After the worst start in team history, the White Sox and their fans are on a journey to manage their expectations. Are we there yet?
Yeowch! Dat hurts.
Call it whatever you want. Through the first quarter of a season, the Sox have been trounced, thumped, kicked, stomped, spanked, clubbed, destroyed and dismantled. Might as well go all the way and say they were probed, flogged, skinned, hanged, locked in a crate in handcuffs and dangled from a crane, canned in their own natural juices, verbally scorned and humiliated, and dragged into the parking and publicly belittled by area schoolchildren. It’s been tough.
There is losing, and then there is the unprecedented losing over the entire 118 years worth of team’s history. If you haven’t seen much lately, it may have been because you actually were watching but your brain forced you to close your eyes to avoid the horror. The brain does that. It’s like fainting. Once the pain gets bad enough, brain steps in and shuts everything down.
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This is a Major League Baseball team that is losing nearly three times as many games as it is winning. That is the precise scenario in which managers get fired, players get benched, sent down or traded, and fans decide they have better things to do than spend their hard-earned money on inferior products. I know, I know – it’s a rebuilding season and one of lowered expectations. But these are professional baseball players, and this is not the worst set of talent the team has put on the field in its history.
Poor Carson Fulmer isn’t missing bats. He’s either missing the strike zone entirely or grooving pitches where only hitters want them to go. Fulmer making a start is a bit like a WWII vet watching the opening of the film Saving Private Ryan; if they can get past the first 25 minutes, they will generally be okay.
If Fulmer had a choice of pitching in Charlotte or pitching out of the bullpen in games that don’t matter, I wonder which he would choose? The answer is key because one of the two might be what needs to occur. The bullpen would not be a punishment; it would guarantee him work. Super short starts aren’t delivering the type of workload that he and the other youngsters need to undertake to build up the level of stamina and endurance they need this year. That and getting as much experience as possible against Major League hitters.
A move like that doesn’t have to be major, and it’s not unprecedented – that is exactly what happened to him last season. After two relief stints following up the disaster doubleheader start against Minnesota, he responded positively. This year he already has one bullpen outing after the 1.0 inning disaster in Oakland. To this he also responded positively, starting in both the wins he has this season.
Lucas Giolito is working through his own struggles as well. It pains me to watch him fall off the mound with that flailing delivery. Maybe he’s over-throwing or struggling to find velocity. He definitely doesn’t look like he’s in control, and when you walk seven and throw three wild pitches in a game you’re not. You can issue seven walks in a game and find success – just ask Joe Cowley, whose 1986 no-hitter featured seven issued base on balls. But it ain’t pretty.
Giolito and Fulmer represent just two obvious areas of concern for the young team. Their struggles are visible and obvious. But the only way you learn anything is to make mistakes. Our society doesn’t like mistakes, we like to be blameless, and our accountability an even lesser amount.
The White Sox will have a better record when they begin playing better and making better pitch choices in the batter’s box. They’ll no longer have the worst record in the big leagues when they stop losing and find ways to manufacture runs and eek out wins. They are 4-11 in one-run games. Championship teams learn to win the games they have the chance to win.
Their pitching will look miraculously better when they play better defense, as there is no greater contributor to pitching success than catching the ball and optimizing outs on balls put in play. And that includes catchers, who need to frame pitches effectively and keep runners from advancing bases as much as they can.
Fans will feel better when they remember the team is still building and think about who the White Sox will draft next month and in 2019. They can think about the mountain of talent in Charlotte, Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis combined and realize there is only upside coming to everything, and realize there is going to be a whole lot more learning and struggling to come. Might as well have a sense of humor about it. Right now White Sox Fans could watch the film Analyze This and believe it’s a documentary. Nothing is funny right now. We’re ready to start shooting pillows.
Sports psychologist and self-declared rebuild guru Dr. Phun Goh PhD, E.G., B.S. knows this, and that’s why he’s prescribed a big, fat chill pill for White Sox fans. There is no shortcut. This is going to take a long time. Every day, though, the team is learning. The kids on the farm too, getting a bit closer to having their chance to make the team and go through their own trials.
It seems like I have a vague déjà vu about all this. Maybe it was a dream a long time ago, or maybe reality just last season. I seem to remember the team dropping 13 of 20 heading into the break, then kicking the second half off by losing 19 of 22. That’s a 10-32 record – worse than they have played this year. And that team had a 15-14 winning record in September.
The team will get better. The unknown is when. And that means we have no choice but to stay tuned. This bad stretch, like a kidney stone, will eventually pass.