HOUSTON — When last seen in these parts, the White Sox were better left unseen.
It was the 2021 American League Division Series, and the Astros trounced the Sox in four games, putting a sour finish on an otherwise successful season that saw the Sox win 93 games and an AL Central title.
Since then, the Sox have been no better despite promises to be better. They take a 30-31 record into a three-game set starting Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“We’ve got a real test in Houston,” manager Tony La Russa said.
The Sox failed their postseason test in Houston in October, beating the Astros 12-6in Game 3 at Guaranteed Rate Field to force a fourth game but getting outscored 25-6 in Games 1, 2 and 4.
Right-hander Lucas Giolito remembers it well. He lasted 4⅓ in Game 2, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks in a 9-4 loss.
“It was on a bigger stage, and it left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Giolito, 2-3 with a 3.71 ERA in five career regular-season starts against the Astros. “I want to go out and perform my best, especially after my last three starts. There is a lot of motivation.”
Giolito (3.88 ERA) has given up 12 earned runs on 22 hits and seven walks over 15‰ innings in his last three outings against the Blue Jays, Rays and Rangers. He made a couple mechanical adjustments on his side day after his last start that he feels good about.
“Things affecting the way the ball has been coming out of my hand,” Giolito said.
The Sox are coming off a three-game sweep of the Tigers and feeling better about themselves, even though closer Liam Hendriks joined Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet and Yasmani Grandal are on the injured list. A slumbering offense has perked up, averaging more than eight runs in the last seven games.
“The way I look at it, if we were playing any team as good as Houston it would be huge for us because we’re getting within yelling distance of being a winning club, not a losing club,” La Russa said. “And they’re in our way. The fact is, it’s Houston, and they’re playing really well, one of the best in both leagues, so you understand the challenge it’s going to be. So get ready.”
After Giolito faces lefty Framber Valdez Friday, Johnny Cueto matches up with Justin Verlander on Saturday, and Michael Kopech is tentatively penciled in against Cristian Javier on ESPN’s ‘‘Sunday Night Baseball.’’ The Sox were 2-5 against the Astros during the regular season last year, getting swept in four games at Houston in June.
“We got Gio, [Johnny] Cueto and [possibly Michael] Kopech,” La Russa said. “And we’re going in there with a better offensive feeling. Let’s compete and see what happens.”
Prohibitive favorites to repeat in the Central going into the season, the Sox are in third place behind the Twins and Guardians. FanGraphs gives the Sox a 55.9% chance of making the postseason.
“A big part of it is health, for sure,” Giolito said. “Lance Lynn is back in our rotation. [Anderson] will be a huge catalyst when he gets back soon. Getting guys back we need to have.
“Things need to click and everyone needs to do their part each day. It doesn’t take one hero. It’s a matter of everyone taking care of their business. We did that last year for the bulk of last season.
“The goal after a rough start is to flip it and finish a lot stronger.”