It might have come against the team with the worst record in baseball, but Sunday’s win was big for the White Sox.
The 5-3 victory completed a sweep of the visiting Miami Marlins, the first sweep of the season for the Sox, and it brought the South Siders’ record back to .500 for the first time since the 2013 campaign’s eight-game mark in early April.
“It’s huge,” designated hitter Adam Dunn said. “You’ve got to beat teams that on paper you’re supposed to beat. That team played hard. I don’t think that they’re anything like what their record indicates.”
That’s Dunn’s opinion, but he’s right in that the Marlins didn’t exactly play punching bag in the three-game set. The Sox won the first two games by just one run on a pair of walk-off hits, and Sunday’s two-run margin of victory was anything but a blowout. Still, the Sox are happy that their current hot stretch -- they have won nine of their last 12 -- has put them back at the break-even point.
“Yeah, at the same time, after our tough start, we feel pretty good about it right now,” said starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod, who earned his third win of the season. “It’s kind of that point in the year where you turn it on a little bit, and being .500 we feel like now the only way is up. Good things are happening.”
The Sox used a pair of two-run hits to build an early lead against Miami starter Alex Sanabia in a game that featured back-and-forth scoring action in the opening innings. Dunn got things started in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer to left field, his 12th of the season. That lead was quickly erased, though, by Miami in the second, when two RBI singles tied the game. Alejandro De Aza answered for the Sox with a two-run double in the bottom of the inning before an RBI groundout for the Marlins made it a 4-3 game.
That’s where it stood for most of the afternoon, but Alex Rios singled home De Aza for an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth.
Axelrod, who evened his record to 3-3 with the win, went 5 1/3 innings and allowed just three runs on six hits and two walks. After going winless in his first seven starts of the year, the right-hander has picked up a win in each of his last three outings. Sunday marked the eighth time this season in which Axelrod has allowed three or fewer earned runs.
The starting pitcher wasn’t too pleased with his outing, which matched his second shortest start of the season, but he was happy with the result.
“I didn’t have my good stuff,” Axelrod said. “I was erratic in those middle innings. Self-inflicted third inning when I gave up that run with the walks. But you know we pulled it out so I can’t be mad about it. Just get ready for the next one now.”
It could have been a much different game if not for a pair of Miami runners cut down at the plate by Sox outfielders.
In the second, Dayan Viciedo made a terrific throw that reached Sox catcher Hector Gimenez in plenty of time to tag out Chris Coghlan. And in the sixth, Alex Rios made a strong throw after a bobble in right field that resulted in an out on Marcell Ozuna, though this play was much closer and more controversial than the one in the third.
Ozuna’s slide was an awkward one, and with Gimenez blocking the plate, Ozuna’s hand -- though it appeared it touched the smallest amount of home plate -- spent an awful lot of time on Gimenez’s shoe. Home plate umpire Paul Nauert called the runner out, and it preserved what was at that point a one-run Sox advantage.
“That was huge,” Axelrod said. “Our outfielders have some good arms, and that’s the difference in the game right there. If those two guys score, we are losing. Hats off to them, and Hector did a great job back there.”
Axelrod also can thank the Sox bullpen, which tossed 3 2/3 scoreless frames. Jesse Crain struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth, extending the right-hander’s scoreless outings streak to 20 games, and Addison Reed was perfect in the ninth for his 17th save of the season.
Five runs scored, three runs allowed, a strong bullpen performance and a host of defensive highlights mean the Sox played another strong game in this stretch that has featured quite a few of them. While being asked about the defense, Rios explained that you have to do it all to win.
“Every single aspect of the game is important. You have to perform on every single aspect,” Rios said. “You just can’t single out one part of the game and make it more important than others. We’re playing good defensively and offensively, so that’s what we’ve got to do.”
With the team back at .500, it seems that the Sox are pointing in the right direction. And while Ventura emphasized that this doesn’t mean they’ll start scoreboard watching division rivals Detroit and Cleveland, it does mean positive feelings in the clubhouse, which lead to more wins and could lead to more climbing in the standings.
“You have to get there first, and once you’re there you get on a decent run of feeling like you’re going to win games,” Ventura said. “You just continue to come in with the expectation that you’re going to play hard and you’re going to win a game.”
Dunn echoed the sentiment that the best is yet to come.
“It’s huge because I definitely don’t think we’ve played our best baseball,” Dunn said. “If people think that we have, I think they’re crazy. We started out playing terrible defense. Offensively we haven’t really got it going, but yet we’re right in the middle of it.”