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This Is Your Brain On White Sox

We've been forewarned. There are no guarantees. Prepare for loss upon loss. However, somewhere out there on the far horizon, like, say, 2019, there is reason for optimism. Simply witness what occurred on the other side of town.

So goes the preparation for fans of a ballclub in the midst of a rebuilding plan. Just be patient. Don't panic. Please do not become upset, and, above all else, keep the faith.

But this is not pleasant nor painless. Not when our White Sox are no-hit Sunday until Melky Cabrera's one-out single in the ninth inning en route to an embarrassing 10-0 loss to the Rockies in the thin air of Denver. Not when the Rox thump the Sox 12-4 on Friday, thrashing the eminently hittable Derek Holland in the first two innings as Colorado assumed command at 6-1.

If you tuned in late last Wednesday, the Sox already were behind Oakland 6-0 after four innings as journeyman Mike Pelfrey continued to serve up cookies. The Sox lost that one 7-4.

This season's edition of the White Sox carries a "never quit" tag, but the bottom line is that they've come up short far more often because of a lack of talent and young players who are still developing.

Heading into this week's All-Star Game break, Ricky Renteria's outfit occupies last place in the Central Division of the American League with a 38-49 record.

Try this: pitchers Pelfrey, Holland, James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez (currently disabled), and Dylan Covey (also injured) have started 59 of the team's 87 games this season. Their combined ERA is 5.37. Not even the 1927 Yankees could slug their way out of the depths the Sox have created for themselves.

At least we know that our reaction to this last-place team is organic. Try as we might to rationalize the errors, mental mistakes, poor base running and ineffective starting pitching, our anterior cingulate cortex (ACC for short) just won't let us.

For the uninformed, a group which included me until recent reading, the ACC "lies in a unique position in the brain, with connections to both the 'emotional' limbic system and the 'cognitive' prefrontal cortex," according to The Journal of Neuropsychiatry.

In Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers' This Is Your Brain on Sports, a tome mentioned here a few weeks ago, they refer to the research of Harvard psychologist Mina Cikara, who investigated blood flow to the ACC when bad things happen to our favorite teams. In her case she looked at Red Sox fans.

Looking at our Sox, when Alen Hanson, an infielder, was inserted in right field on Saturday in a game the Sox eventually won on Tim Anderson's ninth-inning home run, my ACC got a workout when Hanson futilely attempted to corral Mark Reynolds' eighth-inning drive off the wall, resulting in a triple. Reynolds later scored to knot the game at 4 before Anderson's heroics.

Cikara used a method called fMRI, which measures brain function, as opposed to an MRI, which discloses structure. Her research documented increased activity in the ACC as an emotional response to things like Sox pitchers giving up long home runs or Todd Frazier flying out with the bases loaded. We fans can take comfort knowing that our cognitive and emotional systems are quite healthy. There's no stopping blood flowing to the ACC when Renteria's athletes mess up. There might be cause for alarm if we took it all in stride without any emotional response. Thankfully our ACCs are working just fine.

Even those of us who attempt to remain calm, if you call yourself a White Sox fan, recognize the fact that this ain't a lot of fun at the present time.

However, Cikara also took a look at our ventral striatum. "The ventral striatum is activated when we do - or even just anticipate doing - something we know will be pleasurable," according to the website Neuroscientifically Challenged. The ramifications of that should be apparent, but Cikara also found that when our ballclub performs with distinction, blood flow to this part of the brain picks up.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the ACC experiences more intense activity than the ventral striatum ever could muster. So our lows feel worse than our highs feel euphoric.

Of course, there are other ways to get the old ventral striatum into high gear. Like checking the first inning at Wrigley Field on Sunday to discover that the Cubs got hit with a 10-spot. Let's be clear: some of my best friends are Cub fans, and they were happy for me in 2005 just as I was pleased for them last season. But you can't fight brain function, so the blood picked up on its path to my ventral striatum Sunday when I saw what was happening on the North Side. It was beyond my control.

And I'd be lying if I denied the fact that I've had more than a passing interest in the Milwaukee Brewers these days. According to, the Brew Crew now has a 47 percent chance to win the division compared to the Cubs' 29. Of course, that website has been wrong before.

Milwaukee was predicted to lose 92 games in Sports Illustrated's pre-season issue, yet here they are mid-season presenting a genuine threat to slide into post-season play. And consider the Twins, losers of 103 games a year ago but two games above .500 now and just a game behind in the wild card standings.

This bodes well for the White Sox as we await the arrival of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert and most probably a few players flying under the top-prospect radar. Whether we'll see any of them in 2017 is up to Rick Hahn. But even if some of the young guys are promoted this season, it won't make much difference.

What's nice about this week is that the Sox don't play until Friday when the Mariners come to town for three games. We could use a break. Our overwrought anterior cingulate cortexes need a rest.


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

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