As of 2:55 PM Mountain, it's fairly safe to assume the last game of the year will be a one-sided Twins win with them leading the White Sox 9-0 in the Second Inning. And will mark an ugly end to the season, even if the White Sox somehow manage a miracle to come back and win the game. And that is what the season was, ugly.
And in this, I'm looking to vent a bit of frustration in going over what made the season ugly and set the team that was expected to contend for the World Series to settle for a .500 record and not even making the playoffs. Now, I don't have any hard stats that could prove this, as it is mostly my own gut feeling that I'm going on... and some opinions may be things that others have voiced already, so I apologize if I post something someone else has already said.
1. Mismanaged Off-Season Operations: This was the biggest factor to me, and largely relates to things coming out of the end of the last season. That season had gone well, with the White Sox winning the AL Central before facing Houston in the playoffs, but the defeat against Houston demonstrated where there were weaknesses in the team and was needed to improve for this year. These were weaknesses that were there for much of last season as well, high numbers of errors, poor performance against teams above .500, and poor output at specific positions. This presented the need to either make changes or be able to articulate confidence in the development of players already on the roster.
And for the most part, this really wasn't done. The signing of Graveman made sense, and also would allow the team to offload Kimbrel on someone given Kimbrel's numbers in the second half of last season. And while Pollack may not have been perfect, I'd argue that to some degree he was a case of addition by subtraction, and in theory would be better every day outfielder than most of the players there outside of a healthy Robert. Though, that may not say much given that Jimenez isn't great defensively and neither really are Vaughn or Sheets. But it's really there that the good things with the offseason ended.
For on the starting pitching side, we entered the offseason with two issues. One was the likely departure of Rodon and the fact that Keuchel was still on the roster. Given his numbers... to be honest, I would have preferred to bite the bullet and unload Keuchel in the offseason and spend more on Rodon. Baseball doesn't have a salary cap the way the NFL does, and Rodon was worth keeping, Keuchel wasn't. And given: Carlos Rodon - Yahoo Sports, it would appear that he had a decent year with the Giants this year, which would have made it worth trying to keep him. Instead, no real effort seemed to be made and Keuchel was kept... and then ultimately let go a few weeks into the season. Ultimately meaning that we lost TWO pitches from last year's squad, one of which we should have kept, but made no real effort to.
And while one may argue that Cueto had a good year for us once he joined the team this year, and that is true, I'd argue it would have been a stronger roster if an effort to keep Rodon was successfully made and Cueto simply replaced Keuchel. Instead, we lost Rodon and never really replaced him with someone comparable to him and brought Cueto in once the decision was finally made to dump Keuchel after the season started. And then there was the mess on the infield...
And there the obvious hole has been at second base, and where there were plenty of high-end targets that could have been looked at. Including Correa, who will likely be plaguing us as he plays for the Twins for the next few years. And instead of spending money to get better players, or at least players that could present new challenges to those we will face... we went dumpster diving, and while Harrison hasn't been completely abysmal... and has even had some good games, he also hasn't been consistent, and this has left us essentially where we were going through last year at the position.
And in this, in terms of talent... the team that started the 2022 season was worse than the team that finished the 2021 season. And to make matters worse, both Minnesota and Cleveland made active efforts to get better than they were the previous year.
2. La Russa: Not every decision he made was wrong... and sometimes even the wrong decisions turned into wins in the course of the season, but La Russa's decisions and style sat at the heart of nearly everything that went wrong for the White Sox this season. Now, while the players are ultimately the ones that have to perform on the field and La Russa had no control over how batters hit and fielded in the course of a game, that doesn't mean that he didn't have some influence on what went on.
This has included a lineup flexibility that was bound to cause problems, particularly for some of the batters that the White Sox kept and were hoping to develop. Guys like Vaughn and Sheets had decent rookie years last year and looked to take possible next steps, at least so far as their hitting goes. Yet, they didn't always play every day and at times Vaughn was even moved up and won the lineup on the days he did play, which would have to change the approaches made going into games would potentially lengthen cold streaks because no one is comfortable batting 2nd one day, 7th the next, 5th the next and then having a day off before batting 2nd again. I can't speak with any authority on how guys like Vaughn felt at this, but I'd imagine it wasn't comfortable or easy for him.
Then there were odd uses of players in the bullpen and pitching strategies. We'd be in a close game, where there was a chance to come back and win or hold a narrow lead, if we could use the right reliever that can be trusted to hold the lead or at least keep the deficit low, there would be a chance to come back. But yet, the decision was often made to bring in someone like Kelly who showed that while he had swing and miss pitches, he also showed continually through the year that he couldn't keep anything near the strike zone, which lead to a lot of walks and a lot of runs when someone did get a hit. There were then other cases, where a pitcher had the opposing batter facing two strikes and in position to get an out, and then for some odd reason, it was decided to intentionally walk that batter, which only lead to more pitches and the batters after that batter hammering the pitcher. And this sort of thing continued up until La Russa left the club for medical reasons.
And then there was the over-reliance on Leury Garcia. Now, Leury hasn't been bad as a utility man and for short periods when dealing with injuries it'd be understandable to have him in the lineup. But he's never really struck me as anything more than a utility guy. Someone to use when a regular player is hurt or every few days to give a regular player a day off. Now, there were plenty of injuries to start the year and that made La Russa's use of Garcia understandable at the time, and from time to time he did make some good plays, but, when guys started coming back healthy and one could expect better production from those regular fixtures of the team, it seemed like Garcia was still getting a lot of time on the field, which reflects two potential problems. Either A) the injured players were being rushed back before they were healthy or B) the manager was playing a utility player that wasn't going to perform consistently at a high level.
And these sorts of things happened continually until La Russa left the team. Now, this isn't to say that his departure solved all of the White Sox's problems, but with the lineup looking more stable and relying less on odd and questionable pitching strategies, things DID look better and raised the possibility that the White Sox could pull themselves out of the tailspin they'd been in all season.
3. Player Performance: This follows in closely after La Russa's decisions. And while one may argue that La Russa made a lot of this worse with decisions he made, that doesn't exactly absolve the players from their execution on the field. Lynn and Giolito were supposed to be anchors of a strong starting rotation, who would lead the way with Cease and Kopech following and hopefully doing enough to negate Keuchel's presence in the rotation. But that didn't happen. Giolito and Lynn were hurt to start the year, but once they did return, a lot of their numbers weren't particularly great, which lead to a fair number of starts where they didn't last long and left with a deficit. To a degree, both recovered, Lynn more than Giolito, but by the time they did so... it was still late in the season with a limited amount of time left. This also then meant that for much of the year, this team was reliant on Cease and Cueto, and sometimes Kopech, just to hold the line, which isn't going to help in the long term.
The biggest decline in performance, and which did a lot to hurt the team was the drop in offensive production, and particularly in terms of power. Last year, the team was one of the league leaders in home runs, and that was quite helpful as guys like Abreu, Jimenez, Vaughn, Grandal, and Sheets are not going to be the sorts of runners that could easily stretch singles into doubles or go first to third when already on base, and thus the home runs hit last year helped move the slower runners around the bases without having to worry about them getting caught up on the teeth of an opposing defense. But the power numbers were never there. Some of this may be due to injury, but Abreu has been healthy all season, and while his batting average has improved from last year, his power numbers and RBI are down. Moncada has declined heavily in both batting average and in power. Which then drove down the runs per game, as while we could get lots of hits, when they're mostly singles, that puts more pressure to get more hits just to get a run.
4. The Lockout: This may not necessarily come directly from the White Sox, but the work stoppage between last season and this season played its own role as well. For the White Sox, it would strike me that real preperation for the season was hurt by it, and this contributed to some of the injuries and other issues that hurt the team coming out of the gate. The team wasn't fully ready because of the work stoppage shortening the offseason and forcing everyone to get more in in less time.
5. Injuries: This wasn't the biggest thing that derailed the season, and neither really should it be taken as an excuse. As some players weren't hurt and didn't do as well as they did in prior years, but it did have an effect on the team and on the season. Anderson has missed most of the year with injury, Jimenez has missed much of the year with injury, Giolito and Lynn started the season hurt and so on. And unlike last year, when we struck gold with guys like Vaughn, the guys who came in to replace the injured players this year didn't perform as well... at least not well enough to keep the team completely in it, unless one counts the occasional good game that Leury Garcia had, and which in turn fueled La Russa's decision to play a utility man AFTER guys who were hurt came back.
6.Errors: These hurt, particularly as they went all season long. They added to pitch counts, they allowed a lot of unearned runs, and made things ever tougher for an underperforming offense. The one thing I would say here... and why I have it at the end... is that we committed a fair number of errors last year as well. It wasn't as though we committed the fewest errors last year and then suddenly the most this year. We've probably committed more errors than last year, but not by all that much...
7. Hype: This probably doesn't relate as much to the players... or at least it shouldn't. If the players did buy into this, particularly at the start of the year... that'd make things even worse, but I can't prove they did, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren't focused on what the media said. The only thing I might say is that they had to be aware of it, but it is probable that they weren't buying into it.
For the media did have a lot to say about the White Sox coming into the season. Despite many of the things that went on in the offseason with the White Sox, such as how little effort and money was actually spent to try and improve the team, a lot of the sports media seemed enamored with the team. Sports Illustrated picked the White Sox to not only win the AL Central but win the first playoff series they had. Networks like ESPN and MLB Network picked the White Sox to win and walk away with the division. Some of these guys even continued to have "faith" in the White Sox as they approached the All-Star break, despite by that time the White Sox showing very limited ability to truly put together a consistently good club. And it is like they didn't notice that the Twins got better from last year and that Cleveland got healthier than they were last year and just pilled praise on the White Sox.
Now, while normally, it'd be nice to say that the national media is noticing teams outside of the Bronx, but I think it's been more attention without research. The loss in player talent, such as keeping Keuchel and losing Rodon was ignored. Guys who'd been rather "meh" players before the White Sox grabbed them suddenly being seen as "good" to "great," and that strikes me as paying little real attention. Should the White Sox have been favored to win the AL Central? Perhaps... but NOT to the degree the media made it seem like before the season, which I think may have raised fan expectations higher than they should have been. And I'll even admit that I fell for it as well at the start of the year, but as the season wore on... it became clear that what was being reported on was more hype than fact.
And in closing... All of these issues contributed to the failures that held the team down this season. Which in turn helps increase the pain that the close to this season has. For despite many of the things that hurt it... we stayed in the race for a remarkably long time. To hang around withing striking distance, despite the laundry list of mistakes, is impressive, and creates the feeling that we might have gotten a lot farther if the errors made either weren't made or weren't as big as they were. That's the real pain in all of this.
Or at least that's my gut feeling on all of this. And I again apologize if I've repeated anything that someone's already said in comments on other articles or game threads. And if I'm wrong on something, I expect to be corrected, and will thank any and all fact checkers in advance for reading through a rambling assessment of an ugly season's ugly end.