CHICAGO -- The White Sox postseason outlook cleared up on Saturday night, thanks in part to their 9-5 victory over the Cubs at Guaranteed Rate Field.
They broke their six-game losing streak, finished 14-0 against left-handed starters this season and current postseason projections have them as the American League’s fourth seed with a Wild Card Series matchup against the Yankees. Yet, there’s still so much to be decided Sunday on the final day of the regular season.
“All I know is we have to go out and try to win,” said White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada, through interpreter Billy Russo. “We have to play the same ball we were playing the whole year.”
“It’s a lot of short-term goals to get to long-term goals,” said bench coach Joe McEwing, who filled in while manager Rick Renteria served a one-game suspension. “We’re focused on tomorrow.”
Minnesota (36-23) beat the Reds, 7-3, to maintain its one-game lead over the White Sox (35-24) in the American League Central. Cleveland’s recent wild ride came to an end in an 8-0 loss to Pittsburgh, meaning the Tribe (34-25) cannot win the division.
If the Twins win again Sunday, they claim their second straight AL Central crown. If the Twins lose and the White Sox beat the newly crowned NL Central-champion Cubs, the White Sox win the title because of a better intradivision record since the two teams split 10 games. If Cleveland wins and the White Sox lose, the two teams will tie for second, but Cleveland has the tiebreaker with an 8-2 record against the South Siders.
And then there’s the A’s (35-24), who were swept by the Mariners in a doubleheader Saturday. If the White Sox win, the Twins lose and the A’s lose Sunday, the White Sox would move into the No. 2 seed in the AL.
All of those permutations will be figured out on Sunday. On Saturday, the White Sox fell behind, 5-2 in the third, on a two-out Kris Bryant grand slam off Dane Dunning, only to score five in the fourth and take control as a porous Cubs defense behind Jon Lester set the stage for American League Most Valuable Player candidate José Abreu's three-run double over the head of left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Abreu has a Major League-best 60 RBIs in 59 games, with the Yankees’ Luke Voit the only other AL player above 50.
Dunning had the worst command among seven strong starts, walking three and striking out two, before giving way to five relievers who covered six scoreless innings on two hits.
“I felt comfortable throwing every pitch,” Dunning said. “I just hung a slider and Kris Bryant put a good swing on it. And that’s about it. I didn’t execute my pitch.”
Moncada had gone 133 plate appearances since his last home run on Aug. 17 against the Tigers before going deep against Jason Adam in the sixth to seal this one for the White Sox. After testing positive for COVID-19 in the intake process, Moncada said Saturday he has started to feel better for the last two weeks.
“I’m still having the effects of the [coronavirus],” Moncada said. “But I feel better, and every day I feel like my energy level is improving and I'm going to be good for the postseason.
“Man, it was a very long drought. I didn't hit a homer since the 10th game of the season or something like that. It was a very long drought, and it felt good, I won't lie to you. It felt very good tonight.”
Rookie Garrett Crochet, the team’s top pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, had his first two-inning relief effort. The 21-year-old southpaw struck out Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, while throwing 21 of his 23 pitches at 99 mph or above and 15 above 100 mph. His 45 pitches of 100-plus mph ranks second in the Majors through just five outings and six innings.
“Just trying to get this thing rolling as we go into the postseason,” Crochet said. “Really just trying to go out there and do the best I can every time. That's all I can ask of myself, and glad that's been working out for me so far."
Crochet will be a key to the White Sox postseason run. But they have one more task ahead of them Sunday, and it’s not reclaiming the Crosstown Cup from the Cubs.
“It would mean a lot for all of us that have been here for the last couple of years,” said Moncada of potentially winning the AL Central. “It would be a really good stepping point for us for the next season, because we have that foundation there.”
“Nobody ever panicked,” McEwing said. “We know what we are capable of doing when we go about and play the game the right way.”