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Better times for White Sox, but rebound from 3-22 start comes with room for improvement

Vinnie Duber Avatar
May 12, 2024
White Sox

The White Sox over the last two weeks and change?

Not that bad.

Everything’s relative, of course. A 9-7 stretch in a 16-game span isn’t anything to write home about for a contender.

But these White Sox — now 12-29 after a miserable 3-22 start that went down as the worst in franchise history — aren’t contenders. And so any sort of sample size with a record north of .500 is something to hang their hats on.

They took three games of a four-game set with the first-place Guardians this weekend. Before that, they took a series with the Cardinals last weekend in St. Louis. Seeing the Rays twice in a short span, they won four of the six games they played against those perennial contenders. They’ve been winning the kinds of close games they were losing on a nightly basis early in the season.

Yes, whether it’s the improved starting pitching from Erick Fedde, Garrett Crochet and even Chris Flexen, the nice offensive work by rookie catcher Korey Lee or the jolt of energy that came with Tommy Pham’s arrival, there are undoubtedly bright spots worth discussing. It’s true that this team is playing much better baseball than it was in the earliest weeks of the season.

“The fight’s where we knew we could be and where everything was in camp, kind of what we told you guys we were going to look like,” Michael Soroka said after Sunday’s game. “It’s been a lot more fun getting around here, and everybody kind of has the feeling that we’re in it now. That was starting to get a little fleeting in the middle of April there. We fought hard to get that back, and we’ve got to keep that going.”

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

As noticeable as the White Sox’ upturn has been of late, their demons are far from exorcised. A team in the early stages of a long-term rebuilding project still has a lot to do to get to where it wants to be, even in this incarnation, which plenty on the outside pegged as having little chance to make any kind of noise this season.

Pedro Grifol spent the spring preaching — promising, even — a different style of play from the one White Sox fans sat through during back-to-back massively disappointing seasons in 2022 and 2023. Chris Getz’s offseason work focused on improving the team’s defense, which ranked at the bottom of the league in each of those seasons.

But there the White Sox were Sunday, fumbling away a chance at a four-game sweep of those first-place Guardians in a sloppy sixth inning. The Guardians walked away with three runs courtesy of a litany of bad plays by the White Sox in the field. Tim Hill airmailed a pickoff attempt for an error. Andrew Vaughn whiffed on a Zach Remillard throw for another error. A Lee passed ball scored a run. And Pham bobbled a ball in left.

By inning’s end, the White Sox were down 7-0, eventually the 10th shutout of their season and a performance far more reminiscent of those early-season defeats.

It was a performance foreshadowed by Grifol’s pregame comments, in which he trumpeted his team’s ability to master a couple of the pillars of his “play F.A.S.T.” mantra while not all the way there in the “technically sound” department.

“There’s some improvements to be made on that,” he said when asked about the team’s style of play. “I certainly like the aggressiveness. I certainly like the fearlessness. But there’s some technical parts to the game that I feel that we can improve and we’re working on it. We’re slowly working on it.

“There’s so many parts to this game, so many details to this game, it takes a little bit to really bring it all together. It takes a while. It doesn’t happen in a spring training. … When the season starts, the pressure starts getting a little higher, the anxiety starts getting a little higher. A lot of it is geared toward, ‘What am I doing offensively?’ When you’re locked in offensively, you lose some of the other stuff that’s really important.

“So we kind of have to bring everything back as a team. It starts off as an individual, but you’ve got to bring it back as a team, which takes a little bit of time.”

Even before Sunday’s ugly inning, the White Sox ranked as the worst defensive team in baseball, by one metric, with a minus-29 Defensive Runs Saved.

But while there’s still a lot to clean up, things are obviously better than they were for a team that had people wondering if there’d be a new major league mark for futility. The starting pitching has powered this mini surge, and relief arms like Jordan Leasure, John Brebbia and Michael Kopech are settling into their roles in the bullpen, inspiring some confidence late in games. Timely hitting has arrived, too, after a silent collection of bats through the season’s first few weeks.

That’s the sort of combination it takes to win major league games on a regular basis. And while the White Sox aren’t making a beeline for the top of the division, the good vibes that have been present from the start now have a reason to exist.

“I think we’ve shown we can not only win ballgames, but we can beat good teams,” Kopech said on Friday. “Cleveland’s played good ball this year. … Hopefully we can continue doing that against better and better teams, get ourselves out of the hole we built for ourselves and move on to a pretty good season.”

“We always felt like this team had potential,” Fedde said Friday. “That’s who we expect to be, and we just want to grow from that, keep winning series and put our heads down and keep chugging along.”

Few outside those clubhouse walls have any expectations for the White Sox to turn into a runaway freight train and steam toward October. But that’s why these guys play, to win. If their goal is to do what Kopech said and have “a pretty good season” after a 3-22 start, they’ll have to do an awful lot of work, an awful lot of playing better baseball.

But it’s not going to happen in a two-week stretch.

“Listen, there’s 120 games left. We’re talking about just the last 14 games,” Grifol said before Sunday’s game. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in those 120 games. The only thing I know is that group in there and that staff and myself, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got every single day.

“I’m not going to worry about what happened in April. I’m focused here now. I want these guys to focus here now. We’re not going to make up the games we lost in April in a week. We’re not going to make them up in two weeks. This is 120 games, and we’ve got to go bust our ass before the game, during the game and we’ve got to bust our ass after the game to make the necessary adjustments for the following day.

“That’s why they call this thing a marathon. And if you look at it like I’ve been guilty of looking at it, as a sprint, you get your ass kicked, mentally. And those are the things you learn through these storms.”

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