Just because the calendar turned from Year 1 to Year 2 in the White Sox rebuilding process doesn’t mean that the rebuild is over quite yet.
The hardest part of the rebuild, general manager Rick Hahn said this offseason, might be the current part. After his front office stocked the farm system with an incredible amount of young talent, now it’s time to play the waiting game as all those highly touted prospects continue to cook in the minor leagues.
But the waiting game is played at the same time as the real-life baseball games, and over the last five games at the major league level, South Side baseball fans have been witness to baseball that even eternal optimist Rick Renteria will readily admit isn’t the best around.
“We certainly haven’t played, in general, the best five games we’ve had in our time here,” Renteria said Tuesday.
Yes, this homestand, the first of the 2018 campaign, has been an ugly one so far. The White Sox have dropped the first five games played at Guaranteed Rate Field this season and have done so with an offense that has been almost entirely unable to come up with a big hit in a big moment, a bullpen that’s turned in a couple nasty outings and a starting pitching staff that is issuing a heck of a lot of walks.
It’s hard to say Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays encapsulated the struggles, considering all these games have been aesthetically displeasing. But just one run through the first eight innings, just one hit through the first four-plus innings, a 1-for-10 mark with runners in scoring position (Jose Abreu’s three-run homer in the ninth) and nine runners left on base sufficiently sums up the offensive struggles.
Carson Fulmer, meanwhile, issued six walks in his 4.2 innings, also hitting two batters, throwing a wild pitch and getting charged with a balk. Hector Santiago issued two walks out of the bullpen, and Gregory Infante gave up three hits and walked two while facing only seven batters. His season ERA is 16.62.
All of this, of course, is not entirely surprising. The White Sox were a 95-loss team a season ago and figured once again to be out of contention early given their rebuilding status. These growing pains, these bumps in the road are no surprise while the organization waits for the wave of minor league talent to wash up on the South Side.
But at the same time, you can excuse fans’ irritation. After all, this homestand has pitted the White Sox against the Rays and the Detroit Tigers before them, two teams expected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective division standings.
Added up, the numbers are frightening. In five home games this season, the White Sox are 7-for-50 with runners in scoring position. They’ve left 45 runners on base. White Sox pitchers — after walking a ridiculous 10 hitters Tuesday — have given out 28 free passes.
“Any young major league team, any veteran major league team understands it, learns it, continues to live through it. We’re no different than anybody else,” Renteria said. “We haven’t had the outcomes we’ve wanted over the last five games, but I assure you that there’s no confidence being lost. There will be more conversations about our focus, making sure we’re taking care of little things. There are still things we’re cleaning up so we are a quality major league baseball team on a day in and day out basis.”
There are silver linings to be had. Ricky’s boys didn’t quit Tuesday, staging a ninth-inning rally against the Rays’ bullpen that produced four runs. Matt Davidson continues to get on base and walked three times Tuesday to bring his season total to nine. Tim Anderson stole third base in that ninth inning, raising his swiped-bags total to six.
But the White Sox have still mustered just 11 runs in their last 40 innings.
There’s a long way to go in this rebuilding season, and there will be more stretches like this one. But the win-loss total is independent of the development of players like Davidson and Anderson at the major league level and all those prospects down in the minors. The win-loss total is independent of the way Hahn’s front office wants to see Renteria get his players to play. The win-loss total is independent of when Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez might arrive in the big leagues.
It’s been an ugly five days. But when the rebuild reaches its apex and the White Sox contention window opens, these five days will just go down as growing pains.
“I’ll tell right now for anybody who’s watching, if anybody believes I’m going to doubt or knock my team in any way, shape or form, that’s not going to happen,” Renteria said. “This is a very positive group of men who are learning how to play this game. And even a veteran club continues to learn to play baseball.
“This is five days of which I wish we’d been able to give the fans a lot of victories over these last five days. We haven’t. It’s not for a lack of effort. These guys continue to play, they continue to work, they continue to study, they continue to do the things that are necessary to continue to help them to potentially put them in a position to have the successes that we are gong to need and to become the organization that we want, which is a winning organization.”