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MINNEAPOLIS – Ask just about anyone in the White Sox’ clubhouse, and the answer will be a variation on a theme.
What went wrong in 2022?
“Injury-wise, that’s where I believe it really didn’t come together,” third-base coach Joe McEwing told CHGO last week, “because no one was on the field at the same time. Ever. Throughout the whole year.”
“Injuries definitely don’t help,” Dylan Cease told CHGO on Wednesday. “Not having your full lineup and your full roster for a lot of the year definitely hurts.”
“When you have injuries, that’s something you cannot avoid,” Luis Robert said Wednesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “You can have your players playing, but if you have your players dealing with different injuries, you know the guys out there are not 100 percent. That’s going to affect your performance, too. You can’t control that. I really believe that’s one of the main reasons why we underperformed this year.”
There’s more to those answers, of course, and the White Sox are well aware that the guys who were on the field contributed to this upsetting result as much as those who spent so much time off it.
Fans might – OK, will – disagree, focusing their ire, and not unfairly, on Tony La Russa’s managing and on Rick Hahn’s roster construction, along with a host of other reasons that caused an uber-talented team with World Series expectations to sputter to a double-digit deficit in the AL Central.
Whether or not the players are correct that it’s the biggest thing that sunk the White Sox, though, there’s no doubting that an unrelenting wave of injuries had a large impact on where the South Siders ended up.
Some, including acting manager Miguel Cairo, are tracing the line all the way back to spring training, when Garrett Crochet went down with an injury that required Tommy John surgery and knocked him out for the season. It was the start of an unending list: Lance Lynn needed knee surgery, Yoán Moncada was knocked out with an oblique injury before Opening Day, Lucas Giolito suffered an abdominal injury on Opening Day, Yasmani Grandal was battling the effects of his own offseason knee surgery.
And as the season marched on, Eloy Jiménez tore a tendon in his knee running to first base, Andrew Vaughn got hit in the hand, Luis Robert got COVID and dealt with a midseason bout of blurred vision due to a vitamin deficiency, Danny Mendick tore his ACL, Liam Hendriks strained his elbow, Michael Kopech hit the injured list a couple times, Tim Anderson needed surgery to repair a tendon in his finger.
That list is not exhaustive.
And here we are, the White Sox playing the final games of their season, and the injury bug hasn’t let go, physical ailments bothering this team to the bitter end.
Anderson was officially shut down Tuesday and won’t return from his hand injury before season’s end.
“I think it’s the best thing for him,” Cairo said Tuesday. “You don’t want him to re-injure that, the hand. He’s still doing a lot of work on the treatment and stuff like that. He needs to get 100 percent for next year.”
Robert finally went on the IL after spending weeks attempting to fight through the effects of a bruised wrist, taking some of the most awkward swings you’ll ever see and ending up nothing more than a high-profile pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
“I asked them to let me try to play,” Robert said Wednesday. “But I also think it was my mistake because I didn’t realize at that moment that trying to do that, I wasn’t helping them. … We were making a push to make the playoffs, and I wanted to be part of that and help the team. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it.
“Throughout that process, I (developed) some bad habits. That wasn’t helping me. It wasn’t helping the team. I was picking up bad habits with my swing, and that kind of backfired on what I was trying to do. Again, I think that was my mistake.”
And Moncada, who’s spent three entire seasons fighting one thing or another, is slated for X-rays after he fouled a ball off the top of his foot late in Tuesday’s loss. It looked painful. Cairo reported a bone bruise Wednesday, and you wonder if the third baseman has played his final game in 2022 as a result, another season ending in little more than “what ifs” for Moncada, the one-time future MVP type who’s been held down by his body each of the last three years.
“You get hurt the last day of spring training and you miss one month, you’re always going to be playing catch up,” Cairo said of Moncada’s season. “One of the things he did wrong was he tried to come back too early because he wanted to be part of this instead of getting more at-bats. You’re going to be playing catch up when you do something like that, get a few at-bats, come back here and come over and try to catch up. That’s tough.”
The injuries the White Sox suffered this season should be well behind the individuals affected by the time the 2023 campaign comes around. But the injuries, in a less literal way, can’t help but linger in the minds of fans and anyone attempting to evaluate this team.
Moncada’s been in the majors with the White Sox for six seasons and played 637 games, an average of 106 a year. Jiménez has been in the majors for four seasons and played 310 games, an average of 77 games a year. Robert’s been in the majors for three seasons and played 222 games, an average of 74 games a year.
These guys obviously aren’t getting hurt on purpose. They obviously have all the talent in the world. But it would be near impossible for anyone to say they know what these guys can do over the course of a full season. Or even if they can play a full season.
“It was frustrating, especially because I was feeling good and I was counting on this to be a very good season,” Robert said of his 2022, which was interrupted by an early-season groin injury, then by a COVID infection, then by the dizziness, then by the wrist sprain. “I wanted to play the whole season, because I haven’t had that chance. I haven’t had a chance to play a full season, and I thought this would be that. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way. Those are things you have to deal with. Just have to get ready for the future and be healthy.
“That’s going to be the main focus now, staying healthy.”
Don’t worry, Rick Hahn will certainly be asked why the White Sox were so bedeviled by injuries this year – a season, by the way, that came on the heels of another defined by injuries, when Robert, Jiménez, Grandal and Nick Madrigal were all sidelined for months at a time. Last offseason, Hahn explained the organization was “reimagining” its approach to strength and conditioning. And then came 2022.
But even if any steps the White Sox take pay off handsomely and the injury bug flies somewhere else next year, its season-long presence in 2022 will make planning for next year even trickier than it already is.
The White Sox’ young core deserves ample faith, given its talent. But faith is the belief in things unseen. And because of terrible injury luck, what’s been unseen has been full seasons from those talented guys.
That’s right. From spring training, to Opening Day, to the first half, to the second half, to the season’s very end – and all the way into and throughout the offseason – injuries were and will be a huge talking point when it comes to the White Sox.
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