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“My mom always say,” Josh Harrison told CHGO on Friday, “‘Storm don’t last always.’”
The White Sox have been set straight by their mothers before. It was Dallas Keuchel’s mom, you might remember, who set the expectations in 2020 with her “playoffs or die, bitches” decree at a team dinner that spring. The South Siders did reach the postseason that year, snapping a dozen-year drought.
The expectations are significantly higher this time around, the White Sox more in “World Series or die” mode for 2022. But off to a 7-12 start with a 1-10 record in their last 11 games, the team doesn’t quite look ready for prime time, let alone a deep October run.
The White Sox’ bats have been the most glaring shortcoming, though a defense that leads the league with 21 errors has been tough to watch, at times, too. This lineup was built to give opposing pitchers fits, yet it entered Friday night’s clash with the Angels ranked near the bottom in most offensive categories, averaging just 2.4 runs a game over the previous 10 contests.
Then Friday’s game came, and the White Sox’ offense turned in another clunker, mustering just three hits and not many more base runners against a parade of Angels bullpen arms, losing 5-1.
Even if the White Sox aren’t going to get an in-person pep talk from Harrison’s mom, though, the team – and the fans – would be wise to listen to her advice as it tries to find a way out of this ice-cold offensive stretch.
“It’s definitely unfortunate. Nobody wants to go through this. But at the same time, teams are going to go through this, and we happen to be in the middle of it right now,” Harrison said. “It’s a little magnified because it’s the first month of the season, so we don’t really have a whole slew of a schedule to really say, ‘OK, back in the first half of the season.’ This is all we have right now. That’s all we can go off of.
“But at the same time, it doesn’t define us. We’ve got a long road ahead of us, and we’ve got to take it a day at a time.”
In the middle of this “storm,” that can be easy to forget.
A team with championship-level expectations has seemingly been dealt a new gutpunch on a daily basis for nearly two weeks. Whether the error-fest and Keuchel’s 10-run shellacking in the first game of last week’s series in Cleveland, Eloy Jiménez crumpling to the ground with another significant injury in Minnesota, Liam Hendriks surrendering a walk-off homer to Byron Buxton or the pitching staff walking 11 Royals on Tuesday, little has gone right for the White Sox of late.
In fact, a lot has gone wrong, and in spectacular fashion.
But just like it’s hard to maintain success for the entirety of baseball’s six-month marathon – even the best teams lose a whole lot of games – it’s hard to maintain a lack of success, too. Especially when you have a roster as talented as the one that resides at 35th & Shields.
“It’s sucked,” Lucas Giolito said of this miserable stretch. “We know how talented we are. It’s just a matter of getting a little bit more luck on our side and just kind of putting it all together.
“We all know it. It’s been a rough stretch. But there’s not really much that needs to be said. It’s just a matter of going out and executing in every facet of the game. … I think if we just continue to go out prepared and let our talent shine out on the field, have focus in every situation, things will start to go our way.”
Giolito referenced bad luck, and even though the White Sox were outhit 13-3 on Friday night, there was plenty of reason to believe the South Side bats didn’t perform quite as poorly as the box score makes it seem. The lineup blasted seven balls with exit velocities north of 100 miles an hour, only one of those landing for a hit. The Angels, meanwhile, played some stellar defense, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon both making some excellent plays in the field to keep the White Sox off the bases.
Even the most staunch believers in hard work paying off can’t help but notice that things aren’t going the White Sox’ way right now.
“I don’t believe in luck. Luck doesn’t exist,” said José Abreu, through team interpreter Billy Russo, before lining up a little joke. “But it seems like the other teams are playing with more players than us, that they have more players on the field than us.”
Abreu’s been bitten by the bad-luck bug plenty this season, with plenty of blasts to the warning track and outfield wall without much to show for it. He’s also one of the biggest believers in this team, and what he sees in the clubhouse, in the batting cages, on the field during workouts and in the games every day gives him confidence that this stretch – this “storm” – can’t last forever.
“If you get frustrated, it’s because you start hesitating about your talent,” he said. “If you are confident in the talent you have and your abilities, then you don’t have any reasons to get frustrated because sooner rather than later, you are going to have the results you expected.
“I know everybody is working hard here. Everyone is doing their best to get results, to get out of this tough moment. I have plenty of confidence in everybody here because we know that we have the talent. Then it’s just a matter for us to keep working and keep grinding.”
Tony La Russa complimented that work after Friday’s loss, marveling at the positive preparation his team went into the game and this four-game series with. He mentioned the White Sox mounting a ninth-inning threat – they brought the tying run to the plate in Luis Robert, who flew out with the bases loaded to end the game – as something to build off of, a sign of the effort and the work he’s seen from his team.
“The guys are grinding,” the manager said. “But whatever the reason, the quality of at-bats can get better, and they’re working on it. It’s starting to show results.
“Our offense is going to be fine. We’re going in the right direction.”
Indeed, there are an awful lot of games remaining on the schedule, time enough to make this stretch feel like ancient history. And just like the White Sox’ talent made them preseason favorites, so too did their clubhouse culture. Harrison, new to the team this spring after 11 major league seasons elsewhere, has liked what he’s seen from the start. And he still sees it as a way to power the White Sox out of their current scuffle.
“It’s actually been fun, outside of the results we’ve gotten the first (few weeks),” he said. “That’s not defining of what we have in here or what’s been going on. It’s a team that has fun. We’ve just got to get back to those ways of enjoying every moment.
“Sometimes when you go through a rough stretch, you can put a little pressure on yourself. You’re not having as much fun as you usually are. I don’t want to say we’ve got to get back to having fun, because we do (have fun). But we’ve got to get back to having fun and playing with some joy. And sometimes that’ll take some of the pressure off, just going out there and enjoying it.”
The White Sox should find things more enjoyable as they get healthier. While Jiménez will be sidelined for the next couple months and Lance Lynn isn’t due back till the end of next month, at the earliest, Robert returned from a six-game, groin-induced absence Friday. Ryan Burr came off the injured list and joined the bullpen the same day. Yoán Moncada and Joe Kelly are both starting rehab assignments this weekend at Triple-A Charlotte and figure to be back soon.
It’s not to say that reinforcements equal dramatically improved offensive numbers. But it can’t hurt, not with Robert’s ability to impact a game – and spark his team – in a variety of ways and Moncada’s knack for patience at the plate and getting on base, two attributes that would be an obvious boon for a struggling offense.
But much like they did last year, the White Sox aren’t using injuries – or anything else, for that matter – as an excuse, expressing unending confidence that whoever’s in the lineup on a given day can get the job done. And while an exclusively Midwestern early season schedule has exposed the White Sox to the elements at every turn, they’re not going to gripe about that, either, as applicable as some complaints might be.
“That’s part of a big league season. There’s going to be some unforeseen adventures with the roster due to injuries, whatever the case may be,” Harrison said. “You’ve got your guys that you consider your guys, but at the same time, anybody who’s here is here for a reason: to help out the squad. When you can get guys back to full health, that’s all you want is a fully healthy squad because that makes us better as a whole.”
No matter how much impact bad luck or injuries or unfavorable weather have had on these White Sox in the early going, the team knows what has to happen. It’s not about finding a good-luck charm. It’s not about getting healthy. It’s not about temperatures climbing.
It’s about getting the job done in the moment. It’s about weathering the “storm.”
“The goals haven’t changed,” Harrison said. “It’s just magnified right now. But it’s up to us. We’ve got to go out there and do it. The way we do that is pulling for each other, and we’ll get through it.”
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