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Things ‘pretty brutal’ for Lucas Giolito, but injury avalanche is what could bury White Sox

Vinnie Duber Avatar
June 23, 2022

Kendall Graveman grabbed my phone.

The White Sox’ reliever happened to be coming in from his on-field work right as the assembled media gathered around Tony La Russa for the manager’s pregame session Wednesday. Thanks to Josh Harrison’s walk-off heroics a night earlier, the South Siders were back to .500, a symbolic step on their journey out of a disappointing start to the 2022 campaign.

Graveman decided to play reporter.

“Tony, what are your thoughts on getting back to .500?”

It was good for a laugh, especially when La Russa zinged back with a joke at Graveman’s expense. But after all the chuckles had subsided, the White Sox got an all too serious reminder of how hard this climb out of the hole they dug for themselves will be.

Getting to .500 was no easy task for a banged-up, inconsistent roster. Getting above water might prove even more difficult.

Lucas Giolito was roughed up again later that day, the Blue Jays scorching him for seven runs, including four on one Bo Bichette swing. The ace of the staff – an applicable title for Giolito, regardless of how narrow your definition of “ace” is – has had to stand in front of reporters and address one shellacking after another of late, his ERA in his last five starts a gigantic 9.47.

“It’s pretty brutal,” he said after Wednesday’s 9-5 loss. “I just have to give the team a chance to win, and I’m failing to do that over and over. It’s very frustrating … There’s no excuse for how I’ve been performing. It’s pretty god awful.

“I know that when I’m right, I am a good pitcher and can go deep, strike guys out. I know that. It’s just a matter of making it happen, making the adjustments that are necessary.

“It’s been frustrating. I want to give the team a chance to win when I take the ball. I have not been doing that, and so that’s pretty much it. I’ve got to figure it out.”

Indeed, Giolito’s slide has been alarming for these White Sox. But the ace has gone from the “worst pitcher in baseball” to an All-Star type pitcher before. Giolito righting the ship, with longtime coach and friend Ethan Katz at his side, seems a decent enough bet.

What should be far more concerning for this team is the unending avalanche of injuries that threatens to completely bury its quest for a championship.

We’ve been over it again and again, the repetition of this storyline plenty indication of its prevalence in the White Sox’ fortunes so far this season. But if it wasn’t for bad luck, they wouldn’t have no luck at all. And Wednesday saw two more injuries befall South Side players, with other nagging concerns becoming woefully obvious.

Danny Mendick, whose strong play while on fill-in duty for an injured Tim Anderson had lifted him into a more prominent role on the infield, collided with Adam Haseley while chasing a pop-up, and he was helped off the field. It was the end of his season. He’s got a torn ACL.

“It’s a great game in a lot of ways,” La Russa said Thursday, “but a lot of time, there’s no justice.”

Meanwhile, Adam Engel departed the game with a hamstring issue, a red flag to the White Sox, who watched the outfielder deal with repeated hamstring problems last season, causing him to miss all but 39 games. He was adamant Thursday that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the injuries that kept him mostly sidelined in 2021. But it’s another White Sox malady in a season full of them.

And while a lopsided score allowed La Russa to rest several of his everyday guys in the late innings Wednesday, Luis Robert’s exit was noteworthy after he failed to make it past first base when his line drive got by a diving Toronto left fielder. After the game, we learned of leg soreness impacting the Gold Glover’s ability to run. He was out of the lineup Thursday.

“He’s got an issue he’s had before, so we are going to let it quiet down. I expect he’ll play tomorrow,” La Russa said. “When you run with the speed that he does, and as often as he does, defensively and on the bases, you are going to get sore. And that’s part of it.”

Team that with Andrew Vaughn not exactly moving around smoothly and José Abreu’s noticeable limping on the base paths – not to mention Anderson’s absence Wednesday, the expected result of a guy coming back from a strained groin – and you’ve got plenty of walking wounded to go along with the star-studded crew on the injured list.

“It’s been a very frustrating season when it comes to the injuries,” Giolito said. “It’s like a punch in the gut every time. We don’t want to lose anybody. That’s part of the game, but it’s happening a lot.”

The White Sox will tell you that every team is dealing with its fair share of injuries, and that is true. But it’s hard to believe that any team has watched the injury bug evolve into the injury Mothra that’s terrorizing the South Side.

While fresh sights of guys being helped off the field and new tweets announcing why someone left a game shift the in-moment focus, the truth is that the White Sox still have a high number of their top players on the IL.

A bullpen without Liam Hendriks is being cobbled together on a near-daily basis. And while Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jiménez weren’t exactly setting the world on fire when they were healthy – they’re batting a combined .187 this season – there’s no way the White Sox can achieve their sky-high goals without getting major contributions from those three guys. And they can’t contribute, can’t turn their offensive results around, if they’re not able to play.

Anderson and Abreu, as good as they are, can’t win the World Series by themselves.

And while the White Sox are trying to keep their Jenga tower from toppling without so many players – something they figured out how to do last season en route to a runaway in the AL Central – they’ve yet to fire on all cylinders in 2022.

After months of offensive ineptitude, the bats have finally woken up from a lengthy hibernation. Despite still owning a minus-41 run differential, they’ve vaulted up the runs-per-game standings and are averaging 4.28 on the season after averaging more than seven per game in their last 13 contests.

But now the starting pitching that kept them afloat early this year and powered last year’s 93-win finish has stumbled. Giolito’s been the most noticeable offender, but he hasn’t been alone. Getting Lance Lynn back was huge for this team, but he’s mustered just 28 outs in his first two starts of the year and is fresh off calling his second outing “horseshit.” Dylan Cease was electric in an 11-strikeout, one-hit performance Tuesday, but despite not allowing an earned run this month, he’s given up 15 hits and walked 13 guys in four starts. Michael Kopech, too, has struggled to find consistency and has a 5.52 ERA this month after finishing May at 1.29.

“I feel like we’ve been playing well,” Giolito said, “but it takes a decent starting pitching performance to give the team a chance.”

Certainly Giolito was referring to himself there, but the words could apply across the rotation, with only Johnny Cueto – who the team took a minor league flier on late in the spring – turning in one stellar outing after another right now.

A softening schedule could provide a respite, beginning with four games against the last-place Orioles this weekend, though even that’s a team with just two fewer wins than the White Sox. Suddenly, the White Sox have to worry about jousting with not only the Twins but the Guardians, as well, for dominance in the division. Cleveland has surged past Minnesota with an 18-5 record in its last 23 games, and it was the Ohio-based club sitting atop the Central standings when the White Sox woke up Thursday morning.

Truthfully, though, chasing down either team will be damn near impossible if the White Sox don’t catch a break – or five – on the injury front. It’s not enough to throw up your hands and say, “Oh well, if only we weren’t hurt” when the goal is a championship. These are the challenges of the game, after all. But how is any amount of depth, apart from what the Dodgers have going, supposed to stop this sort of tidal wave?

The White Sox tried one of the few solutions at their immediate disposal Thursday, bringing middle-infield prospect Lenyn Sosa up from the minors. His production at Double-A Birmingham – a .933 OPS in 62 games – has warranted a chance like this, and he’ll get it. Even with all the injuries, La Russa still can man his infield with Anderson, Harrison and Jake Burger on a regular basis, with Sosa likely ticketed for reserve duty. But the manager foreshadowed a less-than-minimal role for the newcomer.

“You’ll see him. You are going to see a lot of him,” La Russa said. “He stands at the plate and he’s got a real nice style that shows you he’s ready. (He’s) not too cool for school, not too fidgety.

“They’ve been raving about him since the first week of the season. I talked to (Birmingham manager Justin Jirschle) today. He’s playing well defensively at three positions, but his at-bats, he’s a good looking hitter.”

Rick Hahn has been recently adamant that the White Sox won’t be selling at the trade deadline, and greater catastrophe than what’s already befallen the team would have to happen to alter the belief that it’s set up for long-term success in the middle of what’s hoped to be a lengthy contention window. Hahn didn’t rebuild only to sell at the deadline.

And certainly nothing so catastrophic has happened yet, from a mathematical standpoint, to eliminate the possibility of the White Sox making a run at one of the AL’s playoff spots. The reality isn’t so grim as being out of it in late June. But struggling to get north of .500 for a team with World Series expectations has struck as similarly disappointing.

“It’s definitely tough,” Mendick said of the team’s injuries. “You look at it, it might be a fluke. Not sure why things happen. You just have to have a collective effort to keep trying to play baseball and win games.

“For all the injuries we’ve had, it’s impressive what we’ve done so far. Guys will be coming back and getting better, to full strength, and we’re going to be dangerous.”

Graveman’s joking question to La Russa on Wednesday revealed a bit of the baseball mindset, that looking at the standings every day is rather meaningless for players who are focused on winning just one contest at a time.

But fans and observers have the luxury – or is it the curse? – of taking a broader view. And right now, it’s difficult to see things getting much better on the South Side, not while every positive moment is accompanied by another injury, another bad start, another mistake in the field.

Let’s not forget the White Sox only lost once during their series with the Blue Jays. They have only lost three times in their last nine games.

But somehow, with guys continuing to go down, they keep losing.

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