Home-field advantage? Who needs it?
White Sox manager Tony La Russa’s last team didn’t. The wild-card Cardinals of 2011 knocked off the owners of the top two home records in baseball en route to the National League pennant and a World Series title.
“I’m not bragging,” he said. “It’s just a fact.”
Another fact: The Sox can forget about having home-field advantage to open the postseason unless they wake up — like, right now — and smell the opportunity to do damage throughout a seasonlong 11-game road trip against the highly beatable Rangers, Tigers and Indians that begins Friday in Texas.
The least they could do is wake up and put an end to the sleepy, sloppy play that marked a 9-3 loss Thursday against the Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field.
La Russa definitely wasn’t bragging about that.
“They’re men, not machines, and once in a while you get in a little funk,” he said. “That’s what momentum’s about. You get in a good thing and it’s a good aura, a good vibe. You get into a funk and stuff gets worse. We were funky today.”
Take the fourth inning — please — when the Angels scored five times off starter Reynaldo Lopez before an out was recorded.
With runners at first and second, Luis Rengifo lined a one-hopper to shortstop Tim Anderson, who bobbled the ball but still had time for an easy forceout. The problem? Second baseman Cesar Hernandez didn’t bother to cover the bag, leaving Anderson to throw late to first instead and be charged with an error — his first of two — on the play. Jack Mayfield then cleared the bases with a double and advanced to third only because left fielder Eloy Jimenez’s perfectly fine throw home skipped past both catcher Zack Collins and — doing a less-than-ideal job of backing up home plate — Lopez. Error, Jimenez.
Mayfield came home on a two-run homer by Jose Rojas. Hey, it happens. But after Lopez struck out Brandon Marsh, first baseman Gavin Sheets ran halfway to the dugout before realizing there were only two outs. That should happen pretty much never.
In all, the Sox piled up errors, wild pitches — and ejections — in the kind of utterly unimpressive performance that makes one wonder how focused they are on the stretch run.
And it was a game that went beyond strange, a tangled mess that included multiple fans running onto the field, Sox reliever Mike Wright and La Russa both getting run in the ninth by umpire Bill Welke after Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani was hit with a pitch, and infielder Romy Gonzalez finishing the ninth on the mound while Jose Abreu manned third base.
Wouldn’t it be nicer if the Sox — even as La Russa is careful with Anderson’s and Carlos Rodon’s comebacks from the injured list — cranked up the intensity and got serious about catching and passing the Astros, their likely opponent in the divisional round? The AL West leaders were 2½ games up on the Sox with 17 to play after the Sox managed to lose a sixth consecutive series against the Angels.
“We’d love to have home-field advantage because you can see that our numbers are better here, but we’ve played well on the road at times, most times,” La Russa said. “But the postseason is what it is. It’s relevant, but it’s not — what’s the word? — determinative. . . .
“It would be nice to have it, but it’s nicer just to get in and have a chance to compete.”
Keep this in mind, though: MLB teams with home-field advantage have advanced in nine of the last 12 divisional-round series, a three-year trend that includes five of the last six series in the AL. And who has the best home record in the AL this season? The Sox, at 49-27 (.645).
They might have to prioritize finishing fast if only to regain their edge.
ON DECK: SOX AT RANGERS
Friday: Dylan Cease (11-7, 4.22) vs. Taylor Hearn (6-4, 3.99), 7:05 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Saturday: Lance Lynn (10-4, 2.50) vs. Spencer Howard (0-2, 11.81), 6:05 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Sunday: Lucas Giolito (9-9, 3.77) vs. Jordan Lyles (9-11, 5.20), 1:35 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM