What latest Tony La Russa update means for White Sox playoff chances

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CHICAGO — Chicago White Sox CP Liam Hendriks had a very simple answer for what has been the difference for his team since Miguel Cairo took over as acting manager for Tony La Russa.

There has been plenty of talk about the passionate talk that Miguel Cairo delivered shortly after taking over for La Russa when the Chicago White Sox manager was sidelined with health issues on August 30. Since that time, under the guidance of Cairo, the White Sox had posted a 9-4 record heading into Tuesday’s series opener against the Colorado Rockies at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Chicago’s closer, Liam Hendriks, has seen the difference in the team and heard the motivational speech from Cairo, given after the first game that he oversaw, a 9-7 home loss to the Kansas City Royals.

“It was a similar message that Tony has been giving us. It was just a different delivery and I think it really connected with a couple of the guys,” Hendriks said. “Since that’s happened, we’ve had more energy. We’ve got guys who are in the dugout a little bit more, guys who are out there supporting and running around. They’re doing all of these things a little bit more and the energy level has kind of increased.”

What was the message delivered to the Chicago White Sox by Miguel Cairo in the absence of Tony La Russa?

“I saw something I didn’t like in that game, and I couldn’t let it pass. I just let them know how I feel,” Cairo said. “‘Are you in or are you out? If you’re out, let me know. If you’re in, let’s go for it.’”

That simple message of “Let’s go for it” has resonated and has pushed the White Sox within three games of the American League Central lead heading into Tuesday night’s contest. Since Cairo asked if the White Sox were in or out, the team has won four consecutive series and four of its last five games.

The question has also bolted the White Sox up the playoff probability ladder. On August 30, Chicago had a 7.7 percent chance to make the postseason per FanGraphs. On September 13, that number had risen to 22.9 percent.

There is no timeline for La Russa’s return, meaning Cairo will oversee the team in the dugout for the foreseeable future. However, Cairo made clear on Tuesday that the Hall of Fame manager is still a part of the team’s everyday activities saying, “He’s going through everything that he needs to do.” Cairo also said that he still asks for La Russa’s opinion if he has a doubt about the position in the lineup.

It’s still certainly not a sure thing that the White Sox will make the postseason, but the odds have certainly improved with Cairo at the helm and some feelings now out in the open about Chicago’s seeming lack of urgency. With Chicago seven games back in the Wild Card standings, the team’s best path to the postseason will be winning the division. Four remaining games against AL Central-leading Cleveland and six against the fading Minnesota Twins could tell the story of just how far the White Sox can go in 2022.

La Russa watched Tuesday’s game against the Rockies from a suite and has still not been cleared by doctors to manage in-game. When and if he returns this season is a big question mark, but Cairo and the White Sox are living in the moment for now and trying to get back to the postseason with a renewed focus and energy, with the odds climbing with every win.

“Today, I’m the manager. Tomorrow, I don’t know,” Cairo said. “But that’s my job right now and I’m glad (La Russa is) around because I always ask him questions about what I could have done better or different or stuff like that. He’s got experience. He’s a mentor. He’s like a father to me. I care about him and I’m glad he’s well.”

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