Rick Hahn had it pegged in July — the White Sox truly are mired in mediocrity.
Despite a blistering hot start, the White Sox won’t be headed to the playoffs for an eighth straight season that wrapped up Sunday with a 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.
And even though they actually improved for a third year in a row under now former manager Robin Ventura, it wasn’t nearly enough for the White Sox to finish with a record above .500. The White Sox, who are expected to name Rick Renteria their new manager on Monday, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report, posted their fourth consecutive losing season.
“We had it early on, we were doing it, and it seemed right at that time,” Ventura said. “I think offensively we couldn't keep up the pace we were going on and once the injuries happened and the bullpen … it becomes a different bullpen. We just didn't have enough to do it and we didn't play well enough.”
The outcome shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
Oh sure, the White Sox looked every bit the postseason contender in April and early May when they won 23 of their first 33 games. But that was before the club’s biggest issue, one several prominent baseball analysts identified in January and has dogged the franchise for several years now, surfaced and sunk them.
Though the 2016 White Sox boasted enough top-tier talent to potentially propel them to their first postseason appearance since 2008, analysts believed the White Sox needed most everything else to go in their favor for that to happen. The thinking was, and Hahn called the assessment “fair,” that the White Sox farm system is paper thin and was incapable of providing the necessary replacements if required.
And boy were they needed.
The problem initially surfaced — and remained for the duration of 2016 — a month into camp when veteran hitter Adam LaRoche abruptly retired. While LaRoche’s exit solved a playing time issue, it created bigger obstacles as the team no longer had a left-handed power threat for the middle of the lineup. Manager Robin Ventura’s only remedy was to move switch-hitter Melky Cabrera from a better fit — hitting in front of Jose Abreu — to batting behind the slugger and third baseman Todd Frazier in order to break up a right-handed heavy lineup.
Cabrera succeeded with an .818 OPS in the fifth spot. But the trio who replaced him in the second spot — Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson and Tyler Saladino — combined for a .619 OPS in 275 plate appearances.
It also meant increased plate appearances for Garcia, who originally was scheduled for part-time duty and didn’t improve as the White Sox had hoped.
By the time the injury bug rolled around, and it smacked the White Sox pretty hard, the offense was a shambles.
The first of two injuries to catcher Alex Avila meant too much playing time for veteran Dioner Navarro and not enough offense from either. Jackson’s season-ending knee injury in June resulted in a starting role for outfielder J.B. Shuck, who had a .557 OPS in 237 plate appearances.
Injuries to Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, both prominent relievers the previous two seasons, sapped an already-tired bullpen. An additional injury, to Daniel Webb, had the White Sox using untested pitchers in big spots throughout the summer, a problem that became even bigger once Zach Duke was traded.
When it came time to replace underperforming starting pitchers John Danks and Mat Latos, the White Sox couldn’t supply their own answers and instead took on James Shields, who allowed 31 home runs in 22 starts after he was acquired.
The White Sox also didn’t have enough contributions from the supporting cast when Abreu and Frazier slumped.
The combination of poor offense and unreliable pitching sunk the White Sox.
And the little depth the team had has been a mixed bag. The team traded Duke for Charlie Tilson, who was lost for the season only five innings into his major league debut. Matt Davidson came up to challenge Garcia for playing time only to also suffer an injury in his debut.
Brett Lawrie’s injury did, however, result in playing time for Saladino and Carlos Sanchez, who played well in his absence. Relievers Dan Jennings and Tommy Kahnle also have taken advantage of their tryouts. Miguel Gonzalez also thrived after taking over as the No. 4 starter and looks like a find.
But in the end it wasn’t enough.
Even with standout performances from Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, a 40-homer season from Frazier, 85 RBIs and a .790 OPS from Cabrera, a strong second half by Carlos Rodon and Abreu and a good rookie season from Tim Anderson, the White Sox finished woefully short.
The win-now method that has been employed for more than a decade and prompted Hahn to say the White Sox would have to look hard at their methods has depleted the team’s ability to answer its questions internally. Whereas Cleveland thrived without its best position player (Michael Brantley) and suffered injuries to key starting pitchers and Kansas City managed to stay afloat despite injuries to Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis and others, the White Sox have sunk.
“We were hot early and then not so much and we never got hot again,” Ventura said. “I think baseball, it's tough to be able to recapture that. We did have a couple injuries.
“We had a really good bullpen, offensively we were doing enough and then we struggled in that area for a while. It's tough to stay consistent and keep yourself afloat in a baseball season because it just doesn't stop. It just keeps coming and you're in a division that's tough.”