By DAVE CAMPBELL | AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Chicago White Sox are playing more like the defending division champions these days, and winning the first two games of this critical series at first-place Minnesota is another sign.
Tim Anderson hit the go-ahead home run in the fourth inning and Adam Engel tacked on a three-run shot in the seventh, powering the White Sox to their fourth straight victory — 6-2 over the Twins on Friday night.
Michael Kopech (3-6) finished five innings for his first win in eight starts, taking another step forward after an ugly stretch in June and a July 5 loss when he gave up six runs to the Twins.
“Things are going to start going our way, and we’re starting to make that corner,” Kopech said.
Andrew Vaughn got the bats going with a two-run single in the first for the White Sox, who cut their deficit in the AL Central to three games. Cleveland beat Detroit and crept within 2 1/2 games of the Twins, who have lost two games of ground on both the Guardians and White Sox by losing the first two games in this series.
“We’re starting to play cleaner baseball. Our offense is kind of relaxing and getting into a groove,” Engel said. “I’m really excited. We’re having a lot of fun right now.”
The White Sox, who have their longest winning streak since they won six in a row from May 2-8, did have a setback of potential concern when center fielder Luis Robert was pulled after the first inning with lightheadedness. But Engel deftly stepped in.
“Just the right guy to have that happen, right?” manager Tony La Russa said. “Ultimate team guy.”
After winning the division last season by 13 games over Cleveland and 20 games over last-place Minnesota, the White Sox with their ample collection of All-Stars were again the consensus AL Central favorite.
The Twins, instead, have been in front for all but one day since completing a three-game sweep of Chicago here on April 24. After two more games this weekend, the teams face each other nine times in September — including six games over the final nine days of the regular season.
The White Sox were energized in their 12-2 win in the opener on Thursday night, with a 452-foot grand slam by Robert serving as the defining blow.
Vaughn, who's batting .345 on the road for the second-best average in the AL behind only teammate Jose Abreu, made Twins starter Devin Smeltzer pay for losing Robert and Abreu. Robert was down 0-2 in the count and Abreu was at 2-2 before each one walked. With the bases loaded, Vaughn ripped a line drive to left for his second two-RBI game in a row.
Alex Kirilloff tied it in the bottom half with a two-run double off Kopech, but the right-hander responded by allowing only two hits to the last 17 batters he faced.
Smeltzer was pulled after three innings and 67 pitches, when Twins manager Rocco Baldelli went with a hunch that the bullpen was the best bet the rest of the way.
“Some days you battle and things go your way. I would have liked to go another few there. I was pretty blindsided by that,” Smeltzer said.
Anderson's homer off Emilio Pagán (3-4) landed in the White Sox bullpen, barely beyond the reach of center fielder Nick Gordon's glove — with Byron Buxton serving as Minnesota's designated hitter. Gordon timed his jump well, but the ball drifted just an inch or so too far. After the replay was shown on the videoboard, the crowd groaned after seeing how close he came to making the catch.
“We’re looking for a big play right there. They’re tough plays, though. Most of the time they’re not going to play out the way you want when the ball’s hit like that,” Baldelli said.
Anderson then flashed his own leather the following inning, when he was shifted right from shortstop against Max Kepler and snagged a sharp line drive at the top of his leap.
“He got up there and he lingered. He looked like Dr. J or Michael,” La Russa said.
White Sox: LF Eloy Jiménez missed his second straight game with a tight right hamstring. He hit in the batting cage but has not been cleared to run yet, making him doubtful to return prior to the All-Star break. Jiménez tore his right hamstring April 23 at Minnesota and missed 65 games.
Twins: Ryan Jeffers was placed on the 10-day injured list with a bruised right thumb, and rookie Caleb Hamilton was promoted from Triple-A St. Paul in a roster swap of catchers. Hamilton was a 23rd-round draft pick in 2016 who has yet to appear in the majors.
White Sox: RHP Lance Lynn (1-2, 6.97 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season Saturday afternoon. He allowed eight runs over four innings in his last turn.
Twins: RHP Dylan Bundy (5-4, 4.68 ERA) takes the mound for the third game of the series. Bundy has allowed only one run over 10 innings in two starts against Chicago this year.
At just $20/year, your subscription not only helps us grow, it helps maintain our commitment to independent publishing.
Chicago Journal Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.