It’s June 8, the White Sox are 36-23, good for first place by four games over the HATED Cleveland Indians, and have the best run differential in the sport at +85. I think we can all agree that the White Sox are, indeed, a good baseball team. This is a great development considering the misfortune they’ve had to this point. We all know about the injuries that have decimated this team from Eloy Jimenez to Luis Robert, and minor injuries to a few supporting cast members like Adam Engel, Billy Hamilton, Michael Kopech, and Garrett Crochet.
The White Sox have been able to weather the storm and find themselves in prime position to win the American League Central for the first time since 2008. They’re also a viable threat to win the American League pennant. They’ve had solid performances from key figures like Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and others. What has set this team apart from most White Sox teams of the last decade is the positive contributions they have received from their role players through the season’s first two months.
I don’t know if guys like Yermin Mercedes, Jake Lamb, and the now-injured Billy Hamilton will turn back into pumpkins, but the contributions they’ve made to this point cannot be undersold. This team has seen two of its starting outfielders, who were counted on to be significant offensive contributors, go down with serious injuries. Even so, here we are feeling good about where our favorite baseball team sits as they prepare to open a three-game set against another upstart team in the Toronto Blue Jays.
Much was made in the offseason by certain *clears throat* segments of the fan base about this team’s depth issues coming into the season. Even a certain blogger of a last-place AL Central team took some cheap potshots saying the White Sox depth, or lack thereof, would sink their season. How’s that working out so far?
Let me be clear here, it’s entirely possible the small sample size performances of these individuals may be nothing more than that. But you know what, in a season where you’ve already had some significant things go against you, you’ll take it. The fact of the matter remains that the contributions from role players have been integral in this White Sox team finding their way atop the AL Central standings.
The Sox have gotten a 148 wRC+ in 69 PA from Jake Lamb, who was left for dead last season by the Arizona Diamondbacks before his brief cameo with the A’s. They’ve gotten a 125 wRC+ from a 28-year-old lifelong minor-leaguer that carried this offense for the first month of the season. Even Billy Hamilton has found a way to provide positive contributions with the bat in a few games while showcasing his signature stellar defense and baserunning. These things matter when star players go down.
In years past, the injury to Eloy Jimenez in Spring Training would’ve been a death nail to the White Sox postseason aspirations, and surely losing Luis Robert would’ve finished the job. I’m old enough to remember the 2004 team having their season sunk when they lost the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, and Magglio Ordonez within a few weeks of each other, and one wouldn’t be out of line to have those fears creep into their mind this season.
But, something is different about the 2021 White Sox. There is a general looseness with this group that we haven’t seen in quite some time. That is on full display when you see the reactions to Billy Hamilton’s recent home runs in the White Sox dugout, or the exuberance when Yermin Mercedes gets a walk-off hit to snap out of a dreadful slump.
Truth be told, the White Sox have relied on these role players more than you would like to see in a typical season. That has, obviously, been necessitated by the aforementioned injuries to star-level contributors. I’ve been critical of Tony La Russa for plenty of things tactically early on in this season (for the love of all things holy, stop bunting), but he has done a pretty good job overall of utilizing these players. I’ve disagreed with things like hitting Jake Lamb second in a number of spots, but his willingness to use them in positions where I maybe wouldn’t as an armchair manager has paid off to this point.
As the White Sox hopefully begin to see their full squad slowly reassemble, it’s entirely possible that this team may have a functional bench after all that can spell the regulars and continue to provide positive contributions to this club. Perhaps La Russa’s willingness to trust some of these players when many of us didn’t will pay dividends in a key spot when the games matter in September and, hopefully, late into October.
As we inch closer to the trade deadline, it’s obvious the White Sox will be in buying mode. However, limited prospect capital will make things challenging from an acquisition standpoint. While I’m thrilled with the contributions from role players to this point, I don’t want to see any hesitancy from this organization in terms of adding to the fold.
The group of role players has helped keep this team afloat through two months, but bringing in more competent players to round out the roster will only enhance this team’s ability to make a run deep into October. It will also provide an even minor level of insulation against setbacks from Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. It will also allow these role players to go back to roles that they are ideally suited for, potentially strengthening this team overall.
We can’t count on the solid performances of the White Sox role players continuing throughout the 2021 season, but we should be in agreement that they’ve been a positive revelation. This team has found a way to piece it together so far and they are in control of their own destiny. Many of us had questions about certain players on this roster heading into the season, and many of us have been proven wrong to this point. It’s been a nice change of pace for once, at a time when they’ve desperately needed it.