White Sox beat Cleveland 5-1 Wednesday.

The “what ifs” are beginning to creep into the White Sox clubhouse.

What if the bullpen had done a better job in Baltimore and the Sox had won three of four instead of one of four against the Orioles?

What if their most reliable reliever had held Tuesday’s lead or they had scored in the 11th?

What if the offense had performed in the first half and didn’t get off to a miserable start?

What if. What if. What if.

If any or all of those had happened, maybe Wednesday’s 5-1 series-clinching win over the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field would have felt a little more rewarding.

“I think we’re playing a lot better,” said Rob Mackowiak, who went 3-for-4. “Not to call out the bullpen — if they picked it up a little bit, we could have been really sitting pretty good right now on this road trip.”

Instead, the bullpen gave up eight runs in eight innings in Baltimore — including a blown lead in Saturday’s 7-6, 10-inning loss — and Bobby Jenks blew a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 6-5, 11-inning loss to the Indians.

The Indians series was one some thought was a “must sweep” and, were it not for Tuesday’s game, the Sox would have done just that.

“We want to win series,” Paul Konerko said. “Winning a series is better than losing a series, but we haven’t made any significant dent into anything, either. Maybe it will be the start of something good, but we’ll just wait and see.

“It’s been a rough year.”

The Sox are 12½ games behind the Indians — who in turn trail front-running Detroit in the American League Central — and are 3-4 during this season-long 11-game road trip that moves to Boston for four games starting tonight.

“Right now, starting here, hopefully, we can continue to have the same enthusiasm and same attitude going to Boston,” manager Ozzie Guillen said.

It was the Sox’s two most consistent players over the last month — Konerko and Mark Buehrle — who led them Wednesday.

Konerko started things off with an RBI on a double play in the first, then increased the lead to 3-0 with a two-run home run in the fourth off Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook (1-5).

That jack came on the 11th pitch of the at-bat and was Konerko’s 20th homer of the year. With his eighth 20-homer season, Konerko moves into second place all-time in the Sox record book, trailing just Frank Thomas, who had 11 20-homer seasons with the club.

“Paulie is been as good as I’ve ever seen in the last month. He’s really locked in,” hitting coach Greg Walker said of Konerko, who since June 1 has 12 homers and is batting .318.

The key to Konerko’s success, Walker said, is that the notoriously experimental hitter has found a batting stance he likes.

“We did probably a little bit too much (tinkering) this year,” Walker said. “But about a month ago, I think he really got his swing that he’ll stick with for the rest of his career.”

That’s a shocking statement about Konerko, because his mechanical adjustments are well known around the majors.

“He’s famous in baseball for it,” Walker said. “Players kid him about it all the time, but he’s always had success doing it, so who can argue?”

No one is arguing about Buehrle’s recent performances, either. The left-hander held Cleveland to one run — on Grady Sizemore’s RBI single in the seventh — over 6 1/3 innings.

Buehrle (7-5) is 5-2 with a 1.65 ERA over his past eight starts.

“I don’t know that he’s our savior, but he’s the guy that’s been the most consistent since I’ve been here,” Guillen said. “You know most of the time he’s going to have a pretty good game.”

They had a pretty good game Wednesday and a pretty good series in Cleveland, but the Sox know it will take more than pretty good to make up their huge deficit.

“Felt like we should have won three of four in Baltimore and could have easily swept these guys, so we’re playing good ball right now,” Buehrle said.

“It’s just we’re not finishing teams off when we can.”
 
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