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White Sox manager Tony La Russa will tell you that any good team has to play with a sense of urgency, all season long. True, teams also have to be careful not to press or try to do too much because baseball is very good at resisting such efforts. But day in, day out, for months at a time, a good team has to play to a high standard every day.
To some extent, that’s all they can really control. Presumably, a team that has talent and that does the right things to prepare, execute, and stay healthy will win more often than not.
“The only way to compete in this league is to compete with urgency,” La Russa said. “The team you’re playing against, they’re trying to beat you. So it’s not the urgency thing. For us, it’s more look at where we can improve and improve.”
But if there’s a time when the White Sox might be forgiven for hitting the panic button, it could be now. There are 35 games left. Labor Day and the home stretch of the season looms. And the Sox are still, still mired right around .500 and a handful of games behind the division lead.
This begs the question: Are they ever going to go on a run?
It looked like the Sox might two weeks ago when they swept the Tigers and then started a four-game series against the Astros with two dramatic wins. Instead, the same issues that have plagued the Sox all season have continued.
The past week alone has displayed several of them. Every team deals with injuries, but the Sox have played only a handful of games at even close to full strength this season. On Monday, they lost Michael Kopech to a knee injury, and Yoan Moncada was placed in the injured list with a left hamstring strain before Saturday’s game. The Sox are still starved for power; they rank 26th in the league with 105. After Thursday’s late-inning gut punch loss to the Orioles and Friday’s 7-2 embarrassment against the Diamondbacks, fans booed the team as they left the field.
“You’re going to face good things, bad things. You’re going to experience good and bad things, but you have to get over that and keep going,” José Abreu said. “Move forward. You have to face those challenges with love and with passion for yourself and for the game. That’s the only way that you can approach that and try to overcome that.”
Saturday’s 10-5 loss to the Diamondbacks dropped the Sox below .500 for the first time since July 29. And it was another showcase of so much of what has gone wrong for the Sox this year. Davis Martin had to take the start because of Kopech’s injury, Carlos Perez was behind the plate because Yasmani Grandal is still working his way back, AJ Pollock was in center field because Luis Robert is dealing with a wrist injury, and Abreu was the only guy in the infield not filling in for an injured player.
In the game, Martin tossed a scoreless first inning and Gavin Sheets put the Sox up to an early 3-0 lead with a three-run shot to the bullpen in right field, but the good times were short lived. Martin floundered in the second, eventually giving up five runs. The bullpen allowed two more through the eighth inning. Eloy Jimenez came within inches of tying the game in the bottom of the eighth, with a flyout that left his bat at nearly 104 miles per hour and traveled 374 feet only to land in Daulton Varsho’s glove.
“I don’t know how that ball didn’t get out. Doesn’t make any sense to me,” Sheets said. “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know how that ball doesn’t get out. 104, 27 degrees is, that’s a home run. And that’s a game-changing home run.”
As La Russa said, his team’s task is to figure out where they can improve and then do it. But really putting a finger on what has gone wrong this season has been difficult.
Until a recent team meeting, when a few of the players suggested that the deepest issue this year has been complacency. Namely, Jose Abreu, who called out how the team’s “confidence has turned into cockiness.”
“We just expected to come in and roll like we did last year,” closer Liam Hendriks said after that meeting.
Both the players who were here in 2021 and the ones who weren’t seem to be identifying a lack of urgency as the problem. New guy Johnny Cueto called out the team’s missing spark weeks ago. The question all season has been whether or not they can find it and keep it lit for more than a few games at a time. Their longest winning streak of the season was six games, but that was back in the beginning of May. And it was not long after an eight-game losing streak that stretched from April 17 to April 26.
Fans have been frustrated since springtime, and as the season has progressed, “Fire Tony” chants have turned into a regular occurrence. There was a “Sell the Team” banner displayed rather prominently behind home plate during Saturday’s loss.
That negativity doesn’t seem to have bled into the clubhouse, at least not for the team’s de facto leader in the locker room.
“We all love him. His sense of unity and his sense of family is something that is around us, is around this team,” Abreu said. “It doesn’t matter what the people from the outside say, the fans can say whatever they want to. It doesn’t mean that what they say is true.
“We support Tony. We appreciate Tony and the effort he put to put us in the best position to succeed.”
The Sox may have come into the season cocky, but now at the end of August, they may have been knocked around enough that they have lost some of that swagger. Missing a sense of urgency dug the hole they are in, and perhaps losing a touch of their confidence has made it deeper.
“My point in that meeting was if we believe that we can do it, we can do it,” Abreu said. “The success is in the unity of a team. I truly believe that because that’s my goal in life and in my family. That’s how I strive as a family man. Being this is my second family, I just try to enforce that message here and try to have everybody understand and try to get everybody together, everybody to come together in that same goal.
“If we believe it, we can make things happen.”
Like they have been all season, Minnesota and Cleveland are head of the Sox in the division. Of the 35 games that remain, the Sox have nine more against the Twins and four against the Guardians. Those 13 games will be the time to make it happen.
“If you believe you got a shot, you got to start some place,” La Russa said. “Just don’t give in whenever you’re up.”
Harder and harder to do, especially after three tough losses in a row.
“Worst thing you can do is get frustrated and depressed, discouraged,” La Russa said. “Get angry. Do something about it tomorrow. That’s the message. Get some adrenaline pumping and get back to even.”
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