A bad time for reality to set in

A bad time for reality to set in
Alex Rios is fairly new to this "important baseball game" concept

Some of the raw horror of the White Sox five-game losing streak has been blunted by Detroit forsaking a chance to take a division lead, and getting swept out of a doubleheader by the Twins.  It's hard to figure out how the Sox will ever win another game at this rate, but maybe they won't have to!

Yet still, it is a deeply troubling time for the White Sox, as a disturbing trend is emerging.  "They're not scoring" is a proper assessment  of what's going on (eight runs in five games), but a little vague for our tastes.  The White Sox are not scoring because they're not hitting with runners in scoring position--3 for 37 during the streak, to be precise.

But this is no fluke, or just a representation of a single bad road trip.  This is something that has been happening throughout September (which the Sox now have a 9-12 record in).  For the month, they have as a team, a .193 batting average with runners in scoring position, or 35 for 181.  Six of those hits came the night they lost 18-9 to the Twins.  They should have saved those hits for a day where they had a chance in hell.

What's remarkable is that this run has only dropped the Sox to 6th in all of baseball in the category, which speaks to how this team was making their money the first five months of the season.  They hit .288 with runners in scoring position from April through August, staying neck-and-neck with Detroit for the top mark in the sport all year.  Currently Detroit is #1, and the Rockies #2.  There is not a direct correlation between excelling in these situations and being a good team, as you probably can glean.

But the Sox flair for the big moment covered up a lot of deficiencies this season.  Even with their recent plunge into sadness, opportunism and the homer-friendliness of U.S. Cellular Field have kept them from dropping any lower than 5th in the AL in runs scored.  That comes despite being 10th in on-base percentage and 7th in weighted-runs created.  Hitting with runners on has certainly been responsible for covering up otherwise shoddy offensive seasons from Alexei Ramirez (.344 w/RISP) and Dayan Viciedo (.290 w/RISP).

The problem of course, is that turning up the juice with runners on isn't a skill that can be relied on.  The 2010 White Sox were excellent in RBI situations, the 2011 Sox were terrible with a similar group.  It fluctuates. Over time, players and teams tend to hit to their regular levels, and the teams that create the most scoring opportunities total carry the day.

With that in mind, while the Sox are surely in a slump that they will snap out of, the question is how much they'll snap out of it?  The shining success of the first five months was unsustainable.

This is, of course, an entirely statistical way of looking at it, and no one wants to hear about a team failing to hit in the clutch down the stretch of a playoff race without acknowledging the pressure they're under.  So here's Jeff Manto acknowledging pressure to CSN Chicago.

“You care so much,” Manto said. “You get to the point where you really sincerely care about these players. You care about their well-being. You know if they aren’t doing well, they aren’t sleeping at night. And so it bothers us all.”

That certainly sounds bad, but it's also not a situation that's unique to the Sox.  Anyone who watched Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder try their hardest to golf a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th Sunday knows that the Tigers are aware of the intensity of the situation as well.

When looking at what's shaping the White Sox performance in comparison to the rest of the league, we want to find what's unique.  An older lineup, a first-time manager, some smattering of veterans with no pennant race experience (Rios, Dunn) are all potential factors, but it could be as simple as the offense starting to slide closer to being the sum of its parts.

 

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