The White Sox would probably like to make days like Monday an anomaly.
Except, you know, for the winning.
It was a day of highs and lows for a White Sox team still looking to show everyone exactly what it is in 2023. After a nail-biting 4-3 win over the division-rival Twins, they’re a rather mediocre 5-6 through 11 contests, nothing to be overly worried about so early in a season but far from the exciting start fans were hoping would erase memories of the massively disappointing results of 2022.
So what could Monday do to help reveal more about this squad? Well, the White Sox are probably wishing that only the winning repeats itself.
The day started with Joe Kelly hitting the injured list with a strained groin, revealed only after the game to be a product of his attempt to join his teammates when tempers flared and benches cleared Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. It’s a somewhat embarrassing way to get hurt, for sure, though bright-siders can be relieved the reliever wasn’t shelved with an arm injury.
Still, at this point, with Liam Hendriks and Garrett Crochet still missing from the bullpen, Kelly’s absence is not nothing. Pedro Grifol’s closer-by-committee approach – which is seeming to be more and more a closer-by-Reynaldo López approach – relies on his highest leverage pitchers being available, and a taxed unit has already called on reinforcements, with José Ruiz being DFA’d and eventually traded to the D-backs to make room for a multi-inning guy in Jesse Scholtens.
Keynan Middleton was brought up from Triple-A Charlotte to take Kelly’s place in the ‘pen, but barring a surprise, he wouldn’t seem likely to take Kelly’s place as one of Grifol’s reliable late-game options. That leaves a shrinking group of López, Kendall Graveman and Aaron Bummer, with Jimmy Lambert perhaps the pitcher truly being leaned on to help weather Kelly’s absence.
Monday actually ended up a great day for the relief corps, and after starting the season with nine straight games allowing at least a run, it held the Pirates and Twins scoreless two days in a row. Lambert, Graveman and Bummer did excellent work ahead of López, who came up with a huge strikeout to strand the tying run at third in the eighth before completing a four-out save in his best outing of the season.
But even if success follows for the relievers, it’s more taxation without relaxation, putting pressure on what’s to this point been a shaky group of starting pitchers to start going deeper in games.
Dylan Cease wasn’t able to do that Monday, and now that’s back-to-back five-inning outings for a Cy Young candidate expected to shoulder a bigger workload. Of course, Cease – who despite allowing only one earned run wasn’t his typically dominant self, walking two batters and hitting two more – could have lasted longer if not for an out-of-nowhere horrendous day for the White Sox’ defense.
One of the bugaboos that drove fans up the wall last year, the glove work had been pretty slick through 10 games, the White Sox committing only four errors (around league average) in that time. But things got ugly Monday, the White Sox’ infield charged with three errors and making a couple other mistakes that led to runs and an injury.
Hanser Alberto couldn’t make a tough play on a bases-loaded hot shot in the third inning, giving the Twins their first run. In the following inning, his questionable decision-making on what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball led to a collision between Tim Anderson and a base runner at third base that eventually forced Anderson out of the game.
Alberto did enough to make up for his defensive gaffes, hitting a three-run homer in the fourth that proved the game-winning hit. But Elvis Andrus and Gavin Sheets each committed errors in the fifth inning, Sheets adding a poor choice to cut off a throw home from right field, helping the Twins get within a run.
It’s those types of lowlights the White Sox would obviously like to limit. All teams will have days like these in the field, but Grifol and his new coaching staff were brought in specifically to cut down on the ample mistakes last year’s team made. With the front office opting to keep most of the same players who made those mistakes, the improvement was supposed to come in no small part from the coaching.
What can’t happen is errors being made far worse by turning into injuries, and that’s what happened on that fourth-inning play. The runner heading to third went forearm-to-knee with Anderson, who initially stayed in the game only to come out a couple innings later with what the team dubbed “knee soreness.”
Alberto, for the positive mark in the win column his home run produced, has been present for a few negative moments so far for the White Sox. Wildly, he pitched twice in last week’s series against the Giants that saw White Sox pitching allow 13 homers in three games. He was part of that barrage, giving up a grand slam in his second outing. The defensive blunders Monday added a couple more wince-worthy plays.
But he was only able to be a repeat offender in the field because of Yoán Moncada’s sore back, which has made another appearance after popping up at the end of the spring. Moncada has been among the team’s top hitters in the early going, and losing him from the lineup under any circumstance is obviously less than ideal.
But it’s health that should be the most concerning, not because this particular ailment is necessarily debilitating but because we’ve seen what the piling up of baseball-related maladies has done to Moncada over the past two seasons, limiting his availability and limiting his effectiveness. Why has the player Moncada was in 2019 been so hard to find in the years since? Being banged up has been a huge contributing factor.
Who knows if Anderson will be added to the list of banged-up White Sox or get right back in there Tuesday. But after such a healthy spring, injuries are suddenly clouding the White Sox’ outlook once more. Kelly was not the first player to hit the IL since the start of the season, Eloy Jiménez landing there with a hamstring injury after hurting himself running the bases in Game No. 5.
Injuries, errors, an overworked bullpen and starters who can’t stop putting people on base. Not only is that not a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for a repeat of 2022. One day in early April does not signal that those bad habits and bad luck are back to torment the White Sox for yet another summer, not even close.
But it’s up to the White Sox – this coaching staff and these players – to show that days like Monday won’t happen often.
Except, you know, for the winning.