CHICAGO -- The 2022 season is not yet over for the White Sox.
There’s no E for eliminated next to their name in the American League Central standings. There still are 13 games remaining on the regular season docket.
From the looks of their struggles during an 8-2 loss to the Guardians Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, the only thing missing on this disappointing campaign is the official notification of completion.
“We didn’t play good. They played better than us. Simple as that,” acting manager Miguel Cairo said. “They came to play today. We didn’t.”
Wednesday’s smooth route to success raised the Guardians’ record to 82-67 and put them six games ahead of the White Sox (76-73). With Cleveland holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, it’s actually a seven-game lead.
It’s an outcome seemingly easy to explain on a couple of different levels.
Let’s start with Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie (11-11), who struck out 13 without issuing a walk over eight innings. In his past two starts against the White Sox, which both ended up as victories, the right-hander has fanned 27 with no walks in 15 innings.
McKenzie was scheduled to start against Chicago last Thursday for a makeup game in Cleveland, with a chance to put away the second-place squad. Instead, Guardians manager Terry Francona opted for rookie Hunter Gaddis to set up his bullpen for a five-game weekend series with the Twins.
Cleveland lost that contest to the White Sox, but has gone 6-1 since and dropped Chicago’s elimination number to seven. This explanation leads to the second point from Wednesday, in that the Guardians were underestimated by pretty much everyone.
Minnesota, Chicago and Cleveland muddled around for much of this underwhelming campaign, with the Guardians having a stretch during a five-game losing streak when they scored one run total in four games. When the White Sox got hot, winning 13 of 19 under Cairo, Cleveland then got even hotter.
The Guardians force the action. They take extra bases at every turn. They don’t strike out. They play great defense. In their first inning against Lance Lynn (7-6), Amed Rosario followed Steven Kwan’s leadoff single with a slow roller, but a fairly normal play for third baseman Yoán Moncada. But Moncada hesitated for a moment, and Rosario beat the throw to spark a two-run inning.
"I didn't want to get into the difficult bounce,” Moncada said through interpreter Billy Russo of the first-inning infield hit. “That was my read of the ground ball, just prepare to step back and then try to rush it at the end."
“We do that against other teams,” Kwan said. “I think it’s not very common: one-nine, we’re taking hard 90s. If a guy takes a play off, we can capitalize on that. We can make something bigger off that. That’s definitely one of our strengths.”
Losing the second of this critical three-game set was steeped a bit in Tuesday’s series-opening loss. This disappointing season came down to sweeping the Guardians at home, and when the Game 1 battle resulted in a 10-7 loss in 11 innings, the White Sox knew their chances had greatly dimmed.
It’s a tough outcome for a group mentioned by many in the preseason as a World Series contender.
“If you see all the things that we have done with the players and the situation, you can't say it has been a bad season,” Moncada said. “It has been difficult, for sure, and I think definitely not the season that we were expecting. … It has been a challenging season for sure.”
“Nothing surprises me, especially when you play like [garbage] all year,” Lynn said. “We’ve been six games out all year it seems like. We’ve still got some time left, but we put ourselves in a hole, that’s for sure.”
Cairo certainly isn’t giving up. He also has challenged his players to finish strong, just as he did upon taking over for Tony La Russa.
“Our season is not over. We still have to come and play hard. The way it’s supposed to be played,” Cairo said. “I’m just going to see who is going to show up tomorrow and play.
“Whoever doesn’t want to play, I already told them if you don’t want to be here, they can get out. But I know they are going to show. They have been showing every day. They are going out there and playing hard.”