This weekend marked the unofficial point where the Chicago White Sox dropped in status from “slow starters” to “uh-oh, we might have a real problem here.” Entering a series with the Rangers while trying to clean the egg off their faces from that baffling intentional walk in their Thursday loss to the Dodgers, the Sox recovered with a win on Friday and then proceeded to blow away any brief goodwill with a pair of painful extra-innings losses. The team that won the AL Central by 13 games last year now sits six games back of the Twins, holding a 27-31 record and, even worse, a -56 run differential.
Having won just five games in 15, the pressure is building on Sox manager Tony La Russa, who beat the rap last year on charges that he was too old and out-of-touch to come back and manage an MLB team but is struggling to avoid renewed scrutiny. If the two-strike free pass to Trea Turner reintroduced the world to La Russa’s sometimes-confusing approach to the game, the losses this weekend served as prominent reinforcement that something is just … off … about these Sox. And fans are getting restless:
The Saturday game, where these chants come from, started nicely enough, as the White Sox took a 5-0 lead punctuated by a Jake Burger blast. But Lucas Giolito lost his grip on the game in the fifth, allowing a sac fly and then a three-run homer to make it 5-4. The Sox struck back to extend the lead to 7-4, but the bullpen faltered and the game entered extra innings, where the first five Rangers reached base and Texas pulled off an 11-9 win.
Sunday’s game was longer, but that only served to give fans more false hope. The Sox actually came back from a 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning to send this one to extras. But in the 10th, even after Kendall Graveman held the Rangers scoreless, Chicago couldn’t get its ghost runner across. In the top of the 11th, José Ruiz appeared to lose the game when he allowed a three-run shot to Ezequiel Duran, but miraculously the White Sox strung together some hits to extend things into the 12th. There, however, Matt Foster—forced back into action after allowing three earned on Saturday—fumbled again to make it 8-6. And this time in the bottom half, a strikeout and then an embarrassing baserunning blunder by Luis Robert ended the loss with a double play. There are few things worse for a manger on a hot seat than a guy surrendering a game on a completely pointless dash to third base.
The Sox are currently dealing with a ton of injuries to key guys from 2021, including Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, and, most recently, team ERA leader Michael Kopech, who had to leave the mound abruptly on Sunday. But with or without a full roster, they’ve played below expectations all year. Their starters have been OK, with Kopech and Dylan Cease balancing out the lesser arms like the disappointment of Dallas Keuchel. But due in part to Kopech’s move to starter and Garrett Crochet’s long-term injury, their bullpen hasn’t been right, with 11 blown saves that tie them for fourth-most in the league, and a reliever ERA that puts them 24th. The hitting, unfortunately, hasn’t been anywhere near good enough to make up for these shortcomings, with a 25th-worst OBP of .299 and a 26th-worst slugging percentage of .366. Yasmani Grandal in particular suffered a tremendous slump before exiting Saturday because of a hamstring injury, with an OPS that dropped off a cliff from .939 in 93 games last year to .531 in 50 so far in 2022.
Is La Russa to blame all these problems? Probably not, but his oddball strategies, the struggles to maintain leads, and mental lapses like the one that sent folks home on Sunday haven’t exactly helped the perception that the Sox are a floundering, disorganized ballclub. And La Russa has been in the business long enough to know who gets blamed for those sorts of things.
“There isn’t anything that’s happening with this team that, in the end, I’m not responsible for,” La Russa said when asked about the jeers on Saturday. “Never dodged accountability and I won’t start now.”
Well, I don’t know if that last statement is exactly true. But at the very least La Russa seems aware of the mounting stress, and the need to not let the Tigers walk over them in this next series. I mean, the Sox are behind the Angels in the wild card standings right now, and look what’s happened to them! Jerry Reinsdorf may not be quite so quick to pull the trigger as Arte Moreno was, but still, La Russa should probably avoid the barber shop until his team starts to turn it around.