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That Was Fun - But Not Necessary

There now. Feeling better this morning? All that worry about the cheating Houston Astros being far, far superior to the White Sox went for naught. All those knee-jerk tweets about the needs for a second baseman, a right-fielder, a catcher and help for the bullpen seem so silly after the events of the past two days. Now it's José Altuve, Carlos Correa and their buddies who should have their doubts after Tony La Russa's squad embarrassed them over the weekend.

In case your wi-fi was on the fritz the past few days, the Astros came to town having swept the White Sox four straight in Houston a month ago. And after the local group waltzed through a 7-1 loss on Friday night in front of 34,000 onlookers, the first of three such crowds at The Grate who showed up to boo and berate the visitors as much as anything else, you might have thought that the front-running Sox were destined to become a second-tier ballclub. Of course, that would have been a big mistake.

The stalwart crew, behind the near-perfect pitching of Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodón, rebounded fiercely with resounding 10-1 and 4-0 victories, sending the tainted Astros onto their next destination with second thoughts about dominating the Chicago White Sox.

Prior to Saturday's contest in which the South Siders clubbed five balls that left the yard to support Giolito's three-hit complete game, Fox analyst A.J. Pierzynski, a darling of White Sox past, claimed that La Russa's outfit sorely needed to beat Houston basically to show that this was possible. A confidence-builder, the former Sox catcher proclaimed.

Needless to say, the two wins were exhilarating and payback for those five previous setbacks against a team the Sox very well could meet in October. But were they absolutely required? A perusal of playoff series' this century provides a possible answer.

Look no further than the other side of town for an example. The Cubs recorded seven straight wins over the Mets during the 2015 regular season. After winning a wild card contest and beating the Cardinals in a division series, the New Yorkers were the only hurdle to clear on their way to the World Series.

Only problem was people failed to inform the Mets about their ineptitude when facing the Cubs. The result was a four-game sweep by the boys from Queens as the Cubbies had to wait a year to grab the glory.

There have been 141 post-season series' in the past 21 years in which the contestants had faced one another during the regular season. In 60 of those, the team that had lost the season series reversed the tables in October. Not quite half the time, but pretty darn close to it.

Returning to the 2015 season, the Mets bowed to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series in five games. The Royals arrived at the Classic by eliminating both the Astros and Blue Jays, two clubs that bested them during the regular season.

More recently in 2019, the Washington Nationals proved to be a completely different team after their first 50 games, 31 of which they lost. In the six months of the season, the Nats had a combined record of 7-13 against the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals. You know where I'm going with this. That's right. They beat all three of those clubs en route to winning the World Series, topping the Astros, sans garbage cans, in seven games.

There are a number of other instances which defy explanation, such as 2007 when the Yankees swept all six games from Cleveland only to bow to the Tribe 3-1 in the ALDS. Just last season, after eliminating the White Sox, the Oakland A's faced the Astros, a club they'd beaten seven of 10 times, only to lose to Houston in the division series three games to one.

And Ozzie Guillen's 2005 White Sox champions dispatched the Red Sox and Angels during the playoffs, two clubs that had winning records against the Sox in the regular season.

As long as we're talking about the '05 champions, who finished the regular season at 99-63, comparing them with the current version of the franchise is worthwhile. The champs were 39-33 against teams .500 and above. So far this season, La Russa's guys are an unimpressive 18-25, although that certainly could change in the next two-plus months as the Sox (hopefully) become healthy.

The World Series champions beat up on division foes to the tune of 52-22, while the 2021 group is 30-15 against the Central at this juncture. With the Minnesota Twins (39-53) providing the opposition at The Grate beginning this afternoon with a doubleheader, the Sox very well could hike that record in the four-game series.

The Twins have had notable success since 2002, making the playoffs nine different seasons. They eliminated Oakland in the ALDS in 2002 but now have lost nine post-season series' in a row. In doing so, Minnesota has a dismal record of 3-25, including 18 straight losses, the most recent being last season when the Astros beat them two straight in one of those best-of-three wild card encounters. Keep in mind that those clubs from Up North have won lots of regular season games, but for some inexplicable reason they stumble badly once the leaves change in October.

What it all boils down to is that the team that gets hot and comes together at the end likely winds up on top. The White Sox had a wonderful ballclub in 2005, but few observers figured that they could go 11-1 in the post-season. However, their pitchers performed beyond all expectations, and they got some unexpected clutch power hitting from people like Scott Podsednik and Geoff Blum.

Years ago, teams like the Yankees beginning in the 1920s and the Dodgers in the '50s, when they wisely signed talented Black players, could race through the regular season into the World Series, the only post-season competition scheduled. The possibility of having a cold spell in a division series was absent. Rarely did a less-talented team collect the top prize.

But those days are long gone. Today's grind presents more chances of falling and being discarded along the wayside. Despite what happens in this 162-game journey, the boys who come through at the very end gather the ultimate prize.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Sep 22, 2021