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Updated: August 27, 2013 9:41AM
The White Sox are out of playoff contention, but they have a magic number: nine. That is the number of victories they need in their final 32 games to avoid a 100-loss season.
It should be easily achievable, given the Sox’ better play in the last three weeks. The Sox had won four consecutive series and 14 of their last 20 games entering play Monday against the Houston Astros.
But the Astros — the only team in the American League with a worse record (44-86) than theirs (54-76) — have been a thorn in the Sox’ sides. The Sox lost 10-8 on Monday, falling to 1-4 against the Astros this season.
‘‘It wasn’t pretty,’’ manager Robin Ventura said, referring to the Sox’ two errors, Alejandro De Aza getting tagged off third base in the first inning and a poor outing by right-hander Andre Rienzo. ‘‘You chalk it up to a bad night. I’m not going to judge anybody by tonight.’’
The opener of the series drew the smallest crowd of the season to U.S. Cellular Field (13,404). And though fans saw the Sox bang out 14 hits, they also saw starter Rienzo allow three home runs and seven runs (five earned) in six innings and closer Addison Reed (5-2) nailed for back-to-back homers in the ninth.
‘‘You don’t sit here and ratchet down just because of their record,’’ Ventura said of the Astros, who took three of four games from the Sox in June in Houston. ‘‘You can get beat by anybody in this league, so you just keep playing.’’
A 10-game road trip, which begins Friday, should make that easier to do because the Sox will be facing contending teams. They will play three games against the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox, then three against the New York Yankees and four against the Baltimore Orioles, both of whom are in the wild-card race.
Ventura knows the atmosphere around ‘‘meaningful’’ games can heighten the level of play for the so-called spoilers.
‘‘Early in my career, my first full year, we had games of being out of it, but Boston was in the hunt,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a pretty good atmosphere when you go there, and teams are in the hunt and just the way you’re playing — that stuff is good. You bring guys up, and they’re in that environment.’’
It will be a taste of the kind of competition the Sox had last season, but one many players on the current roster weren’t a part of.
The exception to that among the new faces is outfielder Avisail Garcia, who appeared in the playoffs and World Series last season for the Detroit Tigers. He was back in the lineup a day after leaving the game after running hard into the outfield fence while chasing a homer by the Texas Rangers’ Jeff Baker.
Garcia already has shown what he has the potential to be, with an 11-game hitting streak that ended when he had to leave the game Sunday. He started a new streak with a single in the second inning Monday, but that came after his fielding error allowed the Astros to score two unearned runs in the top of the inning. He also struck out with the bases loaded to end the game.
Ventura knows even the most promising talent will go through growing pains.
‘‘When you have guys who are new here and you’re going to see them play and how they fit, the idea of winning games doesn’t change,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘The position you’re in [in the standings], I don’t know if it seems like they wouldn’t play hard, but you want guys playing hard and doing it.’’