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Nearly two weeks after the White Sox announced that Tony La Russa had to step aside for medical reasons, La Russa was back in the White Sox dugout. He wasn’t managing, but he did offer a general sense of what sidelined him.
This situation being what it is, again, only one reporter was given specifics, and it wasn’t a member of the White Sox’s beat. This time, it was Bay Area AP reporter Janie McCauley.
That general sense also applied to any timetable for a return:
“They fixed it; now it’s a question of regaining strength. So don’t mess with health. I’m mending.”
If and when La Russa returns to managing “will depend on the experts,” he said.
“Reading the situation, they ask me how I feel because I do a little more, and how you respond to a little more affects it, so I think it’s uncertain,” he said.
The caginess of it all still strikes me as unnecessary, especially when considering the stakes of the season. La Russa said he didn’t want to be a distraction, but leaving his status open-ended with 21 games to play and the Sox 2½ back of Cleveland means we have to judge him by actions, and those consume a lot of attention.
Maybe it’d be different if the White Sox had led the division before La Russa’s absence, and visions of October were on the verge of slipping away, but even then, it’d probably be more useful to have the organization’s full faith and credit behind the guy who is actually handing matters in the dugout, even if everybody has doubts about the replacement. That remains the strangest part to me — the unwillingness to back Cairo as a novice who might be asked to finish the job.
Shortstop has dangled as a similarly open question for the season’s final fortnight, although Elvis Andrus’ immediate comfort handling shortstop on the South Side generated a second key distinction to make everything easier to navigate.
- Everybody was made aware of Tim Anderson’s condition and timetable from the start.
- The replacement has nearly 2,000 games under his belt, and he’s never played better.
Andrus is hitting .293/.337/.511 in 20 games since joining the White Sox, with five homers and 20 RBIs. That nearly matches Anderson’s power output (six homers, 25 RBIs) in a quarter of the playing time.
Anderson is entering the fifth week of his six-week timetable for returning from hand surgery, and Miguel Cairo said Anderson will see a specialist on Tuesday to understand when a next step is possible. All of that is how it should be.
The situations with La Russa and Anderson overlap in the sense that when we last saw both of them, their productions hadn’t been matching their reputations. Nothing La Russa is doing will compel the Hall of Fame to revise his plaque, and Anderson posted an Alcides Escobar-like .249/.287/.290 line since coming back from his groin injury. All the while, La Russa never budged him from the leadoff spot, so while Anderson represented an improvement over Leury García while playable, the extra exposure of a replacement-level player negated the effects of the upgrade.
Perhaps Anderson’s hand injury gave his legs the rest they needed, but between his lower body, his hand and any rust-related issues, he could face a multi-front war upon his return. And that could create a multi-front battle with distractions if the Sox court pressure to restore Anderson’s status without proof of production.
I don’t want to get too deep into that situation because it doesn’t seem wise to project playing time, positions and batting order. Too much can change between today and next Monday. Maybe Anderson has a setback. Maybe Andrus gets hurt and/or plunges into a slump. Maybe they’re five games back. Maybe they’re one game up. Maybe La Russa returns and consumes all the oxygen the Sox needed for fire. These aren’t rote, CYA assessments of everything that could happen — they’re well within the precedents set by the 2022 White Sox and the 2022 AL Central.
What we know is that Anderson won’t be a factor in MLB plans this week, and every game matters too much to look past them. The White Sox are at a disadvantage, trailing the Guardians by 2½ games. Add a game to that deficit if the Sox don’t sweep the remaining four head-to-head games, because Cleveland would own the tiebreaker otherwise.
What the Sox have in their favor is a schedule that allows carefully considered decisions. They have off days today and the next two Mondays, the only contender on the calendar the next two weeks is their direct competition, and they’re home for three of those four games against the Guardians. Cleveland, meanwhile, is three games into a stretch of 18 games over 17 days, so Terry Francona might have to weigh overusage concerns and leverage concerns night after night.
Given the standings, the Sox could play like a first-place team the rest of the way and still miss the postseason. Such is life when you treat the first five months like extended spring training. What the Sox can’t afford to do is hamstring this last burst because they felt obligated to the statuses of La Russa and Anderson held at the start of the season. The White Sox looked like a different team from the one everyone expected. They should get comfortable being managed like a different team, by a different manager, the rest of the way.