It’s reasonable to suggest that a dramatic overhaul of the White Sox wasn’t going to happen overnight.
But it needed to. And that it hasn’t could spell another lost season on the South Side.
The question now becomes: What if the need for that overhaul in the first place means that Rick Hahn’s carefully crafted contention window is in danger of being lost?
That’s probably being more than just a tad hyperbolic at this stage. The White Sox have played 25 games this season, meaning they’ve got nearly 140 games left to straighten out all the issues that have plagued them during a miserable 7-18 start to what was supposed to be a “prove it” campaign at 35th and Shields. Kenny Williams wasn’t wrong when he told the Sun-Times, in a rare public comment, that there’s reason to think things could improve for the White Sox as they get over some early-season injuries.
But what’s driving fans crazy — and frankly is a little shocking to see for even us independent-observer types — is that the same problems that dragged the White Sox down to a massively disappointing .500 finish a year ago have gone absolutely nowhere.
The White Sox are still struggling offensively and doing so by swinging at pitches out of the zone, showing little on-base skill and providing a woeful amount of power.
Here are the ugly, ugly numbers from the last few days, a winless road trip through Florida and Canada that saw the losing streak stretch to seven and the run differential free fall to minus-49. The White Sox’ offense is in the middle of a 24-inning scoreless streak. The team was out scored 20-2 in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. In their last four games, they have three runs and 14 hits. They haven’t had more than five hits in a game since Friday. The White Sox are batting .122 with a .175 on-base percentage over their last five games, with a whopping 55 strikeouts in that span, 17 of them coming in Wednesday’s 8-0 loss alone.
Woof. And that’s not all.
Pedro Grifol, the man tasked with executing that aforementioned overhaul, is sounding a lot like his predecessor when it comes to diagnosing his team’s offensive issues. Tony La Russa spent last summer talking about a lineup that chased too many pitches thrown outside the strike zone. Grifol is talking about the same thing.
Lance Lynn — whose 7.52 ERA is emblematic of the fact that the White Sox’ problems extend far beyond an underachieving lineup — went on A.J. Pierzynski’s podcast Tuesday and explained that the team is adjusting to a whole new way of doing things, essentially explaining that the changes Grifol and a new-look coaching staff brought to the South Side are going to take time to take root.
That might be true, and if Rome wasn’t built in a day, then surely Grifol shouldn’t be expected to achieve greater miracles in Bridgeport.
But Hahn and the front office put its faith in mostly the same collection of players that stumbled through the 2022 season, advocating that Grifol and the coaches’ presence would return those players to the group that mashed the baseball in 2020 and won an AL Central title in 2021. The lofty goals of division championships, deep playoff runs and World Series contention, it was said, were still within reach thanks to what Grifol & Co. would bring.
We’re not even a month into this season, and turnarounds — even ones from fourth-place teams who slog their way to the All-Star break — are far from uncommon in this sport. But how much losing do the White Sox have to do before those goals are too far out of reach in Year 1 of the Grifol Era?
And how is it that the White Sox could afford a Grifol revamp the time it needs to take hold in the middle of a supposed contention window, in the immediate aftermath of a shocking lost season?
If 2023 suffers the same fate as 2022, that’s two years of that window out the window.
Time’s a wastin’.
None of this is Grifol’s fault, of course, even if his repeated insistence that the White Sox’ fortunes will soon flip have already gotten grating for fans. The failings of 2022 put the team in a position to bring in someone who needed to produce big change. Big change takes a while. But it shouldn’t have been needed in the first place, and the White Sox’ entire rebuilding project could be in jeopardy as the coaches try to get the players right.
Williams’ chat with the Sun-Times included the mention of consequences and accountability, and not from short-tempered fans or talk-radio take-havers. To be fair, Hahn beat Williams to that notion after what he called the most disappointing season of his career.
“Frankly, even though I try to stay off of Twitter, I believe there’s probably no one who’s harder on me than I am,” Hahn said at the end of last season. “And when I look at a year like this, that requires me to look at myself, too, and look at the way we’re doing things and try to figure out: Are we the right stewards to get this (to where it needs to be)?
“If there ever got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t the right person in my role, I’d step aside.”
The White Sox might never get to that point, and if there’s one thing Grifol’s probably right about it’s not overreacting and pulling too many levers too soon. Twenty five games does not a season make.
But in those 25 games, the White Sox have not given much reason for anyone to believe that the next five months will be so much better that those preseason goals of the championship variety would be within sight. And that’s where those consequences would come into play.
The White Sox needed this overhaul to happen quickly, no matter how reasonable it is that it wouldn’t happen that way. Now they’re 11 games under .500, that feared sequel to 2022 yielding to something worse.