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Streaky White Sox Right On Schedule

If Friday night's 9-2 pasting of the Tampa Bay Rays wasn't enough to assuage your consternation about the White Sox's post-All-Star Game slide, consider the following.

The two most recent successful rebuilding schemes, those of the Cubs and Astros, suffered very similar spells on their way to World Series titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively. This all happened during the 2014 season when the two future champions were at about the same stage of their development that the White Sox presently find themselves.

The Cubs, managed by Rickey Renteria, were showing progress toward the end of the season. After suffering 96 losses in 2013, the North Siders swept a three-game set with Milwaukee at the start of September to creep within 12 games of .500. However, things went awry very quickly.

The Cubs dropped their next seven in a row - sound familiar? - and were outscored 55-13 in doing so en route to a final record of 73-89. Keep in mind that Renteria was guiding part of the core of the future champions. Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Pedro Strop - he was an asset at the time - all were members of the cast, while Kris Bryant was slamming 43 home runs in Double- and Triple-A where he remained the entire season.

Lest you ignore all things at Addison and Clark, the North Siders won 97 games the next season under Joe Maddon before getting swept in the NLDS by the Mets. In the four seasons since that 2014 debacle, the Cubs have averaged almost 97 wins, and now that they have a closer, seem destined at minimum to garner another division title this year.

The Astros didn't lose seven straight once in 2014. No, they did it twice, once in April and again in July. The second time they were outscored 57-22, similar to the Sox's recent skid when the opposition scored 50 runs to the Sox's 17.

The 'Stros finished the '14 season at 70-92 before winning 86 games the next year to make the postseason, where they lost a hard-fought 3-2 division series to eventual champion Kansas City. Houston won 101 and 103 games in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and they're 27 games over .500 today.

Like the Cubs, the heart of the future championship club in Houston was present during all the losing. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, Dallas Keuchel, and Brad Peacock all saw action during that 2014 journey. Also like the Cubs, the Astros dumped manager Bo Porter in favor of A.J. Hinch, even though he had led an abysmal Diamondback team in 2009-10.

Shortstop Carlos Correa arrived in 2015 as a 20-year-old top prospect, and the astute free agent signings (Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and pitcher Charlie Morton) and a trade for catcher Brian McCann solidified the roster that won it all in 2017. This, my friends, is how you do it.

Therefore, visions of Luis Robert patrolling center field most likely will have to wait until next spring regardless of how he continues to trash International League pitching. Expect to see a parade back and forth between Chicago and Charlotte of Adam Engel, Charlie Tilson, Ryan Goins, Zack Collins, and Daniel Palka, depending on who's healthy and who's on a hot streak.

You might see some tepid trade-deadline activity. Perhaps Jon Jay, a slightly above average journeyman, will be dealt to a contender looking for a fourth outfielder and dependable pinch-hitter. Closer Alex Colome is a coveted commodity, but he's signed through next season. Chances are general manager Rick Hahn will opt to keep Colome in case the Sox make a run a year from now.

Which brings us to the one guy mentioned last week as someone other clubs would love to have. Of course, we're talking about Jose Abreu, and the rumored suitor is the Boston Red Sox, last year's World Series champions. They are three games out of a wild-card berth and looking for help.

First base for the Red Sox has been a revolving door this season. Mitch Moreland, hitting .225, is on the injury list as is Steve Pearce, who really is an outfielder. Rookie Michael Chavis has been filling in, but he's played more third base than any other position in his minor league career. In a 5-0 loss Sunday, Brock Holt and Sam Travis split duties at first base. Abreu would be a major improvement.

In his six years in the league, Abreu has played 22 games at Fenway Park with a slash line of .330/.404/1.063 along with six home runs and 21 RBIs. Ya think the Red Sox could use him?

However, Boston has few, if any, prospects to barter. Their top youngster is listed at No. 94 overall by MLB.com. Possibly our Sox would be interested in time-tested pitchers on the Red Sox major league roster such as David Price or Rick Porcello, two pitchers unlikely to be traded by Boston. Chris Sale? He'd probably jump off the Green Monster if Boston informed him that he was being traded back from whence he came. Not happening.

Meanwhile, Hahn has contended all along that negotiations with Abreu's people will wait until the season ends. There must be rationale for this strategy, but what could it be? Abreu will be a free agent, and bids for his services will be formulated. If Jose were to go elsewhere, the White Sox would be compensated with draft picks, little consolation for losing a player of Abreu's stature. Perhaps Hahn possesses secret knowledge about clandestine agreements among the clubs in terms of competing for free agents. But that would be collusion, and we all know that's against the rules.

And Furthermore . . .

* Harold Baines was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown despite the fact that he never got more than 6.1 percent of the writers' votes when he was eligible five years after he retired. The Veterans Committee, which included Tony LaRussa and Jerry Reinsdorf, tabbed Baines for induction last winter.

I'm delighted for Harold, although I understand the criticism surrounding his induction.

However, I do believe that there are arguments both pro and con.

Baines' credentials, which include 2,866 hits over 22 seasons, appear more worthy than another former Sox player who also was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1955. Ray (Cracker) Schalk was the Sox catcher from 1912 until 1928. He was the premier defensive catcher of his era, throwing out more than half of would-be base stealers and catching as many as 142 games of a 154-game schedule.

Schalk, however, was a .253 lifetime hitter - the lowest batting average of any position player in the Hall - who accounted for a paltry 11 home runs in his entire career, while averaging 55 RBIs a season. Of course, Schalk was a member of the infamous 1919 World Series club which threw the championship to the Reds. But Schalk never was implicated. Apparently he played it straight - he hit .304 in the Series - and his purity might have been one reason why he was rewarded 36 years later.

* Isn't it time for the Cubs to remove the so-called basket from the outfield wall? Kyle Schwarber hit a 10th-inning walkoff last Tuesday that landed in the enclosure, which has been around since 1970 to lessen the chance of fan interference. However, check out the low barriers in places like Yankee Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Minute Maid Park in Houston, and right field at Fenway Park, where the barrier is as low as three feet compared to the 11 to 15 feet at Wrigley. How often is fan interference called in these parks, where the fences also are a lot closer to home plate than the 355 and 353 feet down the lines at Wrigley?

Ernie Banks earned his homers. Schwarber and his mates should do so as well.

* Yankee manager Aaron Boone's profane outburst last Thursday at rookie umpire Brennan Miller, who was calling balls and strikes for fifth time in his career, was nothing more than hazing. It came on the heels of veteran Brett Gardner being called out on strikes, resulting in his bat-banging on the bat rack and the roof of the Yankee dugout while teammates, sitting inches away, acted as though nothing was happening.

First of all, Miller's calls were borderline at worst. Certainly better than CB Bucknor behind the plate in the White Sox' Friday game in St. Pete where both teams at least conducted themselves like adults. Boone, a third-generation major leaguer and former ESPN commentator, apologized the next day, saying that Miller acted with "a lot more class" than he did. But he should know better. The idea of sticking up for your players, of "having their backs," holds little water when the player, Gardner in this case, acts like a total asshole. If the umpire in question had been a veteran, the incident never would have occurred. It was a plain case of bullying a young guy who has worked hard to reach the highest level.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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