Entering Monday’s series opener against the Angels at 51-58, sitting 14 1/2 games out of the division-leading Royals and 7 1/2 games out of the American League’s second Wild Card spot, Rick Hahn’s description of the White Sox season as “frustrating" was not surprising.
But the general manager wants everyone to remember one thing: The White Sox haven’t been mathematically eliminated from anything yet.
So those who want the page turned to 2016 are just going to have to wait until the math says the White Sox playoff hopes are officially dead.
“Until there’s an ‘X’ next to our name, we’re going to approach it like we have a shot,” Hahn said Monday. “It doesn’t really change how the 25 guys in there, the coaching staff goes about their business. The focus is going to remain on trying to win that night’s ballgame. As for us in the front office and how we approach things, obviously we’ve got to be cognizant of how we sit in the standings and how each loss makes that road a little more difficult to travel down, the road to the playoffs more difficult to travel down. So we’re aware of the situation, and we’re aware of what potentially needs to be done in coming weeks. But for me, in that clubhouse, the focus needs to be on winning tonight’s ballgame.”
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With fewer than two months remaining, the White Sox, realistically, will have to do an awful lot of winning to reach the postseason. It isn’t impossible, Hahn’s certainly right about that. But the way the White Sox have played this year makes that hope a hard one to latch on to.
After one of the team’s best stretches of the season, a seven-game winning streak against last-place teams in Cleveland and Boston, the White Sox have lost eight of their last 10 against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Royals. Most recently, those AL Central-leading Royals swept the White Sox out of Kansas City over the weekend.
That hope that Hahn preached Monday was understandable in the thick of seven straight wins. After this latest downturn, though, it seems more implausible.
“Obviously the up-and-down nature has been frustrating,” Hahn said. “I do think the last positive wasn’t just the eight-game road trip in Cleveland and Boston, I felt that it extended back to late June. I believe we had the second-best record in baseball in the month of July. So it was our belief that was a sign of momentum building. Obviously it was plain for all to see that the improvements in the offense seemed to have arrived. So it is certainly disappointing, the most recent stretch coming out of July, the way we’ve played thus far for the first 10 days (of August). Positive news is we do have a lot of schedule left, we play a lot of the teams we’re chasing, so we still have an opportunity here for us shake off as quickly as we can these tough one-run losses and get going tonight.”
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Many argue that seven-game winning streak came at precisely the wrong time for the White Sox, bumping up against the trade deadline. With the White Sox out of the running, trading Jeff Samardzija — who’s due to become a free agent at season’s end — could have netted a piece or two for the future. That trade didn’t happen, and this current stretch of losing immediately followed. Is standing pat at the deadline something Hahn regrets?
“I don’t think it’s really helpful to do that,” Hahn said of looking back on what some deem a potential missed opportunity. “I think the best way to look at things is make as good a decision as you can at the time based on the information available at that time. And obviously we were real comfortable with the path we decided to go down on the 31st, leading up to the 31st and on the 31st. When we’re presented with another opportunity to potentially make the team better or start looking at the future, we’ll make that decision based on the information available at that time.”
There’s still time to make a deal. The waiver trade deadline is at the end of the current month, and the White Sox have made August deals in the past, showing they aren’t averse to such a deal.
And whether things get better, worse or stay the same, that possibility is on the table.
“We’ve been approaching the deadline and now the waiver period as a hopeful opportunity, hopefully an opportunity to improve ourselves for the long term, not just something specifically for ’15. Obviously thus far we haven’t had that opportunity,” Hahn said. “We aren’t to the point yet where we’re looking necessarily strictly at the future. As we get deeper into August, if things don’t improve, that is something we’re going to have to take seriously. But at this point, we’re taking the same approach of looking at long-term fits that we think can help with this year and beyond.”
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Both short-term and long-term, one thing is certain: Hahn has his mind on a turnaround. That might mean an incredible stretch of winning in August and September with the White Sox clinching an unlikely playoff berth. Or it could mean planning on turning around several straight underwhelming seasons in 2016.
Regardless, Hahn doesn’t want his team written off until it’s mandated by the math. As long as that’s how the White Sox players treat each day, he’ll worry about expediting that turnaround.
“Obviously it hasn’t gone according to how we had hoped other than short stretches where we haven’t been able to maintain for a long period of time. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to lament the way we have played while we still have games to be played,” Hahn said. “I’m talking about in that clubhouse. They need to continue to be focused on winning tonight’s game and focused on this series that we have ahead and this weekend, which should be a good series, as well.
“For us in the front office, we can take a longer view, take a more analytical or long-term approach to why are we in this situation here and how do we rectify it as quickly as possible?”