The Chicago White Sox are the defending American League Central champions, and they were the presumed favorites to repeat coming into the 2022 season. But as the calendar shows September, it's time to put up or shut up for the White Sox.
They open a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins on Friday night, with both teams chasing the Cleveland Guardians. The Twins are a game behind. The White Sox trail the Twins by three games.
The Twins will hand the ball to Sonny Gray (7-4, 3.04 ERA), while the White Sox will turn to Davis Martin (2-4, 4.62).
The White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-1 on Thursday to claim a three-game series after losing the first game. The victory may have benefitted from a players-only meeting. Johnny Cueto earned the win, despite lasting only 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits. He struck out five and walked none.
But the bullpen came up big. Five relievers combined to allow just two hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. They struck out six, walked two and allowed just two hits.
"Everybody left the meeting motivated," Cueto said. "Knowing we have to keep battling and keep fighting to get to the point where we want to be."
Outfielder AJ Pollock added, "It's been frustrating this year. We've had times where we had a lot of meetings, and it really just comes down to us. It was good to get the guys together. We had some guys speak their mind a little bit. We're going to get after it and see what happens the last 30-whatever games."
Martin will be facing the Twins for the first time in his debut season. He has split his time between the rotation and the bullpen, with three of his last four outings coming as a starter. His last start was a struggle, lasting just three innings and allowing five runs (three earned). His biggest problem was walks, as he issued four free passes.
A five-run inning, featuring three walks and two wild pitches, was his downfall.
"I didn't do my job," Martin said. "Score three runs and (in) the second inning my job is to get three outs and get us back in the dugout. But starting with a leadoff walk kind of takes the wind out of the sails there. Just got to learn from it and move on to the next day."
If the White Sox have underachieved, the Twins have done the opposite. They were expected to be average at best. But they have 33 games remaining, with more than half of them (17 to be exact) coming against the Guardians and the White Sox. The time is now to prove they belong in the race.
"We have a chance to get basically anywhere," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said following a 6-5 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday. "We have all the opportunities in the world in front of us right now. We have a chance to go win our division, if we just go out there and play well. I love knowing we have it right in front of us."
Gray will have a second shot against the White Sox after allowing six runs on nine hits in just 3 2/3 innings in July. In his career, he's 4-2 with a 4.47 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts).
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