What Went Wrong

After winning a Wild Card slot in 2020 and running away with the Central Division title in 2021, the White Sox looked like an easy lock to make a third straight post-season appearance this October.  Unfortunately, something (or somethings) went wrong along the way and after a long season where nothing ever seemed to click, the team was officially eliminated on Sunday after dropping six straight against the Guardians and the Tigers.  So where did things fall apart?  Let’s take a deeper look.

Injuries

After injuries rocked the White Sox in 2021, they revamped their strength and conditioning staff, hoping a new program would help stem the tide.  Unfortunately, the lockout prevented the new staff from working with the players, leaving them to their own devices.  GM Rick Hahn said in June that, between the lockout and the shortened spring training, the new program “got stymied a little bit this offseason” and that it would “be difficult in-season to perhaps change the results over the next few weeks and months in terms of health.”  Boy, was he not kidding.

Things started at the end of spring training, when lefty reliever Garrett Crochet went down for the year with an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery.  Two days later, starter Lance Lynn left his final spring tune-up with a bum knee, putting him on the shelf until the middle of June.  Finally, before the White Sox arrived in Detroit for their season opener, Yoan Moncada suffered an oblique strain that knocked him out for a month and may have sunk his entire season.  Relief pitcher Joe Kelly, signed during the offseason, also started the season on the IL rehabbing an injury from the year before and wasn’t activated until May.

Outfielder AJ Pollock left the second game of the year with a hamstring injury, missing over three weeks.  The same day, Lucas Giolito was placed on the IL with an abdominal strain, keeping him out for nearly two weeks.  The day he was activated, Eloy Jimenez was placed on the IL with a strained hamstring suffered that day against the Twins.  It would be two and a half months before he returned.  This was all before the calendar turned to May!

Things never let up.  Andrew Vaughn missed time in May after getting hit in the hand by a pitch.  Aaron Bummer suffered a right knee strain that kept him out for two weeks.  Lucas Giolito and Luis Robert both missed time in May thanks to bouts with COVID.  Joe Kelly went back on the IL with a hamstring strain.  Tim Anderson missed three weeks with a groin strain, the same injury that kept Vince Velasquez for two weeks.

Aaron Bummer suffered another injury in mid-June which kept him out until September.  Yasmani Grandal was felled with lower back spasms for six weeks.  A right forearm strain put Liam Hendriks on the shelf for nearly three weeks.  A strained hamstring took down Yoan Moncada for nearly three weeks.  Adam Engel fell victim to the same injury for two weeks.  On July 6th, Jake Burger went down with a bruised hand following a hit by pitch, Vince Velasquez was felled by a blister on his right index finger, and Danny Mendick was lost for the year with a torn ACL.  We just now are getting to the All-Star break.  Shall I keep going?

Luis Robert was shut down with blurred vision.  A lower back strain put Reynaldo Lopez on the shelf.  A torn finger ligament knocked out Tim Anderson for the remainder of the year on August 9th.  Another lower back strain took down Leury Garcia.  A bum knee sent Michael Kopech to the IL, while another hamstring strain stopped Yoan Moncada for the third time this year.  Kopech was felled again with a shoulder strain on September 7th.  Finally, after suffering with a wrist injury for nearly a month and a half, Luis Robert was shut down and placed on the IL on Saturday with the 2022 title all but wrapped up for the Guardians.

Aside from the sheer number of injuries, this meant that the White Sox were very rarely at anything approaching full strength.  Some piece of the puzzle was always missing, and usually two or three pieces.  The bullpen injuries led to some early overwork for guys like Kendall Graveman, which impacted his performance in the second half.  Because of this, the White Sox never seemed to gel or to be able to string wins together to pull ahead.

Lack of Power

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It’s Over

While last night’s loss to the Guardians did not officially eliminate the White Sox from postseason contention, it effectively did.  They are now four games behind the Guardians with fourteen games to play, and the Guardians now hold the tiebreaker since they have clinched the season series against the White Sox.  Assuming the Guardians split their remaining games, the White Sox would need to win thirteen of their remaining fourteen games.  After a five-game losing streak at the beginning of the month, the Guardians have gone 13-3, so even splitting those remaining games looks like a pipe dream.

15 To Go

With only fifteen games left in the 2022 season, the White Sox find themselves in second place in the AL Central, 3.5 games behind the surprising Guardians.  While they start a pivotal three game series with the Guardians tomorrow, the White Sox face an uphill battle to make their third straight postseason appearance.  If the Guardians go .500 over their remaining games, the White Sox would have to win a minimum of twelve of their fifteen games to win the division.  And, based on what we’ve seen in the prior 147 games, the odds of the White Sox ripping off a 12-3 record over the next two weeks is very unlikely.

Playoffs?

On Friday, with the White Sox sitting in third place, the team sent out post-season invoices to their season ticket holders.  For the low, low price of $2549, I will receive two tickets to all three potential Wild Card games, three potential Division Series games, one League Championship Series game, and one World Series game, along with parking for all games.  My seats are on the opposite side of the field and 15 rows closer than my normal seats, but I’m not sure how aligned they are to my needs.

I assume only electronic tickets will be issued.  I would hope commemorative tickets will be sent out should a good run occur late into October.

Changes Are Coming

Major League Baseball is going to look different when it returns for the 2023 season.  The league’s competition committee voted yesterday to introduce a pitch clock and larger bases while banning the shift, among other changes.

The pitch clock will give pitchers either 15 or 20 seconds to deliver the next pitch, depending on if there is a runner on base.  The timer will start when the pitcher has the ball and both the catcher and the batter are in the dirt near home plate and play is ready to resume.  The catcher must be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds left, while the batter must have both feet set in the batter’s box and be “alert to the pitcher” within eight seconds.  Pitchers or catchers who violate the clock will be charged with an automatic ball.  Hitters in violation will receive an automatic strike.  Umpires will have the discretion to award a ball or strike if they determine a player is circumventing the clocks.

Pitchers can step off the mound for a pickoff or any other reason twice per plate appearance if there is a runner on base.  If the runner advances during the same plate appearance, the pitcher gets another two step-offs.  Stepping off resets the clock to its full time.  If the pitcher steps off a third time, the penalty depends on the outcome of the play: if the runners are safe, the pitchers are charged with a balk.  If an out is recorded or the runner advances, no balk is charged.

Hitters will be allowed to ask for and be granted time once per plate appearance, resetting the pitch clock.  A hitter who requests time a second (or more) time in the same plate appearance will be charged with a strike, unless the batter stays in the batter’s box, in which case the umpire has discretion as to whether to charge a strike.

A minimum of four players, besides the pitcher and catcher, must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the dirt, with two fielders entirely on either side of second base, when the pitcher releases the ball.  The penalty for a violation is a ball and the ball is dead, unless the hitter reaches base, in which case the play stands.  If any other play occurs, the manager of the hitting team can choose to accept the outcome of the play.  Umpires will have the discretion to penalize the fielding team with a ball if the umpire determines players are attempting to circumvent the rules.

The bases will increase in size to 18 inches square, from the present 15 inches.

The players, who have four seats on the eleven-person panel, were united in voting against the shift ban and the pitch clock.  Players who were asked for direct feedback in the process felt that not enough of it was listened to or ultimately acted upon, people with knowledge of the process said.

 

Book 39 (of 52) – The Truth Hurts

The Truth Hurts – Jimmy Piersall with Richard Whittingham

In The Truth Hurts, Jimmy Piersall, with help from Richard Whittingham, tells the story of his major league career starting in 1953 with his return from “nervous exhaustion” through his tumultuous broadcast career with the White Sox in the late 70s and early 80s.  Of course, my interest was in the later parts, working with Harry Caray and his battles with Bill Veeck, Eddie Einhorn, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Tony LaRussa.

Piersall’s tenure in the White Sox booth was just before my time, so all I knew were a few highlights here and there and stories.  If even half of what he says about Tony LaRussa is true, then it is surprising that he ever became the “Hall of Famer baseball person” that he turned out to be.  Piersall’s association with the White Sox ended in 1983, but he continued to be a Chicago-area presence until his 2017 death.

Uh Oh

The White Sox announced on Wednesday that manager Tony LaRussa would be out indefinitely and will be returning to Arizona for further testing with his doctors.  LaRussa, who is believed to be in the second year of a three-year deal, missed Tuesday’s game against the Royals on advice of doctors after participating in his normal pre-game routine.  The White Sox announced he would miss the game about 50 minutes before game time.  Bench coach Miguel Cairo will lead the team while LaRussa is out.

With the team’s playoff chances dwindling by the day, there is no real need for LaRussa to hurry back.  Hopefully he takes the time to find out what, if anything, is wrong and to recover and then evaluate what the future holds.

Looking Ahead To 2023

With about six weeks remaining in the 2022 season, Major League Baseball released their tentative 2023 schedule on Wednesday.  For the first time in years, MLB is moving to a balanced schedule, playing 52 games against division opponents, 64 games against non-division opponents in the same league, and, for the first time, 46 interleague games, with series against every team in the opposite league.  With the White Sox looking to bounce back after what has been a disappointing 2022 campaign to date and the Cubs looking to take the next step forward in their rebuild, the 2023 season looks to be an exciting time in the city of Chicago.  So, for one day, at least, let’s turn our attention to next summer for both teams.

The White Sox open their season on the road in Houston on March 30 for a four-game series against the Astros before returning home to face the Giants in their home opener on April 3.

Aside from the Giants, the new interleague schedule sees the Phillies, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Padres travelling to Chicago, while the White Sox will go on the road to face the Pirates, Reds, Dodgers, Braves, Mets, Rockies, and Nationals. The rivalry with their north side foes continues with a two-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field in late July followed by a mid-August tilt at Wrigley.

After facing AL Central foes only for the first half of September, the season ends with a six-game homestand against the Diamondbacks and the Padres.

On the north side, the Cubs also open their season on March 30, facing the Brewers at home.  After a 3-game series, they head out on the road.

The interleague schedule pits the Cubs against the Rangers, Mariners, Orioles, Guardians, Red Sox, and Royals at Wrigley, while they go on the road to face the A’s, Twins, Angels, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Tigers.

Of their 28 games in September/October, only nine are against their NL Central rivals, though, with the Cubs not likely to contend, that shouldn’t make much of a difference.  They end the year with a six-game road trip against the Braves and Brewers.

Elvis Has Entered The Building

Elvis Night is coming early to Guaranteed Rate Field this year.  With Tim Anderson, Danny Mendick, and Leury Garcia all on the IL, the White Sox are signing free agent shortstop Elvis Andrus.  Andrus, who was released by the A’s on Wednesday, cleared waivers and is expected to join the team on Friday in Cleveland.

Andrus, who turns 34 on the. 26th, which just so happens to be Elvis Night on the South Side, is hitting .237 with 8 home runs and 30 RBIs this season.  The two-time All Star, who spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Rangers before being traded to Oakland in February 2021, is a career .270 hitter with 87 homers and 703 RBIs in 1,904 career games.  Prior to his release, Andrus was playing out the final season of an eight-year, $120 million contract, but the White Sox will only owe him the prorated league minimum for the remainder of the season.