The White Sox might not be destined for the postseason in 2019. They might not be destined to finish .500, what with the rebuild still grinding along on the South Side.
But this team spent spring training talking about raised expectations, a logical next step for a group of young players supposed to make up part if not much of the rosters of the future that will carry expectations of a lot more success. And while the individual improvements of Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and and Eloy Jimenez and Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez are more important than whatever the win-loss record ends up being, there was a realistic hope within the fan base for more wins.
In part, that was due to the competition around these White Sox. The AL Central is aggressively weak, the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers further back in their own rebuilding efforts than Rick Hahn's front office ever was and the supposed "upper echelon" of the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins anything but terrifying. Outside of the Boston Red Sox (who to this point have been atrocious in defending their World Series championship), the New York Yankees (with a ridiculous number of players on the injured list) and the Houston Astros (generally taking care of business though not in first place in the AL West), did any other American League team look unbeatable during the preseason?
And yet, 23 games into their 2019 campaign, the White Sox have been knocked around by the American League — the good, the bad and the ugly of it.
Wednesday's 4-3 defeat to clinch a series loss to the Baltimore Orioles was particularly disheartening when it comes to which teams the White Sox will be able to take advantage of this season. The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018, the worst team in baseball, and things aren't exactly looking up this time around, either. Well, they just took two of three against the White Sox, knocking the South Side starting staff around enough that Ervin Santana's 4.2 innings of work Wednesday were the most of a White Sox starter in the series. Manny Banuelos and Ivan Nova went four innings apiece in the first two contests.
The Royals and Tigers? Those two teams combined to lose 202 games last season and seemed good bets to finish with worse records than the White Sox this season. That can certainly still happen, but so far the White Sox have split six games against the Royals and dropped two of three in their first series against the Tigers last weekend.
They've split two games with the Indians. They went a gross 1-5 against two surprise division leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. The only team the White Sox have a winning record against is the aforementioned Yankees thanks to taking two of three in The Bronx earlier this month.
A rebuilding team not expected to make the playoffs losing to a smattering of teams including two of the best in the game to this point is not surprising. No one should pretend that other teams aren't seeing the White Sox in the same light White Sox fans see the Royals and Tigers and Orioles. The White Sox lost 100 games last year, too.
But if the expectations have truly increased, if there is progress truly being made, then these are the teams the White Sox should be showing that progress against. They haven't.
Now, individually, things are a bit of a different story. This series in Baltimore featured no starting pitcher that can be considered a part of the White Sox long-term plans, and Nova and Santana turning in losing efforts against the Orioles, no matter how frustrating, doesn't really have negative consequences for the future. Anderson and Moncada are still batting over .300, Jose Abreu could be in the middle of an early season turnaround, and the bullpen only gave up two runs in three games despite pitching more than 12 innings. In the end, what the young guys do will be what's most important, not the White Sox record against any individual team this season.
But the frustrations can be understood — and surely they're being felt inside the White Sox clubhouse as much as they are outside it — because taking care of business against teams expected to be at the bottom of the standings was supposed to be one of the examples of progress, one of the examples of improvement. The White Sox haven't taken care of business against those teams yet this season.
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