In ragged straits as the biggest series of the season begins

In ragged straits as the biggest series of the season begins
You're a minor leaguer, and I don't want to attack you needlessly, so cut it out with the major league at-bats // Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune

The White Sox don't have much of a shot at the American League Wild Card.  At the moment, they're two and a half games out of the last spot, which isn't as big of a hindrance as three teams they'd have to overcome.

Luckily, they play in the weakest division in all of baseball, and don't have to concern themselves with such unforgiving meritocracies.  Over the weekend, they watched their division lead swell despite dropping two out of three to Kansas City, in a series that featured:

  • 6 for 30 hitting with runners in scoring position (that's a .200 average for those scoring at home)
  • The continuation of Jeremy Guthrie's scoreless season against the White Sox (23.2 IP for those torturing themselves at home)
  • Brett Myers facing seven batters in two games, and allowing six hits
  • Four baserunning outs (three on Sunday, not including Rey Olmedo not running out a bunt)

There wasn't some divine mystery to how the White Sox lost to the Royals this weekend.  They'd played sloppily, spurned opportunities and were made to pay by a major league ballclub.  The Sox actually punished the Royals' weakness--cruddy starting pitching--like they were supposed to.  Both Luis Mendoza and Bruce Chen were sufficiently rocked (three homers apiece), and they only struggled against Jeremy Guthrie, who has returned to being a legit mid-rotation since he escaped from Coors.
That removes the worries that terrible starters can have a mystical hold over the White Sox bats, but still leaves the problem of pissing away highly winnable game that could have removed a lot of the drama from the coming four-game squabble with Detroit for divisional supremacy.
There should have still be a larger margin of error for the Sox foibles, but three veterans took themselves out of play.

  • Adam Dunn "stupidly" re-aggravated his oblique by playing in the Minnesota series, missed the entire weekend and had no timetable for his return.
  • Alexei Ramirez showed up late to the park on Sunday, and was punished by having Rey Olmedo starting in his place (as were we), and goofed up his pinch-running appearance
  • Kevin Youkilis missed the weekend on Paternity Leave.

The last entry is the only one that elicits a smile to go along with the eye roll.  Dunn burned up any sympathy for his overeagerness last season when his hasty return from an appendectomy may or may not have facilitated one of the worst seasons in history.  Ramirez spent a day as a space cadet just after getting written up for how reliable he's been.  Their absences pushed forward reserves in areas where the Sox lack anyone worthy, and the game found them time and time  again.

  • Rey Olmedo - 0 for 8 (0 for 3 w/RISP), 4 K, an error, a botched sacrifice bunt that turned into a strikeout, a mediocre sacrifice bunt that he didn't run out
  • Jose Lopez - 1 for 8 (0 for 3 w/RISP), K, general slowness
  • Robin Ventura has a place on this list for putting these two characters in #2 hole in two separate games

If Dewayne Wise and Tyler Flowers played anything like earlier in the year, the dip into the bench would have been even more grizzly.  Instead, both have been surrogate middle-of-the-order mashers.  If only one of them could play 3rd base, we would not have had that chilling moment on Sunday where the camera shot captured Jose Lopez and Rey Olmedo as the only Sox players in the frame.
Youkilis should be back in the fold for Detroit, and Alexei should be able to find his keys, so there's no need to see Olmedo again soon, but what a remarkable stretch of unfocused preparation and execution this all was.
It would be worthy of being memorialized in panicked columns about "cracking under the pressure" and "just not built for the playoff run" if not for Detroit, who apparently need the insult of the 1st place White Sox staring them in the face to shake them from their lethargy.  Underperforming against a sub-.500 divisional opponent is small potatoes compared to underperforming an entire season.
The White Sox need to split this series.  A split, that's all.  It's more than they needed to accomplish in Detroit and they failed miserably at that, but it's not THAT much.  Losing all four would be disastrous, losing three would spend out the entire lead, and winning the series at all would be nothing short of disastrous for Detroit.  A sweep might be cause to look into whether champagne is on sale anywhere nearby.
But we're talking a split here.  A split would maintain the acceptable status quo, and the law of averages would stipulate that two slightly over .500 teams dueling hesitantly and nervously for four game should probably break even.
The standards haven't been high for the Sox all season, and because of 2011, we've been giddy to watch them just hold the line.  That benchmark for reasonable acceptability is just sitting there guys, grab it!

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