As White Sox struggle out of the gate, is it already time to panic?

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

There are holes in the sox.

Yes, the season is not even three weeks old. It’s still cold in Chicago, not even short weather yet. Drawing conclusions from a handful of baseball games is a dangerous exercise, one that often leads to egg on one’s face, words in one’s mouth. There are five more months of ball for a reason.

But still, there are truths to be gleaned in the early going; some notable trends cannot be remedied by time and a larger sample. And no contention has been more concerning, more willing to reveal its flaws in the first few weeks than the 6-9 Chicago White Sox.

The South Siders have lost eight of their past 10, including their previous seven in a row. They got swept in embarrassing fashion by their division rivals in Minnesota over the weekend and don’t look contend-y so far this season.

Here’s what not to be worried about: Joseph Abreu, Tim Anderson and louis robert. Abreu and Robert have been comically unlucky. Robert chases outside the zone too much, but he’s still hitting the ball really hard and should start to see more success. Anderson is hitting over .300 again because that’s a law of the universe.

With that in mind, there are still many areas of concern. And they are not pretty. White Sox fans, let’s try to keep it together.

1. The injuries are already piling up.

Trips to the injured list are part of the game. No club makes it through an entire season with its preferred starting nine playing all 162 games. The wear and tear of a six-month season take their toll on everybody, whether you bop or whether you stink.

But already this season, the Sox are dealing with a laundry list of banged-up ballplayers:

* OF Eloy Jimenez is out six-to-eight weeks due to a hamstring strain after tripping on first base.
* IF Yoan Moncada hasn’t played in the bigs this year due to an oblique issue. His return date of him is unclear, though he has summarized baseball activities.
* OF Robert missed the past three games due to a minor groin strain but should be back soon.
* IF Josh Harrison hasn’t played since April 20 after hurting his shoulder while making a circus catch.
* OF A. J. Pollock missed a week of action after a hamstring problem put him on the IL for a stretch.
*SP lance lynn is out for another month or so after having right knee surgery around Opening Day.
*SP Lucas Giolito missed a few starts due to an abdominal issue. He returned Sunday and struck out nine in four innings of work.
* PR Garrett Crochet is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.
* PR joe kelly has a biceps strain and is throwing at the team’s Arizona complex. He has yet to make his White Sox debut.
* PR Ryan Burrwho was phenomenal for the club in 2021, just went on the IL due to a shoulder strain.

Again, this level of attrition is somewhat normal. Baseball is a grind, and players get hurt, but Chicago’s ability to overcome injuries is also hampered because…

2. There’s a clear lack of depth.

the Tampa Bay Rays are in contention year after year not because the top of their roster is dynamite but because the bottom of their roster doesn’t completely suck. You win a postseason series with your best 15 to 20 players, but you win a division with your best 35 to 40. And players No. 20ish to 40 on the White Sox’s depth chart aren’t as reliable as their counterparts on, say, houston‘s roster or Tampa Bay’s roster or even cleveland‘s roster.

When a player gets hurt, you want the gap in quality between him and his replacement to be as small as possible. But for the 2022 White Sox, it’s not a gap. It’s a canyon. Josh Harrison and Leury Garcia are both solid veteran utility guys, but they lack offensive punch. Danny Mendick, adam haseley and adam engel are all fine bench bats, but they have career OPS+ numbers of 80, 82 and 74, respectively. Jake Burger has yet to prove that he can hit at the big-league level.

The questions are real. And that’s just the hitting.

3. The starting pitch is also shallow.

Giolito and Dylan Cease are a formidable duo at the front of the rotation. Giolito has been one of the best arms in the game for the past few years, and Cease had a 2021 breakout that looks legit. behind them, michael kopech has been electric in the early going and looks like he could also take a big step forward this year.

But the other two rotation spots are a sinkhole, at least until Lynn comes back.

Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has had one heck of a career, but Father Time comes for us all. He has been mollywhopped in his first two starts — to the tune of a 15.00 ERA. Keuchel has never been a fireballer, but he’s throwing 87 mph sinkers right now.

Currently, the Sox’s fifth starter is Vince Velasquezwho showed promise but never substance in his Philadelphia Phillies tenure. Velasquez hasn’t been an above-average pitcher since 2016 and hasn’t posted an ERA under 4.90 since that same year. And beyond him, there isn’t much. Jimmy Lambert had a solid spot start last week, but he doesn’t seem like an impact arm. Reynaldo Lopez has been a starter in the past but seems to be a reliever only now.

The one other pitcher in the organization with significant starting experience in the bigs is the illustrious Johnny Cueto, whom Chicago signed to a one-year deal in the offseason. Cueto is still ramping up, and it would be a delight if he were to revive his career with the Sox, but that’s certainly not guaranteed.

So while the front four of Giolito, Cease, Lynn and Kopech looks awesome on paper, given the normal wear and tear of a season, those four pitchers will probably make only about two-thirds of Chicago’s starts this year, if that.

Maybe the Sox should have made Carlos Rodon an offer in the winter …

4. Reinforcements are not on the way.

Kudos to Chicago’s front office and scouting department for acquiring and developing a phenomenal homegrown core. Robert, Anderson, Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Abreu were all originally signed or drafted by the Sox, while Giolito, Cease, Kopech and Moncada were acquired before they reached the bigs or established themselves as major-leaguers. That’s impressive!

Unfortunately, however, the system has not been replenished. In fact, Chicago’s farm system ranked dead last in MLB Pipeline’s organizational rankings. Baseball America has it 30th, too. Baseball Prospectus was slightly more optimistic, placing Chicago’s system 29th. It’s barren, it’s bad, and it’s not going to help the big-league club in a significant way any time soon.

That’s important for two reasons: (1) There aren’t any top prospects who can make a midseason impact, and (2) There’s precious little to deal at the deadline for big-league reinforcements.

5. Tony La Russa is making strategic mistakes.

Teams such as the giants, brewers and Rays succeed because they focus on the details, squeezing out every drop, inch and ounce of value wherever they can. No stone is left unturned, whether it’s defensive alignment, lineup construction, pregame preparation, etc.

Tony La Russa has been a step behind. Rather than sniffing out an advantage wherever he can, the White Sox’s manager is making unforced errors that, when added up, bleed away outs, runs and games.

On April 20, after the Sox got smoked 11-1 by Cleveland in the first game of a doubleheader, La Russa essentially rolled out a “white flag” lineup in game two. Chicago got an amazing performance from its bullpen, but the offense was predictably buns, and the Sox lost 2-1.

To make things worse, La Russa failed to pinch hit power-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal for defensive-minded backstop reese mcguire in a one-run game in the ninth. McGuire popped out to end the game.

Even worse still, on Sunday against the Twins, with the Sox up a run in the bottom of the 10th, runners on second and third with one out and closer Liam Hendricks on the mound, La Russa opted to pitch to baseball supernova Byron Buxton instead of walking him with a base open. Buxton blasted a three-run, walk-off bomb to win it.

Often, too much is made of specific strategic managerial decisions. The players have to execute on the field, and when they don’t, fans sometimes turn to the skipper as a scapegoat. But La Russa’s decision-making has been inexplicable at times this season. The Hall of Fame manager’s ability to connect with players decades his junior has reportedly been less of an issue than it was made out to be when he was hired, but all the other stuff — the in-game management, the lineup construction, the lack of attention to detail — has been questionable.

6. The rest of the division is trying.

This is the most important issue.

Last season, the White Sox coasted their way to the AL Central title. Kansas City and detroit were still a few years from contention, Cleveland traded Francis Lindor before the year and took a step backward, and Minnesota completely imploded and dealt away key pieces at the deadline.

But in 2022, everyone is trying. Cleveland’s lineup is much improved and ranks eighth in baseball in runs scored. Plus, the team’s pitching is always solid. The Twins signed Carlos Correa and added some secondary pieces to their lineup. Clearly, they’re trying to contend. Detroit signed Javier Baez and Edward Rodriguez and called up Spencer Torkelson. Even Kansas City traded for Amir Garrett and promoted Bobby Witt Jr. The Royals won’t be good, but they’ll be better.

Many of the White Sox’s flaws, the cracks in the armor listed above, existed last season. But Chicago’s roster was so much more talented than the rest of the AL Central that the Sox were able to sleepwalk their way to a postseason spot. That’s quite simply not going to work this year.

The season is short, but the die is never cast until at least Memorial Day. Chicago could stay healthy, get hot and turn this thing around. The White Sox certainly have the talent to do so. But the club also has real, fundamental issues that you can’t just wave a wand and fix, issues that elicit skepticism about the team’s ability to compete in October.

If the Sox even get that far.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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