CLEVELAND — By playing .500 ball in September, the White Sox essentially pitchforked their chance to land the first pick in the 2018 draft, which would have been a nice pearl to be holding in their rebuild pocket.
Even if they get swept in their season-ending series by the smoking-hot Cleveland Indians (101-59), who in dogged pursuit of nailing down the best record in the American League clobbered the Sox 10-1 Friday at Progressive Field, the Sox would finish 66-96, which wouldn’t be bad enough to catch the Giants for the worst record and No. 1 pick. The Sox currently have the fourth pick, but could climb a notch depending on how the Phillies and Tigers do this weekend.
What hurt the Sox’ draft position was the arrivals of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from Class AAA Charlotte, who strengthened the rotation, and Carson Fulmer, who is scheduled to start Saturday against Indians ace Corey Kluber. And while it’s not uncommon for bottom feeders to mail it in down the stretch, manager Rick Renteria had the Sox, their lackluster showing Friday notwithstanding, playing with zeal all September long.
“As much as we might want to put ourselves in a position to grab the first pick, that’s not something I can really concern myself with,’’ Renteria said. “My job is to make sure these guys go out every day and learn how to win. That’s the bottom line.’’
Sending Mike Pelfrey (3-12, 5.93), who walked six and gave up 10 runs (seven earned) in 2‰ innings, didn’t help Renteria’s chances Friday. Nor did shortstop Tim Anderson failing to get his glove down on a rather routine chance, or left fielder Nicky Delmonico getting eaten up by a line drive while the Indians were opening up a 10-0 lead with six runs in the second inning and four in the third.
Of course, the Indians have been running roughshod over everyone in their hoped-for path to a second consecutive World Series appearance. They won for the 32nd time in 35 games, a run that included an AL-record 22-game winning streak which included a four-game sweep of the Sox in early September at Guaranteed Rate Field. They held a one-game lead, and own the tiebreaker over the Astros, for the best record in the AL.
The Indians’ 101 wins are the second-most in club history and a record for an AL Central team. The mismatch was a humbling reminder of how far the Sox have to go in their rebuild.
“They have everything,’’ said Yolmer Sanchez, whose 12th homer supplied the Sox’ run. “They have hitting, pitching and they do the little things, too. They look really good.’’
“They are a very fine-tuned team,’’ Renteria said.
Before the game, Renteria looked ahead to next season expecting to be better.
“We set high standards,’’ he said. “If we don’t reach those high ceilings, we at least set a marker we’re seeking to attain. You don’t get better by lowering the bar. You have to raise the bar.’’
Aside from Sanchez’s homer in the fourth against Trevor Bauer (17-9), there wasn’t much to raise up about this loss. Jose Abreu, the Sox’ standard of excellence all season long, struck out three times. Delmonico strained his left shoulder diving for a ball and reaggravated it swinging the bat, forcing him to leave the game and perhaps ending his season a couple of days early.
It was that kind of night. Draft order be cursed, the Sox will try to be better Saturday against Kluber.
“We prepare every day, the coaching staff and players, to win a ballgame,’’ Renteria said. “It would be counterintuitive to come and go, ‘Aw, it doesn’t really matter.’
“My job is to make sure these guys go out every day and learn how to win. That’s the bottom line.’’
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