White Sox wanted Dallas Keuchel’s veteran presence, and now they’re getting it

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 05: Chicago White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) throws a pitch during the MLB game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers on August 05, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

One of the strange things about the Zoom Conference Era of postgame media sessions is that reporters can’t go right to the team leader with their recorder during a rough stretch. Nor can they scan the premises and look for somebody who might be showing more frustration, or just somebody who they sense might have something to say. They seem to get a selection of manager, the game’s starting pitcher, and one other player who accomplished something of note. The game’s goats aren’t exactly hidden, but they usually get 18 hours in between their mistake and their chance to talk about it in the next day’s pregame session.

For Monday’s 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, the grouping comprised Rick Renteria, Dallas Keuchel and Danny Mendick, who went 3-for-4 with the lone extra-base hit. Mendick, a 22nd-round rookie who is only getting starts because Nick Madrigal suffered a separated shoulder, is not going to be the guy to torch the clubhouse.

That leaves Keuchel. Unlike Mendick, he’s a veteran. But also unlike Mendick, he’s a starter who pitches once every five days. Sure, he’s the only starter who has given the White Sox a chance to win every time out, but in team sports, the offense usually criticizes the offense, and the defense usually criticizes the defense, even if fans couldn’t blame one for pointing a finger at the other. The idea is that everybody could theoretically do their jobs better, and absolving oneself of blame on a given night is asking for a humbling down the line.

Still, with the White Sox losing five of six thanks to some ugly efforts in the batter’s box, and with Keuchel being the only accomplished player on the night’s dais, he felt compelled to say something.

He went there. Diplomatically.

“We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. We’ve got a lot of guys — well, excuse me, let me take that back — We’ve got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win. We’ve got some guys kinda going through the motions, so we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we’re going to have to start that now.”

I’ve included the “excuse me” part not out of stenographic hardassery, but because it’s illustrative of the line he had to toe. He might’ve wanted to start the sentence with, “We’ve got a lot of guys with no detectable plan at the plate,” but the next time Keuchel biffs it, he’s inviting José Abreu to say through Billy Russo, “Maybe Beardo can give us a chance next time.” So Keuchel had to reroute and phrase it in a way that allows his teammates to self-label.

The White Sox praised Keuchel’s leadership along with this talent after signing him, and here’s the most detectable example of it to date.

“We got in at 2:30 in the morning. We played a tough ballgame against the Indians. That’s who we’re going to have to beat if we’re going to win this division, or we get into the playoffs. It just seemed like we were taking a night off, and we can’t afford that with a young core that we have here. We’ve got to show up every day, and even if there’s no fans, we’ve gotta make sure that we’re ready to go. And if we’re not ready to go, we’ve gotta fake it ’til we make it.

“And it seemed like today was one of the first games that I’ve seen very subpar play from everybody.”

It’s just unclear at this point what Keuchel’s words mean, because the biggest thing hampering the White Sox — selectivity at the plate — is not a place where he can lead by example. A lack of “readiness” is often a symptom more than a cause. Sometimes the talent deficit is such that players can only be “ready to go” if the destination is Triple-A.

The White Sox did close that talent gap considerably over the offseason. They wouldn’t have projected over. 500 for the first time in forever if they hadn’t. Perhaps an injury-plagued 17-game sample isn’t the best way to judge a team. Tim Anderson should return tonight, and while he’s the last guy you’d ask to administer a booster shot of plate discipline, the White Sox need to start regaining their everyday/high-leverage players, rather than losing two or three a week

We’ve seen previous attempts at imported veteran leadership fall flat because the leadership was ersatz, the clubhouse was toxic, there wasn’t enough major-league talent, and/or the veteran forgot how to play baseball and thus was in no position to criticize. We’ve yet to see how Keuchel’s words will be taken, how quickly these Sox can dust themselves off, and whether the need for such words becomes a theme of its own. For the time being, with Keuchel delivering in all four of his starts, we can at least appreciate the novelty of a new White Sox veteran establishing his credibility so quickly.

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Greg Nix

Jim, the last paragraph made me think… is Dallas Keuchel the most immediately successful free agent of the Rick Hahn era? The only other name that comes to mind who delivered solid performance relative to expectations right away is David Robertson.

Greg Nix

Ah, somehow missed this the first time around. Excellent.

lifelongjd

It was definitely an off night. Getting in late, the sprint schedule, and injuries are legitimate excuses, but are excuses just the same. The lack of energy 17 games in is surprising and it will be interesting to see if Ricky can get his boys to not quitting again.

My biggest concern is a lack of adjustment by our hitters to how the league is approaching them. With so many young, aggressive hitters we aren’t going to lead the league in walks. But it seems like they have no plan at the plate and no idea how other teams are going to pitch them. Seems like the change in hitting coaches has had little effect on this front. It’s crazy this can happen for almost a week with no adjustments from our hitters. Like are we the only ones seeing this?

Patrick Nolan

Good on Keuchel for calling it out, now let’s hope the young guys on the team take it as a teaching moment rather than resenting him for it.

Soxfan2

After rocking a GB% of 47.9% last year, Eloy currently has a GB% of 54.8% this year. That is completely terrible. He needs to hit everything in the air. It’s something that should have been worked on in the off-season and I have no idea why it wasn’t.

metasox

With all the injuries, wonder if it is also fair to question conditioning. Every team went through a stop and abbreviated restart, but Sox seem to have more than their share of guys missing time. And I would think that could also affect quality of play