The Chicago White Sox will open a three-game series on Friday in Kansas City against the Royals. The series could allow either team to gain early-season separation in the standings as both teams tied for second place, only a half-game behind the first-place Cleveland Indians. It will be a significant series for embattled White Sox manager Tony La Russa has been the focus of scrutiny for his mistakes in several of the team’s losses over the last two weeks.



The Next Two weeks Against Division Opponents Will Show Team’s loyalty To La Russa

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Starting Friday night, the White Sox will play their next 13 games against division opponents in the Royals and the Minnesota Twins. Although the 13 games won’t make or break their season, the way the team plays could show how they respond to La Russa’s managing. On Wednesday, the team lost to the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 after an extra-inning walk-off single. Chicago’s manager drew heavy criticism for not knowing an extra-innings base runner rule after completing a double-switch in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Liam Hendriks was forced to start the tenth as the runner on second base after taking Andrew Vaughn’s spot in the lineup. It was later learned that the pitcher was as extra-inning rules allowed another player to run for a pitcher.

In the same inning, La Russa had Leury Garcia attempt to steal second to avoid a double-play. With Hendricks on third and the Reds not in position for a double-play, Garcia was thrown out attempting to steal second. On the next pitch, batter Billy Hamilton struck out to end the inning. Both the extra-inning rule and having Garcia trying to steal second left many furious with La Russa following the loss.

Wednesday’s managerial mistake against Cincinnati came a week after a pitching mistake made with the team’s best pitcher in Lucas Giolito. Against the Tigers, La Russa had Giolito start the seventh inning and failed to pull his starting pitcher after appearing exhausted and unable to get a batter out. Chicago’s All-Star pitcher would allow three runs in the seventh in a 5-2 loss to Detroit. La Russa admitted to the mistake of not realizing Giolito tired and needing to pull him earlier in the inning.

Through five weeks of the 2021 MLB season, the Hall of Fame manager has appeared to make a costly mistake in at least one game per week. Whether it was not pinch-hitting for Nick Williams, multiple mishaps with bullpen management, failing to pull Giolito, or not knowing specific extra-inning rules, the mistakes keep piling up for a manager hired for his situational expertise.

With 13 consecutive games against the Royals and Twins, how Chicago plays will demonstrate they feel about their manager. When the White Sox hired La Russa, many questioned if the game had passed him by due to his age and time away from managing. The other concern shared by many was whether the 76-year old manager would relate to such a young team. With multiple games lost due to managerial mistakes early on, it could be easy for the young Chicago team to check out on La Russa if they have losses against their divisional opponents coming up.

Other Factors Can Press The Issue of Tuning Quitting On La Russa Early

Although White Sox players may have concerns with La Russa, other issues could further cultivate a poor environment within the clubhouse. The White Sox have lost two of their best young talents in outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, for at least the next four months. Jimenez is a perennial 35 home run hitter, and Robert was Gold Glove centerfielder in his rookie season last year. Along with the injuries, the White Sox front office passed on signing several top-tier free agents to put their already talented roster over the top for the 2021 season. Although Chicago signed the best free-agent closer in Hendriks, they passed on signing the best available outfielder opting instead to sign Adam Eaton.

The upcoming games against the Royals and Twins will be the first time this season in which the White Sox will have an extended stretch against divisional opponents. If the team can have a winning record over the next 13 games, it will give them insurance for games in June and July, when the absences of Robert and Jimenez will be more impactful. If La Russa mismanages a situation leading to a loss in the next 13 games, that could have a lasting impact on the team. It could create a situation in which the White sox are pressing to win games later in the season when they might not have had to.

With the injuries to important players and the front office not “going all in” to improve the roster for a championship window, the White Sox players could lose interest if the next 13 games don’t turn out well. A manager is extremely important in making sure his team can stay together during tough times. It is a lot harder for a team to overcome losses when their manager continues to make situational mistakes.

Currently, the White Sox are three games over .500, but it should be higher, if not for the mistakes of La Russa. Of the mistakes made by Chicago’s manager, they haven’t been too costly because many of those mistakes have come against non-divisional opponents. With 13 consecutive games against divisional opponents, any mishap on La Russa’s part resulting in a loss could impact the White Sox playoff chances down the road.

 

Steve Pusch
Eastern Illinois University graduate, Steve earned a Bachelor’s in Journalism with a concentration in sports. While at EIU, Steve co-hosted a weekly radio sports talk show focused on Chicago.