No one game is ever a referendum on a team, but one game can showcase many of the things that have gone right or wrong for that team. This year, the White Sox have had plenty of clunkers to prove that point.
Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Orioles, for example.
Most at issue was the continued lackluster offensive performance, and that’s been a problem for the team almost the entire season. They mustered just three baserunners all night and none after the third inning. In what was essentially a bullpen game for the Orioles, only Jake Burger managed to get a hit. His second inning double drove in the only Sox run.
“You are not really sure what the answer is. There was something missing obviously,” Burger said. “We’ve had our fair share of injuries, not to make excuses. The talent is in this room. Something is missing and we’ll figure it out.”
It might have helped to have had newcomer Lenyn Sosa in the lineup. He was called up from Double-A on Thursday and entered the game after Josh Harrison got hit by a pitch, but for reasons that are hard to ascertain, manager Tony La Russa sat him in favor of Leury Garcia on Friday.
“Well, right now, he’s up here temporarily, right? To fill in. He can go nuts and force himself into the lineup. I don’t know how many opportunities he’s going to get,” La Russa said.
Yes, Sosa is a very green and very unproven rookie, but the White Sox badly need a spark in their lineup. They shouldn’t, with the group that’s assembled. But now almost to the end of June, they rank 23rd in the league in runs scored, with 287 going into Friday’s games. Sosa would not be a fix-all, but at least giving him a chance to inject some life into the Sox bats seems like an easy choice at this point in the season.
La Russa is ultimately in charge of the opportunities Sosa gets, and at three games below .500, giving a player like Sosa a few extra looks seems like a low-risk, high-reward option.
“I know he’s going to play this weekend, whether it’s once or twice we’ll see,” La Russa said.
But even without the new guy, there is plenty of talent in the Sox lineup to put up more of a fight against the Orioles bullpen. After being shut out on Thursday, they looked briefly during the second inning Friday like there would be some life when AJ Pollock walked and later scored on Burger’s double. But from there, the offense went completely quiet.
“We’re better than that. We have to figure out why that’s true,” La Russa said. “I’ve got some ideas, but they’re not for me to share. It’s not acceptable.”
Pitching-wise, the Sox have generally been okay this season. The same was true on Friday. Michael Kopech delivered a quality start, going six innings with three runs allowed on three hits, but even he was out of sync.
Kopech gave up a leadoff bunt single to Cedric Mullins, who ended up scoring the game’s first run thanks to a walk, a stolen base, and a wild pitch. In all, Kopech gave up four walks, matching his highest total in a start this season. The Orioles were able to steal five bases against him, two of which resulted in runs scored. Kopech also balked with Adley Rutschman on third base in the fourth inning, allowing him to score. The balk was called because Kopech said he let the moment get away from him and he didn’t stay consistent about pitching from the windup over the stretch.
“This was a rough night on both sides of the ball, but we’re fighting hard every night,” Kopech said. “When things don’t go our way, we don’t hold on to that too much. We know who we are individually. We know who we are as a team. It’s going to come around.”
The big question, though, is when and how things will come around. Since their six-game winning streak at the beginning of May, the Sox have retreated back to gaining some ground in the standings only to give it up. They went 15-12 last month but are 10-12 thus far in June. Having a four-game series against the Orioles should be a time to get back to .500. Instead, the Sox have dropped the first two games of the series by a combined score of 8-1.
Zooming out even more, the Sox have been more or less a .500 team since last year’s All-Star break. A hot start in 2021 helped give them enough cushion to win the division going away, only to get ousted by the Astros without much of a fight in last year’s division series. Injuries are definitely a problem for the 2022 White Sox, but not a unique one. Still, the frustration with the ever-growing injured list is getting harder to ignore.
“I think we’re all included. Front office feels that way. Fans feel that way. Our staff, our players feel that way, but injuries are part of the game,” La Russa said. “You can stay in the race because you don’t get discouraged or give into it. […] So I’m just like everyone else. I wish we had more of our lineup. I wish we Bummer, I wish we had Liam, but you don’t. I know we have enough to win with whoever we play.”
And yet, La Russa’s White Sox are not winning. At least not consistently or as much as they should be. There have been boos and chants of “Fire Tony!” in the last couple of weeks. In April, fans were wondering why they were weathering the cold to watch this team. It’s late June and the weather is beautiful, but they have no more reason to endure the product on the field.
“Less entertaining for fans to see the guys go 1-2-3 and out, it always looks bad. We hit some balls hard,” La Russa said. “But in this league, you either do or you don’t, and when you don’t, whether you’re players or the manager, you just take the heat. Fans didn’t come out to watch us get beat that easily. I take the heat for not getting us ready to play. I don’t know what else to say.”
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