While Rick Renteria’s decision to hold a team meeting before Monday’s game in Detroit wasn’t necessarily noteworthy, the White Sox's lackluster performance in the team's 5-1 loss to the Tigers following that meeting was significant – and concerning.
Just ask the starting pitcher.
“We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game,” Dallas Keuchel said. “We’ve got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we’ve got some guys kind of going through the motions.”
That’s a frustrated veteran calling out the effort of his teammates, which can be a tricky thing to do when you’ve made all of four starts in a White Sox uniform. But Keuchel was brought to Chicago for his experienced leadership and he’s been the team’s most steady performer through 17 games, giving the White Sox four chances to win in his four starts -- with only a 2-2 record to show for it.
Yes, the White Sox are banged up. Yes, they arrived in Detroit early Monday morning after a grueling loss to the Indians on national television Sunday night.
Keuchel isn’t here for the excuses.
“We got in at 2:30 in the morning. We played a tough ballgame against the Indians. That’s who we’re going to have to beat if we’re going to win this division or we get into the playoffs,” Keuchel said. “It just seemed like we were taking a night off. We can’t afford that with a young core that we have here. We’ve got to show up every day, and even if there’s no fans, we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go. And if we’re not ready to go, we’ve got to fake it until we make it.”
Keuchel was ready. It wasn’t his sharpest outing, but he only allowed three runs in six innings, once again giving his team a chance to win the game. Instead, the offense was lifeless, and the defense was sloppy, as an Adam Engel misplay in centerfield resulted in the second inside-the-park home run allowed in five days.
And all this after Renteria tried to get the team to regroup before the game. Team meetings aren’t uncommon at the start of road trips, but this one came after the team’s second 1-4 stretch of the season.
“(We met) about everything,” Renteria said before his team lost its fifth game in six days. “How we're proceeding, staying positive, trying to learn from everything that is going on. Trying to take advantage of every opportunity that they're getting, and I think they're looking forward to trying to have a nice game today.”
That didn’t happen. Sometimes you can chalk that up to it being baseball, but Monday was different, and Keuchel clearly saw a lack of focus in his teammates as he “emptied the tank” on the mound.
“We need to clean a lot of things up,” he said. “If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we’re going to have to start that now. Like I mentioned to you guys before, when you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it’s very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get-go.”
The White Sox needed to hear the pitcher’s critical comments, but the response from the clubhouse could determine the direction this young team heads in with 43 games to go. Will they object to a new guy calling them out in the media? Or will they respect a veteran voice who was part of a Houston Astros team that successfully pulled out of a rebuild to win the World Series? And will Keuchel’s dubious connection to that Astros team hurt his credibility at all in this situation?
These are all fair questions, but the White Sox would be wise to listen to a guy who has logged 1325.2 Major League innings, pitched in the postseason four out of the last five years and hasn’t been on a losing team since 2014.
I don’t need to remind you that the White Sox haven’t had a winning season since 2012 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.
“There's going to be a lot of learning curves for this team just because of the process this team has kind of been under the last 2-3 years,” Keuchel said. “And this is one of them.”
Renteria wasn’t as willing to question his team’s effort after they fell to 8-9 on the season, but he did mention a need for accountability.
“My feeling is that I think we got a lot of guys that are going to be holding each other accountable in that clubhouse,” the manager said. “I'm very confident in that.”
Just minutes later, Keuchel said what he said.
Now it's up to his teammates to respond on the field.