In reality, the Astros, sitting at 59-31, are better than a good number of teams. But another reality is the White Sox, at a season-low 28 games under .500 with a 30-58 mark, aspire to arrive where the defending World Series champions currently reside at the end of this rebuild.
Friday's outcome became another pothole on what the White Sox hope is the road to perennial contention.
Lance McCullers Jr. (10-3) no-hit the White Sox for 5 1/3 innings and set a career high with 12 strikeouts. The White Sox had one baserunner over the first five, when Kevan Smith was hit by a pitch to start the third. McCullers fanned seven of the first 10 hitters and struck out Leury Garcia to open the sixth.
Adam Engel followed with a single to right, and singles from Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez followed to break the shutout. But with runners on first and third and one out, Jose Abreu hit into an inning-ending double play.
"That young man was [throwing a] heavy dose of breaking balls today. Sharp with some tilt, angle, mix in a fastball every now and then. Was more predominantly breaking ball," said Renteria of McCullers. "Elevated his fastball at times or started you off high and/or running. But stayed with his breaking ball predominantly. It was pretty good."
White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez lasted 4 2/3 innings, although he gave up just three runs. Lopez walked five and recorded only three swinging strikes among his 97 pitches, according to Statcast™. Tim Federowicz delivered the big hit off of Lopez, a two-run double to right-center in the fourth, leaving Lopez screaming into his glove in anger as he backed up the play at third base. Lopez topped out at 97.1 mph with his fastball, but didn't have his best stuff.
"I didn't feel my arm as strong as it used to be. I couldn't command my pitches," said Lopez through interpreter Billy Russo. "Kind of battling with the strike zone. I tried to do my best, but it wasn't a good outing.
"Too many issues, too many balls. I tried to do my best. I didn't get a response from my arm every time I wanted to throw hard or throw as good as I wanted. It was tough. Just one of those nights, a bad outing. I don't feel anything wrong physically. Just one of those nights."
It was still a three-run game entering the eighth before the Astros erupted for seven off of Hector Santiago. Three of those runs came on a long home run by Evan Gattis, while two others scored when Avisail Garcia overran Yuli Gurriel's fly ball to right with the bases loaded and one out. Gurriel was credited with a sacrifice fly, but Garcia also was charged with an error.
Avisail Garcia hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth and in the next at-bat, Daniel Palka launched a solo shot the opposite way off of Brad Peacock to complete the scoring. The duo have combined to hit eight home runs and eight of the team's last 11 since Monday.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Big trouble avoided: The Astros scored on run in the third inning, but it could have been worse without Lopez picking off Tony Kemp at second for the inning's first out. Kemp walked, easily swiped second and was moving toward third when Lopez spun around and caught him leaning with a perfect throw to Moncada at second base.
SOUND SMART On May 26, Abreu knocked out four hits against Detroit to raise his average to .319. Over his last 38 games, Abreu is 27-for-145 (.186) and has watched his average dip to .262. He has three home runs and 20 RBIs during that stretch.
HE SAID IT "We were hoping he would still be able to minimize his pitches and remain a little bit more efficient. Once he got in trouble in the fifth, we had to get him out." -- Renteria, on Lopez.
UP NEXT James Shields (3-9, 4.12 ERA) is scheduled to make his 19th start of the season, seventh on the road and second against the Astros in a 3:10 p.m. CT game Saturday against Charlie Morton. Shields has lasted at least six innings in 13 of his last 14 starts, posting a 3.15 ERA over his last 10 trips to the mound.