Opinion: A look inside the atmosphere of the White Sox clubhouse

CHICAGO — The Chicago White Sox are the worst team in Major League Baseball. They have the worst record, the fewest runs scored, the second most runs given up, and anyone of value on the roster has a realistic opportunity of being jettisoned to greener pastures by the July 30 trade deadline.

The atmosphere around the team must be as garbage as their record, right?

Not really.

Under those circumstances, sure, it would be reasonable to assume the vibes around this team are tense, maybe even strenuous.

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At face value, I’d assume playing on a team that’s 17-49 is like being in a constant state of anxiety, grinding your teeth game by game, with each one becoming even more meaningless than the last as the weeks come and go.

But as I walked into Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend, the atmosphere was far from that. Matter of fact, I’d bet if a casual observer were none the wiser, they would have never guessed the Sox were as bad as their record might indicate.

After going through the usual gambit of bag and badge checks to get into the clubhouse Saturday, I entered to see Garrett Crochet and Dominic Fletcher exchanging laughs and playing a game of ping-pong, which Fletcher appeared to win.

At about the same time, Chicken Fried by the Zac Brown Band gently hummed over the clubhouse speakers, and Jordan Leasure relaxed into the chair in front of his locker, watching what appeared to be a baseball TikTok or Instagram reel.

A few more seconds ticked off the clock, and as I stood around the counter in the center of the clubhouse with the rest of the local media, Danny Mendick walked by, heading toward his locker with a friendly smile on his face.

“How we doing today guys?” He said to no one in particular.

Small talk and pleasantries were exchanged before Mendick tucked in his shirt, grabbed his glove, and headed out onto the field to get some infield work done ahead of their game against the Boston Red Sox that evening.

Everything seemed business as usual, all despite the fact Chicago was just a game removed from a 14-game losing streak at the time, the second longest such streak in franchise history (The White Sox lost 15 straight games from the end of the 1967 season, into the beginning of the 1968 season).

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After their 12th consecutive loss during that streak, White Sox hall of famer Frank Thomas characterized the way the team has played as “snake-bitten,” which surmised their season well.

When Chicago has hit, they haven’t pitched. When the White Sox have pitched, they haven’t hit.

If their consistent inability to string everything together wasn’t enough of a roadblock, there’s also the uncharacteristic slumps of players expected to produce, while battling the ever-present injury bug.

As of Saturday afternoon, the White Sox had 13 players on the injured list, including Mike Clevinger, Dominic Leone, Steven Wilson, Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Fletcher, Eloy Jimenez and Tommy Pham.

Luis Robert Jr, by and far the team’s most talented player, was reinstated from the injured list Tuesday after missing 53 games with a right hip flexor strain.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Benintendi and Andrew Vaughn have been underwhelming.

In 51 games, Benintendi — The man with the dubious distinction of being the highest paid player in White Sox history (at about one-tenth the price of Shohei Ohtani’s latest contract) — Has slashed .195/.230/.284 with four home runs, 18 RBI’s and a .514 OPS, while Vaughn has put together a .217/.278/.353 slash line with six home runs and 22 RBI’s, although his bat has perked up lately.

Vaughn was on an eight game hit streak heading into Sunday, during which he’s hit .355 with two doubles, two home runs and four RBI’s.

Benintendi, Moncada, Robert Jr, Jimenez and Vaughn were the 1-5 hitters for the White Sox on Opening Day, and they’ve all suffered injuries that have cost them varying amounts of time on the IL, or endured one of the worst seasons of their careers through 66 games.

Throw in Tommy Pham, who’s batted in the leadoff slot or two hole in all of his 33 games with Chicago since making his debut with the club on April 26, and this team has never really had the opportunity for their lineup to develop the kind of cohesion necessary to win baseball games in the big leagues on a consistent basis.

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Then there are the woes of the pitching staff.

Before the season even started, staff ace Dylan Cease was shipped off in a mid-spring training trade with the San Diego Padres.

Clevinger, arguably the second best starting pitcher in last season’s rotation behind Cease, is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts on the mound, and is working back from right elbow inflammation on the IL.

With their top starting pitcher traded and their second best starter battered and bruised, Crochet, Erick Fedde, Leasure, Jared Shuster and Steven Wilson are the only White Sox pitchers with an ERA below 4.00 on the roster.

Subtract Wilson from that group, who has been on the IL since May 20 with a back strain, and Chicago has two starting pitchers and two relief pitchers who have performed admirably and remained available among the 18 pitchers who have made at least five appearances for the team this year.

It’s no wonder the White Sox are where they are, but even with all that’s happened, the players have remained positive, and the roster, still cohesive — Injuries, losses and poor performances aside.

“We’ve got a really good group of guys in here, Strong clubhouse,” said Gavin Sheets after the White Sox 6-1 victory Saturday. “It’s been like this since spring training and there were two ways we could’ve gone. We could’ve broken during that streak or come closer together.

“Everybody in here has gone through it together. We all support each other, and yeah, [we’re] just a really close group.”

Given Sheets’ sentiments, it’s hard not to sit back and visualize an alternate reality where all of Chicago’s dominos fall in a row.

The offensive core of Robert Jr, Moncada, Jimenez and Benintendi stays intact, with Vaughn living up to his offensive potential and DeJong offering some punch at shortstop.

Cease stays in town, with Crochet and Fedde helping form a formidable trio atop their rotation.

The bullpen becomes bedrock, with guys like Leasure, Leone, Wilson, Michael Kopech and more offering reliable options in relief.

If that’s the team taking the field Sunday, they’re likely at or above .500, straddling second place or fighting for the top spot in a very much winnable American League Central.

Instead though, they remain level-headed bottom dwellers, fighting to find the magic of consistent success that has eluded them for most of 2024.

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