“We’ve got to win baseball games.”
Lance Lynn’s right. But it didn’t happen for the White Sox on Thursday.
In fact, after dropping both halves of a rain-forced doubleheader with the visiting Blue Jays, the White Sox are as bad as they’ve been all season. That’s not to say they’re playing the exact same kind of ball that produced a hideous 10-game losing streak in late April. But they are 15 games below .500, a season worst.
And so the answer to seemingly the only question on fans’ minds — what will Rick Hahn’s front office do before the Aug. 1 trade deadline — is becoming clearer. It’s not because of anything specific the GM said Tuesday, when he refused to, publicly at least, declare a franchise direction. It’s because the White Sox, who need to rattle off a whole lot of wins and fast to convince the bosses that they’ve got an actual shot at winning a laughably bad AL Central and making noise come October, just keep losing.
“That’s the business of it,” Lynn said. “Usually at the trade deadline you’re either going for it or you’re out of it. So hopefully we can put a nice stretch together here and make them add, and we can have a chance to make a run at it.
“Like I said, we’ve got to win games.”
It’s not because this team is “dead,” as so many armchair sports psychologists have liked to diagnose the White Sox as since well before the calendar turned to July. The clubhouse seems to be in fine spirits, and all the players praise the work of Pedro Grifol, the first-year manager who has quickly become the target of torches and pitchforks by a number of fans.
Even the realist Lynn complimented what’s going on between this team’s collective ears.
“The mindset’s there. The work’s there. Everybody’s doing everything they can,” he said. “We’ve just got to win games, and that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to start winning games or none of that matters, to be honest. That’s where we’re at, we’ve got to win baseball games.”
He’s right, belief seems to be in ample supply, even if it ran out long ago outside the clubhouse walls.
“It’s out of our power if someone gets traded or not,” Elvis Andrus told CHGO on Wednesday. “I hope (no one gets traded), because I feel we’re going to make it happen the rest of this year. I know our best baseball is ahead of us, so I hope they don’t disrupt the team.
“When you start trading guys, you’re pretty much saying that you’re not in the race. I think that we have the pieces in here. … Our best baseball for this team is coming, and hopefully they won’t disrupt that.”
But Andrus’ wish that the front office doesn’t subtract from this roster doesn’t seem likely to come true, particularly if performances like Thursday continue, as they have for much of the first three-plus months of this season.
And that goes two ways. Not only did the White Sox keep losing, but the strength of the team’s crop of trade candidates keeps growing.
Lynn was spectacular in seven shutout, one-hit innings that saw him strike out 11 batters. The next three men out of the bullpen picked up where he left off, and the Blue Jays barely touched the bases through 10 innings.
But as that inning total will tell you, the White Sox’ offense didn’t fare much better, held scoreless and to only two hits through 10 frames. In the 11th, the Blue Jays’ bats were finally roused, and they put together five straight hits against Aaron Bummer and two more against Bryan Shaw, plating six runs, all but one of which — the free runner that started the extra inning on second base — went on Bummer’s sky-high tab.
Though the White Sox did wake up a bit with two runs in the bottom of the inning, it was a very sour ending.
In the second game, the White Sox doubled their run total from the first game in the first five innings, but the bats went silent from there as pitching from fill-ins Jesse Scholtens, Shaw and Nick Padilla wasn’t as pristine as it had been in the first game and the Blue Jays fought back to complete a sweep.
With the number of opportunities to give Hahn his desired “reason to believe” dwindling, the White Sox sit as far below the waterline as they have all year and are just a game shy of the furthest back they’ve been in the division standings.
That turns even more attention to who might depart, and that’s where Thursday might have done twice as much to make an end-of-July sale more likely on the South Side.
Lynn, as mentioned, was fantastic, and despite an ERA that still counts as one of the highest among the game’s qualified starting pitchers — though it dropped significantly Thursday, from 6.47 to 6.03 — other numbers are downright dazzling. Lynn ranks fifth in baseball with 127 strikeouts, and he’s one of seven pitchers to boast a K/9 mark north of 11.
“(My first half) could have been a lot better,” Lynn said. “You look at some of the good games I’ve had, and I’ve had some really bad ones, too. All in all, if you look at ERA and wins and losses, it’s been the worst first half of my career. But I’m striking out guys at an elite pace, so I’ve just got to figure out how to make it start after start and keep building off of it and not have any more clunkers.
“To be honest with you, I’ve got more stuff than I’ve ever had in my career. So it’s kind of a weird feeling when you look at the numbers of win-loss and ERA being as bad as they are. There’s a lot of good I’ve done, it just doesn’t look it. I’ve just got to keep going, and hopefully everything kind of evens out at the end of the year.
“If I keep doing what I’m doing, it should.”
Had fans seen his comments, Grifol might have raised a few eyebrows by effusively praising Lynn during a pregame media session, talking up how excellent he’s been despite a sky-high ERA.
After the game, though, they might have had no choice but to agree.
“There’s a lot of great things that Lance does that are not in the ERA,” Grifol said before the doubleheader. “Every time he pitches we can almost count on 100-plus pitches, if we need them.
“His presence, maturity, experience, understanding of what the club needs every single day he pitches is critical for what we need to do. … I’m glad he’s a part of us. I’m glad he’s gone through what he’s gone through. He understands the game, and I’m glad he takes the ball every five days, which is something that’s rare nowadays.”
And other teams might agree, too. Lynn getting routinely roughed up through the early months of the season might have left fans with the idea that there was little trade value when it came to the self-labeled “Big Bastard.” But look at those strikeout numbers — and shut-down efforts like Thursday’s — and you can see where certain front offices might be downright drooling.
We’ll have to wait and see if Lynn changes uniforms before the deadline. But a first-half-closing performance like Thursday’s only enhances the idea that the White Sox might have plenty to offer contenders. Lucas Giolito, the team’s best starting pitcher, has been talked up as one of the biggest possible trade chips in baseball, and the White Sox’ bullpen is full of potentially attractive arms, including de facto closer Kendall Graveman, free-agent-to-be Reynaldo López, sign-and-flip type Keynan Middleton and been-there-done-that vet Joe Kelly, who went on the IL on Thursday but is expected back shortly after the All-Star break.
The players, as Andrus’ comments should well show, aren’t out there trying to raise their trade value, even if that’s what plenty of fans are rooting for at this point in a season currently going 15 games worse than last year’s massively disappointing .500 finish. But they might do it anyway, and Lynn has at first quietly and now loudly vaulted himself from “who would want that guy?” status to a very real trade chip. And he’s not the only one.
But though the White Sox would love to give their general manager that reason to believe, that reason to keep this group whole, they haven’t. They’re running out of time to do so. They might have already run out of time.
The losses have already been way too frequent in 2023. There’s no way they could afford two in one day, right?
“We’ve got to win baseball games.”
That’s putting it mildly.