It was only April 24. It really didn’t seem like that big a deal.
But the White Sox had just lost six straight games on a miserable swing through Cleveland and Minnesota, and their losing streak stood at seven overall. Clearly, such an early-season slog hadn’t been anticipated and would not stand — not with the talent on this Sox team, not with its World Series aspirations.
So, how to fix things?
“Hit the reset button,” was pitcher Lucas Giolito’s idea.
That worked so well, the Sox returned to Guaranteed Rate Field and had a losing homestand against the hard-to-lose-to Royals and Angels.
“We still very much believe in this team’s talent,” general manager Rick Hahn said late that same month. “We believe in this team’s upside and are confident over time that that talent will prevail and take us to the level that we aspire to be at.”
It would become, of course, a Sox theme for the 2022 season — “believing” in the invisible as they went days, weeks and months without displaying anything resembling good baseball or embodying anything resembling a good baseball team.
“They get frustrated when they don’t play as good as they should,” manager Tony La Russa said as the Sox had fallen off from an encouraging 4-1 start to a somewhat unsettling 6-10 about 10% of the way through the season. “But the heart and guts are intact.”
Heart? Guts? As it turns out, those are perfect words to describe the first-place Guardians — the youngest team in baseball — who led the Sox by four games as the teams opened a three-game series on the South Side. The baby-faced Guardians clearly are the last ones to know they’re not supposed to win this thing and never were. They haven’t had a five-game division lead at any point, yet they’ve answered one little uprising after another from the Sox and the Twins without in any way, shape or form appearing to be a team in serious danger of fizzling down the stretch.
The Sox aren’t out of it. If they sweep the Guardians, they’ll be only a game back. If they follow that by sweeping the lowly Tigers, they’ll finally have put together the kind of homestand they’ve been alluding to for five months. If, if. Does anybody really want to bet on these “ifs”? I don’t, either. Has everybody had enough of them? I have, too.
“As long as we play good baseball,” reliever Kendall Graveman said Tuesday, “I like our chances.”
But that’s what they’ve all said, over and over.
“To a man and to a woman,” Hahn said on June 7, “we feel good about what the next several months hold for us, potentially.”
The Sox promptly lost four of their next six to fall four games under .500.
After the Sox went into the All-Star break an embarrassing and hard-to-figure 19-25, La Russa boldly declared, “I guarantee you those numbers will be reversed at home from here to the end. We’re going to be a very good club at home.”
And how’s that working out? The Sox have still lost more than they’ve won on their home turf. This, a year after they were an American League-best 51-28.
After the Sox did next to nothing at the Aug. 2 trade deadline — an undeniable setback — Hahn buzzed the same old saw: “We still very much believe in this group that’s inside this clubhouse right now.”
Just a couple of days later, Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal were all in the lineup together. Hallelujah! The Sox were 53-51 — not terrible — the band was back together again, and all involved were excited.
“Plus-two is a nice place to be, because we’ve been trying to get there,” La Russa said. “Let’s get to 10 and then 15, you know what I mean? It’s like you’re on a trip, and you stop somewhere to get gas or lunch. You’re not at your destination.”
Instead, the Sox locked themselves out of the family truckster and dropped five of eight on the road against the Rangers and Royals. It was uncanny.
On Aug. 11, La Russa said this: “The switch is on. We’re in a position to get hot.”
And they kind of did, reeling off five wins in a row — only to blow their own mojo completely to hell over an ensuing two-week debacle during which they went 2-10.
What a bunch of pretenders.
As September arrived, outfielder A.J. Pollock said, “This is it. This is the chance that we can get on a little bit of a run here. … Maybe they fold and we can get hot, too.”
The Twins were a game in back of the Guardians — and three ahead of the Sox — on Sept. 1. Yep, they folded. The Guardians, though, have only gotten better and done whatever they’ve needed to do.
“We’re not backing down,” Sox closer Liam Hendriks promised on Sept. 7.
“We’re on a mission,” acting manager Miguel Cairo proclaimed on Sept. 10.
After the Sox won a makeup game in Cleveland on Sept. 15, cutting the division deficit to three, Cairo called it “a big one.”
“You see this is who we are,” he said.
Then the Sox went to Detroit and lost the opener against the Tigers, falling to four back, bcause that’s who they really were. That’s who they’ve been since leaving spring training in Arizona.
You want these “ifs”? You can have ’em.
There will be time enough for the reset button. It’s called the offseason.