AL Central-heavy schedule affords White Sox chance to climb: ‘We’ve just got to dig’

A long stretch against a weak division begins on right foot as White Sox top Guardians 8-3.

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Lance Lynn retired the first 10 batters Tuesday and finished with seven strikeouts while walking none.

Lance Lynn retired the first 10 batters Tuesday and finished with seven strikeouts while walking none.


Welcome back to the American League Central, White Sox.

It’s the land of opportunity for baseball’s wannabes in the Midwest, where struggling teams know they have little to no shot, tallying their games below .500 with the faint hope of playing meaningful games in September. It’s where rebuilds come to crashing a halt.

The AL Central has one team with a winning record, the Twins at 23-19 entering Tuesday.

The Sox defeated the Guardians 8-3 on Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field to improve to a still-awful 15-28 record, needing a three-game sweep to get within three games of them. They have a shot after erupting for six runs in the fifth inning after two outs against Shane Bieber and seeing Lance Lynn allow one earned run over seven-plus innings.

“Can’t say enough about Lance,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “He was really aggressive in the strike zone. He started and ended this game just pounding the strike zone.

“And we had some big homers today.”

Gavin Sheets’ three-run homer and Jake Burger’s two-run shot to the opposite field highlighted the Sox fifth that began with Luis Robert Jr. reaching on Mike Zunino’s catcher’s interference reach-in. Robert hit his AL-leading 12th homer and became the first Sox player to homer in four straight games since Matt Davidson in 2017.

“He got a good pitch in the zone and he’s not missing those right now,” Grifol said. “And it went a long way.”

In 14 games this month, Robert is batting .408/.491/.939 with seven homers, 15 RBI and 17 runs scored.

Lynn (2-5), who entered with a 7.51 ERA, retired the first 10 batters and finished with seven strikeouts while walking none. For the second straight game, Sox pitchers didn’t allow a walk.

They trailed the first-place Twins by nine games going in, and with the next 12 games and 15 of the next 18 against the division, they must carve a chunk out of that deficit. A nastier June schedule awaits.

“We’ve just got to dig,” Grifol said. “We’ve got to dig down deep and we’ve got to will ourselves to become that team that we know we can be. That might take making up one game a week, it might take 6-7 games in two weeks. I’m not sure, but we’ve got to do the work, we’ve got to prepare and we’ve got to play hard baseball, play to win every single night.”

And win more than every other night.

In any other division, the Sox might’ve been buried. But that games-behind column that was still in single digits with three-quarters of the season left gives them cause to hold off on giving up, at least for now.

The trick is keeping the players on board when things look bleak. PECOTA, after all, gives them a 1.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Are the Sox still locked in? Grifol needs that from his players, in pregame work and for nine innings.

“You see it all day long,” he said. “When guys are locked in, you see their work in the cage, you see their work on the field. It’s just a different level of focus, a different look on their face. It’s not always visible but most of the time you can tell when guys are locked in or when guys are maybe struggling a little mentally or confidence-wise.”

And what does Grifol see?

“Our guys prepare for a game really well,” he said. “We just have to do a better job when things come up, you know, that are not fundamentally sound. Of just cleaning them up quicker.”

A 1-3 series against the Royals last week was the season’s low point, dropping the Sox to 4-6 against the division. They were 37-39 against division opponents during the disappointing 81-81 campaign of a year ago.

There’s no time like the present to turn that around. It’s now or never.

Or else.

“This isn’t over. It’s not over,” Sheets said. “We have too much talent to. We got some big matchups these next two weeks and we can still make a statement and have a great May and take it into June and see what happens.”

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