The Chicago White Sox enter August above .500.
In spring training, that would have seemed like a given considering the talent of a team that broke camp with World Series aspirations.
But it took six solid innings from Dylan Cease on Sunday to make it happen as the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 4-1 in front of 30,028 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Cease allowed one run on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk to win his fourth straight start.
“They’re all different (starts),” Cease said, “but this one was a little hairy in the sense that they almost hit three home runs in (the second) inning, but luckily two of them missed. They fought very well. I tip my hat to them. I’m lucky and I’m thankful that we got away with it.
“Very good victory for the team in general. The offense backed me up. The defense was great. The bullpen was great. I can’t draw it much better.
The Red Sox took two of three from the A’s, owners of the worst record in the American League, to improve to 51-50.
“There’s no denying that we haven’t been playing better baseball,” Cease said. “If we hit our peak and hit full blast at the right time, it’s much better to do it late than early. We removed all the rust early.”
it’s only the second time since he won on May 25 that the Sox have been a game over .500. The other occurrence came Tuesday with a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Sporadic punctuation has been part of the problem. The power appeared on Sunday with solo home runs by José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez.
Abreu’s homer, his 12th of the season, started a three-run rally in the second.
Josh Harrison doubled with two outs and scored on Leury Garcia’s single to right field. Seby Zavala drove in Garcia with a double, giving the Sox a 3-1 lead.
Jimenez led off the seventh with a home run to right center field, making it 4-1.
“He looks really good,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said of Jimenez, who is riding a six-game hitting streak. “And he’s also moving well in the outfield. That’s a big bat in there.”
The only run Cease allowed came via a second-inning home run by Ramon Laureano. Seth Brown and Stephen Piscotty hit long fly balls that went down the wrong way in the inning. Cease struck out Brown and Piscotty flied out to right field.
Cease improved to 11-4 while lowering his ERA to 2.01.
“I want to be consistent,” he said. “I want to be someone you can count on. So to give us a chance to win almost every time, that’s all I can ask for.”
Cease is 7-2 with a 0.51 ERA, 90 strikeouts and a .180 batting average over his last 12 starts. All four runs he allowed during the stretch were solo homers.
“I have the kind of thing where I just have to attack the zone and get ahead of the guys,” Cease said. “My defense has been excellent. Seby has been amazing back there (catching). So it’s really not just me. He is the coaching staff, everyone.”
Cease is the first Sox pitcher since at least 1913 to post a sub-1.00 ERA in consecutive months with a minimum of 25 innings pitched each month. He had a 0.33 ERA on the way to earning AL pitcher of the month honors for June and a 0.76 ERA in July.
“The good thing (is) that he does it (in) different ways,” La Russa said. “If you’re planning a game against him, he’s going to look this way at this start and he’s going to tweak it and go this way. It’s nice to be able to have that kind of repertoire.
“He has a great presence. I can tell that she is confident.”
Reliever Joe Kelly walked one and struck out one in a scoreless seventh. It was his first start since he left Wednesday’s game at Colorado. with discomfort in the right biceps.
“Now the key is to keep him healthy, keep all those guys healthy,” La Russa said.
Kendall Graveman and Liam Hendriks followed with scoreless innings as the Red Sox finished July winning 10 of their last 15. They are two games behind the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins.
“We’ve been through a lot to get to this point,” La Russa said. “We’re in contention so we’re going to be excited and treat each series like it’s the last one we’re going to play and we know we have to get a lot of wins.
“The most fun you can have during the regular season is to get to the last two months and have a chance. It is where everything is amplified in every moment and in every at-bat. We are in a position to do it. We just have to get the victories.
“They were excited. However, we got here, we are in dispute and Kansas City three times (starting Monday at the guaranteed rate field). That’s the fun.