This past week started out in promising fashion. Monday gave us a thriller where the Tigers kept coming back, but the White Sox had an answer every time, holding on to win 6-5. The next night the offense lit up Justin Verlander, pulling the squad back to .500 once again and back to within 2.5 games of the first place Tigers. It prompted James to question whether the team hadn't played their way into thinking that they should be buyers at the deadline in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Then the next four games happened.
The four game losing streak started harmlessly enough. Scherzer threw a complete game shutout, and sometimes you just have to tip your cap when an ace does that to you. We've seen Sale do it, where the opponent essentially has no say in what is going to happen to them that day. But then the offense continued its impotence against Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy - a mediocre veteran and an up-and-comer who has had serious control problems this year. Sunday the offense showed life with 12 hits and 5 walks, despite the fact that James Shields was on the mound. Unfortunately they stranded most of those runners and could only score 3 times on the day.
Even more unfortunate, and a big part of the 4-game losing streak, is that the pitching just got clobbered one game after another. Some of it was bad luck on balls in play - the Royals hit approximately 4,000 groundball and bloop singles over the weekend, someone will have to confirm that number for me - but Andre Rienzo has had one poor outing after another as his ERA continues to climb toward six. Turns out walking lots of guys and giving up lots of home runs is a bad combination when it comes to pitching. One has to imagine that he would have been out of the rotation some time ago if there had been any other options at all. The book on Rienzo as a prospect was always, "Probably a reliever, but he will be given every chance to prove whether he can start or not."
I would argue that unless something changes for him, he has proved that he cannot start. His control isn't good enough, his velocity isn't high enough, and I'm not sold on his second pitch, let alone a third one.
Streaks happen, and there's no reason the team can't turn around and win four straight as soon as I write this. Even so, they are currently 5.5 games out of the division lead, and in the bunched up AL Central that puts them in 5th place, also known as "last place" with a run differential of -31. The trade deadline is still six weeks away, and a lot can change in that time, but this losing streak does push things in a less ambiguous direction as far as the state of the team.
It would appear that Rick Hahn is already profoundly aware of the fact that the state of the outfield in the high minors - and to an extent, in the majors - has become a huge area of weakness with the injury to Avisail Garcia and the busting of every outfield prospect above High A. He's doing what he can to help staunch that wound by grabbing as many reclamation projects as he can off the scrap heap and stashing them in AAA (or, in the case of Moises Sierra, having Ventura start them against lefties). Matt Tuiasosopo and Michael Taylor join Moises Sierra as former prospects, to varying degrees, that were acquired at almost no cost. On the one hand, any signs of life from the two currently in Charlotte would normally mean they would come up and try to contribute at the major league level, but at the same time, while Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro de Aza have been terrible, the White Sox aren't just going to cut them either.
Viciedo has continued his 0-for-June run, hitting .083/.120/.104 for the month, lowering his line for the year to .244/.297/.382. I understand that I am pretty negative when it comes to Viciedo, but I can't help but feel vindicated more and more as time goes on. I have had commenters on Twitter say that he is still young and could still improve etc. etc. Given his physique, and if you watch him, it's pretty clear that he is never going to improve on defense. He is slow, clumsy, and has no idea where the ball is going. And, given how poorly he defends, all of his value is in his bat, and the problem there is that he can't hit. Instead of his approach improving in a meaningful way that translates into getting on base, he has simply lost his power while showing no appreciable gains in on base skill. Viciedo had his 1500th major league plate appearance yesterday in his age-25 season and not only has he failed to improve, but in fact his OPS+ has declined every single year since 2011.
The burden is now on Viciedo to demonstrate that he belongs in the majors at all, let alone that he can be an impact bat, or hit well enough to carry his awful defense. It makes me sad to say it, because I want him to be a good player and have been rooting for him for a long time, but I will bet with any of you against him doing that at this point, because frankly I need the money.
And on that somber note, some good things happened too:
Alejandro de Aza has shown some signs of life, raising has batting average back to the Mendoza Line over the past two weeks, and squeaking his OPS above .600 for the first time since May 5th.
Adam Eaton is coming off of a very good week, going 9/22 with 6 walks to boost his OPS about 70 points.
Jose Abreu hit very well this week and from what I was able to see, looked a bit more comfortable defensively at first base with some nifty scoops. On the week he OPS-ed 1.103 and encouragingly walked 3 times contrasted with only 5 strikeouts, a ratio that makes his slugging look a lot more sustainable.
Sale was completely dominant to bounce back after being left in too long in his previous outing, so he's fine. His run support just got Scherzered.
In Conclusion: The week started great and then took a nosedive. Obviously being 5.5 games out and 33-37 is hardly dead in the water. But it's looking like the team's high water mark is about .500 or just below there - as most had been predicting coming into the year. More talented teams are more likely to go on a hot streak than the White Sox are, and it would be dangerous to push your chips into the pot simply on hope.
There are serious flaws with this team. The bench is still weak and inflexible, the outfield is getting replacement level production from two of three spots, the fourth starter has been better than we could have hoped but is still extremely volatile (Noesi) and there really is no one to be the fifth starter at the moment. I am fascinated to see what they do in the next turn through the rotation. Eric Surkamp has gone from "awful every start" to alternating "good start awful start" in AAA, although at least he is striking a lot of people out, so he isn't forcing the organization's hand with regard to Rienzo at all.
If you're the White Sox front office and you have resigned yourself to the most likely outcome - that this is not a playoff team - then perhaps you just let Rienzo, Carroll, Surkamp, or whoever try to muddle through and let them get shelled every time through the rotation. Because if you want to try to go for it this year, you're probably going to need to go out and get another pitcher, and that can get pricy.