Pedro Grifol sounded like someone who knows where his team sits in the standings.
He probably didn’t need to Google it, either, considering he’s watched this team play for four months, watched what was supposed to be a bounce-back contender faceplant to the tune of 19 games below .500 a week away from a trade deadline that’s expected to see the front office ship several players out of town.
That it ever could have gotten to this point is still remarkable. That Rick Hahn’s carefully rebuilt roster is so many miles back of first place in baseball’s worst division was a nearly unthinkable outcome. If the 81-81 finish of 2022 counted as the most disappointing season many White Sox higher-ups had ever witnessed, then what the heck does this count as?
Grifol was introduced as the new man in charge back in November, when he “won the press conference” by calling out the problems he saw plague last year’s squad from his perch with the division-rival Royals. He promised a fundamentally sound team that would be ready to play each and every night.
Instead, many of the same issues Grifol and a new-look coaching staff were brought in to correct remain. The defensive woes have continued. The offensive numbers have not dramatically improved. And though no manager should be expected to prevent injuries, the team has been riddled with them for a third straight season, and nightly lineups have featured way too many fill-in types along the way.
Just like Hahn did earlier in the year — a miserable April has had the White Sox failing to live up to expectations for quite some time now — Grifol took his turn pointing thumbs instead of fingers ahead of the first Crosstown game of the season, which of course brings a brighter spotlight than most Tuesday-night contests at 35th and Shields.
“I’m disappointed. This is on me. It’s simple,” Grifol said in a little more fired-up tone than is typical for his media sessions. “It’s on me. I’m the manager. I sat right there in front of everybody and told everybody we had high expectations and we were going to get this thing done. And we haven’t.
“I’m not going to blame this thing on anybody, it’s on me. And I’m certainly not going to sit here before or after or during a game and throw our players under the bus. I’m not going to do that. It doesn’t mean I’m not having difficult conversations with them. It just means I’m not going to sit here and tell you guys about it.
“But believe me, I don’t have my eyes shut and say, ‘Oh, we’re doing good.’ This is not what I signed up for. So whether it’s personnel changes or whether it’s cultural changes or whatever the case may be, it’s going to happen.”
While how much blame you want to assign Grifol is a matter of personal preference, I suppose — and there are plenty of frustrated fans just as vocal about Grifol as they are about Hahn, who’s seemed a more frequent target of online rage — it’s hard to escape that “buck stops here” point.
Grifol is indeed the manager, someone hired specifically to correct what went wrong when the White Sox stumbled to their .500 finish under Tony La Russa’s much maligned watch a year ago. Those corrections have not happened. Aside from Luis Robert Jr. abandoning his tendency to flail at pitches outside the strike zone while turning into an MVP candidate and Lucas Giolito bouncing back after a down year, there hasn’t been much for this group to hang its hat on.
Injuries have taken their toll, and Yoán Moncada’s long-awaited return from the injured list Tuesday came with the caveat that he’s not 100 percent and his back will continue to impact his play in some regard. Eloy Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn are playing despite not being able to use their legs to their desired abilities. And Tim Anderson is just now emerging from a horrid slump that lasted months — he’s still without a home run — while he battled the aftereffects of an early-season knee injury.
But while injuries have made it difficult for the team to succeed as a whole, where are those improvements Grifol was hired to engineer? The White Sox rank dead last in baseball in walks, 29th in on-base percentage, 24th in slugging percentage and 23rd in runs scored. The pitching staff owns the eighth highest ERA in the game. Statistically, they’re one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Again.
It’s an across-the-board indictment of Grifol and the coaching staff failing to make the necessary fixes. And Grifol knows it.
“There’s a ton of different components, and we’re addressing them all. All of them,” Grifol said. “There’s no stone unturned here, believe me, when it comes to us trying to get this thing right, trying to finish strong and move on to next season.
“There’s a style of baseball that we want to play. There’s a culture that we want to build. It hasn’t happened. And that’s on me. On me, nobody else. That’s on me.
“But there’s only one way to go, put your head down and keep working. Find ways and talk to people and communicate with players, like I have, communicate with staff members and everybody who’s a part of this thing to make sure that we leave no stone unturned moving forward. We have to fix this thing.”
While Grifol taking it upon himself as the manager to own this shockingly dismal campaign is admirable to some degree, his words Tuesday echoed the same thing we heard from Hahn earlier in the year. The general manager, by the way, has been adamant in his opinion that Grifol be free of blame for what’s transpired. And there’s reason to agree with that, too, considering Grifol didn’t put this team together via a yearslong rebuild. He just got here.
Dissecting what’s gone wrong has been a months-long pastime already and will continue to be, the White Sox expected to trade away several players in the next week and officially stamp this season as over — even with two months’ worth of games still to play. You noticed Grifol is already bringing up next year.
But if you’re looking for an explanation for how things got to this point inside the White Sox’ clubhouse, you’re unlikely to find one.
“We definitely haven’t been playing good,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I don’t have any real explanation for that. I know we’ve been trying, trying hard. But I don’t have an explanation for that.”
“Definitely don’t,” Anderson said, asked if he had an explanation. “I wish I did. That’s a crazy question. But no I don’t. Just take it a day at a time. It’s life. Things happen.”
What happens by Tuesday’s deadline will go a long way in describing what direction Hahn and the front office are taking this franchise in. Grifol, meanwhile, is preparing for the work of turning the ship in whatever that direction ends up being.
“Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror and reflect on, ‘Was I as good as I could be?’ Myself included,” he said. “Was I as good as I could’ve been? Probably not. There’s a lot of things I would do different. I’m not going to hide from that either.
“But we’re going to be headed in the right direction. We are headed in the right direction.”