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Sox bats, season get big-time boost from sweep of Twins originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Then the Minnesota Twins came to town. And a date with their unexpectedly last-place division rivals proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
The Twins have not been a very good pitching team this season, their group ERA climbing above 5.00 on Thursday. But the White Sox were in quite the extended funk, 2-7 in their nine games prior to this rain-shortened three-game set on the South Side. They averaged just three runs a game during that stretch, a mark as high as it was thanks in no small part to a seven-run outburst in the final, salvaged game of a series against the Seattle Mariners.
Injury-ravaged and fielding a lineup relying increasingly on bench players, the White Sox offense looked to be in dire straits.
Teeing off against the Twins solved that.
The White Sox scored seven runs in a Tuesday-night victory, unleashed six home runs in a 13-3 romp Wednesday and lit up the scoreboard for another eight runs Thursday, sweeping away the Twins with 28 runs in three days, a far cry from the offensive desert they wandered through against the Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros.
"We weren’t playing our best. The energy wasn’t there," White Sox catcher Zack Collins said. "This is a huge series for us. We kind of made a statement. It was pretty big.
"It sucked getting punched in the face by the Mariners, losing the series at home in our first 100-percent capacity weekend. It was pretty bad. But what we did against the Twins got us right back on track, and hopefully we can keep it going."
For slumping players and teams, the old saying goes that all you need is one to turn things around. Well, whether it's one game or one series, the White Sox might have found their turnaround this week.
Who knows if it will go down as a season-saving series. Even with runs hard to come by, the White Sox didn't budge from their spot atop the AL Central standings during that worrisome week and a half. But there's no doubt that things needed to turn around, if only to restore confidence that the team can continue to keep its World Series hopes afloat during the long wait for health to return.
Good news came this week on Luis Robert, who received a near identical clearance to get back to work that Eloy Jiménez did two weeks earlier. It makes the White Sox hopeful claims that the two middle-of-the-order bats could return before season's end all the more realistic, showing that reinforcements are indeed on the way.
Meanwhile, the White Sox will need their biggest healthy boppers to keep bopping on a consistent basis. Yasmani Grandal has been driving the bus lately, hotter than July with a team-high 14 home runs, the two most recent ones coming in Wednesday's blowout win. José Abreu homered that night, too, as did Andrew Vaughn. And though Yoán Moncada was removed from Thursday's series finale with a bruised hand — and is likely to miss the upcoming series in Detroit — he's been a consistent on-base presence for the White Sox all year long.
What this week's three games against the Twins looked like, though, was April and May, when the White Sox surged to first place in the division thanks to nightly contributions from unexpected sources. Brian Goodwin's been sneaky good lately and homered in each of the last two games of the series. Collins drove in a pair of runs Thursday.
Some of these guys have been everyday fixtures thanks to all the injuries, but they weren't among the crew counted on to form one of baseball's most menacing lineups in the spring.
One guy who earned rave reviews back then, though, was Gavin Sheets, and the White Sox shaking off the rust against the Twins has coincided with the start of his major league career. He had five hits, five RBIs and his first career homer in his first three big league games, providing a spark with his bat at a position of need, right field.
"This offense is one of the best in the league, if not the best," Sheets said Wednesday. "Hitting's contagious, and I'm just following along with what these guys are doing, the leaders on this team. We've been putting together really good at-bats, and so I just hope we keep it going."
And then there was Josh Donaldson, who Grandal admitted might have woken the White Sox up with his eye-popping pregame media session Wednesday, when he accused Lucas Giolito of cheating, said the two had a meeting in the parking lot and even went after NBC Sports Chicago analyst Ozzie Guillén.
Donaldson talked, the White Sox listened, and then they unleashed a whole mess of runs.
Who knows how long it will last, if the next time the White Sox see another contender like the Astros, or even an above-.500 team like the Mariners, they'll find themselves having a little more trouble than they've had with the Twins, who they've gone 8-1 against so far this season.
But this Twins series starts a lengthy stretch of the schedule against woeful opposition. The White Sox next go to Detroit for three games, up to Minnesota for three more with the Twins, then out to Baltimore to end the first half.
Those three teams started Thursday a combined 48 games below .500.
So that's a lot of games to be won. And a lot of runs to be scored by a team that again looks capable of doing just that.
The White Sox can thank their division rivals, who instead of providing the steepest challenge to the Central crown might have just provided a midseason rejuvenation.
"It was a huge series for us. Them coming in, us sweeping them was huge for us," Collins said. "I wouldn’t say anything is permanent in baseball until the season is over, but it’s definitely good to get those three wins from those guys.
"We have to continue to take care of business and get as many Ws as we can."
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