A better brand of baseball.
That’s how White Sox reliever Matt Thornton described the Sox current run that has seen the team grab eight wins in its last 11 games. The South Siders have picked up three series victories and a series split in its past four sets, and the team’s last two wins came in one-run, walk-off fashion.
It’s the kind of success the Sox were struggling to find earlier in the season, as they found themselves in last place just 10 days ago. But now, the Sox are third in the AL Central.
“I just think we’re playing better baseball right now,” Thornton said before Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Miami Marlins. “I think we’re getting big hits when we need them in big situations. And when we don’t get them, we’re not letting them weigh us down. We’ve been on a better run the last couple weeks now, winning some series. Obviously you see what Anaheim’s doing right now. To play them as well as we did for those seven games, it says that we’re playing a better brand of baseball and doing the little things right.”
Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger played heroes in this series’ first two games, each picking up singles in the team’s final at-bat that drove in game-winning runs. After Saturday’s 2-1 win, the Sox now find themselves over .500 -- 10-9, to be exact -- in one-run contests, the type of games they often wound up on the losing end of early in the season.
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“You lose a lot of one-run games, too,” Sox manager Robin Ventura was quick to remind. “For us, close games, that’s just the way we play games. We’re confident in any situation. For one reason, we’ve got a good bullpen. They can hold them and give yourself a chance to score some runs. Playing tight games is just natural in this league. It happens all the time, and I can’t think of too many games where you go to the last inning and the team that’s hitting doesn’t come up with the winning run at the plate. It’s just the way it is, and we’re fine playing that way.”
The Sox were quick to point out that these kind of wins -- walk-off wins, wins in close games, games they weren’t winning in April -- are the kind that winning teams often collect.
“I think if you look back at a team that does really well, gets into the playoffs, those are the kind of ballgames you’ve got to win,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “You’ve got to figure out a way to come out on top of those more often than not. I think that’s a sign of a good unit and a team that’s not giving up, just battling till the end. We’ve had some real tough games that we’ve lost, but one thing you can’t say is that we didn’t try hard and we didn’t continue to battle until the end of the game. We’ve kind of always done that.”
Flowers agreed when it was pointed out that the stretch and the slowly improving health of the team -- the recent returns of Dayan Viciedo and John Danks and the upcoming return of Gordon Beckham -- have gone hand-in-hand.
“Yeah, they seem to. Hopefully we’ll be getting Beckham back soon and we’ll be running out that original lineup that we all planned on having out there,” Flowers said. “But I definitely think good things are happening here, and guys are stepping up and filling in during these times. That’s good stuff. And a championship team also has good players coming off the bench for you, too. I think we kind of have all those pieces where if we continue to play well we could have a pretty good chance.”
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The suddenly third-place White Sox found themselves just four games out of first place when they woke up Sunday. A win in the series finale with Miami would put them at .500 for the first time since April 10, when they were 4-4. Ventura said that while there’s a lot of baseball left to be played, the .500 mark is kind of a big deal.
“You wouldn’t think so, but it is,” Ventura said. “From where you started, you then find your way back. I think this stretch we started when we went to Minnesota is a nicer stretch than what we started with, and again it starts with the pitching and defense and the hitting has come along to get big hits and knock in runs when you need it. You wouldn’t think it would be but it is. You need to get there before you are plus.”