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Mismatched Sox: Putting A Finger On It

by Ed Siebert

A note for those of you reading: Mismatched Sox is a weekly blog hastily thrown together by Sox in the Basement Co-Host Ed Siebert and is written to present you with White Sox and baseball thoughts in a manner that, frankly, thinks it is funny in the way an error by the right fielder causing a broadcaster to say “you’ve gotta be s****ing me” can be funny. While there will be facts here that will be factual, the opinions and other nonsense are neither reflective of anyone at Soxon35th.com nor believed or intended to cause any harm, but consult a rideshare driver while he’s angrily arguing on his phone and ask if this blog is right for you.

Credit: NBC Sports Chicago Broadcast

Tim Anderson, in a moment of frustration, gave a bunch of Clevelanders (who were being Guardian-ed at the time) the finger. The middle one that carries the connotation of something the finger giver would like to do to the finger givee. And, in a moment of understanding that the well-Guardian-ed Clevelanders were not well-intentioned and likely overstepped, the MLB powers that be decided that TA’s money would suffice to keep his middle digit holstered in the future. After all, taking him off the field would prevent fans from voicing displeasure at him in person. Whether the fans were Guardian-ed or not.

The news of the suspension being dropped was buried by another bad loss in a season of bad losses, where Josh Naylor was made to look like Shohei Ohtani mixed with an in-his-prime Ultimate Warrior. The next day it was wondered whether the effusive celebration by Naylor on what should be the best night of his career (2 bombs, 8 RBIs, tying and winning the game) was a middle finger at the White Sox. It wasn’t really any more of a gesture towards the Sox than a 24-year-old having a big night, but could it have been a spark? Could that have finally been the thing that brought the team to life?

There have been attempts here, there and everywhere to troubleshoot the White Sox after an uneven and at times frustrating start to a season where the team was supposed to be trying to take the next step into the ALCS, World Series, and a parade through the city that somehow will raise taxes and where the buses would be forced to go the opposite way they needed to in leaving the ballpark.

There are physical issues to be sure. It isn’t a far mental run to see where Lance Lynn having seven starts instead of two by Jimmy Lambert and maybe a few less by a scuffling Dallas Keuchel might have the Sox closer to the Twins and a division lead. Garrett Crochet may have bailed out the Sox in a few losses. If A.J. Pollock and Josh Harrison avoid some nagging veteran injuries the team might be better off. If Andrew Vaughn had been able to play more than half the teams’ games or Eloy wasn’t down again the team might have scraped together a couple of more wins. But then again, none of the injured players left such a gaping hole that the team shouldn’t have been able to overcome it.

Then there is the MLB-wide depression of offense. Players can’t hit the ball as it is currently made and handled, leading to theories that the league is manipulating the use of humidors to make national broadcasts more exciting. Averages are down, power is down. That’s unfortunate for a team that was relying on an offense built on power. Notably absent from the profile of each of the White Sox hitters are the ability to play small ball. The league is built on exit velocity and launch angle, and the Sox have seen their fair share of warning track flyouts. But where the Guardians, by example, have players like Myles Straw, Owen Miller and Steven Kwan who rely on line drives and getting on base, the Sox lack any of those guys. Luis Robert should hit for a high average, and have a high on base percentage; Yasmani Grandal will take his walks. But by and large, even the slappiest of hitters in the Sox lineup are basically to the 2022 White Sox what Juan Uribe was to the 2005 Sox. Not a power hitter, not a Nick Madrigal/Scotty Pods on-base guy, but someone that hits for decent power and decent average and can occasionally get a hit in moments where situational baseball is called for. Generally known as “professional hitters”, the Sox are littered with them in the form of A.J. Pollack, Josh Harrison, Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, Jake Burger, Reese McGuire at his upper limits, Jose Abreu in his current decline, and Andrew Vaughn in his current point of ascension. Yas Grandal and Gavin Sheets profile as three true outcome sluggers, Eloy Jimenez profiles as an elite slugger at his best, while Yoan Moncada is either closer to Eloy, Luis Robert light, or just another professional bat. Only Robert is a guy that profiles as something greater. So when guys with power that need fly balls to hit the wall or clear it suddenly have those balls die at or before the track, their usefulness dies with it. Offense seems primed to return based on the usual variables, namely the weather nationwide and the hitters getting the rust off. Gavin Sheets going yard twice in two games instead of grounding away from the shift feels like a good sign. A.J. Pollack getting one over the wall and not being an automatic out feels like a good sign. But the fact that the Sox seemingly can’t survive without extra base hits feels like an omen for things that can bite you in the playoffs.

The one thing that has gone right for the most part is the pitching. Dallas Keuchel aside, no one is getting lit up regularly except for Aaron Bummer, who was evidently playing through a bad knee. And Bummer’s knee could explain his struggles in the same manner as Lance Lynn struggled last year when his knee started up. Lynn’s delivery became inconsistent to the point of leaving pitches where they ought not be left, and Bummer was largely doing the same thing. But Keuchel has no such ailment, he’s unfortunately caught in a phase that some pitchers go through. He doesn’t have the same arm and same stuff, the margin for error is thin as the supply chain of pretzel-wrapped bratwurst. That’s quite thin. Some players emerge from this transition and recreate themselves. Famously in MLB history guys like Frank Tanana and Jamie Moyer were lefties that became extreme soft-tossers and extended their careers. Johnny Cueto is a guy that wasn’t the craft and guile guy he is now, he once was a guy with “electric stuff” albeit tame by today’s standards. However, there are far more instances of pitchers simply losing it and never really rediscovering the old magic. Meanwhile, Dylan Cease has emerged as an ace, Lucas Giolito has been largely as advertised, Michael Kopech leads all starters in ERA, and Vince Velasquez has been pleasantly serviceable. The bullpen has been an issue at times, but mainly issues with Liam Hendriks that popped up last year with giving up home runs, which with a closer are always at inopportune moments. Generally, the games that have been lost by the bullpen were more or less games that could have been salvaged by the offense, had it been available that day. Sadly, much like the McFlurry machines, the offense has been unavailable when most wanted.

But there is one thing that maybe, just maybe seems off right now from the team that hit the field the last two seasons. In 2020 the kids came up and were having fun beating expectations. They were the team on the rise, the team that got beat by the A’s but so impressed their all-star closer that he made it a point to join them the next year. In 2021 the team was sure of itself; they were coming to prove that the weird 2020 truncated season wasn’t a fluke. The team rallied and fought and believed that they were going to win. The high point of the season, emotionally, was TA’s walk off in the field of dreams game (which featured Liam giving up an untimely homer). That resilience, that arrival, defined the team. In 2005, a joke at a bar turned into Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” becoming a rallying song behind a team that if nothing else always believed it could and would win any given game. In 2006, the team never felt like it had that confidence. In 1983 the White Sox were Winning Ugly, and there was nothing stopping that train. In 1984 the team never regained that beautiful ugly feeling. The Southside Hitmen, the Go-Go Sox…none of those teams were followed by another team with a rallying cry and an attitude to match. This year, as the usual offensive tricks were literally dampened by baseballs in humidors and a lousy spring weather-wise and contractually delayed start-wise, as injuries hit…the team pressed and pushed and made errors but stayed mostly together. Tony talked about the team caring and not coming unglued, even as Dallas ran his mouth against his own team and the losses piled up. But in the middle of all that, TA gave into frustration and gave a one-finger salute to a fan base who’s favorite player might be a Charlie Sheen character. And as the team took a breath and went on a winning streak, that fan base’s maybe next favorite player showed up the White Sox on a night that things looked to be coming together. There was no retaliation. There was no fighting. Was there spirit? Was there an attitude?

The next night the Guardians were simply put down. Lucas Giolito simply ran threw the Guardians’ lineup, allowing an inconsequential home run to Naylor. There was no dramatics, no anger, no showing up the Guardians. Just a routine victory for a team that expected routine victories to be so plentiful that they were, frankly, routine.

So what is left to diagnose this season is whether that calm is the rallying cry, or if this team is merely going through the motions? Keep Calm and Carry On is a message once used to quell panic during a war, and then became something people wore on a shirt to advertise their love of IPAs and wine. And while the Sox marketing team will always have a slogan, and while as fans we could hold Musker…uhhh…Twitter polls about the team’s rallying cry, these things happen organically.

So while this team might have trouble finding that identity and rallying cry, it is possible that they found the turning point of the season. In 2000 it was a dramatic fight with the Tigers; most seasons that point is something unnoticed by fans. Last year it was a combo of Liam Hendriks bringing in a medium to rid the clubhouse of bad energy followed by Dallas Keuchel using his bullpen day to cover for Carlos Rodon and his stomach flu to grab a win over the Proto-Guardians. In 2005 it was a cover band at a bar with a 23-year-old campy pop/rock song that was all of number 73 on Billboard’s 1982 Hot 100. If history repeats, that’ll be “My Love is Your Love” (Whitney Houston). Maybe they can make it #72 in 1999…”Happily Ever After”.

Follow us @SoxOn35th and @SoxintheBasemnt for more throughout the season!

Featured Image: @whitesox / Twitter

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