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Sox' World Series challenge gets bigger with more injuries

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Chicago White Sox made it known in spring training: They want to win the World Series.

That, under even the best of circumstances, is pretty hard to do.

Add in an absolute avalanche of injuries to key pieces that wipes out half the starting lineup, and it gets much, much more difficult.

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The White Sox are about to find out if it's even possible.

Certainly the team can only be complimented about the way it's responded to a lengthening list of significant injuries — the latest a four-to-six-week absence for Yasmani Grandal after he tore a tendon in his knee — with backups and fill-ins stepping up and doing a good deal of delivering.

But just how far can a lineup increasingly relying on bench players take a team with championship aspirations?

Because it seems like a pretty serious ask.

"It's only as difficult as you allow it to be," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday. "We control our minds and our hearts. If we want to act frustrated and discouraged and that we've been unlucky, then we're going to lose an edge.

"Everybody's getting hurt. It's how you can handle it. The games count."

 

Indeed they do, and the White Sox, while still in first place in the American League Central, have lost 10 of their last 16.

While the news on the recoveries of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert has been positive, the White Sox will wrap the first half with half their starting lineup on the injured list and at least three bats missing from the heart of their order.

If the White Sox are going to win the World Series, their lineup will need to get better.

There are multiple ways for that improvement to happen, of course, starting with guys getting healthy and requiring guys who are healthy to produce on a more consistent basis.

But most fan focus will be on trades ahead of the deadline at the end of this month, and the White Sox should obviously try to be major players. Even without the injuries, contending teams tend to make deadline splashes, and general manager Rick Hahn, intent on not wasting a "sacred" chance to win it all, said he was likely to be aggressive anyway.

But the season-ending injury to Madrigal punched at least one hole that won't be filled by a late-season recovery, adding a need that goes beyond just tinkering with a contending roster. Even though the team is hopeful Jiménez, Robert and Grandal will return to provide second-half reinforcements, how effective they'll be in the middle of a pennant race remains to be seen, making a boost from outside the organization all the more important.

The players' jobs won't be the only tough ones, as Hahn has a lot to figure out as the deadline nears:

He has to factor in how much longer the White Sox will be without Jiménez, Robert and Grandal.

He has to factor in how — and where — all three will be able to play upon their returns.

He has to figure out what to do about second base.

He has to figure out if another catcher is needed, considering Grandal just tore a tendon in his knee and his job description is squatting for four hours a day.

He has to figure out whether a bullpen that hasn't lived up to its own preseason expectations can turn things around.

He has to figure out if a starting rotation that's carried the White Sox to this point will stay as dominant — and as healthy — as it has through three-plus months.

It's a lot.

Meanwhile, in the clubhouse, the White Sox unfortunately have experience going through the aftermath of these kinds of injuries. They've been forced into playing without some of their biggest boppers for much of the season. So far, it's gone as well as it possibly could have. So they're sticking to the formula that got them here, not focused on anything but who's in the lineup each day.

"I know that (the people in the front office) have a job to do, and they are going to do their best to put us in a good position," White Sox first baseman José Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "But I do know that the guys we have here, we are going to be ready to compete.

 

"You can see how many guys we have right now who are playing a different position from their natural position, and they are doing a good job. That speaks volumes of the commitment that the guys that are here have for this team, the commitment we have as a team.

"Whatever happens happens. But we have the guys here who can do a good job."

It's time to find out if they — and Hahn — can do enough of a job to keep the White Sox championship hopes realistic, or if the injuries will finally become overwhelming.

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