Welcome To The Regression

It's Sunday morning, and the sun is making a valiant effort to burn through the cloud cover. The thermometer already is registering in the mid-50s as I gaze from my balcony overlooking Lincoln Avenue. Finally spring is beginning to bloom, and the Sox are home to play the young and talented Houston Astros. Sunday parking is $10. Round-trip on the El is less than half. I possess a voucher that the team passed out at last season's final home game that gets me an upper deck box seat for free.

I'm feeling good. Most other seasons, I'd be out the door. But I'm not going today. Call me a fair weather fan - which, I suppose, is literally true for this grandfather - or someone who is in need of a reminder of his allegiance to the team which I've always revered. But the heart of the matter is that I am wary of watching the opposition score four times in the first inning followed by three walks and a grand slam in the top of the second as the local bunch falls behind 8-0 before the first beer can be consumed. We all have choices. This would not top my list. Not even close.

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The just-described scenario occurred Saturday night as the Sox got slaughtered again, 10-1. Pitching prospect Lucas Giolito was gone by the end of the second frame, allowing five hits and walking seven. There will be many 10-year-olds playing in park leagues around the city in just a few weeks who have better command than that.

Should we be shocked? Well, not with the recent memory of four days prior on Tuesday in Oakland when Giolito's buddy Carson Fulmer, another of the team's hopes for the future, was handed a 6-1 lead thanks to Yoan Moncada's second inning grand slam. Yet Fulmer failed to retire anyone in the bottom of the second before Ricky Renteria, along with anyone else with the slightest interest, had seen enough. Fuller faced 10 hitters. He got behind nine of them. He threw 46 pitches of which only 21 were strikes. His teammates wound up scoring 11 times but still dropped a 12-11 decision in 10 innings.

The numbers present a sorry picture. Fourteen losses in 16 games this month after a 7-1 defeat in Sunday's game that I elected to watch on TV. The Astros outscored the Sox 27-2 over the weekend. Tossing out the extra-inning loss in Oakland, the Sox scored a total of five runs last week while the other guys plated 45. For the season the starting rotation has an ERA of 6.52, by far the worst in the major leagues. With runners in scoring position, the ballclub is hitting .188. Only the Giants are more ineffective.

Remember last September when the boys went 15-14? Today The Rebuild appears to be morphing into The Regress.

Renteria and general manager Rick Hahn admitted their frustration with this recent tailspin. Meanwhile, veteran broadcaster Steve Stone basically said, "Keep the faith," calling Giolito's performance an "aberration" while he and Hawk Harrelson on Sunday continually talked about the process of developing young players who will make the Sox a contender in 2020. Some will become fixtures on the South Side while others can be used for trades for established veteran players. This is how rebuilding is done.

Reynaldo Lopez, the lone starting pitcher who's shown any ability to get people out, pitched five innings on Sunday, exiting with the score knotted at one. He got high praise from Stone and Harrelson, which is not surprising when you compare the 24-year-old righthander with the other four starters.

However, Sunday was Lopez's shortest stint of his four outings, primarily because he threw 100 pitches as he walked four batters, contributing to the 100 bases on balls issued by Sox pitchers so far this season. Only Atlanta with 102 has provided more free passes than our fellows.

Lopez is the new Jose Quintana on the South Side. Despite a sparkling 1.50 ERA, the kid's record is 0-2 because his mates have scored a total of four runs for him. Go ahead, Reynaldo. Text Quintana. He'll commiserate.

The Astros were more than pleased to take advantage of the White Sox' complete lack of competition during the weekend. Not so long ago in 2013 they were experiencing similar hardships, losing 111 games. Marwin Gonzalez, MVP Jose Altuve and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, who was the winning pitcher Saturday, were the initial building blocks on that club as Houston began its rise from embarrassment, resulting in last season's World Series championship.

Looking back five years, the Astros dropped 18 games by at least seven runs. They didn't win their fifth game until April 19, a number the White Sox continue to pursue with their present 4-14 mark. Houston had six-game losing streaks five times. And the season closed with 15 consecutive ghastly defeats. Predicting that the same franchise would be atop the baseball world in just four years would have been folly. But obviously it happened.

Of course the key word in all of this is "prospects." Draft and trade intelligently, develop young talent, and be patient. Don't rush these youngsters. Years ago most fans couldn't name the Sox minor league affiliates. Today Charlotte, Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis have become familiar names for many Sox loyalists.

Nevertheless, we know that not all of the fledgling athletes at the lower levels will find their way to the South Side. If we needed any reminder, one occurred last week when the Sox announced that No. 1 prospect, outfielder Eloy Jimenez, was coming off the disabled list - he had recovered from a strained pectoral muscle after having a sore knee in spring training - to join the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

To make room for Jimenez, the Sox released outfielder Courtney Hawkins. Remember him? The kid from Corpus Christi, Tex. who did a back flip to Kenny Williams' consternation the moment he was announced as the Sox' first-round draft choice in 2012?

Hawkins once (in 2013) was the Sox top prospect, yet he never played a game above Double-A. In spring training in 2015 he slashed .412/.429/1.282 with four homers and 10 RBI. That spring I watched him hit two laser shots in consecutive at-bats that landed far up on the berm at Camelback Ranch. It was exhilarating.

But when the real games began, Hawkins, who is just 24-years-old today, couldn't make contact. In parts of seven minor league seasons, he struck out about a third of the time. He did slam 79 dingers, but after a series of hand and foot injuries, a .222 lifetime batting average, and as many as 160 strikeouts in 103 games, the Sox gave up on Hawkins last week.

Please understand. Eloy Jimenez is not Courtney Hawkins. At least no one thinks he is. But we are operating on faith here.

We've been offered the Kool-Aid by the Sox PR gurus. Like most fans, I very much want to drink the Kool-Aid, but I've never been fond of the lemon-lime that they're offering. I like the red kind. The cherry. Once it's an option, give me a pint.


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

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