Lance Lynn and the Sox will be playing in front of fans this postseason. “It’s a totally different ballgame,” Lynn said. | Brandon Wade/AP
As the Sox begin the divisional round Thursday in Houston, the playoff experience of veteran players will come in handy.
The White Sox are headed to the postseason for the second year in a row, but in many ways this trip will feel like the first time.
In 2020, the American League wild-card series involved no travel within the series and no fans in the stands. This year, the playoff experience will return to normal.
As the Sox begin the divisional round Thursday in Houston, the playoff experience of veteran players will come in handy. Lance Lynn won the World Series with the Cardinals in his rookie season in 2011, and he has been back to the playoffs five times since.
“Last year didn’t count. It’s a totally different ballgame,” Lynn told the Sun-Times. “When you do one round and there’s no fans, that’s not the playoffs. You have the opportunity to do that because you played well enough to do that, but when fans are in the stands and they tell you how bad you are and stuff like that, it’s a totally different world.”
On the field, the environment will be much different than what the players experienced in Oakland last year. Being in Houston, an indoor stadium that undoubtedly will be loud, and playing against a team that has appeared regularly in the playoffs will be a big challenge.
No one knows better what that will feel like than Dallas Keuchel, who played with the Astros from 2012 to 2018 and won a World Series with them in 2017. This year will mark Keuchel’s sixth career postseason.
“I’ve talked to a few guys about controlling emotions and not letting the jitters or the adrenaline get to them,” Keuchel said. “Adrenaline is a great thing when you can harness it and use it to your advantage. It’s the complete opposite when you cannot really use it to your advantage.”
That amount of playoff experience has shown Lynn that often what can be the most taxing about being in the postseason is juggling the off-the-field demands. Much of that will be new to the Sox players, even the ones who played in the wild card last year.
Some of them already have started picking his brain.
“Whether it’s coming to figure out how to get tickets, trying to get people in town,” Lynn said. “We kind of talk about how I’ve seen it done or how things might be easier for them. And then everybody’s different, everybody’s got a different family dynamic, so you want to be able to help them out as much as you can.”
Outside of Lynn and Keuchel, there is only one offensive player (Yasmani Grandal) and a few relief pitchers (Craig Kimbrel, Liam Hendriks and Ryan Tepera) who have significant playoff experience other than last year.
Having a manager with Tony La Russa’s depth of playoff experience will help — he has three World Series rings with the Athletics and Cardinals — but navigating the new playoff environment will be fresh territory for most of this team.
“You’re in a different city or a different ballpark every two to three nights in the playoffs and you’re not in just one place for a series,” Lynn said. “So I think it’s one of those things where it’s good to talk about those things, get them going right now so they don’t speed up on you when the time comes.”
Some things will still be the same for the players whose only playoff experience came in 2020. The desire to play through each round until the end and go home with a World Series ring and the pressure of elimination games were there even when raucous playoff crowds weren’t.
Those are feelings that only intensify the more times a player gets a chance to play in the postseason.
“I think it gets harder, to be honest with you,” Lynn said of dealing with those expectations. “Because the more you go, the more you expect, the more you want out of yourself.”