This weekend marked the unofficial point where the Chicago White Sox went from “slow starters” to “uh-oh, we could have a real problem here.” Going into a streak with the Rangers while trying to clean the egg off their face of that confusing intentional walk in Thursday’s loss to the Dodgers, the Sox recovered with a win on Friday, then swept away any brief goodwill with a pair of painful extra-innings losses. The team that won the AL Central by 13 games last year now sits six games behind the Twins, holding a 27-31 record and, even worse, a -56 point differential.
Having won just five games in 15, pressure is mounting on Sox manager Tony La Russa, who beat the rap last year on charges of being too old and out of touch to come back and manage an MLB team. but struggles to avoid re-examination. If the two-strike free pass to Trea Turner reintroduced La Russa’s sometimes confusing approach to the game to the world, this weekend’s losses served as important reinforcement that something is wrong…about those Sox . And the fans are getting impatient:
Saturday’s game, where those chants come from, started pretty well, with the White Sox taking a 5-0 lead. punctuated by a Jake Burger blast. But Lucas Giolito lost his grip on the game in the fifth, allowing a stolen sack and then a three-run homer to make it 5-4. The Sox fought back to extend the lead to 7-4, but the bullpen faltered and the game went into extra innings, where the first five Rangers reached base and Texas picked up an 11 win. -9.
Sunday’s game was longer, but that only served to give fans more false hope. The Sox actually came back from a 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning to send this one to the extras. But in the 10th, even after Kendall Graveman held the Rangers scoreless, Chicago couldn’t get their phantom runner through. In the top of the 11th, Jose Ruiz appeared to lose the game when he gave up a three-run shot on Ezequiel Duran, but miraculously the White Sox chained a few hits to extend it all the way to the 12th. There, however, Matt Foster – forced back into action after allowing three deserved goals on Saturday – fumbled again to make it 8-6. And this time in the bottom half, a strikeout and then an embarrassing blunder from Luis Robert ended the loss with a double play. There are few things worse for a manager in the hot seat than a guy giving up a game on a completely pointless run to third base.
The Sox are currently dealing with a ton of injuries to key 2021 players, including Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and, most recently, ERA team leader Michael Kopech, who had to leave the mound abruptly on Sunday. But with or without a full roster, they’ve played below expectations all year. Their starters have been OK, with Kopech and Dylan Cease balancing the lower arms as the Dallas Keuchel disappointment. But partly due to Kopech’s move to the starting position and Garrett Hook’s long-term injury, their bullpen hasn’t been right, with 11 missed saves that put them fourth in the league, and a relief ERA that puts them 24th. The hitting, unfortunately, wasn’t good enough to make up for those shortcomings, with a 25th-worst OBP of .299 and a 26th-worst hit percentage of .366. Yasmani Grandal in particular suffered a huge crash before going out on Saturday due to a hamstring injury, with an OPS that fell from a cliff of 0.939 in 93 games last year to 0.531 in 50 so far. present in 2022.
Is La Russa to blame for all these problems? Probably not, but his eccentric strategies, difficulties in sustaining leads and mental lapses like the one that sent people home on Sunday haven’t really contributed to the perception that the Sox are a disorganized ball club. And La Russa has been in the business long enough to know who gets blamed for this stuff.
“There’s nothing going on with this team that ultimately I’m not responsible for,” La Russa said when asked about Saturday’s teasing. “I have never shirked responsibility and I will not start now.”
Well, I don’t know if that last statement is exactly true. But at the very least, La Russa seems aware of the mounting stress and the need not to let the Tigers step on them in this upcoming series. I mean, the Sox are behind the angels in the wild card rankings right now, and look what happened to them! Jerry Reinsdorf may not be as quick to pull the trigger as Arte Moreno, but nonetheless, La Russa should probably avoid the barbershop until his team starts knocking him down.