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After sluggish start, White Sox reel in World Series chatter

“We’re not going to win the World Series now,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s just figure out how to win, figure out how to win in April.”

Jose Abreu reacts after striking out against the Mariners on April 7.
Jose Abreu reacts after striking out against the Mariners on April 7.
AP

The White Sox are struggling with runners in scoring position, their highly touted bullpen has four blown saves and they are tied for first in the American League with nine errors.

Other than that, everything was fine through their first nine games heading into a four-game series with the AL Central rival Indians at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Are they as advertised? As self-advertised? You know, all that World Series talk and whatnot.

They say it’s much too soon to surrender, and, of course, they’re right.

“We need to be realistic here; we’ve played nine games,” Jose Abreu said Monday morning.

Perhaps the Sox talked themselves up too much. But who can blame them? They weren’t the only ones talking, and the soaring confidence wasn’t viewed as a bad thing. Oddsmakers and national media also chimed in with love for the Sox.

A 4-5 start has not doomed them, but it served as a reality check. Perhaps it’s time to tap the brakes.

“We need to go back to square one as a group and take it game by game,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “We’re not going to win the World Series now. Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s just figure out how to win, figure out how to win in April, figure out how to win this series [against the Indians]. And let’s go to war.”

There is this: The Sox are playing without the slugger some thought would carry them even more than Abreu — Eloy Jimenez. And Tim Anderson, expected to come off the injured list Thursday, has been missed. Those are two Silver Slugger Award winners. And a team that in recent years swung too freely is showing more patience and was tied for first in the majors with the Dodgers (who played one more game) with 50 walks and was first in the AL with a .354 on-base percentage.

Yermin Mercedes’ unexpected monster start helped, but “we are definitely missing Eloy’s bat in our lineup. That’s not a secret,” Abreu said.

“The things that Eloy can do with his bat, not everyone can do. Even though we have a talented group of young kids, it’s not easy for them to fill that void.”

Abreu, the reigning MVP who led the AL in RBI the last two seasons, has hit two grand slams but said he has left six or seven runs on the bases by not coming through. In their previous seven games, the Sox batted .205 with runners in scoring position.

Hendriks, signed for $54 million in the offseason, blew a save against the Royals on Sunday after Adam Eaton dramatically homered in the bottom of the eighth to give the Sox the lead.

The Sox’ goal remains the World Series, Hendriks said, and it’s imperative that they envision it happening and believe that it can happen.

“You envision winning a ring, you envision doing all these things, but in the same sense, you’ve got to remember the small things that come into the day-to-day life of being a baseballer,” Hendriks said.

Focus on the day-to-day things such as routine batting-practice swings, pitchers’ flat-ground throwing sessions, Hendriks said, and make it become second nature.

“Once July and August come, all that sort of stuff hits, and then you’re rolling all the way to the playoffs,” he said.

As the Sox and their fans should know by now, manager Tony La Russa isn’t going to knock his players in public. He has downplayed the bullpen’s failures and defended the defense.

He said he agrees with Hendriks’ take on living in the now. He sees his players pressing a bit.

“I actually think that some of the executions are not quite what they have to be because they’re trying too hard,” he said. “And I applaud that.

“The guys want it, and trying too hard is an early issue that’s a healthy one.”