Ow factor: Can White Sox maintain grip on first place despite major injuries?
With Nick Madrigal’s serious hamstring injury that landed him on the 60-day injured list Thursday, one third of what was supposed to be the Sox’ Opening Day lineup will miss most of the season.
How much more can the White Sox withstand?
With second baseman Nick Madrigal’s serious hamstring injury landing him on the 60-day injured list Thursday, one-third of the Sox’ expected Opening Day lineup is projected to miss most of the season.
Somehow, some way, the Sox have maintained their grip on first place in a very winnable American League Central and are, in the view of many, the team to beat in the entire AL. But Madrigal’s loss will be felt. He was playing his best baseball of the season both offensively and defensively and “is a big, big part of our club,” manager Tony La Russa said.
If the Sox are to meet their goal of getting to the World Series, they might have to get there without the two-strike hitting master, who swings “a magic wand,” as La Russa puts it, but won’t be able to use it because of a proximal right hamstring tear.
Season-ending surgery is possible to fix a complete tear of a tendon connected to the hamstring and a partial tear of another tendon. It will be a week before a path to Madrigal’s recovery can be determined.
“We’re exploring options,” general manager Rick Hahn said.
Outfielder Brian Goodwin was called up from Triple-A Charlotte, which will allow outfielder-infielder Leury Garcia to play more second base. Danny Mendick played second in Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays. The pair will split time, La Russa said.
Hahn also will look at possible trades. The Pirates’ Adam Frazier, the Rangers’ Brock Holt and the Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop are just three names who could be available from teams in sell mode as the July 31 trade deadline nears. Hahn would have been in talks to improve the team anyway, but Madrigal’s injury shifts the focus to new area of need.
“It’s June 10,” Hahn said. “This is still a little bit early for things to be getting done, but the talks will become a little more focused here. We could well have an interesting next [several weeks] leading up to the trade deadline.”
Madrigal’s is the latest in a series of big injury blows to the Sox, who are playing without left fielder Eloy Jimenez (torn pectoral muscle) and center fielder Luis Robert (strained hip flexor) for most of the season. Getting them healthy and sharp in time for the postseason is a possibility that keeps the Sox in good stead.
“Their trajectories are both good, and we remain optimistic on both returning at some point this year,” Hahn said.
However, with neither cleared for baseball activities yet, and with each several weeks away from a rehab assignment, the most optimistic return projection is late August or September.
“Only when they are headed for a rehab assignment am I going to give a satisfying answer [about] when can we expect them back,” Hahn said.
In the meantime, the Sox trudge along in first place, with a 4½-game division lead.
“What we’re dealing with is a first-place team that has overcome numerous challenges already this season,” Hahn said.
Said La Russa: “We’ve proven we can handle it. Play as hard as we can and as good as we can with the guys we have.”
Even without Jimenez and Robert, the Sox rank second in the majors in weighted runs created. Their starting pitchers led the majors with a 2.98 ERA entering Thursday, and the bullpen ranks among the best.
Put it all together and you have a team that, at 38-24, is rivaling its best start since 2006 (38-23).
Plowing ahead without Madrigal, a No. 4 overall draft pick in 2018 who was batting .305/.349./425, presents the next challenge. He was batting .359/.412/.551 with nine extra-base hits and 10 RBI over his last 21 games before he got hurt running out a ground ball.
“Never give in, never give up,” La Russa said. “Look at the lineup [Thursday] — that’s a quality starting lineup. Quality starting pitcher, quality bullpen. I’m really more concerned about somebody who enjoys the game so much who’s not playing. Same thing with Eloy and Luis and, to a lesser extent, [pitcher] Michael [Kopech]. It’s harder on them than us.”