Avoiding 100 losses won’t be manager Pedro Grifol’s stated goal. No one has told him the season is over.
But it no doubt will be on his mind every day for the next 22 games, beginning Friday in Detroit, where the Sox start a three-game series.
The Sox need nine wins to avoid reaching the tragic number, and they might have to do it without Michael Kopech in the rotation. Kopech was scheduled to go Saturday in Detroit, but the Sox starter is listed as TBD after Kopech’s latest walkfest.
After Kopech failed to last two innings Sunday in a loss to the Tigers, Grifol said there was no talk of using him as a reliever the rest of the way.
“You just can’t find starters like that with that kind of stuff that’s proven they can go deep in games and still go through an order three times,” he told reporters. “We have to do whatever it takes and exhaust every resource we can to make sure he stays a starter.
“A reliever, that’s down the road after everything’s been exhausted. We’ll think about that at that time. But right now, we haven’t discussed that at all. We need him to start.”
Perhaps emboldened by a vote of confidence from new general manager Chris Getz, who said on his first day that the first-year manager would return in 2024, Grifol on Wednesday answered a question about Kopech’s status by basically telling reporters he didn’t feel like discussing it.
“We’re still in the process of, not figuring out what we’re going to do, but we’re still in the process of communicating — not with Kopech — but as an organization, to see what we’re going to do,” he said. “Why? That’s going to stay internal.”
What has changed since Sunday?
Who knows? Stay out of White Sox business.
As former Sox slugger Frank Thomas said on Wednesday’s pregame show on NBC Sports Chicago, controlling the media is what this organization is all about. The change of deck chairs from Ken Williams and Rick Hahn to Getz apparently hasn’t changed the team’s philosophy. Kudos to the Big Hurt for pointing out what the rest of the Chicago media always have known.
Whether Kopech gets moved to the bullpen or shut down would be Getz’s call. And it would be Getz’s second major decision after assuring Grifol he would be back. Touted as a core player in the rebuild after arriving from the Boston Red Sox farm system in the 2016 Chris Sale trade, Kopech could find his long-term future with the Sox in doubt.
His removal from the rotation would leave Dylan Cease and Mike Clevinger as the only remaining starters from opening day. Cease also has had a subpar season, and the Sox put Clevinger on waivers at the end of August, a decision Getz made before he was officially hired as GM.
The Sox found out what they probably knew — that Clevinger was unwanted by any postseason contender, despite a 2.31 ERA over his last six starts leading up to the waiver decision. No one wanted one of the hottest major-league starters for the stretch run? Imagine that.
Clevinger then was bombed in his first start after being pulled off waivers, allowing eight runs on 12 hits in four innings against the Tigers. If he and Cease don’t pitch up to their talent level, the trek to 100 losses seems inevitable.
The last time the Sox lost 100 games was 2018, going 62-100 in the second year of the rebuild under manager Rick Renteria.
“As far as the numbers, they are what they are,” Renteria said after they reached 100 by losing to the Minnesota Twins on the final day. “I have to reflect on how we got to that point and some of the things we have to do to correct it and move on.”
Grifol’s job might not be in jeopardy, but trying to sell season tickets with a Getz-Grifol tandem in place after 100 losses won’t be easy. Before 2018, the Sox’s last 100-loss season came in 1970, when they finished 56-106 under three managers, including Don Gutteridge, who was let go on Sept. 2 after asking for assurance he would be back in 1971.
The Sox already had contacted Chuck Tanner about the managerial job but said they would have to wait a couple of weeks to announce their pick.
“The newspaper boys ought to have a lot of fun guessing now, shouldn’t they?” Sox executive Leo Breen told the Tribune, oblivious to the embarrassment of the historic season.
The Sox came close to 100 losses under manager Robin Ventura in 2013. During a horrid September, Paul Konerko said avoiding the mark was important but not because it changed anyone’s outlook on the season.
“You don’t want that notch in your belt,” Konerko said. “But also I don’t think it clicks over from 95 losses to 100, where somewhere the description of your year changes. But you try to avoid 100 for no other reason than for the people who are here next year.
“It’s almost like putting (the record) on the next year. It’s going to be bad, and there are going to be questions either way. ... But this hasn’t been a good year.”
Hahn insisted in August of that year the Sox weren’t discussing a rebuild: “We’re not in a position to either, one, write off any season, or two, (question whether) we have to because we already are starting with a nucleus of young pitching that puts us ahead of the game and accelerates the timetable for turning things around.”
Famous last words.
With 94 losses on Sept. 24, the 2013 Sox needed only one win in their final six games to avoid the century mark. They promptly lost four straight before beating the Kansas City Royals on the second-to-last day of the season to ensure no worse than a 99-loss season.
That team finished 7-21 in September. The 2023 Sox started the season 7-21.
That’s known in the business as White Sox symmetry.