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The White Sox made it official on Saturday. When Jose Abreu's bases-loaded ground ball in the damp, dusky evening at Wrigley squashed any hope of a miraculous comeback, this team became the worst in the 118-year history of the franchise to open the season. The 8-4 loss was the 27th in the ballclub's first 36 games, surpassing the unspeakable 10-26 mark of the 1948 White Sox.
What would The Old Roman - to say nothing of Shoeless Joe, Zeke Bonura, Teddy Lyons, or Ol' Aches and Pains - have to say about a team that has a mere five wins (they finally beat the Cubs 5-3 on Sunday) - against teams not named Kansas City here in the middle of May?
We hear how Ricky's Boys Don't Quit, but even quitters might have been able to eke a few more wins than these guys have at this juncture.
The losses are bad enough, and Sox fans everywhere acknowledged early on that at this stage in the rebuilding process, there would be plenty of bumps along the way. But this team figures out all kinds of creative and new ways to get beat.
Young hopeful Carson Fulmer took the mound Friday against the Cubs, and six batters into the bottom of the first, the Sox were behind 5-0, thanks primarily to a grand slam off the bat of Cub catcher Willson Contreras.
Veteran James Shields followed on Saturday and did just a wee bit better. After an inning, the Sox trailed 4-0. This time it was Anthony Rizzo's first-inning damage, a three-run shot into the first row of the left-centerfield bleachers.
Last Wednesday afternoon playing at home, Renteria's outfit took a 5-2 lead into the ninth when he summoned reliever Nate Jones to nail down the victory. It took the Pirates all of 10 pitches from Jones to score four times as the Bucs swept the short two-game series.
The Cubs outscored the Sox 11-0 in the first inning of the weekend's three-game encounter. Thankfully, Lucas Giolito limited the North Siders to just a pair of runs in the first frame on Sunday, and the Sox clawed their way back on the strength of a Matt Davidson solo home run (his 11th), some shoddy Cub defense, and key hits by Nicky Delmonico and Leury Garcia. Giolito walked seven before he departed with two outs in the Cub sixth, but he was nicked for only two hits as he got his second win.
Trailing 8-1 Saturday after seven innings, the team mounted a comeback on the strength of a three-run homer by Davidson, and then loaded the bases in the ninth against Cub closer Brandon Morrow. Had Abreu, the team's hottest hitter and a legitimate major league player, found the bleachers, then maybe the 1948 White Sox would have retained their place as the worst Sox team out of the gate. But it was not to be.
During Saturday's telecast, Steve Stone mentioned that he was talking to Sox catcher Welington Castillo, who was a member of the Cubs in 2013-14 when the team lost a total of 185 games. Renteria, of course, managed that club in 2014. According to Stone, Castillo opined that the Sox have more talent on their roster this season than those Cub teams in the doldrums of early rebuilding.
So maybe we need to be much less pessimistic. After all, in the last 11 innings of the weekend series, the Sox outscored the Cubs 8-3. The Sox bullpen of Jace Fry, Jones and Bruce Rondon blanked the Cubs over the final three-plus innings, allowing just one baserunner. This performance reduced the bullpen's season ERA to 4.73. Only the Royals are less effective.
Chances also are that Rondon will get additional opportunities as the team's closer. Jones and Joakim Soria have five saves between them, but they've also blown four.
If it's any comfort, the Sox are not alone in their struggles. While they have baseball's worst record, teams like Kansas City, Baltimore, Miami and a few others either are in the rebuilding process or will be after this season.
According to the statistics of fivethirtyeight.com, eight teams are headed for at least 90 losses. Right now the algorithms have the Sox coming in at 102.
Since 2010, there have been two seasons, 2013 and 2014, when as few as six teams dropped a minimum of 90 games. Going back to 2004 there were 10 teams that stumbled at least 90 times.
What this indicates is that we're seeing basically two types of ballclubs: contenders and rebuilders, along with a few outliers such as under-financed and continual rebuilder Oakland. Fivethirtyeight says the A's have a nine percent chance of making the playoffs. Billy Beane no doubt is comfortable with that since his teams have reached the post-season eight times since 2000.
So here's the question: If you have almost a third of the teams losing 90 games and either contemplating or in the midst of rebuilding, what happens if the rebuilds bear fruit like the Cubs and Astros? Only two teams each year reach the World Series, and obviously there is a lone champion each season. Isn't the goal to win the season's final game and reach the pinnacle of the baseball world? But how realistic is that?
Since 2000, there have been 12 teams that have won the World Series. Four have multiple titles with the Giants and Red Sox having won three, and the Yankees and Cardinals two apiece. None of these champions engineered a total teardown where they routinely lost 90 more games for a number of consecutive seasons. Their fan bases wouldn't have tolerated it.
The Cubs and Astros put a new spin on the rebuilding process whereby they literally cleaned house, piled up the draft choices, and then made some pivotal trades and free agent signings. The Cubs had a fan base who believed in Theo Epstein and a misplaced allegiance to a decaying ballpark. Meanwhile, Astro attendance slipped mightily to approximately where the White Sox stand today. Similar to the Sox, Houston forged ahead undaunted, and the franchise has been receiving its payoff.
The Cubs and Astros appear poised to be contenders for the foreseeable future. However, winning another World Series in the next few years remains problematic. All of which means that a reasonable goal for the White Sox is to keep plugging away in front of an empty stadium with the idea that we'll see a contending team on the South Side in the next few years. A World Series champion might be a stretch, but if recent history is any indication, we'll witness a metamorphosis from rebuilder to contender.
He didn't play in a major league game until he was 27, yet Ichiro Suzuki left a mark on the game that was barely mentioned when he retired quietly on May 3rd. Outside of Seattle, few people took notice.
In an age when striking out 150 times a season and hitting .250 have become acceptable, Ichiro amassed 3,089 hits while averaging 60 strikeouts over 18 seasons. In his first 10 seasons playing for Seattle starting in 2001, Ichiro never had fewer than 206 hits. In 2004, his 262 hits set the all-time record, breaking the old mark which had stood for 84 years. He and Fred Lynn are the only two players to be named Rookie of the Year and MVP the same season.
In addition, Ichiro accounted for 1,278 hits while playing in Japan before coming to Seattle. While the Japanese league might not be on the level as MLB, his total of 4,367 is mind-boggling.
The comparison to all-time hit leader Pete Rose is inevitable. Rose banged out 4,256 hits in 24 seasons, breaking Ty Cobb's mark by 67. Rose played 24 seasons and accounted for 899 hits by the time he was 27. Assuming that Ichiro would have hit safely about as often as Rose at the same age, Ichiro would have been right around the 4,000 hit total.
The rap on Ichiro and the reason his retirement was underreported is that he traded in the long ball for contact - singles and doubles. Chances are he could have hit far more than the 117 home runs on his final record. You have to assume that anyone who hit that many homers could have hit more if he had chosen to do so. The same case could be made for Rose, who hit 160 homers.
However, Ichiro was the ultimate student of the game. He could hit to all fields. If a ground ball to the right side was called for, he came through. A fly ball with a man on third? He was your man. He also was one of the greatest right fielders in the game. Possessor of an outstanding arm, he assiduously studied the hitters and never was out of position. His wins above replacement (WAR) of 59.4 was only tied for 123rd all-time, but the same as Yogi Berra's.
You'd think that today's players would look at a guy like Ichiro and try to emulate his approach. Maybe not totally, but at least notice how he swung the bat, often hitting down on the ball to send a hard grounder into the outfield or a line drive into the gap.
Of course, the singles hitters don't make the big bucks. How's $167 million sound for his career?
For those of us who remember the days when a .250 hitter who had trouble making contact often found himself in the minor leagues, a player like Ichiro is celebrated and appreciated like few others. He knew how to play the game.
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