The upcoming schedule does not provide much relief for the Chicago White Sox, who have limped to a 7-12 start.
First is the Tampa Bay Rays, who at 16-3 have the best record in baseball. Their season-opening winning streak ended at 13 on April 14 with a 6-3 loss to Toronto. The Blue Jays, who took two of three in that series, are 11-8 and trail the Rays by five games in the loaded American League East.
The Rays and Blue Jays are up next for the Sox.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “But we’ve got to play baseball. It doesn’t matter who we are playingagainst. A Major League Baseball game is a Major League Baseball game. We just have to go out there and prepare and compete.”
The six-game trip begins Friday with the first of three against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“They’re good teams but we’ve faced other good teams,” Sox starter Mike Clevinger said Wednesday. “We’ve had a lot of games that have felt like we should have put it away and we haven’t put all the pieces together. This is going to be a good test.”
Here are three things to look for during the trip.
The Rays entered Thursday leading the majors in several offensive categories, including home runs with 42.
That’s the second-most through a team’s first 19 games in major-league history since 1901 behind the St. Louis Cardinals’ 44 in 2000.
The Rays homered in each of their first 19 games, the second-longest streak to open a season since 1901 behind the Seattle Mariners, who had a 20-game run in 2019.
White Sox pitchers have surrendered 25 homers, which ranked ninth in the majors entering Thursday. They allowed 13 in the three-game series against the San Francisco Giants in early April and 10 in the 12 games since.
Yandy Díaz hit his team-leading sixth homer for the Rays in Wednesday’s 8-0 win against the Cincinnati Reds. Jake Burger and Luis Robert Jr. are tied for the Sox team lead with five homers. Burger has homered in four of the team’s last six games.
“Can’t make mistakes on him,” Grifol said of Burger on Tuesday. “And if you do, he’s strong enough to mishit a ball out of the ballpark and he’s strong enough to hit a ball 118 mph.”
The Rays have six shutouts, joining Detroit in 1945, Cleveland in 1966 and Texas in 1981 as the only teams since 1901 with that many through 19 games, according to MLB.com.
Shane McClanahan got it rolling for the Rays on opening day with six scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory against the Tigers. The left-hander is 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts.
He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting last season and will start Saturday against the 2022 AL Cy Young runner-up in Dylan Cease. The right-hander has been the most consistent starter for the Sox again this season — 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 29 strikeouts in four starts.
Walks continue to be an area of concern for Cease. He has allowed a team-high 12, including five in his last start Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.
“I still need to do better with it,” Cease said after the game. “Just got to execute better. Walks will kill you.”
Sox designated hitter/outfielder Eloy Jiménez was looking forward to being Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s teammate during the World Baseball Classic. But the Blue Jays first baseman was unavailable for the Dominican Republic because of reported inflammation in his right knee.
“That’s something that I would like to do any time, play with him,” Jiménez said on March 5. “But not at this moment.”
The two will meet up Monday for the beginning of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
Guerrero is off to a strong start, ranking third in the AL in hits (25) and fourth in batting average (.338) entering Thursday. Matt Chapman leads the AL at .397, and Bo Bichette is third at .354. Bichette leads the AL with 29 hits and Chapman is second with 27.
Jiménez is trying to get back into a rhythm after spending April 5-14 on the injured list with a left hamstring strain. He’s hitting .190 with no homers and four RBIs. Grifol isn’t concerned with the power numbers.
“I know that (Andrew Vaughn, who hit his first homer Wednesday) and Eloy and some of these guys, when I’m sitting here next week, we could be talking about each one of them having four or five homers already,” Grifol said Wednesday.
“I’ve seen it way too many times that too much emphasis is put on ‘home-run hitters’ and why they haven’t hit some home runs and then seven days later they’ve got four or five on the board and what we were talking about the previous week was just probably nonsense.”