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Ryan Burr didn’t mince words.
Frustrated, agitated, just plain pissed off. Burr and the White Sox were feeling it all after Monday’s jaw-dropping defeat.
Leading the visiting Guardians by six runs heading into the ninth inning, the White Sox fell apart, surrendering six in the ninth – including four on a two-out, game-tying grand slam off Liam Hendriks – and four more runs in extra innings to turn an 8-2 win into a stunning 12-9 loss.
Both big blows, the salami against Hendriks in the ninth and a three-run homer off Burr in the 11th, were delivered by Josh Naylor, who also doubled in a run in the eighth and made a game-saving stretch at first base in the bottom of the ninth on an outrageous night on the South Side.
White Sox fans, understandably, were the most outraged. Judging by the mood of the postgame comments, however, it was probably the manager and players who were probably the most upset.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Burr said. “Some days you are the windshield. Some days you are the bug. Unfortunately, I was the bug today, and I got squashed.
“It sucks. It sucks to let this team down, especially a hot team (that) won six in a row. (You) want to keep it going. But the baseball gods didn’t have it in our favor today.
“I know every single guy in here knows we played like shit tonight, pitched like shit tonight. We’ve got to be better than that, that’s what it comes down to.”
As just about everyone realized, of course, this was one game. At an even 14-14, the White Sox are just 17 percent of the way through a six-month marathon. Nothing that happens in one game deserves the sort of predictable lashing out on social media that followed Monday’s loss. No one deserves to be fired, no player can be considered a bust, no team can be written off because of what happens in a solitary contest on a 162-game schedule.
That’s not how this whole baseball thing works.
It’s when this starts looking familiar that concern becomes warranted. And for the White Sox, this looked an awful lot like the awful baseball they were playing during that eight-game losing streak at the end of last month.
The pitching staff has been, generally, great. And the biggest reason the White Sox lost Monday night was that the pitching staff did not come through, specifically the bullpen, which after the late-game bludgeoning was over had wasted a brilliant effort by Michael Kopech, who struck out seven in six innings of one-run ball. That run was unearned, and Kopech’s microscopic ERA dropped to 0.93 on the campaign.
It was one of a whole bunch of unearned runs Monday night. While Hendriks, Burr and Tanner Banks couldn’t stop the bleeding, the White Sox’ defense was at it again Monday, committing four errors that led to a whopping eight unearned runs. Tim Anderson had two and is up to nine on the season. Gavin Sheets simply dropped a first-inning fly ball in right field, though that was ancient history by game’s end. Yoán Moncada – playing in his first game of the season and owning a sterling defensive reputation – committed one of two White Sox errors in the ninth inning, which helped to bring about the six-run collapse.
Tony La Russa didn’t see the defense as the reason for what he called “a brutal loss” that was “as tough as you’re going to have.” But it was impossible to ignore another parade of errors that brought the White Sox’ 2022 total to 26 in their 28 games.
“We didn’t lose that game because of our defense. I disagree with that,” La Russa said. “(The Guardians) didn’t have the cleanest game either, right? Just a tough, brutal loss for the home team.”
There’s a fine line to walk in evaluating said brutality. Because yes, this was just one game, and it’s not outlandish to suggest even the best team at season’s end will have experienced such a reeling defeat that makes the postgame clubhouse feel like a wake.
But the White Sox, even in the small sample size of this early portion of the season, keep seeing some of the same issues pop up.
Monday, the offense – the most consistently bothersome of those issues – was not one of them. Nine runs were the most the White Sox scored since the season’s opening weekend and just the sixth time all year they scored more than four runs in a single game. Sheets and AJ Pollock each hit a three-run homer back when the game looked like a rout in favor of the team on the six-game winning streak.
The offensive fireworks, plus Moncada’s welcome-back party, seemed to spell a blastoff for this White Sox team. A good rotation plus a good bullpen plus a finally-coming-around offense? Make your plans for October baseball now, right?
And it’s plenty reasonable to suggest that even on this woeful night that result is plenty possible.
Before the game, Rick Hahn discussed both Sheets and Pollock as candidates to start turning their pitiful early season numbers around. Then both guys left the yard.
“There’s going to be a stretch, I suspect at some time, where AJ Pollock’s probably going to carry this team,” Hahn said. “It’s just a matter of timing. He’s always been a professional hitter. He’ll come back around at some point. Not overly concerned.”
“He’s in that sophomore year where the league makes adjustments. They challenge you in different ways. It’s incumbent on him to make those adjustments back to show he can be sort of a long-term fit in the lineup,” Hahn said of Sheets. “The positive side is we’ve all seen it from him before and know it’s there and look forward to him continuing to do it.”
One nasty outcome on one night in May doesn’t make Hahn’s forecast of a lineup firing on all cylinders wrong.
But take the GM’s now months-long evaluation of the White Sox’ ALDS defeat as, potentially, a similar way to read Monday night’s loss. Hahn was correct in saying that the ALDS was a few poorly timed bad days, not all of which was representative of what the White Sox were capable of in 2021. But those losses also featured some problems that were persistent throughout last season.
Monday’s defeat was no reason to suggest the White Sox are doomed. But it was made possible by some lingering issues, most noticeably the ones on defense and a lack of late timely hitting in the ninth and 10th innings, when the team stranded the bases loaded twice in a row.
All teams are going to have bad nights. You know, like Burr said with the bug and the windshield and the sucking.
But in order to minimize those bad nights, teams have to avoid the bad stuff. It’s still early, thankfully for the White Sox. But that bad stuff? It has to go away if they’re going to reach their World Series level goals.
“When we talked on Opening Day, I think I kind of laid out expectations that these first two months were going to be a little rocky,” Hahn said before the game. “Just the nature of the offseason, the shortened spring, the steep schedule expectations early in the year were going to create some volatility in the roster and likely in performance.
“It’s not a total shock that we quite haven’t found our sea legs, or that this team hasn’t quite found its identity.”
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