For inspiration, the White Sox looked no farther than across the diamond Tuesday at the Astros.
“The envy of the league right now,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said from the Sox’ dugout.
The Astros, who lost 111 games in 2013, are not where they sit today — at 71-41 after an 8-5 loss to the Sox on Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field — by accident. They unloaded most of their veterans for prospects, drafted well, clicked on some trades, then began spending on free agents.
It’s a process the Sox have begun, aiming to build something like the Astros have — an outfit constructed to win not just now but for years to come.
“They’ve developed that talent, they’ve come up to the big leagues playing together, learning how to play a particular way,’’ said Sox manager Rick Renteria, who oversaw part of the initial phases of the Cubs’ successful rebuild when he managed on the North Side.
“Their talent is showing, their ability to swing the bats, run the bases, catch the ball, pitching, all of those things that you look for.
“They also went through their trials and tribulations and have their bumps and bruises. They’ve also [put] themselves in a situation where they have a lot of the young core coming up at the same time, which is really exciting for them and important for any organization. I think that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
Ah, the bumps and bruises. The Sox (42-68), enduring a flurry of trades for prospects, have been pummeled to the tune of a 4-19 record after the All-Star break, but they put some ointment on those nicks by defeating the Astros and ace lefty Dallas Keuchel, stopping a six-game skid and looking spectacular in doing so.
All anyone could talk about afterward was center fielder Adam Engel’s fence-climbing play to take away a homer on what Renteria called the best play of the Sox’ season.
“Oh, my gosh,’’ said catcher Kevan Smith, who had a homer, double, two walks and four RBI. “You saw every player with their hands up — and the whole bench.’’
Sox left-hander Derek Holland called it “one of the greatest catches I’ve seen.”
“Honestly, it hit my glove in a spot where balls will kind of shoot out, so when I saw [right fielder] Avisail Garcia’s reaction, I was like, ‘Good,’ ’’ Engel said.
Garcia returned from the disabled list to single in a run in the Sox’ three-run first. He also doubled in the third and made a nice running catch in the right-field corner.
The eight runs worth of damage came against Keuchel (9-2), who was roughed up for 10 hits in four innings. Holland (6-11) survived seven walks, leaving with an 8-3 lead with two outs in the sixth.
With the second-worst record in baseball, the Sox (42-68) are well on their way to a ninth consecutive year without a postseason. Only the Mariners, Marlins and Padres have longer droughts.
Thus, the change in plans for the a front office accustomed to going for it first and worrying about the farm system later.
“We’re very aware of how others have gone, whether it’s the Yankees, Houston, Cubs, Kansas City, Washington, Pittsburgh,’’ Hahn said. “And there’s been a bunch over the last several years. There’s a little something to learn from each of them.’’
Other organizations’ success stories have made it easier for the Sox to appease their fan base, Hahn said.
Of course, Hahn isn’t rooting against his team — he knows Renteria wants to win badly, and he wants to see sound fundamentals and execution — but it’s also a win-win, knowing the worst record would reel in the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“[The Astros] picked first three years in a row before they were able to build up that critical mass, getting to where they are now, and obviously they’re the envy of the league now in what they’ve been able to accomplish in terms of their rebuild,’’ Hahn said. “There are some positive things to take away from things they did. You’ll probably see us — if you haven’t already seen us — emulating them, as well.’’
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