It's been an up-and-down first half of the season for the Chicago White Sox. They started the year on fire, then cooled off considerably. The South Siders made the first splashy trade of the summer, acquiring James Shields from the San Diego Padres, but his early struggles have served as the exclamation point on a downward spiral. A three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians over the weekend brought Chicago to a season-worst three games below .500, sporting a 5-11 record in June.
Three close road wins wins against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park changed the narrative considerably. Chicago sits at 36-37, just 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot (after being 5 back entering the week).
The series started Monday with a serious pitcher's duel. Steven Wright pitched a splendid 9 innings for Boston and allowed just a single unearned run. But the White Sox held their own and sent the game to extra innings tied at 1-1. In the top of the tenth, Jose Abreu roped a two-run double against Craig Kimbrel that would hold up as the game-winner.
Rookie shortstop Tim Anderson led off Tuesday's game with a home run to left off Clay Buchholz, and a Melky Cabrera sacrifice fly later in the first inning gave Chicago a 2-0 lead. That was all the run support Chris Sale would need; he gave up just one run on four hits in seven innings. A Todd Frazier homer in the fourth brought the score to 3-1, where it would stay through the final out.
Boston's bats came alive early in Game 3, as the Red Sox plated four runs in the third against Jose Quintana. They took a 6-4 lead into the eighth, but Cabrera tied the game with a two-run shot off Koji Uehara, and Brett Lawrie's home run two batters later gave Chicago the lead. The White Sox would score another run in the ninth and win 8-6.
The White Sox went ahead again early in Thursday's series finale, grabbing a 3-0 lead through four. A four-run sixth put Boston ahead 5-4, but Abreu snatched the advantage right back with a three-run shot in the top of the seventh. The Red Sox scored in the seventh and eighth, tying the game at 7-7. They had a chance to win the game with two on and no outs in the ninth, but David Robertson worked out of trouble. Chicago blew a golden opportunity in the top of the tenth, failing to score after loading the bases with no outs. Xander Bogaerts made them pay, lacing a walk-off single in the bottom of the frame.
The Red Sox are surely disappointed with how the series turned out, but it was far from catastrophic. Because the Baltimore Orioles lost two of three games to the Rangers and Padres this week, Boston only lost half a game in the AL East.
Up next, Boston will visit Arlington and the 47-26 Rangers (that's the best record in the AL), while the White Sox head back home to host the Blue Jays.
The legend of Steven Wright continued to grow Monday. The knuckleball-wielding 31-year-old hurled nine innings for the fourth time this season (although it doesn't count as a complete game because the game went to extras), lowering his ERA to a league-best 2.01. Many have expressed a desire for Wright to start the All-Star Game in San Diego next month, and his case is strong. At the very least, he should be a deserving member of the AL squad.
He'll be joined by David Ortiz, who continued his superb final campaign this week. He only had three hits and one RBI in the series, but he did walk six times in 16 plate appearances. Ortiz leads the Majors in both on-base and slugging percentage, and is the only player sporting a four-digit OPS (1.128).
On the other side, Chicago's Tim Anderson belted his first career homer (which was also his first RBI) Tuesday. The rookie shortstop is a speed-first player, which is why he's hitting leadoff despite still not having recorded a walk in his first 13 games (59 plate appearances). He's the third shortstop the White Sox have tried this year (Jimmy Rollins and Tyler Saladino), but it seems as though he might stick for a bit.
Zach Duke picked up the save in Game 3 while regular closer Robertson took a day off (he had pitched in three straight). It was Duke's first save of the year and just the third of his 12-year career. The first came in 2011 for Arizona, while the second came last year. Although the southpaw entered the big leagues as a starter for the Pirates and pitched for six teams since 2010, he's never thrown in the playoffs. With the White Sox seemingly trending upwards again, Duke's hopes of October baseball are still very much alive.