With a 7-2 victory over the Rangers on Sunday, the White Sox shrunk their magic number to clinch a postseason berth to four.
They know that reaching the playoffs is all but an inevitability at this point, but Sox players also know that clinching the division is just the first step in reaching their ultimate goal of a World Series ring.
“Clinching is just really getting in,” Tim Anderson said. “That’s when it really starts. But we just take it a day at a time, continue to try to get wins. We know we’re going to clinch; we understand that. Not too far away from it. But we’ve got to continue to stay hungry heading toward October, and I think that’s when the real ball starts.”
Last season, the Sox clinched their playoff spot early but then went on a lengthy skid that cost them the division. That forced them to play the Athletics on the road in the wild-card series.
“Last year, we kind of made the mistake of letting off the gas a little bit toward the end, especially after we clinched, so I think that we learned from that mistake,” Lucas Giolito said.
Giolito said this victory was a good example of how the Sox are going to be different down the stretch of the regular season this time around.
“Having that energy every single game, everybody in the game, watching, paying attention, picking things out,” Giolito said of the team’s vibe in the rubber match against the Rangers. “That’s right where we need to be. Today was a really nice turning point for that.”
The difference this year could also come down to how well they can execute the small details. Leury Garcia pulled off a two-strike bunt single, then advanced to second in the fourth inning, putting himself in position to score on Cesar Hernandez’s single.
“That’s Leury,’’ manager Tony La Russa said. ‘‘This guy plays all over, but he’s really a smart baseball player. And that first time he went out and hit the bullet, that was a hit-and-run. He hit that ball, and it found a hole, and it’s first-and-third. So many things you can do with him.”
There was also Yoan Moncada’s defense at third. He snuffed out a potential Rangers rally in the sixth inning when he ranged to the foul line and threw out Nathaniel Lowe at first base. With Andy Ibanez on base already, Moncada’s play was the difference between one out and two runners on and two outs with one runner on.
“The more little things you do, the bigger things are that happen,” La Russa said.
The offense scored five runs in the fourth inning against starter Jordan Lyles, then tacked on two insurance runs on Garcia’s double in the seventh.
Giolito described his outing as a “grinder battle.” He said he didn’t have a good feel for his fastball but was able to work with his secondary stuff to get to 97 pitches and 5⅓ innings while limiting the Rangers to one run. It was Giolito’s longest outing since throwing 101 pitches against the Yankees on Aug. 15.
Life on the road has not been kind to the Sox since the All-Star break.
Even with the series win against the Rangers, they’re only 2-6-1 in road series since mid-July.
They have two more road stops coming up before heading to Chicago to finish the regular season.
The first is in Detroit, but then they’ll face the Indians for five games, including a doubleheader Thursday.