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White Sox Fight for Life in Against Twins, Guardians in AL Central

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Andrew Vaughn, the Chicago White Sox outfielder, grew up in Santa Rosa, the Northern California town best known for its wineries and because the home of the cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Vaughn said his father knew Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip, a bit of and spent a variety of time at Snoopy’s Home Ice, an ice rink on the town.

As for himself, Vaughn said, he bypassed the rink because he didn’t trust the blades.

“I didn’t wish to lose my fingers,” Vaughn said.

Because the White Sox proceed slipping and sliding through a disappointing summer, what has turn out to be readily apparent is that a team ravaged by injuries is leaning harder than ever on the great hands and unexpected production of fellows like Vaughn. And the team’s best probability to regain its grip on the American League Central begins on Monday, when the White Sox play the primary of 19 consecutive games against division rivals Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland.

Fifteen of those games are against the 2 teams ahead of them within the standings, the Twins and the Guardians, in a stretch that seems prone to set the tone for the remaining of the White Sox season.

“One-hundred percent,” said Vaughn, who was second on the team in batting average (.300) and doubles (14) through Saturday and was ranked third in on-base plus slugging percentage (.810). “We’ve got to go play our game, make the most of opportunities and play well.”

“I’m excited,” Manager Tony La Russa said. “We’ve got our pitching lined up.”

The pitching isn’t any small a part of the equation. Starter Lance Lynn injured his right knee in spring training and didn’t make his first start until June 13. La Russa noted that having Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Dylan Stop and Johnny Cueto finally up and running together “is essentially the most positive thing we’ve got going.”

Closer Liam Hendriks, who was 16 for 19 in save opportunities before straining the flexor tendon in his forearm on June 10, is near returning.

La Russa is loath to debate the squad’s plethora of injuries, noting that such troubles will not be unique to his team following a truncated spring training. But with the White Sox, it’s not only the variety of injuries, it’s who has been injured. The Sox currently rank fourth within the majors in most money spent on injured list players ($22,578,203), in keeping with Spotrac.

Much of the team’s drop-off may be explained by those absences.

Last season, Lynn ranked first within the A.L. in E.R.A. (2.69) and opponents’ O.P.S. (.605) and second in opponents’ batting average (.209) amongst pitchers who threw greater than 150 innings. He’s thrown only 22 innings this season.

Third baseman Yoan Moncada was third within the A.L. with a .375 on-base percentage last season and his 33 doubles led the White Sox. He began the season on the I.L. with an oblique strain, returned on May 9, hurt his quad, then went back on the I.L. with a strained hamstring. He’s played in just 33 games this yr and is hitting .189 with a .238 on-base percentage.

Activated last Tuesday in Anaheim, Moncada, 27, showed flashes of his old self, going 2 for five with a double and two R.B.I. Then he fouled a ball off his right foot during Wednesday’s game, went for X-rays and finished the night together with his foot wrapped in ice.

Even with Moncada’s return, the White Sox currently have nine players on the I.L., including the outfielders Eloy Jiménez and Adam Engel, catcher Yasmani Grandal, reliever Aaron Bummer and infielder Danny Mendick.

“Calm down, all right? Don’t attempt to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”

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That’s why Vaughn, Chicago’s first-round pick (third overall) within the 2019 draft, has been so useful. Through Friday, he was ranked eighth within the A.L. with a .357 batting average with runners in scoring position. He had also been the sport’s best road hitter, with a .369 batting average away from Chicago.

“Most days, if not all days, he’s nearly as good as any hitter we now have on the team,” La Russa said. “He is sensible, he adjusts, he takes instruction well. He’s a hungry hitter.”

He’s also one in all the few hitters satiating the appetites of White Sox fans who expected way more from this team. Prohibitive favorites to win a second consecutive A.L. Central title entering the season, the White Sox got a 59.2 percent probability to win the division by Fangraphs on opening day, with Minnesota at 23.3 percent and Cleveland at 7.5 percent. Now, those odds have flipped to 40.6 percent for the Twins, 32.6 percent for the White Sox and 26.7 percent for the Guardians.

The shifting landscape emphasizes the importance of what’s next.

“We all know what’s in front of us,” said Josh Harrison, the versatile, 12-year veteran who signed a free agent cope with the Sox in March. “Ultimately, you’ve got to care for your in-division opponents.”

The injuries and losses have conspired so as to add not only frustration to the Sox season, but dashes of controversy and confusion as well.

In a surprising move for a team with an old-school manager like La Russa, the short-handed White Sox have advised Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, José Abreu and others to not run hard on plays that seem like routine outs. It is predicated on advice from the team’s training staff, who are attempting to preserve the players’ legs.

It’s unconventional on the very least, and an especially odd decision to publicize. But La Russa wants the fans to know that his guys are giving it their all, even in moments when it could not appear that way.

“Should you know you’re going to be out, if you happen to hit the ball hard to second base, you’re playing on the skilled level and guys know learn how to catch and throw the ball,” Anderson said. “Skip and the training staff know what’s best for the players. We just follow their lead.”

La Russa, 77, has been under fire personally in some quarters since last month when he ordered a two-strike, intentional walk to Trea Turner during a game against the Dodgers. Trailing 7-5 within the sixth inning, the Sox watched because the left-handed Max Muncy followed the intentional walk by smashing a three-run homer in a game Los Angeles eventually won, 11-9. The strategy was more defensible than it seemed: Lifetime, Turner was hitting .254 in 1-2 counts against left-handed pitchers, and this season he was hitting .333 in 1-2 counts. Muncy was hitting .159 on the time.

Regardless, periodic chants of “Fire Tony!” have been heard at Guaranteed Rate Field ever since. La Russa says he likes the fans’ passion and would relatively have that than apathy. White Sox players shrug it off.

“That’s why you get yourself an excellent set of ear plugs and don’t listen to it, man,” Anderson said of the surplus noise that has accompanied the team’s on-field frustrations this yr, from the La Russa negativity to the episode involving Josh Donaldson of the Yankees, who was suspended for disrespectful comments toward Anderson.

Yes, several White Sox players said, they understand the growing frustration. But additionally they expect to enhance as key players return to energetic duty and so they say it is just too early to obsess over the standings.

“The thing is, we keep getting asked that query,” Kopech said. “How does it feel? No one likes to lose. We’re not glad. We’re not winning, but no one’s panicking. We all know we will turn it around tomorrow.”

With 15 games against Minnesota and Cleveland on deck over the following three weeks, tomorrow is here. For perspective, Lynn broke in under La Russa in St. Louis in 2011 and says he’s seen each the manager and his team endure worse.

“It’s a part of this culture,” Lynn said. “Everyone expects the whole lot to be perfect on a regular basis, and when it’s not perfect, they’ve got to have someone guilty. That’s a part of the gig. He’s doing all he can to place us in the very best position to win. Some days, it doesn’t work out.”

Lynn points back to that 2011 season, when the Cardinals were principally left for dead before benefiting from Atlanta’s epic collapse, erasing a ten.5-game deficit and stealing the National League wild card on the last day of the season. Then they went on to win La Russa’s second World Series in St. Louis.

“I’ve seen a variety of weird things on this game over the course of my profession, and this isn’t any different,” Lynn said. “You’ve just got to weather the storm.”

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