ANAHEIM, Calif. — We’re three months in now, Fourth of July weekend is almost upon us, and the White Sox jump-start everyone is waiting for is still somewhere on the horizon.
Or is it?
Perhaps it will appear out here on the coast.
Every time the Sox have something resembling a turning-point moment, they retreat into whatever it is they are now: A team that is not hitting the long ball or scoring in bunches, is getting thrown out at home more than any other team, is playing poor defense and is always hurt.
Their injured list is a long one — 10 deep — and those not on it are permitted to play at three-quarter speed to help them stay off it.
The Sox can thank the American League Central for allowing them to be in striking distance of the top, a division absent of any team that appears to be a postseason threat to teams of the AL West or East. The East’s last-place team, the Orioles, took three of four at Guaranteed Rate Field over the weekend.
They out-defended, outran and outscored the Sox by a 17-10 count. They outplayed a team with World Series aspirations.
That series was supposed to kick off an opportunistic soft stretch of games — Orioles (34-40), Angels (35-40), Giants (39-33), 17 straight division games and the Rockies (31-42) and Athletics (25-49) — for the Sox, who opened an important road trip Monday night with a 4-3 loss to the Angels.
The Sox have lost five of their last six after getting to .500 last week and are 6 1⁄2 games behind the Twins.
“It’s important we come prepared to win every day,” said Lucas Giolito, who pitched six innings of two-run ball against the Angels. “I feel like we are all trying here. But trying doesn’t necessarily get the job done. You have to go and do it.”
Meanwhile, the manager hired to make a difference and give the Sox an edge, isn’t having much of a visible effect on outcomes. Tony La Russa came out of managerial retirement to guide the Sox to 93 wins and a division title in 2021, but they were pummeled by the Astros in the ALDS. Counting that series, the Sox have a 70-74 record since July 20 of last season and have not sustained anything for any significant stretch. Their longest winning streak is six games, the longest losing skid eight.
When the Sox beat the Yankees on May 22 in a game that Michael Kopech pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and Tim Anderson homered to cap a day-night sweep against the best team in baseball a day after the Josh Donaldson “Jackie” game, it felt like the Sox were back on track.
There have been other moments like that. And then, pffft.
The Sox lost seven of their next nine, the last loss in that stretch a 6-3 defeat at the Rays, stretching their losing streak to four and sending a worrisome “what is going on here?” shudder throughout the organization.
But the Sox salvaged the last two games of that series.
A week later, it felt like an “OK, this is it” moment when they swept the Tigers in Detroit and went 4-2 on a road trip that included Houston.
But sustaining anything has been a challenge in large part due to a lack of depth, La Russa said, which is partly a byproduct of the injuries to so many frontline players and partly to how the roster was constructed going into the season.
“I’m not saying it’s not there,” La Russa said Monday. “When the depth is productive, it’s real depth.”
And when it’s not, the Sox are thin.
“The best streaks are when the starting pitchers are pitching well and you don’t have too many where the bullpen gets worn out,” La Russa said. “And then there are days when the offense has to score some or a lot. Most of that has to do with how deep your lineup is.”
To steal the phrase general manager Rick Hahn christened their rebuild with, the Sox have been mired in mediocrity in April, May and June.
They will have to emerge from it in July, August and September if there is to be an October, once thought to be — but no more by any means — a foregone conclusion.