Can Sunday's victory be a springboard?

May 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin’s White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO --  came up with this familiar sentiment after a 12-9 White Sox victory over the Rays on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“April showers bring May flowers,” Vaughn said. “So here we go.”

The first baseman could have been talking about the weather, as it rained for about 75 percent of the series finale. But Vaughn was referring to the White Sox, who opened the 2023 season with a victory (technically not April, but March 30) and closed April with a victory.

In between those two, Chicago had a 6-21 record. It was a dismal month, an embarrassing month, at times, including some rough moments Sunday. On Saturday, Lance Lynn entered the seventh inning with a 3-0 lead and a no-hitter intact. The White Sox finished the frame trailing, 10-3. I’ve never seen that happen in 22 years of covering baseball.

But a funny thing happened on my way to writing about the White Sox 11th straight loss on Sunday. They won.

Not only did they win, but the White Sox erased a 9-5 deficit in the ninth inning by scoring seven runs. To put things in perspective, Chicago scored 10 runs total in its first three losses to the Rays, including two off position player Luke Raley on Thursday.

Jake Burger, Elvis Andrus, Lenyn Sosa, Adam Haseley and Vaughn all delivered two-strike hits against relievers Jalen Beeks and Garrett Cleavinger, with Vaughn’s three-run walk-off home run finishing off the stunning comeback.

It’s an encouragingly patient showing for a team with a chase rate of 33.6 percent ranking it the worst in baseball, per Statcast.

“I saw incredible focus,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “We had some big hits with two strikes right there. It was just that fight of not giving in, not striking out, putting the ball in play.

“You can’t strike out 15, 17 times and expect to win. Over the long haul, you aren’t going to win too many. Today showed when you raise your level of focus and you create a little urgency for yourself and you concentrate on putting the ball in play, things can happen.”

So what does this victory mean in the big picture? It means shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox energetic leader, returns healthy on Tuesday behind a thrilling win. It means Chicago and its nine-game deficit behind the Twins in the American League Central will host Minnesota with momentum for the first time in two weeks.

What it doesn’t mean is all is well with the White Sox. Grifol talked on Sunday about the team leading in four of seven games this season against the Rays and suffering heartbreaking losses to the team with the best record in baseball. Nothing false there, but close only matters if the White Sox start streaking in a winning direction and use those setbacks as character builders.

This team is about contending for division and World Series titles, not moral victories. Those goals weren’t changed by a miserable start.

“We felt we had the talent to contend for a championship,” general manager Rick Hahn said before the start of the Rays series. “We felt we had the talent to contend for this division and make some noise in the postseason. 

“That goal hasn’t changed. We made our job a heck of a lot harder based on the first [29] games.”