With a comfortable lead over the Indians in the American League Central approaching double digits, it only makes sense to think about October.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa doesn’t like going there, though. A baseball lifer, he swears the baseball gods exist — up in the sky, probably, judging by his glances in that direction when he mentions them — waiting for opportunities to punish baseball people who make assumptions.
Like the postseason is a lock.
With a 9½-game lead in early August after their 9-1 loss to the Royals before 22,793 fans at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, the Sox should be making preparations for October, and the first one involves keeping their rotation as fresh as possible. To that end, Lucas Giolito started on six days of rest instead of the usual four, a night after Dylan Cease did the same.
“For me personally, it’s not necessary, but I understand what we’re doing,” Giolito said after allowing six runs in four innings. “It’s a long season, and we’re getting up there in innings. Just want to gauge it going into October, so I’m cool with it.
“I was just bad [tonight].”
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel is building up in step with a mapped-out plan that began during spring training, so he will start on four days of rest in the series finale against the Royals on Thursday. Lance Lynn will face the Cubs on six days of rest Friday at Wrigley Field, and Carlos Rodon, who hasn’t pitched beyond four innings in his last two starts with lower velocity readings, pitches on eight days of rest Saturday.
While the Indians were losing to the Blue Jays, the Sox entered Wednesday matching their largest lead of the season and the biggest lead in baseball’s six divisions. They were trying to move 20 games over .500 for the fifth time this season.
“It just makes sense,” La Russa said. “When pitching a baseball, as a starting pitcher especially, when you go out there, and you’re successful, and you get into the last part of the game, it’s a lot of effort, and you repeat that every fifth day. It seems like it’s four days of rest, but it really isn’t. They’re working.
“Most of the time, it’s mental as well as physical.”
The rotation is the backbone of this team, and it needs to be cared for. Sox starters led the AL in ERA (3.35), strikeouts (660), strikeouts per nine innings (10.15), opponents’ on-base percentage (.287), slugging percentage (.371), OPS (.658) and WHIP (1.14). The rotation has allowed two runs or fewer in 67 games, the most in the AL.
All-Stars Lynn (2.07) and Rodon (2.49) are first and second in ERA.
Giolito (8-8, 3.98 ERA) was rounding into his 2019 All-Star form with a 1.71 ERA in his previous four starts but was off-kilter, allowing three home runs and eight hits with no walks. He threw 81 pitches.
Edward Olivares, Salvador Perez and Michael Taylor hit homers against Giolito, who had allowed one homer in five July starts.
Royals right-hander Carlos Hernandez (3-1) allowed one run and two hits over five innings. Jose Abreu hit his 19th homer. He also had a routine throw from second baseman Cesar Hernandez glance off his glove for an error.
Ryan O’Hearn’s two-run homer against Jose Ruiz hiked the Royals’ lead to 8-1.
Giolito simply wasn’t at his best, getting two strikeouts and 10 swings-and-misses. He led the AL with 335 swinging strikes going in, but he couldn’t get his slider working as it had in previous starts.
“I felt fine, but I made too many mistakes, and they didn’t miss them. They just raked. It sucks because I’m the reason we lost tonight. It’s a brutal feeling, but just use it as motivation for the next one.”
“A guy goes out there 30-something times, you’re going to have a game like that,” La Russa said. “Man is not a machine.”