After a week on the West Coast, the White Sox come home to Guaranteed Rate Field to play in front of their fans for the first time since 2019. They just might want to watch what they wish for, because if their play from the first week carries over into the second, they’re not going to like the feedback.
The White Sox should be better than 3-4. On the other hand, they nearly blew a 7-1 lead to the Angels in the second game of the season, so they could be worse. However it happened, they’re just 1½ games behind the Twins, which is a half-game better than they were through their first week last year.
The amount of games remaining alone says there’s no need to overreact, but the White Sox also don’t quite deserve to have the dread waved away. Some of the factors fueling the discontent are out of their control, but filter them out, and there’s still a lot left for them to tackle.
In a rough order from random to conscious…
THE GAMES WERE LATE.
The White Sox usually head west at some point in the middle of the season, giving fans east of the Mississippi the option of using that week to watch the first few innings before checking out, if they’re not already on vacation somewhere and missing games entirely. There was no such option this time, at least among fans who wanted to devote the usual first-week energy to the team.
More than that, the White Sox opened in Anaheim, where the Angels avoid any day games that aren’t necessary. Opening Day was Opening Night. Getaway day turned into Sunday Night Baseball. Even the customary off day after Opening Day was filled with a night game because there’s no threat of a rainout in Southern California.
There was no easing into this season for anybody in or around the White Sox. The schedule immediately tested your commitment. Beyond that…
THE GAMES WERE LONG.
The White Sox’s 4-3 loss to the Angels on Opening Night clocked in at 2 hours and 51 minutes, and no game has come close to clearing that low bar for crispness.
Combined with the late starts, watching this week of baseball felt less like a leisurely choice and more like reporting for the third shift.
When my dog Chief sleeps for an extended period, he rotates between his bed and the floor every 30-60 minutes. As Tuesday’s game breached 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he got up from his bed, sat down facing my direction, but looking at nothing in particular.
He held this position for about a minute before slumping forward and falling back asleep. I think he just wanted the TV off and lights out, and he probably wasn’t alone.
GUYS KEEP STRAINING HAMSTRINGS.
The injury to Eloy Jiménez already cast a pall over the opening of the season, especially since Adam Engel had already preceded him with a hamstring strain that shaved off some of the Sox’s outfield depth. Now we have to wait and see whether the surprisingly watchable Billy Hamilton will join them, as he departed Wednesday’s game with a hammy issue of his own after stealing third base.
All of this exposes Leury García, who’s off to such a miserable start that La Russa used Andrew Vaughn as Hamilton’s replacement in left, even though Danny Mendick had joined the team to provide infield depth after Tim Anderson went on the injured list with his own strained hamstring.
THE DEFENSE SUCKED.
The White Sox are tied with the Rangers for the league lead in errors with seven (and it was eight before Major League Baseball turned a José Abreu error into a Shohei Ohtani triple, which it was correct in doing). They’ve also committed a number of non-error errors, whether it’s Nick Madrigal bobbling a double play ball that could have cleared the bases, Andrew Vaughn dropping a fly in the left field corner, or Adam Eaton and Luis Robert colliding in right center.
THE FIRST FIVE INNINGS MAKE THE BULLPEN LOOK ORDINARY.
Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength for the White Sox, especially since Rick Hahn directed the most resources toward improving it over the winter by replacing Alex Colomé with Liam Hendriks. The front office’s reward: watching the Sox blow as many eighth-inning leads over the first week as they did all last season. Hendriks has recorded seven outs this season, but only one came in anything resembling high leverage.
Bullpens are volatile units, even after concentrated efforts to fortify them. If Codi Heuer and Matt Foster slump in their sophomore years, that’ll happen, but it’s an annoying problem to have to solve in front of a live studio audience.
There’s also the matter that good bullpens only look great when the rest of the team sets up the final three innings for them. White Sox starters are 0-for-7 in meeting the innings requirement for a quality start, thanks in part to the aforementioned defensive issues running up pitch counts. Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet have been able to serve as one-man bridges when they enter games, but they’re rookies with recent arm issues who need to be eased into action.
Maybe Hendriks and Aaron Bummer should be used earlier, but that’s not what anybody had in mind. And while it’s easy to slag Tony La Russa for inaction, it’s not like Ned Yost, Buck Showalter or Joe Girardi bolstered their reputations by having their closers appear in the sixth inning in April. Unexpected relief flops make even good managers look incompetent, as Girardi’s first year in Philadelphia showed.
TONY LA RUSSA HASN’T COVERED HIMSELF IN GLORY.
Even if you don’t hold La Russa accountable for poor showings from Heuer, Foster and Evan Marshall, it still hasn’t been a great first week. Besides all the on-field mistakes that a detail-oriented spring training should have ironed out, La Russa was too slow in challenging a caught-stealing that could’ve been overturned, he intentionally walked Albert Pujols to face a better hitter, and then he left Foster to throw 34 pitches over two-thirds of an inning to a Mariners team that was ready for his high fastballs and outer-half changeups.
La Russa admitted that he was too slow to respond to the last crisis:
“We were in an excellent position going into the sixth inning,” manager Tony La Russa said. “The best way to explain it is I did a really lousy job managing that inning. It really hurt our chances to win.” […]
“He faced too many hitters,” said La Russa of Foster, who was eventually replaced by José Ruiz after the critical blows had landed. “That’s lousy managing. You saw what he did that one day. Pushed him too far. Stupid, lousy, no excuse.”
The accountability is refreshing, but it can also be part of the typical first-month playbook for a new manager. We’re already seeing that supposedly focused spring trainings have no real relevancy with regards to April sharpness, but that’s been learned in previous administrations. Hell, I also remember that Rick Renteria took responsibility for tactical mistakes early in his tenure, only to blame execution or effort for similar shortcomings afterward.
However it happened, the La Russa White Sox have taken losses in games where they had win probabilities of 74, 75 and 86 percent in the back half. Throw in the Sunday night game the Sox could have stolen, and if what Hawk Harrelson says is true, the White Sox are 0-4 in the 42 games that ultimately separate teams.
As bad as the White Sox looked, you can spin it in a positive direction. Perhaps the Sox are getting their assortment of bizarre losses out of the way early, especially since the starting pitching and some position players have a lot more to give.
You can also warp it in a worse direction — randomly outbursts from unexpected sources like Hamilton, Yermín Mercedes, Zack Collins, and even an encouraging debut from Jake Lamb aren’t enough to boost a team in winnable games, what happens if they start fizzling? The White Sox haven’t had an ordinary loss, but those are coming, too.
Some of these concerns should fade once Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn start throwing six innings with regularity, with help from a defense that stops biffing so many easy outs. La Russa hasn’t been sharp, but if his middle-inning tactics loom this large, the team has bigger problems. The question is whether those problems are ones fans first-guessed before the season, like the chances of a one-ply roster getting shredded by the grind, or how a shiny new closer matters little for a team that can’t get him leads.
Here’s hoping we’re in the throes of the serial-position effect, where a bad first week only feels dooming because it makes a deeper impression than a bad 14th week. It’s just also help if the White Sox weren’t so adept at confirming the worst fears. At least they’re back in Central time, so they’ve already crossed one issue off the list.
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SOX MACHINE STORE NOTE
A very limited selection of Sox Machine hoodies are available for $46. The supply won’t be replenished until next hoodie season at the earliest, so if you’ve been on the fence, be proactive. Be the change you wish to see with the White Sox.
(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
The photo of Chief is priceless. It captures my mood perfectly.
I tend to turn my back during Billy Hamilton at-bats, too.
I want to see LaRussa show a better understanding of leverage for his relief pitchers. Foster and Ruiz are easily his two lowest leverage arms. They’re the ones who should be pitching when we’re behind by three runs, not Hendriks. Bummer, Kopech, Crochet, and Hendriks are all good high leverage options, and Marshall isn’t a bad one either in a pinch. He’s had a game or two where he followed leverage usage very well, so I want to think this is just a blip on the radar as he gets to know and trust his personnel.
Bringing in Foster was fine with 2 on, no out, up 3 runs and facing the 6-9 hitters. Leaving Foster in was perhaps justifiable until Crawford singled in another run to make it 3-4, with 3 on, 1 out. Leaving him out there for another sac fly, walk, double, and single felt absurd at the time, and looks even worse in retrospect.
I disagree. With two men on and a non-substantial lead I think a higher leverage option was justified.
Also, just listened to Jim’s postgame comments about Foster being a fly ball pitcher. Yet another reason to go with a different option.
I was quietly content with the signing of TLR, mainly because he’s had so much success as a major league manager. But his awful management of the 6th inning is a huge red flag. This wasn’t like a dropped pop fly, where one can apologize afterward for costing the game. This was a 30+ minute brain fart, where wrong resources were deployed, no one warms up in the bull pen when it becomes obvious wrong resources were deployed, etc. Even Jason B. was asking shouldn’t someone be warming up? And where is Miguel Cairo? Maybe he can explain the concept of instant replay reviews.
It’s a good team (when fully healthy) no doubt, but through seven games they’ve showed enough inefficiencies that if uncorrected will chip away enough wins to make things really anxious later in the season
Something I couldn’t quite fit in because I don’t know how dependent it is on opponent:
Signs not exactly pointing to “changing with the times”.
Is this apples to oranges? Someone in that thread commented teams don’t shift much against the Angels and put some data behind it though I cannot verify it
Is it just me or does anyone feel like TLR is still doing ST tinkering with the lineup and pitchers? Maybe its because nothing has seemed to truly “work” yet but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of consistency through these first 7 games.
I agree. I feel like we’ve never had a lineup put out that puts our best team on the field. IMO, Vaughn and Mercedes need to be in the lineup everyday. Vaughn should be getting at least 3 PA’s a game and then subbed out for better defense if needed.
Yesterday’s lineup particularly looked like the lineup of a rebuilding team.
For Vaughn to be in a position to succeed, makes sense to sit him against certain pitchers, at least until he shows he belongs (and that doesn’t include any defensive consideration). And Collins has looked like he should get some shared time with Mercedes. If that combination can successfully cover DH, that is a bright spot.
I think they’re already doing Vaughn enough of a disservice by making him play a position he has no business playing because the front office completely failed to build any noteworthy organizational depth.
Seriously. Imagine the pressure of “Hey, we know you’ve never played above High A before, but we’re pinning our playoff hopes on you working out at DH”. Then imagine that changing to “Hey, we know you’ve never played above High A or played LF before, but we’re pinning our playoff hopes on you working out there now”
It’s the same with Mercedes. Had plenty of opportunities to play him, including in games that didn’t matter, but throw him to the wolves in their “World Series or bust” season.
I still expect the org will find someone else to cover LF much of the time.
And with that, Nick Williams, ladies and gentlemen!
I think we’re seeing the LF solution: Vaughn + Leury when Anderson returns + a mix of Hamilton & Williams. The incentive to trade for or sign a LF lowers the more Vaughn gets experience there and the closer we get to Eloy’s return.
Given the current shape of the roster, I’m willing to give LaRussa the benefit of the doubt in lineups against RHP.
At this point, I think Vaughn, Mercedes and Mendick should all be playing against LHP.
RHP is a bit of a question mark. Collins is probably preferable to Mercedes. But beyond that… I understand wanting to shield Vaughn (who’s not exactly lighting the world on fire anyways) from RHP, but what are the other options? Leury? He’s not great against righties either and using him in LF means that you pretty much have to bat Mendick against righties. Nick Williams?
This team had problems with righties before, but, man, this lineup is a mess against them now.
Based on why the broadcast crew said in Anaheim about TLR wanted to get everyone involved early, I don’t read the lineup changes as tinkering just yet. My assumption is we’ll see the “optimized” lineup (sans Eloy and Tim) today and going forward things will be much more traditional (so to speak).
The good news is, the offense, even with all of the injuries, has done enough to keep this team just 1 game below .500. When previous White Sox teams played this poorly defensively, we would watch them lose 6 or 7 straight games.
Let’s hope the return to Chicago can get them straightened out.
Points #3 & #5 are related. All spring, we heard about how La Russa loved planning spring training meticulously to prepare the team. A week into the games that count, sloppy defense by the young players and veterans alike has badly cost the team.
This wasn’t simply a function of bad lighting in Anaheim as it continued into Seattle. If it doesn’t somehow get better quickly, it will exhaust the pitching and all those projections of 90 wins or so will look as laughable as the ball caroming off of Roberts’s head.
This team had its issues last season when Keuchel had to give the team a talking to. I don’t know how much is correctable and how much is just the way the team is designed.
Nothing about the league leading 55 baserunners stranded in just 7 games or the whatever like 9 for 50 with RISP issues? There’s some serious problems with this team so far and it’s the same RISP/failing to capitalize on opportunities issues they’ve been facing for a long time. How many times can we watch bases loaded/2nd and 3rd with nobody out and NO RUNS? What fun is it when “dreaded leadoff walks” aren’t even dreaded anymore?
I don’t see the use of looking at the raw numbers. 55 baserunners is a lot but that’s because the Sox put a LOT of baserunners on. According to BBRef, The Sox have put the 2nd most ducks on the pond, only behind the WS champs the Dodgers. The Sox also have the 3rd most number of Baserunners who have scored (Behind only the Reds and the Rockies) and 9th highest success percentage into converting runners into runs (15.4%)
I agree with Trooper above. TLR must get his best relievers in the game based on situation not on inning. Foster throwing that many pitches yesterday was ludicrous. TLR brings in a guy who usually pitches to contact when strikeouts are preferable. Boggles my mind. His candor was nice, but what else is he going to say?
I think injuries have been the major problem. Guys are trying to overcompensate which explains them not getting the big hit or some of the defensive miscues. If you were going to start a list of guys we couldn’t lose for any period of time, Eloy and Tim would be probably in the top 3. It has exposed a lack of depth and will continue to test the lineup.
Can’t believe I’m saying this, but a day off may help this team as well. Eight days in a row to start the season is unheard of. Seems like there is a lot of things lining up against them that are out of their control. Hopefully we can get on track at home and get Engel and Tim back soon.
Maybe I’m totally crazy, but I would rather have the best guys be the first ones out of the pen. I know that even Tampa hasn’t taken it to quite that extreme, but I don’t see logically why that doesn’t make the most sense.
If a team has 12 outs to work with, the likelihood of them coming back is a lot higher than if they have 3. Anything that can shift the win probability more definitively in your favor should be the most optimal strategy, right?
I don’t expect LaRussa in 2021 to be reinventing the way bullpens are used. But at least some recognition of game leverage, where the other team is at in their batting order, and flexibility to deploy the best options needs to show up here sooner than later.
The logic with saving the best pitchers for late is you want to make sure they are in the closest games and you’re in the best position to make that call late. So, let’s say you have 3 innings to cover and you know you’ll give Foster, Bummer, and Hendriks an inning each. All else being equal, it makes the most sense to roll them out in that order, because hypothetically Foster has an equal (or some would say higher) chance of imploding in the 9th than in the 7th. If he does, you still lose big and you wasted Hendriks in a low leverage game.
That’s the principle of it, but there are obvious exceptions, like in this game. All else was not equal. Foster came in with two on and nobody out, even though Bummer & Hendriks were going to pitch no matter what. So, in principle I’m for saving the best pitchers until later, but there are plenty of situations where a different strategy is called for. This game was one of them.
One-ply tears further, and it’s not even mid-April.
And Williams is in the lineup for the home opener.
Is Moncada batting 4th solely as protection for Abreu since Eloy is out?
I, for one, did not foresee Adam Eaton being one of our healthier outfielders.
This team is gonna be a real mess when that time bomb goes off. What do they do for depth at that point? Bring JB Shuck out of retirement?
Hey, lefty bat!
Sox Fans: A fully competent team, at this time of year, playing in this part of the division, localized entirely with the White Sox clubhouse?
The White Sox Front Office: Yes
Sox Fans: May we see it?
The White Sox Front Office: No.
You call pulled hamstrings “Strained Hams”?
Only if they are on Hamilton.
It’s a regional dialect