The ride on the south side is officially over. It wasn’t without drama or excitement, but the Houston Astros placed the final crooked nail in the coffin of the 2021 season. At times, the White Sox looked like one of the best in the game, and others, fans would be lying if we didn’t race to the fridge for a cold Old Style to cope chug during games that should have been a gimmie, when in fact, turned into the things of baseball nightmares. And those games, the ones dropped to teams like Kansas City Royals or Detroit Tigers, would have padded the Sox way to home-field advantage, where they might have changed their fates.
There were injuries galore. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yasmani Grandal were all out for extended periods only to come roaring back. Still, their spark only carried so far, considering the White Sox dominated a sickly division with no serious competitors.
We saw the rise and fall of Yermin Mercedes, aka the Yerminator, who kept the team in multiple early-season games until pitchers figured his swing out. Once that happened, it was curtains. Mercedes was sent down the minors, only to reveal that he’s a headcase and will likely never break camp with the south side again. The drama on the hiring of Tony LaRussa still makes for a hot topic – on the one hand, he’s a brilliant baseball mind who’s one of the greatest ever to manage the game. Still, you also can’t look past his flaws in managing the bullpen and that Dusty Baker, well, left him the dust.
The Houston Astros were the better team. It was evident from game one and never stopped being obvious, even when the White Sox caught lightning in a bottle and won the blackout game – something that will live in the hungry bellies of Sox fans everywhere, a chance to feel that wicked excitement, cane guy and all. Sadly, the power of the walking stick only could blast so much mojo onto the field. The Astros have made their way to the ALCS five times in the last five years. Even when they lose star players, the system built down in Houston is just too strong.
The White Sox were the weakest of the playoff teams. We all knew it thanks to their spotty record-beating elite teams. Everyone had hoped they’d turn on the gas come to the playoffs, but that burner was never lit. There were flashes of dominance but never a proper run that put the baseball world on notice. Sure, you can be the king of shit mountain in the Central, but you’ll never wear the real crown.
Now, as lockers get cleaned out, and golf trips are planned, the pale hose will be watching the ALCS from their couches with a bad taste in their mouths. Culturally, the year was a success for Hanh and Williams, the architects behind the team. For the second season in a row, the young squad made their way to the playoffs, which had never happened before. But, when the offseason business of baseball begins, there will be some questions as to what the White Sox will do. The White Sox aren’t a lost cause. The rebuild is over. They can be a perennial contender like the Astros, but it’ll take more – the question is the front office ready to make that commitment?
One of the chief reasons for the Astros success is their office’s ability to mix young, hotshot players they developed with a solid veteran presence. This is the next step that the White Sox have to take. There are gaping holes at second base, right field, and throughout the pitching staff.
Dallas Kuechel’s Cy Young days are long in the rearview mirror, having not even made the playoff roster. The once-feared Craig Kimbrel couldn’t get an out when it counted. He used to be a professional executioner. Brian Goodwin is a great bench player, but not an everyday bat. Questions remain about Carlos Rodon – is he a true starter? Injuries have plagued his career, and he can only handle a few innings of work, albeit lights out. Is he the next great long man?
The White Sox front office can feel the shift in attitude toward their club. The Cubs are still in free fall of disarray while losing relevance. The young and exciting squad five miles south is capable of capturing the hearts of many. An entire generation of baseball fans could potentially become White Sox fans, but that’s going to require a commitment from the front office on moving a guy like Michael Kopech into that fifth starter role, letting our friend Dallas walk elsewhere. This offseason, a treasure trove of elite players will hit the market: Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Trevor Story, to name a few. What will Uncle Jerry do? Play “thisclose” or go all in?
The White Sox front office is always cunning with their trades and willingness to win now. So, could we see a blockbuster ala, Lance Lynn, in the winter meetings? Absolutely. But, the impact players have to come, especially if you want to avoid getting bronco bucked like Houston just did to the guys in the black caps.
There’s a sleeping giant in Chicago. They’re the White Sox fans. If you put a team on the field that delivers value, people will come. They’ll buy the jerseys (you still can’t get a Southside jersey), they’ll buy the overpriced Goose Island Sox beers, and they’ll roar as heard in the blackout game. It’s going to take those final pieces that won’t come cheap. They’ll require the risk but could pull the team deeper into reward.