When the Chicago White Sox lost to the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series earlier this month, the reaction from fans was swift and fierce.
There were calls to fire Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa. There were more calls to send reliever Craig Kimbrel to literally anywhere else. And calls for the general manager to find a right fielder, a second baseman, a left-handed bat, and another starting pitcher.
It’s a natural reaction when a team manages just one win in a four-game set. The team gave up at least six runs in every game, including the one they won. They also got shut down by an opposing ace in game one, gave away game two in part because of questionable managerial choices, won game three only after falling well behind, and lost the final by nine runs.
Perhaps the White Sox don’t need a new roster. They might just need this one to play up to potential in order to advance. Consider that the first 18 hits of the series were all singles. Not even a double for a team constructed to hit for power.
The Chicago White Sox has a lot of good things going for them heading into 2022.
Consider that Lance Lynn was a Cy Young award candidate for most of the year and got rocked in game one. For all his flaws, Tony La Russa has a good track record as a manager, and his mishandling of game two is likely an out-of-character outlier and not proof that the 76-year-old can no longer run a game (for the record, I am not a huge TLR fan. But he’s not been as bad of a manager as his harshest critics say. Nor has he been as good as his staunchest defenders argue. He got off to a rocky start, improved, and then botched game two of the ALDS).
Consider that the second baseman who hit so lightly, Cesar Hernandez, that didn’t even start game one, had 18 home runs before the Sox traded for him and just three after. Consider that Kimbrel was lights out on the North Side.
Consider that Lucas Giolito was the only one of the Sox’ talented starting rotation to have an outing that was even in the same area code as “decent.” Young and talented Dylan Cease struggled. Carlos Rodon, perhaps pitching through pain, couldn’t save the day.
Finally, consider that all along, this was a White Sox team that was below average on defense and had a talented bullpen that underachieved.
Now imagine this same roster, or something close to it, coming back in 2022. Also, imagine being healthy throughout – something that didn’t happen in 2021. Imagine the players improving their defense. Imagine the manager learning how better to use modern data for defensive positioning.
Imagine these hitters – most of whom can kill the ball – having better at-bats and actually hitting home runs when it matters. Imagine the bullpen and starters mostly pitching well at the same time. That sounds like a team that wins more than one game in October, does it not?
Let’s also face it, Houston remains one of the best teams in the game and who knows if they were cheating again?
This is a long way of saying Chicago’s problem isn’t roster construction – it’s that the current roster needs to take a collective step up if the team plans on truly contending for a World Series title.
Yes, the Sox probably do need a right fielder. Adam Engel doesn’t appear to be the guy. And Hernandez might need to move on, though the Sox have a team option on him for 2022. I’d love for them to get one more left-handed bat. They also need a backup catcher.
But couldn’t putting Gavin Sheets or Andrew Vaughn in right solve one of those problems? What about a bounce-back season from Hernandez, both at the plate and in the field, where the former Gold Glover wasn’t bad but still was underwhelming? Heck, maybe Zach Collins can grow into a solid backup catcher.
Michael Kopech could be the answer in terms of an additional starter, especially if Rodon departs via free agency. Even Kimbrel seems fixable – he’s been down the road to redemption before. He’s also a valuable trade asset if the Sox deem him a lost cause.
The roster will change – it does every year. But on paper, it seems like only tweaks on the margins are needed to get this team past the ALDS. I wasn’t a very optimistic Sox fan after game four. You probably weren’t, either.
It’s natural to want to blow it all up after that sort of October flop. But with a week to sit on it, and think it over, the picture seems brighter. Chin up, Sox fans. This team is in it for the long haul.