There’s one game left in the 2023 White Sox season, but in losing 6-1 to the Padres Saturday, they put a punctuation mark of sorts on their year.
They reached 100 losses.
It might technically be an arbitrary benchmark because 95, 90, or even 85 losses will keep a team out of the playoffs. But hitting triple digits in the L column adds salt in the wound of embarrassment the Sox have dealt with all season.
That’s one of the adjectives manager Pedro Grifol used to sum up what this year has been like for him as a first-year manager.
“Frustrating. Educational. Somewhat embarrassed. But hungry and committed to get it right,” he said.
The Sox have now lost 100 games in a season just five times in franchise history and only three times since Major League Baseball expanded the schedule in 1961. The most recent 100-loss season was in 2018 at the start of their rebuild. Before that, you would have to go back to 1970, 1948, and 1932. This year’s team already had the sixth worst win-loss percentage (.377) in Sox franchise history; they moved past the 2018 team earlier this week. But even with another loss Sunday, they wouldn’t end up faring worse than the 1931 team that went 56-97 for a .366 winning percentage.
So yes, in a way the number of losses is relative. The Sox locked up a losing season a month ago. But if for nothing else than pride, avoiding 100 losses and not being among the worst teams in franchise history might feel like an accomplishment.
“I’ve never been too caught up in that number,” Grifol said. “I know people think it’s an ugly number, but 99 is not? I’ve never been too caught up in that. I want our guys to go out there and compete. Respect the game and finish the season strong. And wherever we end up, we end up.”
Saturday’s starter Mike Clevinger said the 100-loss marker was on his mind as he took the mound against San Diego. He didn’t want the team to get there at all and certainly didn’t want it happening on his watch.
But after giving up six runs in less than two innings, Clevinger’s night was done along with most any hope the Sox would avoid losing. Clevinger said his stuff was off Saturday and said he had a lot on his mind as he made the start. What that was, he didn’t specify, but Clevinger admitted that not wanting the 100th loss to come on his night was one of the things distracting him.
“It’s definitely an ugly number and not something you want to see,” Clevinger said. “I know there are a lot of guys in this room who don’t want to see a complete rebuild and 100 losses could result in something like that. A lot of these guys want to win now.”
Traditionally, yes, a team that loses 100 times is either about to start a rebuild or in the early stages of one. Stopping the bleeding at 99 might look better, but it would still signify a team badly in need of changes.
The significance of 100 losses has more to do with what it means for the White Sox in the near future. The new front office has said they intend to be competitive in 2024, not rebuilding. But moving forward from a season as bad as this year is a tall order.
Work toward next year started at the trade deadline when the previous front office aggressively shipped out a large chunk of the pitching staff. And when the offseason officially begins, new general manager Chris Getz and the rest of his new front office will have decisions to make about the players still in the clubhouse. The team has options on Liam Hendriks and Tim Anderson and a mutual option with Clevinger. The first two both seem likely to be retained, and Clevinger has said he hopes to stay in Chicago. Even with Saturday’s rough outing, Clevinger has had a solid season, so that might be worth considering, especially since the makeup of next season’s rotation is in question. He would cost the Sox $12 million if they do pick up his option, but the team will finish 2023 with a payroll of about $177 million. With next year’s luxury tax threshold kicking in at $237 million, there will be room to keep Clevinger, Hendriks, and Anderson and then go out and add on in free agency.
Improving will take more than a few new players, of course. Especially if they want to do it by next season. After 100 losses in 2018, they were able to post a winning record in the shortened 2020 season and won 93 games by 2021. But after they lost 106 games in 1970, it took until 1983 to reach the playoffs again. It took 11 years after the 1948 season, and when the Sox had their worst year in franchise history in 1932, they weren’t able to boast a winning record until five years later.
Times have changed, but dramatically improving and turning around a bad baseball team is still a process. One that rarely happens quickly. The Sox have never been known to be especially active in free agency during the offseason, so that puts more of the onus on the current roster and coaching staff to take significant steps forward.
“We all gotta work. You’ve got to work to be better. We’ve got to work to put together a better season than this year and be competitive,” Gavin Sheets said. “You’ve got to look in the mirror and be hard on yourself and be critical.”
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