A note for those of you reading: Mismatched Sox is a weekly blog hastily thrown together by Sox in the Basement Co-Host Ed Siebert and is written to present you with White Sox and baseball thoughts in a manner that, frankly, thinks it is funny in the way schadenfreude can be funny. While there will be facts here that will be factual, the opinions and other nonsense are neither reflective of anyone at Soxon35th.com nor believed or intended to cause any harm, but consult a bowl of alphabet soup and ask if this blog is right for you.
My good gawd is this season just absolutely trying to kill White Sox fans. At least that’s how it feels. But, it isn’t even May yet (as this is written). There is still hope even though things look grim heading out of April. However, the hereditary condition of every White Sox fan to rend their own garments and scream unto the skies that death is upon this team at all possible moments and in all possible universes and timelines is, in fact, in full force. But perchance this is the time to swap out the torn shirts (or pants?) for something more covering, drink some hot tea to soothe the throat from all the harsh bellowing of woe, get the drywall repair kits out, and see the doctor about the carpal tunnel from hate-tweeting Rick Hahn. Be in the now, now, because then will be now, soon. And then could be back then or the next then, but either way there’s a now to be reset before revisiting what’s coming then.
Now then. Here are some misconceptions, if not outright lies, about the team that have made the rounds, uhhh, maybe. Maybe these are total fictional lies made up just to, never mind.
LEURY GARCIA HAS EITHER NAKED PICTURES OR OTHER INCRIMINATING ITEMS OF KEY WHITE SOX PERSONNEL. Simply not true, as it turns out. Leury has played daily because he is immortal and immune to all disease and injury, while the rest of the team is merely human and occasionally, an unlucky glass vase. Leury is, regardless of what else fans think of him, a really athletic guy and very durable. In his Sox tenure, which also does not stretch back to replacing Charles August “Swede” Risberg after he was banned for the Black Sox scandal, Leury has really been out for an extended time once. In 2020 he needed thumb surgery after a dive to first base, kind of a freak injury, and still made it back in the truncated season for the playoffs. He is a good enough athlete to play anywhere on the field, just not practiced (or skilled) enough to have excelled at any one spot. He shows up and does whatever a manager needs. A guy like Tony LaRussa LOOOVES that type of thing, because it harkens back to an era where a team would have an allegedly Swedish shortstop that was born in San Francisco. Leury is a throwback of sorts, and frankly a Kenny Williams guy where he has baseball tools but maybe not the polished skills.
So Leury is getting a metric ton of ABs this year because 1.) Tony loves a guy that is always ready for whatever, and 2.) Leury is healthy unlike the rest of the team. Leury is also not hitting and remains a below-average fielder everywhere he plays, but then how much Danny Mendick would this season have if Leury hadn’t been given an oddly large contract to come back? Ok, the guy may have something on Rick Hahn. Will Leury play a lot this year? Probably. But if he continues to struggle at the plate and is not out-performing Josh Harrison and Yoan Moncada when they get healthy, or Adam Engel/Adam Haseley in Luis Robert’s absence, or Andrew Vaughn, A.J. Pollack and Gavin Sheets, then yes, Leury will ride the pine and not get those at bats. But also, him hitting 3rd was ridiculous.
ELOY AND LUIS IN PARTICULAR (BUT THE SOX IN GENERAL) ARE INJURY PRONE. No, they aren’t. Eloy and Luis are, and have been, max effort guys. Since they got here they have gone full tilt at everything. And Eloy, in particular, does get out of control when he does go all out, and that has led to injuries. Last year, the chest injury was Eloy running back too hard and jumping at full speed into a wall. Eloy is 6’4″ and 240; by comparison Roquan Smith is 6’1″ and 230, and padded up when runs full steam into things. Eloy takes a very tall frame to the limit and gets himself into trouble because he hustles like a guy 6 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter. His lunge to reach first base on a grounder? The landing is far less impactful for Danny Mendick at 5’10” 195 lbs. Eloy needs to take it back just a notch to stay healthy. And not foul it straight off his ankle. That helps.
Meanwhile, Robert has twice been downed running the bases. The recent groin injury is just a thing that happens to baseball players. The hip injury last year was a worry, but seemingly a freak thing. He was healthy in 2019 and 2020, and played through a thumb problem (also a common baseball thing) in 2018. Most players are banged up from time-to-time, but a fast guy with a sore leg is more noticeable than, say, a first baseman with the same thing. Meanwhile, for a team with a young core, there are old heads out there that will not stay healthy because guys in their 30’s just don’t do that. Jose Abreu, Josh Harrison and A.J. Pollack are all 34 or over. Expect them to have backs and hammys and groins all get tight and sore, because aging sucks. Yasmani Grandal is 33; for a catcher that is nearly geriatric and he can’t squat 140 games. Lance Lynn is 33 and not exactly a paragon of the human physical potential…anyone built like him over 30 has at least one knee that they vaguely remember not hurting. The fact that he took care of an issue now is better than in August. Guys like Giolito will catch a freak injury here and there. Guaranteed that Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech will take a funny stride on a pitch or try and put a little more body into a heater and end up needing a few starts off.
But when the team is scuffling, even otherwise minor, freak, and frankly expected injuries exacerbate the problem. The key with team health is being healthy at the end. Remember is 2005, the injuries to Dustin Hermanson and Joe Crede in the second half threatened the whole season. Crede came back from getting hit on the hand trying to bunt, and Hermanson’s bad back was saved by Bobby Jenks. But other than Hermanson, the team was at full strength down the stretch. By comparison, in 2008 the Sox lost Carlos Quentin at the end of the season and the team failed.
TONY LARUSSA HAS LOST IT. The old man ain’t what he used to be, or he’s having other issues whether they have dogged him in the past or not, or the game really had passed him up, the theories abound that AJ Hinch wouldn’t have let the team skid as hard as they have this year. But…no. On the April 26th episode of Sox in the Basement there’s a breakdown of managerial impact on a team. And Tony, historically anyway, was a guy who had favorable impacts. But then he hits Leury Garcia in the 3 hole after letting Dallas Keuchel get blown up by Cleveland and seems to give a game away to Byron Buxton. After the KC game on the 27th, the 8th straight loss, Tony’s post game comments about the team’s headspace shed some real light on what he’s doing. First off, he’s trying to quell the injury tide and also clearly trying to keep certain guys fresh, like Yasmani Grandal. He’s also maybe too enamored with Reese McGuire’s work behind the plate, but it is really hard to blame him for that. The team is now missing, or has at times missed, it’s top two starting pitchers, two top relievers, its starting shortstop (suspensions), all three starters in the outfield, briefly the starting DH/OF, its starting 3B, and its starting 2B. What’s left is Jake Burger, who has hit ok, but not fielded all that well; too much Leury Garcia, who is clearly trying to prove that the contract is justified and that he should be starting and isn’t doing anything of the sort as a result; Danny Mendick and Adam Haseley being in starting lineups in Chicago instead of Charlotte; taxing the bullpen because Vince Velasquez, Jimmy Lambert, and Dallas Keuchel are struggling to get to the 5th inning; and a team that expected to beat everyone all the time this year and is now doing exactly what talented Sox teams have done in the past: pressed until they appear to have forgotten how to play the game.
Enter the year 1984, where LaRussa watched a team with high expectations struggle and had his starters all regress (except Rich Dotson and newcomer Tom Seaver) as well as key hitters like Rudy Law, Ron Kittle and Carlton Fisk fall off a bit. In 2006, the Sox tried real hard to be repeat champs but failed to repeat doing the little things that won them games in 2005. That falls on players more than the manager. Tony making absurd lineups and putting guys in positions now that makes fans wonder what he’s doing, when there’s a broader view, smacks of a guy that knows his players know that they need to be better but there’s nothing that can be said to them to make it so. So Tony tries to jump start the team with backups playing in big games and trusting his guys to perform. Still, if you know Liam Hendriks is tipping his pitches and Byron Buxton is up, there’s something to be said for walking him and pitching to Luis Arraez. But there’s also, after the anger subsides, a moment of wondering if Liam Hendriks shakes off giving up a homer to a star player easier than having the manager walk the guy because he thinks Liam can’t get it done.
If there isn’t any patience amongst Sox fans, there maybe should be at least a tinge of trusting that Tony knows the players more intimately than fans do. This isn’t intended as apologetic for LaRussa helming an 8-game skid, because legit hall of fame baseball guys shouldn’t have that happen in a presumed championship-seeking season, but also the players have been bad. Bad bad. That’s hard to fix in a lineup card, and there’s only so many speeches that can be given.
VIDEOTAPE DON’T LIE. Yeah, the “tape” thing is a bit dated, but watching this team there’s no secret why they aren’t winning. They just look like a group that can’t execute and can’t find their way back to where they can. Tim Anderson’s head isn’t where it needs to be; he’s back to rushing plays in the field and making errors where he had been able to control that in recent years. That leads to him trying to do too much at the plate, instead of what he had been doing the past two seasons and just taking what the pitcher gives him and moving the lineup along. TA is trying to completely win the game on every play and at-bat instead of just doing his part to play a winning game. Jake Burger is trying to make the team, and is fumbling in the field a bit and not as confident as he’s been at the plate in the past. Leury Garcia is clearly pressing to justify his contract and quiet the chorus of haters. They aren’t taking pitches and waiting for their pitch. Guys are swinging for three run homers with no one on. They aren’t focusing on fundamentals. Some guys, like A.J. Pollock, look rusty after time off. Robert and Jimenez were swinging at garbage before getting hurt. Jose is every bit as slow starting as ever. Liam Hendriks is tipping his pitches by how far from his glove he separates his pitching hand during his delivery. Dallas Keuchel has lost all ability to pitch effectively, or understand that he has maybe lost the ability to pitch effectively. Gavin Sheets is hitting singles away from the shift instead of homers and doubles. Aaron Bummer isn’t getting ground balls, leaving his pitches up where they are getting tagged. Really, the only position player who is playing as well as he can is Andrew Vaughn, who will continue to be nothing special in left field but is hitting like his pedigree suggests. Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech are meeting expectations as starters, while the bullpen has been better in some ways due to the work of Jose Ruiz, Matt Foster and Tanner Banks to go with Kendall Graveman. But there are also plenty of guys getting shelled, as Bennett Sousa, Anderson Severino, Kyle Crick and Reynaldo Lopez have left very hittable pitches over the plate in key moments, when they aren’t walking guys, and can’t put anyone away with a K. Vince Velasquez is exactly what he was last year for the Phillies, which is an unfortunate instance of a player meeting expectations. It doesn’t take a grizzled baseball veteran to watch this team and see 28 guys that look incredibly lost.
The real frustration for fans is that some of these things, like the back end of the rotation, felt like they were an iceberg that should have been seen sitting in the waters ahead. Some things, like Liam Hendriks and Jose Abreu starting off poorly, are things that fans forget by the end of the year and are reminded of in stunningly painful fashion. And some things, like Leury Garcia, are eternal. But as has been noted time an again, baseball is a game that will humble a team from time to time, and better to reminded in April that even talented teams can suck eggs than be reminded again in the playoffs. The season being over is a lie, and none of this will make the year-end videotape. Reset the now to then, and hope that then isn’t now because what happens now and then and then again isn’t necessarily what’s happening soon. Then again…now is the time.
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