Today should be the day.
The White Sox, after all, have two chances.
All they have to do is win one game of doubleheader Thursday against the Indians at Progressive Field to clinch the AL Central Division title, and the Sox were well on their way opening a 7-0 lead after a four-homer barrage in the first two innings against Indians right-hander Aaron Civale. It would be the Sox’ first division crown since 2008 and would put them in the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in their long history.
“Today is one of those days you long for,” manager Tony La Russa said, waking up and knowing the Sox can clinch and celebrate on the field.
“This is a great day to be a White Sox player. They’re fired up and Cleveland is in the way.”
The Sox bats were on fire from the get-go. Tim Anderson led off with a home run to right field, and after Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez homered in the second, Anderson hit his second homer, also to right field.
It’s the first of five games in Cleveland against the second-place Indians (74-76), who haven’t mounted a serious challenge all season. They trail the Sox by 10 1/2 games, and the title going to the South Side has been a foregone conclusion for weeks. But the Sox (85-66) have dragged out the clincher by going 31-31 since the All-Star break.
Having opportunity to clinch division title on the field is “a special opportunity this team has earned over six months,” La Russa said. “Let’s take advantage of it.”
Reynaldo Lopez will start Game 1. In something of a surprise move, the team announced this morning that Michael Kopech would start Game 2. Kopech has started three games but has been viewed and groomed as a key piece to the bullpen, and Game 2 will amount to a bullpen game. But his scheduled start Thursday heightened speculation about the Sox’ playoff rotation plans.
Since pitching four innings in a start against the Royals May 14, Kopech hasn’t started a game and hasn’t pitched more than 2 1/3 innings or thrown more than 40 pitches in an outing. He threw 12 pitches Saturday and eight Sunday at Texas, his most recent appearances.
La Russa said he is hoping to get three innings, possibly four, from Kopech today.
Left-hander Carlos Rodon’s status for the postseason is unclear because of ongoing shoulder soreness. Rodon will test the shoulder in his final start of the regular season Wednesday or Tuesday, La Russa said, when the Sox host the Reds.
Rodon played very light catch on the field Thursday.
Here is the Sox lineup for Game 1 (12:10 p.m. CT). Because of injuries, it marks only the fifth time Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez are in the same lineup this season. Anderson hadn’t homered since Aug. 20 and Jimenez hadn’t homered since Aug. 29.