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Somehow Hanging On

Now that Memorial Day has passed and summer theoretically is here, it's time for a road trip.

Our White Sox jumped the gun a bit, departing a week ago on the four-city, 11-game jaunt that more than a few pessimists predicted would seal the team's sorry fate before returning home this Friday. Seeing as the South Siders had dropped 12 of 19 road contests prior to this trip, those sentiments weren't so far-fetched.

Teams that can't win on the road rarely play into October. In the past five seasons, of the 46 different teams that earned a postseason berth, 38 of them played over .500 baseball on the road. A poor road team has to be a .600 team or better at home to make things interesting in late September and October.

The White Sox, after splitting eight games on the road last week to bring their record to 11-16 away from The Cell, are barely above .500 at home at 12-10. So far they don't qualify as contenders no matter where they play.

The eight games last week included a plethora of high and low points.

The nadir occurred Tuesday when closer David Robertson, who had been the answer to the Sox closer problems, met up with Josh Donaldson on Tuesday and Wednesday in Toronto. Robertson was protecting a 9-7 lead on Tuesday in the bottom of the ninth when Donaldson, who ranks fourth in the league both in home runs and RBI, took him deep for a game-winning three-run shot. Following a 6-0 loss on Monday, the trip was off to the worst possible beginning.

When Donaldson did it again to Robertson the next afternoon - this time tying the game at three with a line shot into the second deck and stymieing a superb seven-inning effort by starter Jeff Samardzija - the Sox were in danger of getting swept before flying to Baltimore for a makeup doubleheader.

But the Sox were resilient, using a Jose Abreu triple, a single by Adam LaRoche, and Gordon Beckham's double to plate a couple of runs before Robertson retired the side in the bottom of the tenth for the victory.

Talk about turning points. I'm not sure where all this will end up, but winning that game last Wednesday clearly saved what could have been a disastrous road trip.

After splitting the twinbill in Baltimore, the Sox took two of three from the division-leading Astros in which they got strong starting pitching from Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks, who turned in a complete game shutout Sunday against a team that previously had beaten him up for a 9.15 ERA in four games.

Danks also made news - not the kind he would desire - on the front page of Sunday's Tribune describing a sordid tale from five years ago resulting in a lawsuit because of an accident in Danks' condo. The brother of a friend remains paralyzed.

Chances are Danks didn't read the paper before taking the mound. It's not a pretty story.

LaRoche is beginning to have a reason to read the papers. He's 10-for-30 on the trip with six RBI. When the Sox signed LaRoche to a two-year $25 million deal last November, the front office had reason to think that LaRoche would fill the DH role with a potent bat, to say nothing of his Gold Glove background at first base.

So far, LaRoche has a slash line of .236/.365/.760. Hmmm. A year ago at the end of May, DH Adam Dunn's line was very similar at .227/.378/.813. LaRoche has drawn 30 bases on balls. Dunn had 38 last May 31. Dunn had eight homers and 23 RBI to six and 22 for LaRoche. Each man struck out exactly 56 times the first two months.

So we basically have Adam Dunn's clone thus far, which is just another explanation for the team's disappointing performance. LaRoche's strikeouts are followed by one of the longest walks back to the dugout. The frowning countenance, downcast eyes, slow gait and dragging feet look familiar. The next guy could have a 2-2 count before LaRoche reaches the dugout steps.

However, judging from his past performance, we have every reason to believe that LaRoche's best days lie ahead. And he did save Danks' shutout - and maybe the game - on Sunday with an all-out sprawl to collect a wide relay from shortstop Alexei Ramirez to double up Jose Altuve for an inning-ending double play in the third inning. Ventura successfully challenged the safe call, so the Sox escaped the inning still leading 4-0 instead of needing a third out in a 4-1 game.

Another piece to the puzzle of the White Sox offense that has scored fewer runs than any team other than the Phillies is the power outage of Melky Cabrera. Signed for $42 million for three years, Cabrera, who at age 30 is five years younger than LaRoche, has four doubles and one homer in 215 plate appearances. He's slugging along at .273, .136 below his career average. This is a guy who hit .301 last season in Toronto with 35 doubles, three triples and 16 home runs.

Sox broadcasters continually refer to the number of balls hit hard for outs by Cabrera, but "hang wiff 'ems" or not, Melky has lost his pop. In Saturday's 3-0 loss in Houston at the hands of talented lefthander Dallas Keuchel, Ventura had Cabrera batting fourth as Abreu nursed a swollen right index finger. If starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who yielded a single run over six-plus innings as his record slipped to 2-6, looked at the lineup and figured he had to be perfect, you couldn't blame him.

At least Melky is slapping a few singles. Meanwhile, Ramirez has just three hits in his last 33 at-bats and is prone to brain cramps in the field like a needless pirouette on a double-play ball last Monday in Toronto. He missed the bag, leading to four first-inning runs. Pitcher Hector Noesi needs all the help he can get, and Ramirez's antics kicked off the road trip in dismal fashion.

Someone who has seized on opportunity is Gordon Beckham, who now appears to be the regular third baseman. Of the eight games on the trip, Beckham started six at third and another at shortstop. He gobbles up everything hit at him as well as going to his left and right with speed and confidence. Beckham also is hitting .263 and making consistent contact.

If Conor Gillaspie was a big run producer, Ventura might rationalize putting him in the lineup. But a line of .255/.291/.682 doesn't offset his inconsistent defense. Luckily for Gillaspie, he bats left-handed, which may be salvaging him a roster spot at this point.

Even though this team can't score, and despite the defensive lapses and baserunning blunders, the Sox remain just three games from .500. It could be a lot worse. You can thank Chris Sale and Samardzija for openers. When they pitch, as they will in the first two games against the Rangers this week, the Sox have a chance to win. Toss in some decent performances by Quintana, Danks and, now Rodon, and Ventura's club is competitive.

Think what would happen if LaRoche, Cabrera, Ramirez, Adam Eaton and Abreu come even close to what they have done in the past. With three games remaining on this longest of road trips, the Sox have dodged a breakdown. Since May 3, the club is 15-12.

June has arrived. Not until August and September will the Sox have the majority of their games at home. Let's hope they enjoy their road trips this summer as much as the rest of us.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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