A week ago, the White Sox had life. They were four back with a three-game series coming up against the only team ahead of them, the Guardians. The first game went to extra innings until Cleveland prevailed, 10-7. It still looked like the Sox had some fight left. Take the next two and it wasn’t over. As it turned out, that extra-inning loss was the high water mark.
The Sox looked lifeless for the rest of the week, getting swept by Cleveland and Detroit to wrap up the weekend. By Sunday night the Guardians clinched the AL Central, the division the White Sox were supposed to win on their way to World Series contention. It all seems silly after watching this team all year that the White Sox and World Series were even mentioned in the same conversation.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the biggest offender all season has been the offense. A pretty telling statistic for the offensive woes of the White Sox is their -25 run differential. Just to give some perspective on how bad that is, the Yankees are +228 and the Astros are +207. The only reason the White Sox were able to stay in contention is that the Guardians are only +58 and look to have the worst run differential of any of the AL playoff teams.
The White Sox are also a middling team in terms of home runs, even though they are in a homer-friendly park. There is a real chance that no player will hit 20 home runs this season for the first time since 1990 (not counting 2020), or the last season in the original Comiskey Park. Two players have an outside chance. One is Andrew Vaughn (17), who will never be confused for a power hitter. The other is Jose Abreu (15), who is on course to have his lowest home run total since joining the league.
It has been reported that the team’s offensive philosophy in 2022 focused on contact. The White Sox do have the most hits in the league and the second-best batting average, but they also have the second-fewest walks. They are a singles-hitting team with no speed on the basepaths, which is why they rank 12th in stolen bases and have grounded into the third-most double plays. The outdated philosophy of “get ’em on, get ’em over and get ’em in” only works if the last two statements are fulfilled. The White Sox aren’t getting guys over and they aren’t getting them in either. They are second-to-last in the AL in leaving men on base.
It wasn’t just the lack of punch on offense that doomed the White Sox, but also the terrible defense. In traditional stats, the Sox have the worst fielding percentage in the AL and the most errors with 100 and still counting. In the more advanced stat, Total Zone, via Baseball-Reference (a composite statistic of a number of defensive metrics) the White Sox are dead last with -70. Watching enough games tells the rest of the story. The White Sox routinely miss the cutoff man, take terrible routes to make plays in the outfield, and often show a lack of urgency that allows the opposing team (especially the Guardians) to take an extra base. It’s hard to decide whether it’s harder to watch the poor defense or the poor offense.
The only bright spots in 2022 came from the starting pitching, which was all that kept them afloat for most of the summer. Dylan Cease will likely garner some Cy Young votes and Johnny Cueto was the best stroke of luck the team had when they picked him up in the first week of the season. The rest of the rotation has been okay to just plain bad. Lance Lynn was out for much of the first half and hasn’t really pitched to form until recently. Michael Kopech was just average, and, with only 105 strikeouts until his latest injury, not exactly the power pitcher we were expecting. Which leads to the biggest disappointment among the starters, Lucas Giolito. He has a 5.05 ERA and has given up 24 home runs. At only 27, it’s way too soon to say he’s on the decline, but Giolito is a long way from the previous two seasons.
Oddly, this last week of the season is going to tell us quite a bit about the 2022 White Sox. Their lack of effort has been a topic throughout the season. Now with nothing but pride to play for, will the players show up at all? Miguel Cairo, the darling of Chicago only a couple of weeks ago, is trying to get a fire lit under the team but maybe he only gets to play that card once. If the White Sox finish in third place, behind the Twins, the message is clear: They need to take an entirely new approach in 2023, from ownership on down. The “championship” window that seemed wide open in April is closing faster than we thought.