The White Sox Embarrassed Themselves Against the Astros

  • In today’s Five-Tool Newsletter, we wrap up Houston’s win over Chicago in the ALDS and look ahead to tomorrow’s Giants-Dodgers Game 5.

In a scene toward the end of The Wedding Singer (1998), Adam Sandler’s character Robbie is leaving a bar with a few friends. Robbie’s life has been one long cycle of promise and heartbreak. He’s been drinking heavily because he’s hopelessly in love with Julia, who’s engaged to a womanizing Wall Streeter named Glenn.

They bump into Glenn and his entourage outside the bar. Words are exchanged and Robbie picks a fight with Glenn. But just before the fight breaks out, a weary old man from the dive throws a putrid punch at Glenn. Caught off guard by this, Robbie asks the old-timer: “O.K., what are you doing?” Out of Place Old Guy responds: “I’m sorry. I used to be much stronger.” Glenn then knocks the distracted Robbie to the ground.

This is what I thought of as I watched the Astros kick the crap out of the White Sox, 10–1, in Game 4 of the ALDS. In the movie, it’s hilarious; in the postseason, it’s just embarrassing.

The low-hanging fruit in this analogy is that Tony La Russa is the Out of Place Old Guy who thinks he can still hang in a street fight with baseball’s villains. The difference here is that The Wedding Singer’s Out of Place Old Guy realizes his feebleness immediately. La Russa still thinks he belongs, and he’s willing to yell at the clouds and disparage anyone who doubts him.

We covered La Russa’s faults for this team’s woes in Sunday’s newsletter, and they were on display again in Game 4. Once again, he inexplicably stuck with his starting pitcher too long. This time it was Carlos Rodón, whose status earlier in the series was uncertain due to a nagging shoulder injury that limited him over the final months of the season. He’d dazzled through the first two innings while pumped up on adrenaline, but by the third inning, he’d lost command of the zone and his velocity had gone down. So when the Astros loaded the bases (on a hit-by-pitch and two walks) with two outs and Carlos Correa due up, the obvious move was to bring in righthander Michael Kopech to face the righty-hitting Correa. Instead, La Russa stuck with Rodón. However you feel about the defiant Correa, he is one of the smartest hitters in baseball, adept at making mid-AB adjustments. Rodón fired two fastballs for strikes before Correa laced the third one into left for a two-run double. Kopech then came in and retired Yuli Gurriel to end the inning.

David Banks/USA Today Sports

That said, the Chicago’s failings are about more than just TLR. It didn’t get an extra-base hit until Game 3. Its AL-best rotation got shelled throughout the series. Craig Kimbrel was awful in his 24 regular-season games with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline, and he pitched poorly in Game 2, as well.

They also were incapable of controlling Houston’s running game. The Astros stole four bases in Game 4, with the first three coming without a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal. This isn’t on Grandal but the Chicago pitchers. The first came when Altuve ran on first movement and took second off Rodón in the third inning. In the fourth, Kyle Tucker saw that Kopech wasn’t paying attention to him, got a big lead and swiped second easily; Tucker then took third on the next pitch. It wasn’t that Kopech didn’t look at Tucker, but that he didn’t do anything to prevent him from running. His delivery was a simple progression: come set, glance at the runner, look home, lift leg, pitch. The Astros knew Kopech wasn’t throwing over as soon as he turned his head back toward the plate, so it was safe for Tucker to run. These stolen bases were demoralizing. The Astros were asserting their dominance: We’re going to take this base, and you aren’t going to stop us. We dare you to try. It was then that the White Sox folded; that is, if they hadn’t already.

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