.

BenwithVen

Amazing to see them respond this way. I’ve seen more life in this team the past two days than I have all season.

soxygen

Johnny Cueto has been a godsend – hopefully the guys show some fight the rest of the way. Of course, the shocking implication is that there *may* have been some guys who weren’t giving all the effort they could muster before that, and that previous efforts (if any) to light a fire had not been successful.

upnorthsox

Maybe they had decided that since everything was being blamed on Tony with the “Fire Tony” chants that they didn’t need to do anything other than show up, but when people started to actually question them and their character and effort it became a personal problem. Just a thought.

soxygen

That seems like a very plausible explanation – and I think the key here is that the person who was actually questioning their character and effort was someone inside the clubhouse who is showing it every time he gets on the mound.

upnorthsox

No doubt his opinion carries weight in the clubhouse.

metasox

Cueto was not the hero the Sox deserved, but the one they needed

roke1960

Looking at some of Moncada’s stats, he is hitting .135 with an OPS of .362 with no one on. But with RISP, he goes up to .370 and .906. I’m pretty sure he was one of the guys Cueto had in mind when he talked about the lack of fire. Those stats above seem to show that Yoan might not be very focused in non clutch situations. His offensive stats get better across the board the later the game gets. Now he needs to bring that fire he showed yesterday to the game from the 1st inning on.

texag10

A .362 OPS with the bases empty and an .844 OPS with runners on. So what I’m seeing is it’s everyone else’s fault.

soxygen

He certainly needs to improve his overall performance! Just looking at his statcast numbers, overall is:

8th percentile among MLB hitters for xBA and 9th percentile for xwOBA

20th percentile among MLB hitters for xSLG

25th percentile for whiff rate

24th percentile for hard hit%

88th percentile for batting outs above average

Woof. That said, he has put together a few solid games and while these overall numbers haven’t moved, the arrow is headed in the right direction.

Last edited 1 month ago by soxygen
LoveLittleLouie

As a bit of a non sequitur, there is a real chance for irony opening the post season in the AL. It would not be surprising to see the AL East teams beat each other up enough so that only one makes the Wild Card (Orioles anyone?). Seattle’s way in is easy. That leaves a spot for the AL Central, which will probably be the third spot in.

Thus, the AL Central winner will open the playoffs against the AL Central second place finisher.

This has too many levels of nuance for me to comment further this late at night.

mikeschach

Any chance for a scorer review that turns Vaughn’s misplay into an error, preserving Cease’s streak? How do those work?

Right Size Wrong Shape

I think that would be a bad look. And even though I think most RF’s would have made that play, I don’t think it was an error. It went off of the end of his glove while he was running it down, it’s not like it popped out of his glove.

calcetinesblancos

Yeah I agree. I think we can all imagine Engel sitting under that smoking a cigarette while he catches it, but it was a well hit ball.

roke1960

For all that Johnny Cueto has done on the mound this year, his best work may have come when he called his teammates out last week. This has definitely become a team with some fire. The shot they showed of the dugout early in the game in a tense situation- even Stoney and Jason noted how into it they were. Cueto aroused something in this team that should have been there all year- now they need to keep that for the rest of the season. And seeing Moncada celebrate after his game-winning hit was great to see.

Hall of Frank had it right yesterday when he talked about the blueprint for success this season. As flawed as it is, that’s how they’re going to win games the rest of the way. Good to great pitching, and plenty of singles. Oh how I wish they would just start mashing home runs like they are capable of, but if it hasn’t happened for 115 games, I don’t think they are just going to turn a switch on and start hitting 2-3 per game. And that approach leads to a whole bunch of tight games, so they need to bring the fire, even against the Tigers, Royals and A’s. Against the AL East and Houston and Seattle, they are 19-18. They are holding their own there. 25 of the remaining 45 are against the AL Central. That’s what will decide this division.

gibby32

LaRussa was willing to lose this game as demonstrated by the use of his bullpen this game. He uses Ruiz, and then Velasquez, in the sixth and seventh, who are quite clearly his lowest leverage relievers. Sheets, Moncada and everyone else aside, the team is fortunate that they were in a position to come back, down by only two. While it is good that LaRussa recognizes who his low leverage relievers are, he continues to demonstrate a lack of urgency. His bullpen was not in bad shape in terms of usage.

Qubort

I’m not sure what you wanted him to do. This team rarely has a large lead and most nights the starters are good enough to at least keep it close. If you’re not going to use Ruiz or VV in any games within 3 runs, they’d never pitch.

roke1960

I agree. That was probably as low leverage a situation as you get short of a blowout. Ruiz can handle innings like that. Jim’s last paragraph above is spot on.

gibby32

I admit that I am nitpicking somewhat. But in my view, the sixth inning of a two-run game is too early to use Ruiz, and particularly in a high momentum game against the Astros. Maybe Lambert and/or Lopez until we get to the eighth. Every inning that the White Sox do not score reduces the probability that they will win. So if you get to the eighth, still down by two, Monday night notwithstanding, your chances are reduced considerably. I would not push the high leverage guys though. But Graveman, Kelly, Lopez and Dieckman were well rested, as well as Lambert. I recognize the risk, but I believe that urgency is called for. And despite the fact that the last six games have been save situations, that can easily turn around. Having said that, you can make a case for what LaRussa did and you have.

roke1960

I see what you are saying, Gibby. Anything less than a 5-6 run lead at this stage is important. Tony took a gamble and it paid off handsomely. But Ruiz seems to be much better when the Sox are losing than when they are ahead. And now, except for Liam, their bullpen is well set-up for the rest of this series.

a-t

Ruiz in for the 6th while down 2 vs McCormick, Peña, and Dubon seems like a perfectly good situation to use him in this series. Calling on Velasquez for the 7th to face the top of the order was a much more questionable decision to me, even tho it worked out.