ARLINGTON, Texas — The White Sox have been thwarted by inconsistency through the first two months of the 2015 season. It’s a hindrance that was plainly evident Tuesday night in Texas.
Fresh off a series victory over the first-place Houston Astros, Jeff Samardzija allowed nine runs — tied for a career high — in five innings as the White Sox were smoked by Texas, 15-2, at Globe Life Park. One game, no matter how bad, doesn’t represent a significant step in the wrong direction for the 23-27 White Sox, but a team that entered the season with legitimate playoff aspirations showed it still hasn’t put everything together yet.
“We made some good steps in Houston, we played well there,” center fielder Adam Eaton said, “just Jekyll and Hyde.”
At the heart of those early-season inconsistencies has been some bad baserunning and bad defense. While early-season advanced fielding stats aren’t always reliable, the White Sox entered Tuesday with a major league-worst -32 defensive runs saved while Ultimate Zone Rating has them pegged as the ninth-worst defense in baseball.
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FanGraphs also rates the White Sox as baseball’s worst baserunning team, too. But recently, the White Sox have started to see those two areas begin to be shored up.
“This has been a road trip where most of the games have been won on being able to play defense, catch the ball and baserunning, too,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We’ve had some aggressive (baserunning) decisions that worked out for us and when you start doing that, guys check in — it makes sense to them how we’re winning our games.
“For us defense has been there, even in Houston the two games we won because of pretty good defense and in critical spots. It’s more of what you want to see and guys get excited by that because that’s the way you should win them.”
While the White Sox defense had a sub-optimal Tuesday night — Adam LaRoche’s inability to field or knock down Joey Gallo’s sharp ground ball in the first inning opened the door for a four-run frame — it wasn’t the reason why they lost. The same goes for baserunning, though the White Sox only scattered seven hits and didn’t draw a walk, so there weren’t many of those chances.
Instead, Tuesday’s loss was defined by Texas’ bludgeoning of Samardzija, who had turned in strong starts in his prior three outings. Gallo led the way in his major league debut with four RBIs and a home run, while Shin-Soo Choo also homered and Carlos Corporan drove in five.
“We had no chance tonight,” Ventura said. “You can put this one behind you and play tomorrow. This one, you just get your ass kicked.”
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The good news is Chris Sale starts Wednesday night for the White Sox, and all those positives that came out of Houston could have a chance to show themselves if the club ace doesn’t spot Texas an early lead.
There’s a belief that if the fielding and baserunning continue to trend in the right direction, and guys like Eaton and Melky Cabrera start playing like they’ve proven to be capable of, things could start to come together quickly. But so far, that hasn’t happened yet, and that’s why the White Sox are in last place and remain prone to thumping losses like Tuesday.
“We still have over 110 games left at this point,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “At the same time, we want to start seeing more of the consistency we’ve seen in terms of the upside of our performance, some of the guys with the track record we expect them to eventually reach very likely will get going or will continue to get going over the next few weeks, and that’s only going to help us in the long run. There certainly is plenty of time to put ourselves back in the position to win this thing, which was our goal from the start.”