Mama said there’d be days like this.
In the middle of the rebuild, it’s hard to call an embarrassing blowout loss unexpected. These types of things are going to happen while the team of the future develops down in the minor leagues.
But anyone who was inside Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon or watching from home saw just how low the lows can get while that plan plays out.
Derek Holland gave up seven runs and left before an out was recorded in the third inning. The visiting Kansas City Royals poured seven more runs on the White Sox bullpen over the course of another South Side marathon. Errors and mental mistakes were made in the field. And the prized prospect who’s supposed to be the star of the team when the rebuild reaches its apex, he struck out for the 30th and 31st times in his last 19 games.
The White Sox aren’t yet at the point when every loss stings the fan base. It’s the middle of August in a last-place season. Heck, losses are even helping the team reach some fans’ goal of the White Sox getting the No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft.
But this one was a stinker. As exciting as it might be to project out the 2020 lineup and follow along with box scores from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, games like this show the most difficult aspects of a rebuild.
“In terms of mistakes, today and yesterday we had some things that didn’t go well and that doesn’t play well or doesn’t look well and we don’t want those things to occur,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “But you continue to address them as need be and deal with them. I think as we continue to move along, hopefully they continue to be fewer and far between. But is it to be expected that they might make mistakes like some that have occurred? Yes.”
Leury Garcia had a couple ugly-looking plays in left field, first making an errant throw home that allowed a run to score in the second and then misjudging a ball that flew by him and went for a double in the third. Those plays, along with Tyler Saladino’s first-inning error at third base, made for a batch of fielding mistakes to go along with a couple mistakes on the base paths in Saturday’s loss.
But the fielding woes paled in comparison to those of Holland on the mound. The veteran righty hasn’t had a good year, and Sunday might have been his worst outing yet. He gave up four runs in the second inning and then couldn’t get an out in the third, giving up a leadoff homer before a double and a walk. He left after throwing 67 pitches and recording just six outs, tagged for seven runs, those two he left on for Mike Pelfrey scoring on Whit Merrifield’s three-run homer.
Holland’s season ERA jumped up to 5.68 after Sunday’s outing.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “Today was just, in my eyes, embarrassing. Not being able to find the strike zone, and then when I did, catching too much plate. These guys are going to do what they did today to you when you can’t not be in the middle of the plate. It’s frustrating. We’ve been working our asses off to do everything right on the field. The thing I’m happy about is obviously being healthy, but I’m past that. I’ve obviously shown I’m healthy, it’s just a matter of executing. It’s frustrating to sit here and work as hard as we do with (pitching coach Don Cooper) and the bullpen and go out there and not be able to do the job I should be doing. It’s just frustrating. I really don’t even know where to begin.”
While much of the campaign has been a rough go for Holland, things have gotten particularly rocky as summer has worn on. He’s made it out of the sixth inning just once since the beginning of July, posting a 8.76 ERA since then. He’s walked a total of 22 batters in his last five starts, including seven in the start prior to Sunday’s.
Sunday was his shortest start of the season but the third since the beginning of June in which he’s failed to get out of the third inning.
“It’s hard,” Renteria said. “When we watch it, we ask ourselves the same thing, ‘What can we possibly do to help him get through this?’ The reality is, tomorrow’s another day and you go back to the drawing board and see if he can put himself back and give himself an opportunity for a good outing the next time out.
“He’s obviously not wanting to go out there to fail. He wants to have success and he wants to have success for his teammates, himself. You feel for him right now, where he’s at. This young man’s working through every possible scenario, and I know he and Coop, they get after it. He’s got a tremendous work routine and ethic, but it just hasn't been working out to this point over the last few outings. I know he's very cognizant of that and he’s wanting to get back on track. The question for all of us, and for him, continues to be, how do we do that?”
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The presence of Holland — as well as other veteran pitchers on the staff like Mike Pelfrey, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez — are necessities in a rebuilding situation, even as the starting pitchers of the future like Reynaldo Lopez start to slowly make their way to the big league team.
Look across town to the Cubs and the kinds of starting pitchers they were employing during their rebuilding years. Yes, Theo Epstein’s front office turned some sign-and-flip guys into top-tier prospects that ended up playing a huge role on a World Series team. But the likes of Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva and Felix Doubront turned into nothing but high ERAs for those fifth-place Cubs teams.
That’s the reality of a rebuild.
“I’m my own worst critic. And I’m not happy with the way I’m performing,” Holland said. “These guys are out here busting their asses for me, and for me to not do my job is what’s frustrating. I have every right to be upset with myself because these fans deserve better. I should be doing better. And I’m not performing the way that I feel I should be. For me, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s very disappointing, and it’s very embarrassing, too.
“I’ve got to keep grinding. I’m not going to throw in the towel. Just because I had a bad outing doesn't mean I quit. We’re going to continue to keep plugging away. Still got the opportunity to be out there, I’ve got to take advantage of it each time like I have been. We all go through tough times, it’s just a matter of the tough times ending.”
But along with all that present-day sorrow comes that hope for the future.
Yoan Moncada had two more strikeouts Sunday, but he also picked up a double. A flash of brilliance for a young player still developing, even if he’s now doing it at the big league level.
He scored on Tim Anderson’s home run, the fourth in the last eight games for the shortstop who’s struggled much of the season but is having himself a very solid August.
Nicky Delmonico reached base for the 12th straight game and picked up a hit in his 10th straight. Look out, DiMaggio. But in all seriousness, he was on base three more times Sunday and might have had a ninth-inning homer if not for Alex Gordon’s highlight-reel leaping snag to end the game.
So this is life in the rebuild. There are going to be some bad days. And if the team on the North Side taught Chicago baseball fans anything, there might even be some bad years. The White Sox are going through one right now, with Sunday’s defeat being the team’s 70th loss of the season.
But there’s also plenty of reason to be hopeful, and these bad days and bad years will have their silver linings, silver linings that will — if everything goes according to Rick Hahn’s plan — blossom into a golden era on the South Side.