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Mediocrity. Five lifeless syllables leaving a residue of emptiness. Ten emotionless letters that connote neither high nor low, good nor bad, elation nor sadness.
A mediocre movie review of two stars elicits no buzz, but, hey, if the theater is close by on a nondescript Monday night, maybe you'll check it out. Two-and-a-half stars on a Yelp restaurant critique won't create a half-hour wait. And telling your spouse that his or her spaghetti sauce is "just OK" might land you in the guest bedroom for the night.
Mediocrity is not something to be admired. We don't strive to be mediocre. We want to be skillful, successful and confident about a job well done. Mediocrity is better than failure, but it's close.
So it is on the South Side at 35th and Shields. The White Sox arrived back at The Cell on Friday night to face the struggling Tigers, owners of a seven-game losing streak. Writing on the team's website, Scott Merkin told us that "[General Manager Rick] Hahn reiterated that he believes the White Sox are on an upswing by surviving a four-city, 11-game road trip with a 5-6 mark."
If you don't sense the mediocrity in that assessment, then maybe you should try the whitefish at Gene & Georgetti.
"Surviving" a road trip - regardless of how many cities, games, and days - is not the road to the playoffs and respectability. However, the Sox did, indeed, survive Friday night with a 4-3, 11-inning triumph over the Tigers.
The pattern was familiar. A run and two hits in the first inning before going hitless until the seventh, when Avi Garcia reached the visitors' bullpen to pull the home team to within a run at 3-2.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Adam LaRoche tied the game at 3 when his drive to right center barely cleared the barrier as center fielder Rajai Davis got tangled up on the fence (actually under the top rail) and wasn't able to make a leap for the ball. Nothing mediocre about that but, again, after scoring in the first inning, 17 of the next 18 Sox hitters (Alexei Ramirez drew a rare walk in the third inning) were retired by Detroit's Kyle Ryan.
As the 24,761 waited almost two hours between hits, Ryan baffled the White Sox. Please keep in mind that this was his first start of the season for the injury-riddled Detroit staff. Ryan had pitched exactly three innings at the big league level this season before Friday, having been called up from Toledo where he was 0-5 with a 4.67 ERA.
Did I say mediocre? Let's qualify that. The White Sox attack is frustrating, impotent and ineffectual.
Backtracking to the road trip, the Rangers' Yovani Gallardo, a genuinely talented major league pitcher with a hefty free agent contract, handcuffed our athletes on Thursday for six innings, yielding one unearned run and just three hits. Then five relievers took over and held the Sox in check until the Rangers pushed across a run in the bottom of the 11th off Dan Jennings for the 2-1 walk-off.
All this after the Sox exploded for an unlikely 9-2 victory the night before, featuring a six-run second inning highlighted by Jose Abreu's ninth home run. Abreu was returning to the lineup after nursing a sore, swollen right index finger. Chris Sale had more than enough support as he notched his fifth victory, striking out 13 over seven innings.
But Wednesday's outburst was simply an aberration for a team that has scored as many as five runs in a game just 17 times in 55 starts this season. The loss Thursday handed the series to the Rangers.
On Sunday's telecast of Detroit's 6-4 win over the Sox, talking about the road trip, Steve Stone said, "If before the trip someone asked whether we'd be happy to go 5-6, the Sox would have taken it."
That, my friends, is the definition of mediocrity. Maybe the Cardinals or Royals - capable clubs with winning records - might tolerate 5-6 because they still would be at or near the top of their divisions. But a struggling team like the White Sox can ill afford to slip yet another game below .500. Furthermore, I doubt whether those contending teams leave home with a mindset of breaking even.
While Hahn may have believed that the Sox survived on the road, the fans are beyond restless. "The bosses want to give the fans the illusion that their saddening team will rebound," wrote one fan on the team's website the other day. He was being kind. The attacks on individual players and manager Robin Ventura are pointed and angry.
After snatching Friday's extra-inning win, the situation returned to normal on Saturday when John Danks lost his magic - he was coming off a complete game shutout of the Astros - as the Tigers roughed him up for 11 hits and five runs in less than five innings. David Price allowed the Sox only five hits in the 7-1 decision.
Jeff Samardzija was handed a 4-1 lead after two innings on Sunday, but he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by coughing up a couple of home runs in the sixth inning to Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez. Detroit added an insurance run in the eighth inning while from the third inning on, the Sox mustered only three hits before 29,059, which included the usual contingent from Detroit.
Where to from here? The season is a third completed, and the Sox are on pace to finish 75-87. Not even mediocre. Last season 88 wins was good enough for a wild card berth in the playoffs. The Sox need to go 63-44 to match those heights. How they gonna do that?
In the short term - like Monday night - with Chris Sale pitching, our boys have a good chance to beat Houston. The Astros are clinging to the West Division lead despite losing their last four games including a sweep in Toronto last weekend.
However, after Sale, there are no guarantees. Sounds like more whitefish to me.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Mark Schaeffer:
The "Whitefish at G & G's" was your best line of the season!
Just a few thoughts . . . Samardzija will be traded by the deadline, he is not worth 1st, 2nd or even 3rd starter money. We're stuck with Danks as no one will eat that contract. (And to think we let Burlehe walk so we could afford Danks). Lastly, Melky needs to get back on the juice, 224 avg will not cut it.