This weekend marked the unofficial point at which the Chicago White Sox’s status dropped from “slow starters” to “oh oh, we could have a real problem here.” The Sox entered a series with the Rangers while trying to clean the egg off their faces from that confusing, intentional walk in their loss to the Dodgers on Thursday, the Sox bounced back with a win on Friday and then continued , to blow away any short goodwill with a pair of extra-innings losses. The team that won the AL Central by 13 games last year is now six games behind the Twins and holds a 27-31 record and, worse, a -56 run differential.
After winning just five games in 15, the pressure is building on Sox manager Tony La Russa, who hit the rap last year on accusations he was too old and out of touch to come back and an MLB team to direct, but he is sorry to avoid re-examination. If Trea Turner’s Two-Strike free pass reintroduced the world to La Russa’s sometimes confusing approach to the game, this weekend’s losses served as stark confirmation that something just…isn’t right with these Sox. And the fans get restless:
Saturday’s game these chants are from started well enough as the White Sox took a 5-0 lead interrupted by a Jake Burger explosion. But Lucas Giolito lost control of the game in the fifth, allowing a sack fly and then a three-run homer to put it 5-4. The Sox hit back to extend the lead to 7-4, but the bullpen faltered and the game went into extra innings where the top five Rangers reached base and Texas went on to an 11-9 win.
Sunday’s game was longer, but that only served to give fans even more false hope. The Sox actually came back from a 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning to send that to the extras. But in the 10th, even after Kendall Graveman kept Rangers scoreless, Chicago couldn’t get their ghost runner across. At the top of the 11th, José Ruiz looked to lose the game when he conceded a three-run shot to Ezequiel Duran, but miraculously the White Sox connected a few hits to extend things into the 12th. There, however, Matt Foster – who was forced back into action after allowing three earned on Saturday – fiddled again to make it 8-6. And this time in the bottom half, a strikeout and then an embarrassing baserun error by Luis Robert ended the loss with a double play. There are few things worse for a manager in a hot seat than a guy giving up a game with a completely pointless shot to third base.
The Sox are currently grappling with a slew of injuries to key figures from 2021, including Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and most recently Team ERA leader Michael Kopech, who was forced off the mound abruptly on Sunday. But with or without a full lineup, they’ve underperformed all year. Their starts were fine, with Kopech and Dylan Cease balancing smaller arms like Dallas Keuchel’s disappointment. But due in part to Kopech’s move to the starting XI and Garrett Crochet’s long-term injury, their bullpen wasn’t right, with 11 missed saves putting them fourth-best in the league and a relief ERA putting them 24th brings. Unfortunately, hitting wasn’t anywhere near good enough to make up for these shortcomings, with a 25th-worst OBP of .299 and a 26th-worst slugging percentage of .366. Yasmani Grandal in particular suffered a huge slump before retiring with a hamstring injury on Saturday, with an OPS falling from a cliff of .939 in 93 games last year to .531 in 50 so far in 2022.
Is La Russa to blame for all these problems? Probably not, but his odd strategies, struggles to maintain the lead, and mental blunders like the one that sent people home on Sunday didn’t exactly contribute to the perception that the Sox are a faltering, disorganized ball club . And La Russa has been in business long enough to know who to blame for such things.
“There’s nothing that happens with this team that I’m not ultimately responsible for,” La Russa said when asked about Saturday’s taunt. “I’ve never shirked responsibility and I’m not going to start now.”
Well, I don’t know if that last statement is exactly correct. But at least La Russa seems aware of the mounting stress and need not to let the Tigers walk all over them in this next series. I mean, the Sox are behind this Angel in the wildcard leaderboard and see what happened to them! Jerry Reinsdorf might not be quite as quick to pull the trigger as Arte Moreno, but La Russa should probably avoid the barbershop until his team starts flipping it.