White Sox' roller-coaster season in a deep dip
White Sox manager Robin Ventura walks in the dugout during the eighth inning of Saturday's 10-4 loss to Tampa Bay at U.S. Cellular Field.
September has been spent in the pit of despair for every aspect of White Sox baseball. Players, coaches and fans have searched for answers in the midst of dispiriting decay.
Starting pitching hasn't been dominant in some time. No one has put the team on his back and said "I got this one tonight," negating the need for vanishing clutch hitting and a tiring bullpen.
It's gone the other way, as three of the last five starters haven't gotten out of the fourth inning. The Sox have had just 10 quality starts in 23 September games. Saturday, Chris Sale exhaustedly offered his shortest outing of the year.
That bullpen has had inhabitants exchanging goat horns. Brett Myers' gopher ball to Evan Longoria on Thursday was the latest blemish. Myers was the third of the big trade acquisitions, all of whom started out so well, to now show the worst of themselves.
Kevin Youkilis singlehandedly won three or four games in his first two weeks but has looked tired. His numbers dwindled in August and withered further this month.
Francisco Liriano was very good in 4 of his first 5 White Sox starts, but he has reverted to his usual pattern since his surgery in 2006. He toggles between dominance and chaos.
The Sox are kings of the solo home run. It became an awful sign to see men on base. Bases loaded? Runs only score on a hit by pitch or a double play. The lack of clutch hitting sits atop the blame list.
Alex Rios, the clear team MVP, is not part of the problem. But the captain at first base sure has been. His average has been in the .230s the last two months. The once daily meetings of the Paul Konerko Appreciation Society haven't been held since May.
They're playing the worst baseball of their season at the worst possible time.
"These games look the same," Konerko said this week, and it doesn't really matter after which day it was. "Sometimes the game is cruel."
It's been cruel on the outside as well. The arc of how we've all felt about this team is a story unto itself.
I thought they'd be better than most everybody else, penciling them in for 85 wins and a second-place finish.
I kept thinking they were exactly at that level for a long time, even after they'd been atop the division for a while. When the Cubs took two of three at the Cell in mid-June, second place gave a warm welcome, and I thought that's where they'd stay.
I was wrong. Other than three days, from July 21-23, the Sox were in first every day for almost three months.
Eventually, like a lot of people, I came to believe. I believed the White Sox were simply better, in large part because the Tigers were, and are, so completely flawed.
I plotted out playoff rotations. I urged fans to remain calm in the face of panic.
The Tigers still are just OK; they're 15-12 this month. The Sox, painfully, are 11-16.
Baseball humbles you like no other sport. It's built on its relentless ability to humiliate. The best in the world are disappointed, often pathetically so, six or seven times out of every 10.
Pathetic disappointment sounds about right.
The roller coaster was built to be ridden. This one's a doozy, and lately it has been stuck in an upside-down loop.
We've been afforded more baseball joy and intrigue than most thought would be granted. As harrowing as it has been, I know I'll ride that intellectual roller coaster again. I'll ride it with fervor, every season.
We all just might need a few months to forget the depths of these dips.
Unless of course Detroit loses today and the Sox win …
•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.
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