The White Sox have lost four games in a row for the first time this season. While they still hold a 2.5 game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central, the stomach acid of the South Side faithful is churning.
We’ve seen this story before, and while it’s only June, you could forgive the fanbase if they feel a sense of Deja Vu.
In 2012, Robin Ventura, in his first of five seasons as White Sox manager, led the Sox into September with a real chance to break the three-year playoff drought.
They sat at 72-60, a game up on Detroit for first place. They proceeded to go 13-18 the rest of the way, with Detroit pulling the inverse at 18-13.
The 2012 Pale Hose spent 126 days in first place that season. The last of which was September 25th. Unfortunately for the Sox, the season ended on October 3rd, and Chicago finished 85-77. 3 games behind the AL Central Champs (and eventual AL Champion) Tigers and 8 games out of the Wild Card.
That drought continued for SEVEN more seasons.
While the 2020 Sox finally broke through, they did so because of an expanded playoff field. But, of course, that wouldn’t have been the case had Ricky Renteria’s boys not floundered in September.
The Sox were in first place for 22 of the 60 games in the shorted COVID season, including most of September. They lost 7 of 8 to end the season. Dropping into second place tied with Cleveland and dropping all the way down to a 7-seed when they could have possibly been the 2-seed.
2020 certainly ended better than 2012 as we finally got to see Playoff Baseball, but both scenarios played out similarly. A team on top of the world, heading right for an iceberg.
The Sox of 2021 do have a few things going for them that past iterations did not:
First, they have not crumbled under pre-season expectations.
The White Sox usually only do good when they’re not expected to, or no one is paying attention. So it’s the ultimate “Under the Radar” move! Just like Kenny Williams always planned.
While the Sox we not universally picked to win the Central, plenty of publications had them breaking out in Soxtober Fever again.
In an alternate world, it’s very easy to see the Sox and Minnesota Twins situations this season reversed. Of course, everyone is pretty surprised at how bad Minnesota is, but I doubt many would have batted an eye if the 2021 White Sox were in the cellar.
Second, devastated by injuries, the Sox have managed to get pretty solid, professional baseball from plug-and-play veterans.
The Sox bench and journeymen have all played at least at Replacement Level. Which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not! When you lived through Nicky Delmonico, you can weep for joy when you see a 0.1 fWAR from a guy with 50+ ABs.
So far, this toothpicks and gum lineup coupled with a stellar and hopefully spider tack-free rotation has kept the Sox on top of the Central and at times on top of baseball, period, but the cracks are starting to show. Reinforcements should be on the way, whether via call-up, trade, or return from injury, but NOW is the time to keep the Titanic from sinking.
The Sox have answered the bell after getting punched in the face before -- whether getting swept by the Yankees, or after devastating injury news, and let’s be honest, also after La Russa pulled some bone-headed tactical or press conference decisions.
It’s not September yet, so perhaps my consternation is misguided. Instead, the Sox enter a very easy stretch of schedule heading into the All-Star break, having hit (hopefully) the rock bottom of the 2021 season: A four-game “ass whooping” by a possible October opponent in the Houston Astros.
This would be a very inconvenient time for the wheels to fall off, and it’s up to Tony La Russa to prove he still has some magic in those 76-year-old stirrups.