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The White Sox Are Down 0-2 in the ALDS, but They’re Not Mediocre

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Even after two losses, it’s OK to still think the South Siders are a good baseball team.

MLB: ALDS-Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros
Even in two losses, Tim Anderson is playing at a high level.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t rewrite the Chicago White Sox’s season after 18 innings of playoff baseball.

It was a semi-calamity in Houston, falling in an 0-2 series hole that now requires the White Sox to win three straight games against the experienced Astros. Maybe a couple of “Blackout” crowds is the spark the South Siders need, especially after sporting a 53-28 home record during the regular season. Guaranteed Rate Field can solve the defensive miscues and Tony La Russa’s bullpen and infield shift management, right?

Whenever this run ends, though, one thing is certain: This is a good baseball team, even if it’s not great, or never a true 2021 World Series contender. No matter what the executive editor at MLB.com thinks.

There is plenty of blame to go around from a lifeless Game 1 performance, to the bullpen’s blow-up in Game 2, or Tony La Russa’s missteps along the way. But for all of their trash cans, non-apologies and past racist gestures, this is still a very good Astros team — one that tied the Rays for the best expected record in the AL (101-61), according to MLB.com.

If anything, so far this series spotlights Houston’s talent, rather than pegging the White Sox into the same class as Cleveland and Detroit. There doesn’t have to be a narrative to knock down the South Siders to further put Houston on a pedestal. Both teams can be good, even if one has been better through two games.

On paper, this was always going to be a tough matchup for the South Siders. Besides playing at Minute Maid Park to start the series — a place it got swept in a four-game series earlier this year — the Astros’ deep lineup is seemingly the perfect counter to the White Sox’s pitching staff. Their ability to handle fastballs neutralizes Lance Lynn’s arsenal — especially when he decided to throw 74 fastballs of his 76 pitches in Game 1. And having the second-fewest strikeouts in baseball is the perfect strategy to face Lucas Giolito and, potentially, Dylan Cease, who both topped 200 strikeouts. Pair that with some elite rotation arms and a good-enough bullpen to hold onto sizable leads, and sportsbooks rightfully favored the Astros.

But a bad matchup and pair of below-average performances doesn’t fully diminish a 162-game season for a team with four All-Stars, who traded for another in Craig Kimbrel, and battled through injuries to win 93 games.

Yes, the White Sox went 27-29 against winning teams and played in the worst division in baseball, but they also lost nearly every valuable piece of their lineup for an extended period of time.

They stayed afloat while replacing Silver Slugger Eloy Jiménez and future Mike Trout/Gold Glove center fielder Luis Robert with Billy Hamilton and talented rookie Andrew Vaughn. Remember when Seby Zavala and Zack Collins split catching duties when Yasmani Grandal went on the injured list? And yet it’s always ignored when a national broadcast can’t stop fixating on their losing record against winning teams.

Atlanta (31-37) and Milwaukee (32-36) both have losing records against winning teams, too. It’s a telling statistic, but not the only measure for success. If it was, there would be a bigger commotion about how the Tigers were truly World Series contenders after a 39-36 record against winning teams.

Here’s a couple of stats that illuminate the White Sox’s strengths:

  • 636 runs allowed, 27.1 K% and 3.85 xFIP, 1st in AL
  • +160 run differential, .758 OPS and .329 wOBA, 4th in AL

Maybe being battle-tested would help once this team reaches the playoffs, but there’s a benefit to simply making the postseason and gaining that experience, too. Remember, this is a young team whose budding star in Luis Robert has yet to even play a full season in his entire career (124 games). I’ll take as many swings at a championship as possible with this core. Ask a Blue Jays fan how nice it was to be 48-44 against winning teams and tested the whole season in the AL East.

Whenever this run ends, it’s important to remember that it’s simply hard to win in the postseason. It took the Dodgers almost a decade of winning the NL West before hoisting the World Series trophy — not to mention the kajillion dollars spent on building that contender. The Rays are a perennial power, yet have not won a ring.

And just because the White Sox struggled in two games during the first true year of their window doesn’t make this season a failure, or the team mediocre. Not every playoff experience is going to mirror the 2005 White Sox obliterating competition.

This isn’t to say the White Sox don’t have issues that need to be addressed this offseason. There are holes in right field and second base, while the bullpen has the pieces to be relied on heavily during a postseason run, it is too inconsistent to actually be trusted.

Every team has holes, though. And besides one, every team in the postseason ends up losing a series. It’s just a weird choice to fixate on two games — games that haven’t even ended the series — over a 162-game sample size.

If having five All-Stars, one of the best catchers in the league, a Silver Slugger left fielder, five-tool center fielder, a pair of 200-strikeout pitchers that don’t even include their two All-Stars in the rotation and a slew of electric bullpen arms is a bad team, then I guess I enjoyed watching bad baseball for the past several months.

This team won 93 games. It doesn’t matter how badly the Twins fell on their face, how many times Cleveland was no-hit and the disaster going on in Kansas City, that’s still the third-most wins in the AL. If topping 90 wins was easy, then the rest of the AL Central wouldn’t have fallen below .500 this year.

Houston might be the best team in baseball, or just a great team. Time will tell.

But that doesn’t mean the White Sox aren’t good, too.