KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What’s not to love about a 10-game lead in September?
Well, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks isn’t crazy about it.
“I don’t like a nine- or 10-game lead,’’ Hendriks said Saturday. ‘‘It’s the worst thing you can have.’’
Owners of first place in the American League Central since May 7, the Sox led by 2½ games on June 1, by five games on July 1, by nine games on Aug. 1 and by 10 games on Sept. 1. They led the Indians by 10 games going into their game Saturday against the Royals.
What’s wrong with that?
“Because you have the ability to take your foot off the gas, and I don’t like that at all,” Hendriks said. “I would prefer to have a tight race, looking over our shoulder or above us to catch somebody. That means you’ll get in the playoffs raring to go and playing the best baseball.”
Like the 2019 Nationals, who used the last week of the regular season as a springboard to a World Series title, Hendriks said.
Jose Abreu said the Sox “relaxed a little bit” last season after they clinched a playoff berth. They surrendered first place to the Twins and lost to the Athletics in their wild-card series.
Hendriks was the Athletics’ closer.
“That’s something I’ve been harping on with some of the guys here,” Hendriks said. “You guys, the 2020 White Sox, were probably a better team than the 2020 A’s, but we hit our stride at the right time, and they got a little lackadaisical and didn’t have a burst in the last week — and it showed in the playoffs.”
The Sox aren’t necessarily doomed because of their big lead, Hendriks said. He’s not seeing any letup in the Sox.
“Everyone has kind of learned from last year,” he said.
While manager Tony La Russa, who replaced Rick Renteria before the season, is taking advantage of the lead to rest players who might otherwise be pushing through nagging aches and pains if the Sox were in a tight race, his push to win each day is evident.
“To play every game as a playoff game” is the message received from La Russa, Abreu said this week.
La Russa won’t allow the Sox to get soft, coach Shelley Duncan said.
“Comfort kills,” Duncan said. “With comfort comes complacency, and when you take your foot off the gas, you lose your edge. All those fine details, you start to forget about them.
“I’ve always believed in playing one style all the time. Never focusing on leads and always searching for perfect. And what I can tell you is there is no comfort in Tony. There is no lead that is safe. And he wants to win every game, whether it’s an exhibition against a local club team or a spring-training game or the seventh game of the World Series. If anyone showed any sign of comfort, it would be nipped in the bud.”
Over 162 games, after a six-week spring training, not letting up at one time or another is next to impossible. There is an element to pacing, but as Hendriks warned, beware the dangers.
“Because you win today, then you win tomorrow and the next day,” Hendriks said, “and all of a sudden, you have built that momentum where it’s easier to start from level eight in confidence rather than level five. Because you’ve won a few games in a row, but you’re still playing day by day.”