Tony La Russa's Ultimate Gambit
By not prioritizing winning for the entire second half of the season, Tony La Russa is playing a dangerous game.
The White Sox won the 2021 American League Central back in late July. We all know it. Brian Goodwin’s bat flip into the stratosphere against the soon-to-be Guardians sealed it.
Our old whipping boy, Bob Nightengale, perhaps seeing a chance for a rare moment of self-parody, tweeted this:
#SoxTwitted lost their collective minds. Turning that tweet into a Voldemort-like, jinx-apocalypse. But, deep in our hearts, we knew it was true.
So did Tony La Russa.
And thus began the White Sox transformation into the San Antonio Spurs of Major League Baseball.
Offensive Starters got multiple days off for the smallest of injuries. Tim Anderson and Luis Robert were declared un-artificial-surface worthy and barely played against two important AL East opponents in Tampa Bay and Toronto.
The Sox, starting pitchers, came down with and continue to make trips to the IL for dubious-at-best maladies to make sure they’re fresher come October.
La Russa, already a big fan of how the replacements for all the Sox injured stars played in their stead, somehow gave them even more playing time once Eloy Jimenez and Robert were back. He finds a way to get Leury Garcia into every single game, it seems.
By resting vets and playing replacement players now hoping for future success in October, LaRussa fosters an environment of complacency that could negatively affect the team in the playoffs.
We already see it with some real lackluster and disinterested offensive performances. They sleepwalked against both the Rays and the Royals with the B-minus line up taking the field.
Maybe Carlos Rodon’s shoulder won’t be barking when he starts ALDS Game 2. And Maybe TA’s hammies will be fresh as a daisy in Houston. But I wish it weren’t a coin-flip outcome. Perhaps a competitive central race would have an all-hands-on-deck feel to it right now, and they could roll right into October.
The 2021 White Sox are an incredibly streaky team. If there were anyone who could turn it on under the bright lights in October, seemingly out of nowhere, it would be them. But to bank on that as your strategy is a terrifying proposal.
La Russa was supposed to be the person to push this talented Sox team over the top with his Hall of Fame credentials and postseason success. But, if this gambit fails, if the Sox are humiliated in the ALDS because they came in cold, that miscalculation should cost La Russa his job.
But, think I’m crazy? The Sox surprised everyone when they fired Ricky Renteria after breaking their decade-long playoff drought. But, of course, they surprised everyone with La Russa’s hire in the first place. Maybe, they will have one more surprise up their sleeves and allow Rick Hahn to get a chance to pick his manager finally.
Featured Photo: Associated Press