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White Sox get to .500...again

Jared Wyllys Avatar
July 31, 2022

For a league-leading 19th time this season, the White Sox are at .500. They beat the Athletics 3-2 Saturday night, pushing their overall record through 100 games at an even 50 wins, and 50 losses. 

The Sox have struggled all season to get and stay above .500. Figuring out how to get above that marker and not fall back has been elusive since the year started. The optimistic spin is that maybe fighting this long to maintain a winning record will prove useful down the stretch.

“That’s the value of experience,” manager Tony La Russa said. “This is the first time you get there and you stop close, then you finally get there. So there’s no script […] Big thing is we got to win series. We got to get bunch of wins to really say we’re in contention.”

But the standings can tell two different stories. Despite continuing to hover around .500 this late into the season, the Sox are still in position to contend for a division title or a wild card berth.

After Saturday’s games, they are only three games behind the Twins for first place and they trail Cleveland by just one game for second. They are only three-and-a-half games back in the wild card. That’s the second story of the standings. The White Sox are far from out of the division race. Those win and loss totals may not matter much, at least as far as what it might end up taking to win the AL Central. And once the postseason begins, the regular season records stop mattering.

“You’re talking to a guy who went to the playoffs with 83 wins and won the World Series, right?” La Russa said.

His 2006 Cardinals are a famous anomaly, though. Their 83-78 tally is the worst record for a World Series champion in baseball history. Only the 1973 New York Mets, who went 82-79, have had a worse record and still made it to the World Series. The ‘73 Mets lost to the Athletics in seven games. 

Teams like La Russa’s 2006 Cardinals and the 116-win Mariners of 2001 do demonstrate that regular season win/loss totals don’t always dictate how the playoffs will go, however. Where the Cardinals went on to win the World Series that year, the 2001 Mariners lost the ALCS in five games. So it might make sense for La Russa’s 2022 White Sox not to be overly concerned about where their winning percentage stands, so long as they are able to snag one of the playoff spots come October.

“You got to get there. Every year is different, every division,” La Russa said. “Just understand that the only way you get the wins that get you in serious contention and then play the last couple weeks, the last week with a chance, based on you get the wins, you got to pitch and play well.”

If the Sox can finally pull away from a middling overall record and get into the playoffs again, it will have been because of the way they don’t stop fighting, according to La Russa. He said his club is “strong minded about not sagging mentally,” and Saturday’s win was a solid example to help prove his point. Down 2-0 through the first six innings, Gavin Sheets tied the game with a 400-foot, two-run homer to right center in the seventh inning. And in the bottom of the ninth, Sheets led off with a double, setting up pinch runner Adam Engel to score from third on a wild pitch.

Sheets missed a big opportunity to tie the game in the fifth. With Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn both in scoring position and no outs, Sheets hit a shallow fly ball to the outfield. That preceded back-to-back strikeouts by Josh Harrison and Tim Anderson that left Jimenez and Vaughn stranded. Like what La Russa has described with his team as a whole, Sheets didn’t get out of his game and came up big with his home run and ninth inning double.

“I was super frustrated with that. I’ve got to get the job done in that situation,” Sheets said of his fifth inning flyout. “Excited that I got two more chances and mentally stay in it and get ready for two big ones.”

If La Russa is right, his team seems as if it will have to get on a roll eventually. Whether it’s hanging in just close enough to get a playoff spot and make a deep run like his 2006 Cardinals team, or finally getting hot during the regular season, at some point the “fight” La Russa talks about has to bear more fruit in the box scores.

It’s also possible that the Sox will never be able to get out of their own way. For every good outcome, there are plenty of examples of things that have gone frustratingly wrong. Anderson was ejected from Friday night’s game when the bill of his helmet made contact with home plate umpire Nick Mahrley while he was arguing balls and strikes. The league issued a three-game suspension that Anderson is appealing, and he shot down any questions about that or Saturday’s win in the locker room the next night. Technically, Anderson is under no obligation to speak to the media at any point, but even small grains of negativity can fester in a clubhouse. Especially when they are coming from what is supposed to be a team leader.

Whether the Sox can ever get much above .500 and stay there might take more than the “fight” La Russa describes. They have plenty of on-paper talent, but that has not been enough to get out of the mire since the season began. The Sox will inevitably have gotten some help by the time the Tuesday afternoon trade deadline passes. The additions they are able to make might be enough to help push them over the .500 hump for good.

“We keep fighting. I’ve seen that in the past,” La Russa said. “If you got that, once you get over the hurdle, it’s something in the back. You know it’s there and you can push to get hot.”

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