There’s not much surprising about the Houston Astros coming to South Side and blowing out the White Sox in back-to-back games. These are the defending champions, one of if not the best team in baseball, flexing their muscles against a White Sox team in the thick of a rebuild.
But while the past two games have been ugly — the White Sox have been outscored 20-1 and out-hit 26-6 — this isn’t exactly a phenomenon that just popped up this weekend.
The White Sox have been outplayed ever since they left Kansas City at the close of March. They’re 2-13 in April. In their last five games, these two against the Astros and the previous three against the Oakland Athletics, they’ve been outscored 50-15. On the season, only the torn-down Miami Marlins have a worse run differential than the White Sox mark of minus-50.
And that’s where the surprise comes in. The White Sox weren’t expected to be a championship contender in 2018. They’re rebuilding. But they weren’t expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball.
It’s still plenty early, of course, but the White Sox are a last-place team, jockeying with the equally disappointing Kansas City Royals for that distinction in the American League Central. The two division rivals entered Sunday with four wins apiece, the second-lowest total in the majors behind the three-win Cincinnati Reds, who have already fired their manager.
This was always going to be a season of silver linings, and those have existed in guys like Reynaldo Lopez, Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson. But it’s not at all difficult to see why general manager Rick Hahn described this time as the hardest part of the rebuilding effort.
“Obviously we haven’t been thrilled with the wins and losses,” Hahn said before this series started Friday. “I mean we’ve made no secret that where we are as an organization, we haven’t shied away from the fact that we’re two years into a rebuild right now and that there’s going to be difficult stretches and that there’s going to be growing pains. That said, we’re all competitors, we’re all watching these games and wanting to see the team battle through and come out ahead, and when we don’t it’s frustrating. We don’t like experiencing these losses than any other White Sox fan.”
Hahn attempted to prepare fans and observers — and members of his own front office — for this moment throughout the offseason. When trade rumors involving Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado swirled around the White Sox during the Winter Meetings, he mentioned how the White Sox braintrust had to remind themselves, even, to be patient as their rebuilding plan unfolded.
They were patient then, and the reward was the retention of all the minor league talent Hahn acquired in 2016 and 2017. All those players are developing in the minor leagues and doing so in impressive ways. Checking the box scores from Charlotte, Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannpolis have become part of White Sox fans’ daily routines — and the development of prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and Luis Alexander Basabe, among others, has everyone excited for a bright future on the South Side.
But those players aren't here yet and won't be coming until they're absolutely ready. That means the present at the major league level is not yielding the results any baseball fan would hope. The fans have bought into the rebuild, there’s no denying that. But that doesn’t mean they’re content to watch their team lose 13 of 15.
“You heard me say too much at the end of last season that I suspect this year’s going to be one of the, perhaps the toughest part of the rebuild,” Hahn said. “We want to exhibit patience and allow these guys time to grow.
“Again, we’re all fundamentally competitors, we all want to win every ballgame. The way Ricky (Renteria) and the staff is extremely focused on trying to get these guys in the right position to win on a nightly basis and feeling that frustration when we don’t is right where you want them. At the same time, we talk about having the long-term view and seeing the positives that some of these young players are presenting this organization right now and where their growth and where their trajectories are likely headed.
“But we have to remind ourselves, there’s going to be 15-game stretches that are going to be frustrating like the last 15. There’s also going to be some that are going to be a little better than expected here over the course of the summer. When we inevitably go through another tough 15-game stretch, we’re probably going to have to reiterate a lot of what I’ve been saying since the end of last season about where we are and what our broader long-term goals are.”
White Sox fans are excited about those long-term goals, the long-term plans and the bright future Hahn and his front office have generated. They knew this kind of 2018 season at the major league level was part of the deal. But the frustration is real, too.
White Sox fans, know that Hahn & Co. share your pain.