White Sox 8, Twins 5: Still perfect against lefties, albeit imperfectly

Between Lucas Giolito’s lapse in command, a three-error second inning and a string of wasted scoring opportunities on the day Yolmer Sánchez returned to the active roster, this felt like a 2018 White Sox reunion.

Of course, if the 2018 White Sox fell behind 4-0 to the Twins after three, they probably would’ve lost 13-1, with, I dunno, Adam Engel pitching the ninth.

Instead, because the White Sox are prohibited from losing games to left-handed starters, they used an absurd Max Kepler error to slingshot ahead in the ninth. They’re now 11-0 against lefties this year, and this win means they’ll depart Target Field still ahead of the Twins no matter what happens the remainder of the series.

The game was tied at 5 with one out in the ninth when Edwin Encarnación lofted a harmless fly to right center field. If Byron Buxton is out there, he takes command of the situation and makes the catch. Jake Cave patrolled center in this one, and he yielded his turf to Kepler, who came loping in to make a routine catch.

Or at least it should’ve been routine. Kepler just muffed it, Encarnación reached, and Twins closer Taylor Rogers couldn’t stop the ballgame from rolling into the lake. James McCann followed with one of his patented opposite-field singles, and Luis Robert hooked a liner inside the chalk in left field. Only one run scored because it hopped over the side wall, and when Danny Mendick struck out, it appeared as though Alex Colomé would be working without a net in the bottom of the inning.

But up came Nomar Mazara. Mazara doesn’t look like the player the White Sox thought they were getting, but that sometimes means that he serves purposes that weren’t in his product description. In this case, he won a lefty-lefty battle by pulling a sixth-pitch curveball through the right side for a two-run single. And then for good measure, he made a leaping catch on the warning track with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to keep the tying run — in the form of Nelson Cruz — from ever reaching the plate.

If we were talking hockey, Kepler and Mazara would have been the third and second stars of this game, with Luis Robert taking the night’s highest honors.

Before his double that put the Sox ahead in the ninth, he hit an obscene screamer off the limestone above the center field wall in the seventh. It registered at 449 feet and 111.2 mph, but more importantly, it re-tied the game after Codi Heuer put himself on the hook for an “L” with a rusty inning. The White Sox never trailed again.

Now, the White Sox probably shouldn’t have been trailing or tied for as long as they were. They outhit the Twins 11-5, and the out-walked the Twins 6-4. They had 20 at-bats with runners and scoring position, and only came up successful four times.

But a team before the 2020 White Sox would be hard-pressed to ever have 20 chances with runners in scoring position. Sometimes the good teams aren’t all that great about capitalizing on opportunities, but they compensate by creating too many opportunities to fail.

The White Sox had that kind of night against 40-year-old southpaw Rich Hill. They had multiple shots with a runner in scoring position from innings two through six, but they only succeeded with a couple of them.

They were able to score a couple runs in the fourth, but even then, they were lucky to escape with their dignity. Hill walked the bases loaded — Edwin Encarnación, McCann, Robert — to start the inning, but Danny Mendick hit a weak liner to the left side of second base. Luis Arraez didn’t catch it, and maybe he didn’t want to, but confusion followed. He flipped to second for the force, which was the base to which McCann retreted, having read the liner. Jorge Polanco caught the toss, but instead of tagging out McCann off second, he threw to first, where Mendick had already reached. Robert was retreating to first, but he was already forced out.

The umpires then convened unnecessarily. They’d gotten the call right. They might’ve only had to discuss it if Arraez gamed a double play out of the situation, because perhaps they could have ruled that he dropped it on purpose to trigger the infield fly rule. Infield fly or not, the result was the same — the bases still loaded with one out now on the board.

Anyway, Engel found the hole on the left side for a single that cleared the air and halved the Twins’ 4-0 lead. José Abreu made up the other half of the deficit, smoking a two-run double to the right-center gap off former teammate Tyler Clippard in the sixth.

The Twins had that 4-0 lead because Giolito lacked his no-hit form, and his defense failed to contribute. He walked Eddie Rosario to start the inning, then gave up a single to Miguel Sanó, which Engel played into a double by letting the ball squib under his glove. Rosario slid into third on the play instead of sprinting home, but he made up the last 90 feet when Arraez spanked a single to left for the game’s first run.

Sanó advanced to third, and came home when Marwin González hit a grounder to the right side. Nick Madrigal tried to get the runner at second, but he fired across the runner and into left field for the inning’s second error. Arraez scored on the play and González took second. González made it to third when Giolito himself booted a weak chopper off the bat of Kepler, but he brought the inning to an end with a strikeout.

Then in the fourth, Giolito hung a slider to Sanó for a solo shot.

Giolito retired seven of the last eight batters he faced, while Heuer gave up a run because he couldn’t throw competitive pitchers with his slider, the rest of the bullpen was nails. Jace Fry did exactly what he was supposed to do in the seventh — retire the two batters ahead of Cruz so he could be intentionally walked, then strike out Rosario to end the inning. Matt Foster stood out for his two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth. He’s now tied for second on the team in wins with four.

Bullet points:

*Eloy Jiménez and Danny Mendick both went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and stranded 15 runners between them.

*Sánchez made his return to the Sox as a pinch runner for Encarnación after he reached on an error. He actually scored the winning run.

*The Indians lost to Kansas City 2-1, so the White Sox are in sole possession of first place.

Record: 22-13 | Box score | Highlights

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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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Digger910

Dude. That was seriously fun. This team is seriously fun.

Joliet Orange Sox

Fun game. It turns out winning is fun.

I was surprised in the last week to see a few on-line mid-season awards articles stating that Kyle Lewis had a huge lead for AL ROY. He’s been great but there have been very few rookies I’ve seen who’ve been good enough to have a huge lead over what Robert has done and he’s not one of them. Right now it would be close but if Robert keeps hitting and Lewis comes back to earth a bit, Robert will win the award.

(Off the top of my head, the most dominant rookies I remember are Trout, Fidrych, and Ichiro. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.)

shaggy65

That Abreu kid was pretty good

John SF

Robert is on a WAR pace nearly double what Abreu did.

The only rookies on the leaderboards who put up those kind of numbers since Trout are Kyle Lewis this year through 35 games, Tatis Jr and Yordan Alvaraez who both did it over ~80 games, Trout, and Alex Fernandez who is the only one to do it as a pitcher 🙁

That’s the total list from the past 10 years.

José Abreu, Pete Alonso, Cody Bellinger, and Joey Wendle our up the best-of-the-rest rookie campaigns, but Robert is on a pace to double all of them except Abreu.

iowasox1971

Mark McGwire, Fred Lynn and Pete Alonso also had great rookie seasons, as did Frank Robinson many years ago.

Joliet Orange Sox

I’m too young to remember Frank Robinson as a rookie although he was still a star for the Orioles when I was a kid. I remember Fred Lynn’s rookie year well.

I didn’t want to get into a entire listing of great rookies. I just wanted to point out that Luis Robert is having the kind of year that is almost always a serious contender for ROY unless someone has a Trout rookie year. I just don’t see Kyle Lewis as having a year special enough to be a prohibitive favorite over Luis Robert.

texag10

Well according to Fangraphs, Robert now has a 0.1 WAR lead over Lewis.

shaggy65

um, so…are the White Sox actually good?

like, not on the way to being good…but like…actually good?

MVP candidate, ROY candidate, batting title candidate, no-hitter, 4th best record in baseball—it just hit me that these are things which describe good teams

Eagle Bones

2nd in MLB in BaseRuns, 49% chance to win the division (highest in division), 99% playoff odds, 2nd highest position player fWAR, 5th highest pitcher fWAR all according to FanGraphs. Yeah, they’re pretty good!

tbsoxfan

These Sox being 22-13 makes it feel obscene to me that the 2016 Sox were 23-10 through about the same amount of games. Glad those dark times are seemingly in the rear view mirror

iowasox1971

In my view, this was the most impressive victory of the season. It’s easy to play well on a night when everything’s going right. When a team is definitely not playing well in the early going but then rallies late to pull out a win, that’s something special.

After watching us fall behind, 4-0, I was thinking here we go again, a good Sox team cracking under pressure in a big game in Minnesota. But these guys really showed me something in coming back not just once, but twice, and then taking advantage when the Twins made a big mistake in the ninth.

ParisSox

Totally agree with you. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw they were down 3-0 early. I was four and thought well we’ll get them tomorrow. Woke up to a pleasant surprise. This is a good team.

Josh Nelson

I was thinking the same thing.

Nice to see Giolito bounce back and survive that second inning disaster to get through 5 innings. Hopefully, Keuchel can go 7 tonight to spare the bullpen. Or else it’s going to be a long week.

lil jimmy

Twins fans are bemoaning their best bullpen arms being used heavily, making them unavailable today. It would be a shame if that worked in our favor today.

Eagle Bones

Would be good to get another W tonight to ensure a series win. Wednesday pitching matchup doesn’t look too favorable.

GrinnellSteve

This is what aces do. On nights when things aren’t going well, they find a way to grind it out, rack up some innings you weren’t sure you could get, and limit the damage.

After 2, Hill looked like he could breeze through 9. But Giolito outlasted him. That could pay dividends today and tomorrow.

knoxfire30

Exciting stuff! Great to see a team with the talent to overcome so many things, some poor defense, tough hitting with RISP, an early hole dug…etc etc.

Building on a weird Hahn response about Vaughn yesterday maybe being able to help this year, in a go for it situation would Vaughn be under consideration to come play 3rd if the news on Moncada is bad? Get him thru 6 or 7 innings each night at 3rd and 3 at bats then let a real infielder take over defensively late…. I saw an indians world series team start jim thome at third so it can happen right?

Amar

bWAR ranks Robert (2.2) and Abreu (1.9) as leaders in AL WAR among position players, that’s cool.

As a Sox fan, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but I forget, how does Baseball Reference evaluate position player defense differently than Fangraphs?

Thanks

Eagle Bones

I believe BR uses DRS, FG uses UZR.

John SF

Tim Anderson also cracks the top ten at 1.5b WAR he ranks 8th in position players and 10th for all players in the league. .