There are many things that could be said about the Chicago White Sox. However, none would be truer than this: the South Siders are consistently inconsistent. That is to say, that even though the club will win the American League Central, the way they are going about the end of the regular season is driving fans crazy. They win, then they lose, their lineups are odd, they rest players, and cannot seem to put a winning streak together. Inconsistent, indeed.
Why Are They Playing Like This?
This is the question that seems on the minds of many Pale Hose fans. While most can appreciate that manager Tony La Russa is playing the long game, baseball fans also tend to take every contest as a meaningful game. While each game does count in the standings, over a 162 game schedule, there are definitely going to be ups and downs. Even winning teams will go through stretches that will make the most passionate fans scratch their heads.
In the case of the White Sox, though, the play of the team has been torturous at times since the all-star break. The soon-to-be division champs have been playing at or around .500 since the break. This is in spite of the return of not one, not two, but three regulars to the lineup. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yasmani Grandal all spent large chunks of time on the injured list, and each has returned since the end of July. In fact, all three have contributed a great deal to the Sox lineup since their return, Yet, the team struggles to stack up wins. They have been consistently inconsistent.
Reason Number One – Continued Injuries
While Jimenez, Robert, and Grandal are indeed healthy, their playing time has been cut to less than a full load. Additionally, all-star shortstop Tim Anderson spent nearly three weeks on the IL, affecting the team in multiple ways. Starters Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Carlos Rodon have also been on the IL, causing the team to use several openers/backup starters. Adam Engel continues to be unavailable, although he may return soon. Rookie Andrew Vaughn seemed to hit the wall, then was relegated to the IL. So the injury bug has certainly been a factor in the Sox inconsistent play lately.
Reason Number Two – Slumping Hitters
If you spend five minutes on any White Sox social media page, you will see fans complaining about this hitter or that hitter. One day, their target is Cesar Hernandez, the next day it could be Yoan Moncada. There are even days when you can find people complaining about the reigning runs batted in champ Jose Abreu. Nobody has been spared the wrath of South Side fans, who rightfully expect good hitters to come through as the playoffs draw near. Pick a day, and somebody else will be wearing the bullseye.
However, most fans also acknowledge that all players go through slumps. It is only natural, considering the length of a baseball season. No players on any team are exempt from an occasional slump, as fans of any team can attest. So the White Sox players are just like any other player. On the other hand, there have been too many occasions lately where the whole team seems to go into a slump when they face mediocre pitching. They have a tendency to make struggling pitchers look like Cy Young far too often. This tends to frustrate Sox fans, and with good reason. While their offensive numbers overall are good, the hitting has just been too inconsistent of late.
Reason Number Three – An Everchanging Lineup
This is likely the weakest of the reasons why the Sox bats may be struggling with situational hitting. Yet, any fan who follows the South Siders is aware of the variance in the lineup from day to day. The only hitter who you can “pencil in” everyday is Abreu on the third spot. Other than Abreu, however, there are no guarantees as to who will be batting where. The closest thing to a guarantee is Anderson in the leadoff spot, but he only plays every other day these days. So, quite often, players will arrive at the park not sure where, or if, they are hitting on a given day.
Robert and Hernandez have both hit leadoff at times, although Hernandez has been an abject failure (maybe someone should tell La Russa). Of course, Robert may also be hitting second or sixth, depending on the day. Moncada can find himself batting second, fifth, or sixth. Grandal seems to be sharing fourth and fifth for now, at least until Jimenez regains his stroke. In any event, though, players have been asked to hit in various spots, and each spot can have its own little nuances. As stated, this line of reasoning may strike some readers as weak, but it is worth some consideration.
How Does It All Play Out?
No matter what fans may feel about the Sox hitting, there is consensus that the team must figure it out before heading for Houston in early October. Certainly, the Pale Hose playoff hopes will rely heavily on their starting pitching. However, the Sox still need to find a way to score some runs if they are to advance past the first round. At this point, they have two weeks and 13 games to rediscover their hitting. It is not a stretch to suggest that, if the White Sox hitters perform up to reasonable expectations, they will be a handful for any pitching staff. It remains a question of overcoming their consistent inconsistency. Can they find some consistency?
One thing in the Sox’ favor is the hope that they will be 100% healthy for the playoffs. If that comes to fruition, they will have the luxury of putting a consistent lineup on the field. While there may be one spot that features a platoon, the core of the lineup will be intact. They should have a sold 1-6 lineup, and hopefully get something from the likes of Hernandez, Vaughn, Leury Garcia, or Gavin Sheets. Maybe a healthy Engel can give them a shot in the arm.
White Sox fans will have to wait out two more weeks before the series with the Astros begins. There will very likely be highs and lows over that time, so the emotional roller coaster ride will continue. Hopefully, though, La Russa will get his lineup in place for a few days and they can find some continuity. This lineup has a lot of potential, and if they can put it all together, it just might be a magical postseason for the South Side faithful. If not, it will be another early exit for the White Sox. Time will tell, but it is going to be a very interesting two weeks.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images