The Chicago White Sox hope to continue to play with a sense of urgency as they await the return of manager Tony La Russa when their four-game road series against the Oakland Athletics continues Friday night.

Unseasonably warm weather in the San Francisco Bay Area offered little resistance to White Sox hitters in the series opener on Thursday, when Yoan Moncada had two of his team’s season-high five home runs in a 14-2 blowout.

The White Sox could have been responding to news that La Russa, who left the team last week for medical reason, hopes to return by Sunday, when the A’s will retire Dave Stewart’s number (34). Stewart was the star pitcher when La Russa managed Oakland to three straight World Series appearances from 1988-90, including a championship in 1989.

The White Sox (70-68) have gone 7-3 without La Russa, propelling them within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Cleveland Guardians in the American League Central. The Minnesota Twins also are 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland.

Veteran Jose Abreu insists he and his Chicago teammates are just playing harder these days.

“It’s all about the energy right now,” he said. “The energy we have now, we didn’t have it for most of the season. Everybody is motivated, and it’s showing up on the field.”

It certainly showed up in their scoring on Thursday, with the White Sox posting a season high in runs. Moncada, Romy Gonzalez and Elvis Andrus combined for four homers, 11 hits, 10 RBIs and nine runs.

Andrus made the most of his first return to Oakland since being released last month, hitting the second pitch of the game for a home run.

The Friday pitching matchup is a reunion of former Los Angeles-area high school right-handed pitching stars: Chicago’s Lucas Giolito (10-9, 5.21 ERA) and Oakland’s James Kaprielian (3-9, 4.79).

The 28-year-olds grew up 50 miles apart, Giolito in Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles; Kaprielian in Tustin, south of L.A. Both signed with UCLA before their 2012 high school graduations, before Giolito skipped college after being drafted 16th overall by the Washington Nationals.

Kaprielian took the college route to his first-round selection by the New York Yankees in 2015.

Giolito will make his first career start in Oakland and just his third overall against the A’s, having gone 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in his first two starts.

He has lost his past two starts overall but pitched respectably in a 5-1 home loss to the Twins on Sunday, when he surrendered two runs in five innings.

Kaprielian was the winning pitcher when the A’s (50-88) won the series opener 7-3 in Chicago on July 29, limiting the White Sox to one run and four hits in six innings. He has made two career starts against the White Sox, logging a 1-0 record and a 1.80 ERA.

He is winless in his last five starts, going 0-4 with a 6.46 ERA in that span, and has been warned what to expect from the White Sox by manager Mark Kotsay.

“That’s a good-hitting team,” Kotsay said after Chicago’s 21-hit assault on Thursday. “They’ve got talent in that lineup that can do damage. Those guys can hit mistakes.”

–Field Level Media