White Sox don’t want repeat of last year’s late-season slideJared Wyllyson September 19, 2021 at 11:07 pm

With a 7-2 win over the Rangers Sunday, the White Sox shrunk their magic number to clinch a postseason berth to four.

They know that reaching the playoffs is all but an inevitability at this point, but Sox players also know that clinching the division is just step one in reaching their ultimate goal of a World Series ring.

“Clinching is just really getting in,” Tim Anderson said. “That’s when it really starts. But we just take it a day at a time, continue to try to get wins. We know we’re going to clinch, we understand that. Not too far away from it. But we’ve got to continue to stay hungry heading toward October and I think that’s when the real ball starts.”

Last season, the Sox clinched their playoff spot early, but then they went on a lengthy skid that cost them the division. That forced the Sox to play the Athletics on the road in the American League Wild Card Series.

“Last year we kind of made the mistake of letting off the gas a little bit towards the end, especially after we clinched, and so I think that we learned from that mistake,” Lucas Giolito said.

Giolito said Sunday’s win was a good example of how the Sox are going to be different down the home stretch of the regular season this time around.

“Having that energy every single game. Everybody in the game, watching, paying attention, picking things out,” Giolito said of the team’s vibe in the rubber match against the Rangers. “That’s right where we need to be. Today was a really nice turning point for that.”

The difference this year could also come down to how well they can execute the smaller details of their game. On Sunday, that looked like Leury Garcia pulling off a two-strike bunt single and then advancing to second base in the fourth inning, thus putting him in position to score on Cesar Hernandez’s single.

Those runs were part of a five-run inning for the Sox.

“That’s Leury. This guy plays all over, but he’s really a smart baseball player and that first time he went out and hit the bullet, that was a hit and run,” La Russa said. “He hit that ball and it found a hole and it’s first and third. So many things you can do with him.”

There was also Yoan Moncada’s defense at third. He snuffed out a potential Rangers rally in the sixth inning when he ranged to the foul line and threw out Nathaniel Lowe at first base. With Andy Ibanez on base already, Moncada’s play was the difference between one out and two runners on and two outs with one runner.

“The more little things you do, the bigger things are that happen,” La Russa said.

The offense scored seven runs against the Rangers, getting five in the fourth inning against starter Jordan Lyles and then tacking on two insurance runs on Leury Garcia’s two-run double in the seventh.

Giolito described Sunday’s outing as a “grinder battle.” He said he did not have good feel for his fastball, but he was able to work with his secondary stuff to get to 97 pitches and 5-plus innings while limiting the Rangers to one run. Sunday was Giolito’s longest outing since throwing 101 pitches against the Yankees on August 15.

Life on the road has not been kind to the White Sox since the All-Star break. Even with the weekend series win against the Rangers, they are just 2-6-1 in road series since mid-July.

They have two more road stops coming up before heading to Chicago to finish the regular season. The first is in Detroit, but then they’ll face the Indians for five games, including a Thursday doubleheader.

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