Old habits and horror movie villains both die hard. This weekend was a stern reminder of both adages, as the White Sox suffered yet another late-season humiliation at the hands of their top divisional competition.
In 2010, they entered a crucial mid-August series in Minnesota three games back of the Twins and in the middle of a fade desperately in need of arresting. The Twins would take two one-run games to win the series, punctuated by a Jim Thome walk-off home run that mocked Ozzie Guillen's roster input. They would come to Chicago a month later with the Sox in even more desperate straits (six games back), and sweep them emphatically while hitting Paul Konerko in the face, just for good measure.
But the Twins fell apart after that season, and it became the Tigers' job to give an end-of-season reminder to the Sox that they never really belonged. The teams played two series in September, and the Tigers grabbed all six contests. Those six games were mostly about annihilation, since the Tigers outscored the Sox 60-20, but they managed to sneak in two gut-punches as well. There were two 9th inning rallies off of Sergio Santos to go along with two obliterations of John Danks, one of Buehrle on national TV, and plenty of Verlander dominance.
There's four more games (at home!) with Detroit left this season to reverse such a trend, but the White Sox haven't established a great fondness for showdown series, and all the bad body language at the plate and ill-advised chirping with the competition of previous late-season fades was in plain sight this weekend.
The difference this year is supposed to be the steadier hand now at the helm. And Robin's impact is just as well measured by how the response to this debacle goes--since the recovery from the earlier Tigers sweep is the highlight of his season--but he didn't look wondrous in the series. A disastrous Orlando Hudson-Tyler Flowers hit-and-run was his most active influence on Sunday's game, and the failure to properly exploit an ailing Miguel Cabrera will be written on the tombstone of the 2012 White Sox playoff hopes...should it need one.
Of course, no discussion of this weekend is complete without denigration of some absolutely miserable hitting. It's hard to spread out seven runs over three games in a way that provides for victory. But what to do with a weekend spent hitting 2 for 27 with runners in scoring position?
On the one hand, the White Sox have been the best team with runners in scoring position all season, and this is a three-game blip. On the other, there's not really a natural talent for hitting with runners on. A very similar group of guys was one of the worst in baseball in that same practice last season, and this season's lot is certainly not destined to hit .286 in RBI situations from here on out. The only thing that's firm is no one is bad enough to hit .074 with runners in scoring position for the rest of the year, but it certainly fit the mood of the series.
It's going to be all about reversing slides from here on out
- Adam Dunn's struggles since the beginning of June are well-documented, but a complete and swift recovery from an oblique strain are what's needed now.
- Paul Konerko had a bit of a power streak after returning from his concussion, but now is working on a 'one extra-base hit in his last 46 plate appearances' streak. His power went the way of Adam Dunn's on-base abilities after the first two months.
- Alex Rios had a hitless Detroit series, dragged his average under .300 for the first time in over two months, and needs to move on from an August where he posted a .274 OBP
- Kevin Youkilis also had a hitless series, and 20 of his 88 strikeouts on the year have come against Detroit.
- A.J. Pierzynski struck out nine times in 23 plate appearances this past week.
In a way, that could be encouraging. One certainly wouldn't want to see the White Sox performing normally and still getting hammered. Save for Beckham, and my doubts on Dunn's ability to survive with a 35% strikeout rate, no one really deserves to be written off from ending the month ablaze. And thus, neither should the white Sox.
Previous years have provided plenty of reasons to become jaded, but that only remains relevant to this year's club as long as it's allowed to.