White Sox going into the postseason for first time since 2008



Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Garrett Crochet throws to a Chicago Cubs batter during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

When Rick Hahn took over the reins from Kenny Williams in 2012 and became the new White Sox general manager, he knew he had a lot of work to do. After a long rebuilding process, Hahn and the White Sox faithful are finally seeing the fruits of their labor.

For the first time in 12 years, the White Sox clinched a spot in the postseason following a 4-3 win against the Minnesota Twins. Since then, however, the team has stumbled losing seven out of their last eight games including being swept by the Cleveland Indians.

Frustration may have hit a boiling point in the final series of the season against the Chicago Cubs. Reliever Jimmy Cordero plunked Willson Contreras after the Cubs catcher threw his bat in the air after a home run earlier in the game. For one game, the White Sox became something they never expected to be, the “fun police.”

Despite limping towards the end of the season, the postseason is a different beast entirely. With the talent the White Sox possess, they need to get in the playoffs and hope that talent comes through. 

Right now, they’re desperately trying to assure themselves that they’re just getting ready for the playoffs and it doesn’t matter that they coughed the number one seed and the division championship through one horrific road trip,” said James Fegan, the White Sox reporter for The Athletic. 

As the season went along, winning the AL Central became a real possibility for the White Sox. But, as mentioned, they were swept in a four-game set against Cleveland that included a couple of walk-off losses. 

More worrying is that since clinching a playoff spot, either their offense clicks but their pitching struggles or vice-versa.

“Their offense is slumping and frustrated. Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada appear lost at the plate, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara have not looked effective all year, and their rotation and bullpen is rushing to get key members healthy in time,” Fegan said. “It’s easy to see this as a team that is limping into the postseason, and not just because Eloy Jiménez was literally limping the other night.”

Eloy Jiménez was ruled out of the series against the Cubs with a foot sprain and his status for the postseason is questionable. His defense has room for improvement, but there is no question that the White Sox offense has a much different feel without him. 

When the Sox lost eight out of 10 games, including going through a six-game losing streak, the offense’s batting average was .178, on-base percentage was .241, and slugging was .343. That was with Jiménez still in the lineup.

“Pitching and defense wins championships” is the cliche thrown around come the postseason. While it may not be entirely true, starting pitching is crucial. With the games taking place in a bubble, that means that there will be no travel. More importantly, it also means no off days.

A team with good starting pitching will have the advantage come playoff time where runs are at a premium. The White Sox have a solid 1-2 punch with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, but remains a toss up after that.

“After Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, they have Dane Dunning who has been strong but only has six career starts. They have Reynaldo López, who looks confident after returning from the Schaumburg alternate site but is clearly dealing with diminished velocity and stuff, and they have Dylan Cease, who was supposed to be the No. 3 starter but has not had proper command of his pitches all year,” Fegan said. “With no off days during series, they really have no ability to avoid the weaker parts of their rotation. But, obviously they have to get to the division series before they even worry about this too hard.

Unsurprisingly, given the slump after securing a playoff spot and the dread that seems to fill Chicago sports fans, expectations are not as high as they might have been a week ago for Sox fans.

“It’s hard to say honestly,” said Sox fan Elizabeth Granato. “I’ve always been hopeful, and I always wish them well, but with the way things have been going lately, it makes me a little nervous.

That nervousness may be warranted. The slump saw the Sox fall not only out of first place but further down the seeding bracket which means they could face a tougher opponent in the wild-card series.

“At this point they have slumped into such a bad matchup in the Wild Card series that they are more likely than not to lose in the first round,” Fegan said. “They are entirely capable of getting farther, but it’s hard to project that when they’re playing their worst ball of the season and seem like they’re still regaining their health in the bullpen.”

The White Sox are a young team. While that youthfulness counts for a lot, it can also come back to bite them at a time like this. It is why Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal were brought in during the offseason to provide some veteran presence. But they can only do so much. 

With a young core comes growing pains that the players themselves will need to figure out, and a shortened season means fewer time to do so.

Reaching the postseason is but one goal the White Sox as an organization had in mind. The players want to win a championship and the fans want to see that as well for this season to be a success.

“I think for the most part they have had some great and successful accomplishments,” Granato said. “But I think they need to make it fairly far for them to prove themselves.”

The last time the White Sox went to the World Series was in 2005. They limped into the postseason that time as well, nearly blowing a double-digit lead down the stretch. They then got hot at the right time and only lost one game en route to sweeping the Houston Astros and winning their first World Series title since 1917. 

Before the start of the season, the team posted a hype video with the phrase “We’re not just here to play the game… we’re here to change it.” They’ll need to do just that if they want to have a shot at postseason success.