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The White Sox hung a crooked number on one of baseball’s best teams and grabbed a win in the opening game of a three-game set.
By Game 2 of this series against the kings of the NL West, though, the White Sox were back to their same old ways.
Not that four runs in Tuesday’s win was an offensive eruption by any means, but for these White Sox and their stuck-in-the-mud offense, it was fairly eye-popping to see a big inning. A night later, no such inning came for the home team. Though Johnny Cueto was touched for a pair of homers, the three runs that scored on those long balls were all the Dodgers got before they added another on a round-tripper off reliever José Ruiz in the ninth.
It was very much enough.
Jake Burger (who else?) kept the White Sox from being blanked with his sixth-inning solo shot. No other black-jersey’d players crossed home plate. The South Siders mustered just four hits in the entire game.
It’s been the same old story, the same old song and dance for these White Sox for more than two months now, a lineup built to strike fear into the hearts of opposing hurlers still unable to be roused from its hibernation, still ranking as one of baseball’s least productive.
The “why” is right out there for everyone to see, and while there’s plenty of work going on behind the scenes to try to turn this thing around, there’s been little offered in the way of sweeping solutions other than simply waiting for guys who should be hitting a lot better to start hitting a lot better.
The wait has been a long one. And it shows no sign of ending.
There are a host of White Sox hitters not just struggling to perform but struggling to get off “the interstate,” baseball parlance for a batting average that starts with a “1.” Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada, Leury García and Josh Harrison are all batting under .200, with Gavin Sheets only slightly above the Mendoza Line. AJ Pollock is south of .220, with Reese McGuire only a little north of that number.
Of the nine hitters in Wednesday’s lineup, five started the day with an OPS at .601 or below.
The White Sox claim to have identified the problems and solutions. Tony La Russa’s explanation of what his hitters – who rank dead last in the game in walks, in addition to their basement-level standing in plenty of other offensive categories – should be doing makes plenty of sense. Though that just makes the fact that they’re not doing it all the more frustrating for folks watching this offense produce nothing but tumbleweeds.
“What (hitting coach Frank Menechino) teaches here,” La Russa explained before Wednesday’s loss, “you don’t run up a starting pitcher’s pitch count by being passive and taking Strike 1. They will recognize it right away, or will have scouted you, and just lob the ball over. Now you have two strikes left, and you foul the next one off, and you’re really fighting for your life. And they’ll put you away right away.
“What you want to do is let the other side know you’re going to aggressively attack a pitch in the strike zone. So there’s two parts: Be ready to be aggressive, but two, the ball has got to be in the strike zone where you can put a good swing, right? So if you’re aggressive but you chase bad pitches, that’s not it. If you take and fall behind, that’s not it. So if you do those two things, the pitcher has to be more careful, and they’re going to make (mistakes).
“When we’re good, that’s what we do. You watch the Dodgers, that’s one of the things we have in common, they do it a lot. And when we’re good, we do it. … When we’re really good, which is what we want to be, we have to do it consistently. The Dodgers, I tip my cap to them they work those at-bats.”
So many players failing to perform teamed with so many players on the injured list – Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez are there currently, though plenty of others have visited during the season’s first two months – has made for a tough job for La Russa, who’s tasked with fielding a starting nine each day.
And each day, his choices earn the ire of White Sox Twitter.
Wednesday’s anger was particularly fierce, and the White Sox’ silent night offensively made what’s usually a pregame tradition last through to the ninth inning and beyond. La Russa’s selection of García as the leadoff man bothered many, and an 0-for-4 performance with a trio of strikeouts had the boos raining down at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It was a horseshit night,” García said. “I feel like shit at the plate. But I give it all I got. That’s all I got. I give it 100 percent and struck out three times. Nobody wants three strikeouts. But I just have to keep working and all the situations, they’re going to change.”
Twitter users weren’t so kind to simply boo, and they directed their concerns at La Russa. Heck, they argued, it wasn’t García’s fault he was hitting at the top of the order. Nor was it Moncada’s fault he was batting third, not Grandal’s fault he was batting fifth.
Obviously, “don’t play the guys who aren’t hitting” – or “if you have to play them, play them somewhere unimportant” – is easy to suggest, common sense even. But the White Sox’ offensive struggles are vast, making it pretty difficult to paper over the weak spots. I’m no manager, which White Sox fans should be very thankful for, but I would not have chosen to deploy such a lineup. Wednesday night’s starting nine was not stupendous.
But alternatives are hard to come by.
Asked after the game if continued offensive woes might equal drastic lineup changes moving forward, La Russa cited his team’s winning effort in the three games prior, deciding not to “dump on” his team after losing Wednesday in the wake of three happy outcomes. He tipped his cap to Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin, who has indeed been fantastic in 2022.
Whether La Russa will draft different-looking lineups or not, though, answer this: What is the best White Sox lineup right now, independent of matchups – which of course kind of misses the point – given the team’s current injuries? Something like this, maybe?
Danny Mendick, SS
Andrew Vaughn, DH
Luis Robert, CF
José Abreu, 1B
Jake Burger, 3B
Adam Engel, RF
AJ Pollock, LF
Reese McGuire, C
Leury García, 2B
Forgetting for a minute how unrealistic it is that the team would flat out bench its most expensive free-agent signing ever, or the guy it gave a huge contract extension to be its long-term third baseman, there’s still not a ton to love about such an assemblage. That lineup still has someone hitting below .200 and two others who aren’t hitting that much better. And I’d argue that the continued production from two more is questionable, or at least hard to bank on – the leadoff man included.
And now everyone’s back to grumbling about more than half the lineup.
Grandal and Moncada have been miserable, no doubt about it. But those two turning things around helps this team a lot more than squeezing all you can out of reserves like Burger and Mendick and then hoping some other bench guy gets hot a month from now. The White Sox want to win the World Series, and they’re not doing it with a couple of their cornerstones doing nothing offensively.
Lineup-related complaints are something that come with the territory, and La Russa flat out welcomes them. He’s stated his preference for fans’ irritation over a complete lack of interest, and he’s suggested that anyone who can’t deal with criticism should find a new line of work.
But as he looks at his team’s offensive numbers – and the kinds of at-bats that García and Moncada and more turned in Wednesday – he has to be running into a lineup-building challenge, regardless of the quality of opposing pitcher or his belief in his players’ ability to turn things around.
It’s an unenviable position to be in. And La Russa and the White Sox are absolutely stuck there.
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