No products in the cart.
The hard part of the schedule is over. The hard problems hampering the White Sox remain.
Were the White Sox’s loss to the Dodgers on Thursday more ordinary — one bad pitch leading to a one-run loss, say — we could’ve talked about how they went 19-18 against a slate of mostly contenders, which leaves them primed to take advantage of the league’s softest remaining slate of opponents.
But ever since the White Sox went 1-8 against the two teams ahead of them in the AL Central and the one bringing up the rear back in April, the idea that the White Sox could once again thrive on bumslaying assumes facts not evidence in 2022. They have yet to display a competence that begets confidence, which is why they’re sporting a -57 run differential.
On top of that, three developments on Thursday hint at problems persisting even when the calendar finally forgives.
The first is Tony La Russa, of course. We already discussed his controversial decision on Thursday to issue an intentional walk to Trea Turner while ahead 1-2 with two outs in the sixth inning, and FanGraphs’ Ben Clemens took a run at it with a generous spirit, only to come up empty-handed. It doesn’t need further dissection here, but that singular decision can be filed in the manila envelope overstuffed with all the other incident reports documenting his blinding obsession with handedness overriding more practical concerns.
For example, on Wednesday, he ran out a lineup that featured a leadoff hitter with a .199 OBP, and it didn’t even stop there.
But maybe it’s because Leury García maintained confidence that a turnaround was right around the corner?
“It was a horsesh– night. I feel like sh– at the plate,” García said postgame.
And he looks as good as he feels.
The White Sox typically show respectably against left-handed pitching because Adam Engel, AJ Pollock and Jake Burger assuage the matchup concerns with their right-handedness, removing García, Yoán Moncada and Gavin Sheets from the proceedings, or at least getting them out of the way of guys who stand a chance.
When facing a righty, La Russa keeps reverting to blind faith in those three and Yasmani Grandal. I’d call them speed bumps, but they’re closer to spike strips. It’s a thoroughly deflating experience. The four of them have 82 plate appearances between them this month, and they’ve combined for one extra-base hit (a Sheets double) while hitting into three double plays. That’s a combined line of .160/.231/.173, and that’s half the lineup. often times getting in the way of more productive hitters.
Sure enough, the game ended with Sheets coming off the bench for Adam Engel with the tying runs aboard because of handedness. Sheets struck out.
At one point Eloy Jiménez was on his way to taking Sheets’ roster spot within a week, but that track is back under construction. The White Sox returned Jiménez from his rehab stint due to what Rick Hahn described as “normal leg soreness.”
By “returned,” it means that he must be held out of action for five days before starting a fresh rehab stint, as the first one was approaching the end of its 20 days.
By “normal,” well, who knows. There’s no reason to trust Hahn’s classification, because he went to the mat to disagree with the idea that Jiménez can’t stay healthy, and Jiménez has rewarded that faith by having his rehab stint interrupted twice. All Hahn has to show for it is an “unreliable narrator” sash.
Jiménez can’t be trusted to stay healthy, nor to produce at a meaningful level around the interruptions, especially if he has to play defense. Tim Anderson has the latter going for him, but he was being held out of lineups with care in order to preserve his legs, and that didn’t work. Lance Lynn got shelled in his last rehab start, and injuries are part of the Joe Kelly capital-E Experience.
Throw in the season-long rehab stints for Moncada and Grandal, and the White Sox might be experiencing Godot-like waiting times hoping for positions to be solved and saved.
For the time being, issues cascade. Guys who are healthy and productive are pushed until their weaknesses enter the chat. Jake Burger tied the team lead in homers with a mighty solo shot on Thursday, which is as much of a triumph for him as it is concerning for the big picture.
He also gave up far more runs than he produced, botching a pair of double play balls and waiting back on a two-hopper that Trea Turner outran. His defensive lapses became the turning point of the fifth and sixth innings.
Burger took full responsibility for his mistakes after Thursday’s loss, going into great detail about what he did and comparing it to what he should’ve done. It’s fascinating as a pure baseball discussion, and it’s an example of accountability so open and pained that I want to take him out for an ice cream afterward.
“It’s baseball and errors happen, but at the end, I kind of gauge my errors based on where I’m at positionally. If I didn’t take a good first step, if I didn’t put myself in the best possible position to make a play and today I didn’t do that. That’s how I kind of gauge that.” […]
“Lost a game today, I take full responsibility for that. I need to be better in the field. It’s just move on and keep working.”
Burger’s bat makes it easy to dream about moving on from Moncada. Burger’s defense shows why Moncada was vital to the team’s plan. During the time in between La Russa’s hiring and the resolution of the DUI charge against him, those who worked with and for La Russa talked about how he put players in a position to succeed.
Between Burger at third and Andrew Vaughn in an outfield corner, La Russa is forced to sell past the close with players who are succeeding, crossing fingers that the failures are well-timed. A lot of that is out of his control, which is why the decisions well within his purview are so magnified.
As refreshing as it is to hear Burger assess and accept all criticism, it’s undercut by a La Russa who rejects it out of hand, because the latter has far more impact on the status quo. Burger is an overstretched rookie, while La Russa is a Hall of Famer Baseball Person who was hired by the owner, so it’s safe to assume that he can only be fired by the owner. If Hahn wants to add this to his haters-said-I’d-never checklist, by all means. If he doesn’t have the means, everybody else is left to hope that the Sox aren’t saddled with dead ends.