The Chicago White Sox are considered by many as the best team in baseball. They currently sit atop league-wide MLB standings and often appear in the top spot or near it across various media outlets’ power rankings. Through the first two months of the season, the team has seen every bit of adversity imaginable. There have been injuries, there have been bullpen issues, there have been questionable decisions. However, the baseball team on the South Side of Chicago continues to find a way to win.
Winning is no accident, there’s method to this madness, and it begins and ends with manager Tony La Russa.
A Rocky Start
To say the White Sox hiring Tony La Russa at the ripe age of 76 was unpopular would be a gross understatement. When the team announced the hire, national and local media had a field day with the story. Fans did as well. In fact, it seems like every week, a new story concerning a La Russa mistake is released by a major media outlet. It hasn’t helped that La Russa’s off-field antics have been very public and heavily used against him as well.
This was all before a single grounder was taken during Spring Training. However, the criticism didn’t end there. La Russa has been consistently panned by detractors for lineups, bullpen decisions, and even baseball knowledge. The most specific example being his reported confusion considering an extra-innings base runner. Then of course, you have the Yermin Mercedes situation, which put the team in the middle of a national conversation about “unwritten rules”.
To summarize, the beginning of the La Russa era in Chicago couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. But as a wise man once said: “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Friends In Low Places
With key injuries to players such as Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and most recently Nick Madrigal, many believed the lack of depth would sink the team. However, that hasn’t been the case. Major League afterthoughts such as Billy Hamilton, Jake Lamb, and Brian Goodwin have filled in admirably. Hamilton has been a great mix of speed and defense, Lamb has found his bat in clutch moments, and Goodwin has been impressive early on.
That doesn’t even include guys like Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick, and Andrew Vaughn, who have been playing multiple positions defensively all season. So often you hear the term “This isn’t a video game”, but La Russa has essentially taken that quote and ran with it. Not only has he played players out of position multiple times this season, but IT’S WORKED.
La Russa’s ability to build lineups with bench players, yet continue to win baseball games, has been nothing short of incredible.
“Just Win Baby”
Despite all of the issues raised above, one thing has continued to be the common theme: winning baseball. The White Sox have the best record in baseball and it’s come through all avenues. As I wrote in late May, the White Sox are the most balanced team in baseball. They are a nearly perfect mix of small ball, manufacturing runs, and keeping runs off the board for opponents.
The lineup is hitting for contact, taking walks, and employing a well-disciplined approach at the plate. Yoan Moncada has been a nightmare for opposing pitchers and Jose Abreu is second in baseball in RBIs. The starting rotation has collectively been a top-three unit in all season, with Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon leading the way. The bullpen isn’t far behind, especially when considering Liam Hendriks has finally hit his stride.
Tony La Russa deserves a ton of credit for all of this. Instead of living and dying by the home run ball, La Russa is calling for more hit-and-runs. Instead of overmanaging the bullpen, La Russa has allowed his starters to pitch deep when they are feeling it. He has brought the perfect mix of old-school baseball to a team that also excels in advanced metrics. Even when he’s decided to call out star players publicly, they’ve responded with results and some have even praised their manager.
Whether people like it or not, the players seem to respond to La Russa’s style. Even with star players missing large portions of the season, the team continues to produce. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
Follow On Tap Sports Net on social media!