Saturday Stew: Hands off the Panic Button White Sox Fans

The White Sox wrapped their series with Cleveland with another frustrating loss, but things probably aren't as grave as they seem.

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It’s May 3, and if you were perusing Twitter yesterday after the latest frustrating loss that the White Sox suffered at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, you would have noticed — or been a part of — a near full-blown meltdown of White Sox Twitter.

With sentiments ranging from frustration over recurring managerial blunders to full-on verbal assaults against members of the team and coaching staff about on-field performance.

All on May 3. All while the team is 15-12 (just 1.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central), and all while they had just completed 6-3 homestand.

I get it. 15-12 was not the expectation as recently as a month ago. Not for a team that dubbed itself a World Series contender this spring while down in Glendale, Arizona. But 15-12 still has them on pace to go roughly 90-72, which would be their best mark since they finished the 2006 season with that record.

A record of 90-72 would surely guarantee the White Sox a spot in October and probably win them the AL Central.

The loss itself wasn’t even the most frustrating part of Sunday’s loss to Cleveland on what was an otherwise gorgeous day for baseball in Chicago.

Lucas Giolito failed to escape the sixth inning in a losing effort, and the White Sox are now 1-5 in games started by their staff ace, which is less than ideal. Luis Robert had to be assisted off the field after injuring himself while running to first base early on, and according to initial reports, has a grade one right hip flexor strain. Then there’s the goose egg that the offense threw up on the scoreboard despite Zach Plesac walking four and hitting one while needing to throw 110 pitches in just 5.2 innings of work.

The opportunities were there for the White Sox on Sunday against Plesac, who was their best chance to score against given the success of the Cleveland bullpen thus far in 2021, but they whiffed. Literally, they whiffed 11 times on Sunday. They also went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left nine stranded in total. This is a recurring theme in White Sox losses.

In their 12 losses this season, the White Sox are averaging just 2.6 runs per game, making the margin of error for their pitching staff razor thin. Hence the club is just 1-5 in games started by Lucas Giolito. When Giolito is on the hill, the team is averaging just 1.8 runs per game, with four (at Boston on April 19) being the most offensive backing received. In those six starts by Giolito, the offense has delivered zero runs twice (April 13 vs. Cleveland and May 2 vs. Cleveland).

So to question Giolito’s status as the team ace as some did on social media on Sunday is silly. If the offense doesn’t score, you’re probably not going to win. Just as New York Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom.

While we all want to play the blame game and diagnose specifically what is ailing this team right now, it’s simply an exercise in futility.

The offense is tops in the American League in on-base percentage (.340) and second to only the Dodgers (.346) in baseball. No team in baseball has amassed more fWAR (6.1) than the White Sox this season, and despite their 11 strikeouts on Sunday, the White Sox rank in the bottom third of the league in strikeout rate (23.3%).

The pitching staff’s 3.62 ERA is third-best in the American League, as is their 10.5 K/9, and their 1.18 WHIP ranks fourth. Carlos Rodon — their fifth starter to open the season — is 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA and will probably win AL Pitcher of the Month for April.

Sure, Tony La Russa has had a rough go of it in his first month back in the dugout since the 2011 season, but it’s not as gloom and doom as one would imagine at face value.

“Lousy managing,” as La Russa called his decision to leave Matt Foster in the game in a loss to Seattle during the first week of the season, can be attributed to at least a few instances thus far; the Seattle loss and last week’s loss to Detroit in which La Russa left Lucas Giolito in the ballgame an inning too long are two that come to mind immediately.

Not using Liam Hendriks in high-leverage non-save situations and allowing guys like Jake Lamb, Leury Garcia, and Billy Hamilton to hit in high-leverage moments are other instances that can be labeled as questionable in La Russa’s first month back in the dugout.

But, as White Sox analytical coordinator Shelley Duncan pointed out on Twitter this weekend, sometimes we don’t know when the most important at-bat of the game will take place.

Still, there have been questionable decisions on lineup construction, specifically to the usage of rookie Andrew Vaughn, or lack thereof. There have also been questions regarding La Russa’s willingness to run guys like Jake Lamb out there over everyday guys more often than we would like to see, but in reality, Lamb has only started eight of the team’s 27 games.

Those eight starts have come at four different defensive positions (3B, 1B, LF, and DH), while Andrew Vaughn has started 16 of the team’s 27 games in left field.

Do we want to see better from La Russa and company moving forward?

Well, yes. White Sox fans have waited patiently for nearly a half-decade while the team rebuilt and waited 12 years to see the White Sox play in October before last season’s abbreviated playoff run.

Has the loss of Eloy Jimenez for much of the season — if not all — and Luis Robert — for the immediate future — been a gut punch to the fans?

Of course, for the reasons already stated.

But, this team is still immensely talented. This team is 15-12 and just 1.5 games out of first place. This team is still on pace — despite some early turbulence — to win 90 games this season.

This team is still excellent, and there’s no real reason to have your hand anywhere near the panic button just yet. You’ve waited a long time for these days, White Sox fans. Enjoy the ride, even the bumpy parts.

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