In Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
There are holes in Sox.
Yes, the season is not even three weeks old. It’s still cold in Chicago, not even shorts time yet. Drawing conclusions from a handful of baseball games is a dangerous exercise, one that often leads to an egg in the face, words in the mouth. There are five more months of the ball for a reason.
But still, there are truths to be gleaned from the beginning; some notable trends cannot be remedied by time and a larger sample. And no competitor was more worrisome, more willing to reveal their flaws in the first few weeks, than the 6-9 Chicago White Sox.
The South Siders have lost eight of the last 10, including the previous seven in a row. They were embarrassingly swept away by their division rivals in Minnesota over the weekend and don’t look like candidates so far this season.
Here’s what not to worry about: José Abreu, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert. Abreu and Robert were comically unlucky. Robert chases a lot out of the zone, but he’s still hitting the ball really hard and should start to see more success. Anderson is hitting over 0.300 again because that’s a law of the universe.
With that in mind, there are still many areas of concern. And they’re not pretty. White Sox fans, let’s try to stick together.
1. Injuries are already piling up.
Trips to the injured list are part of the game. No club can get through an entire season with its nine favorite starters playing all 162 games. The wear and tear of a six-month season takes its toll on everyone, whether you bop or stink.
But already this season, the Sox are dealing with a list of devastated ballplayers:
* OF Eloy Jiménez is out for six to eight weeks with a hamstring strain after tripping at first base.
* IF Yoan Moncada did not play in the majors this year due to an oblique problem. His return date is unclear, although he has resumed baseball activities.
* OF Robert has missed the last three games with a minor groin injury but is expected to return soon.
* IF Josh Harrison hasn’t played since April 20 after injuring his shoulder while doing a circus catch.
* OF AJ Pollock missed a week of action after a hamstring problem put him on IL for a while.
*SP Lance Lynn is out for another month or so after surgery on his right knee on opening day.
* SP Lucas Giolito missed some matches due to an abdominal problem. He came back on Sunday and eliminated nine out of four work shifts.
* RP Garrett Crochet is out of season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
* RP Joe Kelly has a strained bicep and is playing at the team compound in Arizona. He has yet to make his White Sox debut.
*RP Ryan Burr, who was phenomenal for the club in 2021, has just moved to IL due to a strained shoulder.
Again, this level of friction is somewhat normal. Baseball is a rut and players get hurt, but Chicago’s ability to overcome injuries is also hampered because…
2. There is a clear lack of depth.
The Tampa Bay Rays are in contention year after year, not because the top of their list is dynamite, but because the bottom of their list isn’t all bad. You win a postseason series with your best 15-20 players, but you win a division with your best 35-40. And the 20-40 players on the White Sox depth table are not as reliable as their peers. in, say, The Houston List or the Tampa Bay List or even the Cleveland List.
When a player is injured, you want the difference in quality between him and his substitute to be as small as possible. But for the 2022 White Sox, it’s not a loophole. It’s a canyon. Josh Harrison and Leury Garcia are two solid veteran utility guys, but they don’t have offensive punch. Danny Mendick, Adam Haseley, and Adam Engel are good bank sticks, but have career OPS+ numbers of 80, 82, and 74, respectively. Jake Burger has yet to prove that he can hit the big league level.
The questions are real. And that’s just the blow.
3. The initial pitch is also shallow.
Giolito and Dylan Cease are a formidable duo at the front of the rotation. Giolito has been one of the best arms in the game in recent years, and Cease has had a 2021 breakout that looks legit. Behind them, Michael Kopech was electric at the start and it looks like he can take a big step forward this year as well.
But the other two pivot points are a sinkhole, at least until Lynn returns.
Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has had an amazing career, but Father Time comes for all of us. He was mollywhopped in his first two matches – to the tune of 15.00 ERA. Keuchel was never a fireball thrower, but he’s throwing sinkers at 90 mph now.
Currently, the Sox’s fifth starter is Vince Velasquez, who showed promise but never substance in his stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. Velasquez has not been an above-average pitcher since 2016 and has not posted an ERA below 4.90 since the same year. And beyond that, there’s not much. Jimmy Lambert had a solid start last week, but it doesn’t look like an impact arm. Reynaldo López has been a starter in the past but seems to be a reliever only now.
The organization’s other pitcher with significant early majors experience is the illustrious Johnny Cueto, with whom Chicago signed a one-year contract in the offseason. Cueto is still growing, and it would be a delight if he revived his career with the Sox, but that’s certainly not guaranteed.
So while Giolito, Cease, Lynn and Kopech’s top four all look incredible on paper, given the normal wear and tear of a season, these four pitchers will likely only make about two-thirds of Chicago’s games this year, if that.
Maybe the Sox should have made Carlos Rodón an offer in the winter…
4. Reinforcements are not on the way.
Congratulations to the Chicago front office and scouting department for acquiring and developing a phenomenal local core. Robert, Anderson, Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Abreu were all originally signed to or drafted by the Sox, while Giolito, Cease, Kopech and Moncada were acquired before reaching the big or establishing themselves as big leagues. That’s impressive!
Unfortunately, however, the system was not replenished. In fact, Chicago’s agricultural system ranked last in the MLB Pipeline organizational rankings. American baseball is also ranked 30th. Baseball Prospectus was a little more bullish, putting the Chicago system at 29th. It’s barren, it’s bad, and it’s not going to help the big league club in any significant way anytime soon.
This is important for two reasons: (1) there are no big prospects that can make a mid-season impact, and (2) there is very little to deal with in the lead-up to big league reinforcements.
5. Tony La Russa is making strategic mistakes.
Teams like the Giants, Brewers and Rays succeed because they focus on the details, squeezing out every ounce, inch and ounce of value whenever they can. No stone is left unturned, be it defensive line-up, lineup building, pre-game preparation, etc.
Tony La Russa is a step behind. Instead of sniffing out an advantage wherever he can, the White Sox coach is making unforced mistakes that, when added together, bleed outs, runs and games.
On April 20, after the Sox were defeated 11-1 by Cleveland in the first game of a doubles game, La Russa essentially released a “white flag” lineup in the second game. Chicago had an amazing performance from their bullpen, but the offense was predictably buns, and the Sox lost 2-1.
To make matters worse, La Russa failed to pinch hitter Yasmani Grandal to defensive backstop Reese McGuire in a one-run game in the ninth. McGuire appeared to finish the game.
Worse still, on Sunday against the Twins, with the Sox in a run at the bottom of 10th, runners in second and third with one out and closer Liam Hendriks on the mound, La Russa chose to pitch to baseball supernova Byron Buxton. to walk with it with an open base. Buxton exploded a three-run walk-off bomb to win it.
Often, many strategic managerial decisions are exaggerated. Players have to perform on the field, and when they don’t, fans sometimes turn to the captain as a scapegoat. But La Russa’s decision-making has been inexplicable at times this season. The Hall of Fame manager’s ability to connect with players decades younger than he was allegedly was less of an issue than it was when he was hired, but all the other things – the game management, the squad building, the lack of attention to detail – has been questionable.
6. The rest of the division is trying.
This is the most important issue.
Last season, the White Sox walked to the AL Central title. Kansas City and Detroit were still a few years away from contention, Cleveland traded Francisco Lindor before the year and took a step back, and Minnesota completely imploded and delivered key pieces on time.
But in 2022, everyone is trying. Cleveland’s lineup is much improved and ranks eighth in baseball in runs scored. Also, the team’s pitch is always solid. The Gêmeos hired Carlos Correa and added some minor pieces to their lineup. Clearly, they are trying to compete. Detroit signed Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez and drafted Spencer Torkelson. Even Kansas City traded for Amir Garrett and promoted Bobby Witt Jr. The Royals won’t be good, but they will be better.
Many of the White Sox’s flaws, the armor cracks listed above, existed last season. But the Chicago roster was so much more talented than the rest of the AL Central that the Sox managed to sleepwalk into a postseason spot. That just won’t work this year.
The season is short, but the lot is never cast until at least Memorial Day. Chicago could stay healthy, warm up, and bounce back. The White Sox certainly have a talent for it. But the club also has real, fundamental problems that you can’t just wave a wand and fix, problems that raise skepticism about the team’s ability to compete in October.
If the Sox make it that far.
Jake Mintz is the taller half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is an Oriole fan who lives in New York and therefore leads a solitary existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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