The White Sox played the Cleveland Guardians Thursday in a game that didn’t matter. You could feel it in the clubhouse, on the field and in the crisp autumn air that re-introduced itself to Guaranteed Rate Field.
While not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, the Sox were essentially dumped from contention when they lost the first game of the series in 11 innings Tuesday. The body bags on a disastrous season were zipped shut Wednesday by a lackluster 8-2 loss.
For some fans, there was a sense of relief, like losing an aging loved one who had suffered too long. In this case, fans were put out of their misery, having watched what many say is the most disappointing Sox season in memory.
World Series expectations, trumpeted by the front office itself, are at the root of it. The owner hired a manager who was supposed to bring his rebuilt franchise to baseball’s upper tier, but the manager did nothing to elevate the assembled talent.
There were injuries, as acting manager Miguel Cairo lamented Thursday. A plethora of them. But every team had injuries, and when healthy the 2022 Sox didn’t play well enough to win perhaps the weakest division in baseball. They were lucky to be in contention as long as they were and openly admitted it.
As Lance Lynn succinctly put it Wednesday, “Nothing surprises me, especially when you play like [crap] all year.”
They left the good playing to the youngest team in the major leagues, the Guardians, who showed them up with 11 wins in the first 18 games between them, out-hustling and out-performing them for six months of the season.
So now what?
It’s hard to imagine under any scenario, for the good of the players, the franchise or the manager himself at age 78 and with heart issues that Tony La Russa will return in 2023. Moving to an advisory role upstairs in some capacity for the final year of his contract seems to make sense. Whether general manager Rick Hahn returns would be open to more serious debate if not for the loyalty of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, that renown loyalty which prompted him to hire La Russa again two years ago.
Look no further than Kansas City where the Royals, who won back to back American League titles and a World Series in 2015, dismissed general manager Dayton Moore Wednesday. Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams should be held to equally high standards for fans who waited patiently through a rebuild and have enjoyed all of three playoff game victories since the 2005 World Series championship.
Williams, as GM, and Hahn, as assistant GM, remain in charge, watching Reinsdorf’s store.
While Hahn and Williams added Elvis Andrus on Aug. 19, the lone addition of lefty reliever Jake Diekman at the trade deadline wasn’t enough to make a difference, especially for a roster scoffing at the notion that defense matters, and one that often left its baseball smarts on the bus. Perhaps Reinsdorf, already shelling out for his highest payroll ever, reached his limit.
Discussions have already begun internally about what to do next. When payroll is seventh in baseball and the 27th team in payroll beats you going away, when La Russa is hired and it all fails, change is inevitable.
Players, management, ownership, they’re all responsible.
Meanwhile, Miguel Cairo managed again in La Russa’s place, carrying a 13-8 record into Thursday. Perhaps he’s a candidate to be a full-time manager. It’s one of many topics of conversation going on upstairs at 35th and Shields.
“Some other teams after the All-Star break, they got better, they made some trades,” Cairo said. “We made the playoffs last year, we came up short against Houston. And this year, all the injuries that we’ve been having, it’s been tough.”
Cairo’s focus then shifted to a game that didn’t mean much, if anything.
“You’re a professional baseball player, playing in the big leagues, you’ve got to be ready to come and work and play hard,” Cairo said. “This is not over.”
It sure doesn’t feel that way.