ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Chicago White Sox had a day off in Southern California, and Adam Dunn returned uncomfortably chafed because he'd committed to the water ride at Disneyland too early in the afternoon, and Chris Sale got so much sun it appeared he'd fallen into a vat of Hi-C, and Robin Ventura fought traffic for a good 4 ½ hours to get here from his home north of Santa Barbara on Friday afternoon.
They are the hazards of the region.
What was a little unexpected, given we're inching closer to mid-June and they're in the division that presents the Detroit Tigers and a mildly amusing competition for second place, is that the White Sox had a baseball season to come back to.
For the uninformed, the White Sox were the 31-30 team that left Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night without their manager remarking they were "basically sh---y." It's about perception and perspective, meaning 31-30 may indeed be one man's four-outfielder dung pile. With a touch more context – say, a 99-loss season in one's recent past and a transitional feel to the present – it can be another's tiny ray of organizational sunshine.
The White Sox spent their day off having won six of their last nine games and 10 of their last 16, which is, you know, just fine. Even better for them, the Tigers had lost 13 of 17, which no one saw coming and furthermore dragged the rest of the division into relevance for at least another month longer than expected. Soon as the White Sox are finished with their week in L.A., they return to Chicago for four games against the Tigers, and this might actually be a decent time to be playing the Tigers.
Assuming nothing too calamitous, records and standings at this point of June won't talk a team into or out of a season. Still, you could look around a clubhouse and fairly assess, "We sort of are who we are." By that measure, the White Sox were pretty average, but still in it, 2 ½ games back of the Tigers as of Friday afternoon. Yeah, some 31-30's are better than others', and the White Sox could be thankful for that. They've taken the worst offense in the American League last season and turned it into an asset, partly because 27-year-old Cuban rookie Jose Abreu has been a beast, but also because they're getting reasonable production from plenty of others. The White Sox pitched better in May than they did in April and, until Andre Rienzo was pounded by the Angels on Friday night (making the White Sox 31-31), were trending the same way in June. Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks are a reasonable way to start a rotation anyway. The bullpen, honestly, could use some work.
This probably isn't the team that will run down the Tigers, but for the moment it's closer than anyone else, and that's the sort of hope that can do good things for a clubhouse.
"Last year was such a – I don't know how to put it without saying it was a fluke," Dunn said. "Obviously it wasn't a fluke because baseball is baseball."
If you know what he's sayin' there.
"But, if we hadn't made any changes, we're still not a 100-loss team," he said. "We made some changes that made us better. Still, nothing matters until you're in September playing meaningful games."
That's a long way off. End to end, they'll need to pitch better. And they'll have to hit through their pitching issues in the meantime. But, the White Sox are better, and for now they're in a position to give the Tigers something to think about, and that's got to count for something.
"For me," Ventura said, "it's more of the mentality, the competitive nature of the team than what their record is."
To experience the minor wobbles in a season, to endure the injuries (Sale, Abreu and Adam Eaton missed time), to lose some games that sting a little and, said Ventura, "Not have it put you into a tailspin is pretty good.
"There is something to that," Ventura said. "Going into it you have that, ‘Why not? Why not win games? Why not establish themselves?" That's been there."
To work back from 99 losses, and convince a few more people to come to your ballpark, and to play a few games in late summer that are interesting, that starts somewhere. And somewhere is Sale, Abreu and Alexei Ramirez, and a farewell to Paul Konerko, their beloved Paulie, and a lineup that showers the bleachers with home runs. Then, when nobody was really looking, along come four interesting games against the Tigers.
"It feels a lot like it did in 2012," Konerko said of a team that won 85 games.
Maybe that's realistic, and maybe not. But at least they're still in a position to find out, and that counts as progress, even in the first week of June.
"What you got is what you got," Dunn said. "What we've got, I like it."
If you know what he's sayin' there.
- Sports & Recreation
- White Sox
- Detroit Tigers
- Robin Ventura