Clinching the American League Central is more or less an inevitability for the White Sox at this point, but their magic number to secure a place in the postseason held at five with a 2-1 loss Saturday to the Rangers.
Whenever the Sox do clinch, right-hander Lance Lynn figures to be a key part of the postseason success they hope to have. Lynn has anchored the rotation all season, and his influence on the mound and off has been no surprise to manager Tony La Russa.
Lynn was a known quantity to La Russa when the Sox traded for him in December. La Russa’s last season as the manager of the Cardinals was 2011, which was also Lynn’s rookie season. He knew then that Lynn had the makings of a great pitcher, but what stood out even a decade ago were his intangibles.
‘‘We knew coming up in the system with the Cardinals that he had all the non-pitching pieces that you look for as far as a leader type,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘Competitor, anxious to learn.’’
Making his second start since returning from a stint on the injured list with knee soreness, Lynn pitched 5⅓ innings against the Rangers. He gave up two runs (one earned) and six hits.
Limited to 83 pitches because the Sox are being careful with his workload, Lynn left with one out and runners on second and third in the sixth. Reliever Garrett Crochet allowed one of the inherited runners to score, but the Sox’ bullpen otherwise kept the Rangers scoreless.
Lynn said he felt good about reaching his desired pitch count and about his last few starts before the postseason.
‘‘We’re in a good spot headed down the stretch here,’’ Lynn said.
The Sox’ offense, however, couldn’t capitalize on their many baserunners. They put runners on via walks in each of the first five innings, but their only run came on a 431-foot home run by Yasmani Grandal in the sixth. The lineup managed two hits otherwise.
In the long run, such a loss is likely only a bump in the road on the way to the Sox clinching the AL Central for the first time since 2008. The Sox are well-positioned to claim their first division crown in 13 years sometime in the next few days.
And when they get to the playoffs, Lynn will be an important piece. La Russa saw his progression from the Cardinals’ farm system to his rookie season and kept tabs on him even after retiring from managing following the 2011 season.
‘‘I followed him closely, made contact a couple of times, like in spring training when he was with Minnesota and so forth,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘I’ve watched him develop and grow.’’
Lynn has put together one of the best seasons of his career. Through 26 starts, his ERA (2.47) is the lowest he has posted. He also has one of his highest strikeout rates (28%) and one of his lowest batting average allowed (.200) of his career.
Lynn’s performance has had a ripple effect on the rest of the staff. By giving the Sox a clear front-end starter, the rest of the rotation can fall in line behind him. The success of pitchers such as Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease can be attributed, in part, to what Lynn has done this season. As a whole, the rotation had a 3.66 ERA entering play Saturday, the fifth-lowest in the majors.
That’s the stuff that La Russa and the Sox were looking for and suspected they would get when they traded for Lynn. They knew the kind of pitcher he was on the mound, but they also knew what Lynn could deliver beyond his numbers.
‘‘We knew what we were getting with him as far as all the extra things — competitor, mentor-type,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘[He] really has learned a lot, and he likes to share it.’’