Defense has not been good for the Chicago White Sox latelyTim Healeyon May 10, 2022 at 5:48 pm

While some credit goes to the bat of Cleveland Guardians’ first baseman Josh Naylor, three big errors by the Chicago White Sox in the top of the ninth inning opened the floodgates that allowed the Guardians to score six runs to tie the game and eventually win it.

Not only that, but a good defensive play by both third baseman Jose Ramirez and Naylor kept the Sox from scoring the winning run in the bottom half of the inning. Ramirez made a diving stop on an Adam Engel ground ball down the third-base line and Naylor scooped the throw out of the dirt to complete the play.

Perhaps the Sox could learn from their division rivals. After all, defense does win championships. Before Monday, it looked like the Sox’ pitching was the key to a winning streak that helped them shake off the doldrums of a miserable April and bring them back to the .500 range – and back into the pennant chase.

Both the starting pitching and the bullpen have been lights out over the past week. Even on Monday, starter Michael Kopech was excellent. Joe Kelly, returning from the injured list, was also solid.

Yes, Tanner Banks was shaky and yes, stalwart closer Liam Hendriks gave up a grand slam to tie the game. Reynaldo Lopez and Ryan Burr were not very good in extras. But the pitching carried a still-struggling offense to a six-game winning streak.

The Chicago White Sox needs their defense to get better if they want to win.

Now that streak is over. It ended on a night in which the offense finally exploded. Gavin Sheets and AJ Pollack got the home run monkey off their backs. Eight runs crossed the plate.

If the Sox would’ve merely caught the ball, Liam Hendriks probably doesn’t need to come in. Naylor would not have hit with the bases loaded.

The problem is, this isn’t a one-game thing. Fluky games happen over the course of a 162-game season. Even the best defensive teams have bad days. But the Sox have had defensive struggles throughout the year and it was a problem in 2021 as well.

They have 26 errors in 28 games. They are dead last in team fielding by at least two similar metrics. Shortstop Tim Anderson has more errors than some entire teams do to this point.

In the interest of fairness, that’s not to say Anderson is a bad fielder. His numbers in the past were better. However, he’s certainly had a bad start. If it was just him, that would probably be OK even accounting for the defensive importance of the position he plays. But others have made key errors at key times as well.

Indeed, Yoan Moncada’s error on a routine grounder to third was arguably more damaging to the Sox’s chances of putting it away on Monday than the earlier play in which the Sox gave the Guardians an extra-base by throwing the ball around.

Again, fluky bad days happen. But this has been a pattern with the White Sox. Fans have been worried about the offense which has been relatively impotent so far this season but the bats will likely come alive as time goes on and injured players return.

The pitching has been solid for most of the year thus far, even minus Lance Lynn and until last night Joe Kelly. The defense has hurt the team. Even if the offense returns to its expected high level of output and even if the pitching continues to be very good, the poor defense could doom this team.

Bad defense can cost a team a playoff series. But it also can cause extra stress on a pitching staff in the form of otherwise unnecessary pitches being thrown. It also causes more higher-leverage at-bats faced as the bases go from empty to having runners on, courtesy of defensive miscues.

There’s also pressure on the offense to score more runs to counter any runs given up via mistakes that shouldn’t happen.

If these defensive mistakes don’t get fixed, this Sox team is going to have a much harder time fulfilling its potential as a World Series champion.

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