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Through the first four months of the season, the passing of each unimpressive week failed to put a thorough dent in the White Sox’s postseason projections. The Sox had three things in their favor:
- A weak division
- The Central’s strongest collection of individual track records
- A front-loaded schedule
Whether you trusted the White Sox’s talent or the lack of talent elsewhere, the White Sox might’ve only needed one strong fortnight to wrest control of the division and never get it back.
It turns out that it’s hard to build winning streaks when you’re committed to losing every opening game of a series. We’ve also learned that in order for the weakest remaining schedule to matter, you have to beat up on those teams. They’ve instead gone 8-8 against this 19-game stretch of games against teams under .500, including losing three of four to the Royals.
Tim Anderson’s six-week absence also hurts in this department. He was in the small group of hitters within shouting distance of the back of his baseball card. Even after taking his flaws into account, he’s a better candidate to start games than Leury García (whose right leg could be an issue) and Lenyn Sosa (whose learning curve against MLB pitching looks steep).
Add it all up, and the formerly favorable projections have taken a beating this week.
FanGraphs’ projected standings paint a bleak picture:
And if you think they only have a path to the postseason through the division, FanGraphs now puts that probability at 20.5 percent, down from 40 percent 10 days ago.
PECOTA, which has had the White Sox even with the Twins atop the Central for most of the time they’ve been trailing them, now has the White Sox a distinct third, albeit only by a couple of games:
- Cleveland, 85-77
- Minnesota, 83-79
- White Sox: 82-80
The postseason (33.1 percent) and divisional (20.2) probabilities are just about the same.
FiveThirtyEight is the most bullish of the systems, but Tom Fornelli has been charting the White Sox’s slow decline of October likelihood over the course of the season …
… and it took a sudden dip this past week.
With the White Sox 3½ games back of Cleveland and 1½ behind Minnesota, they can still say they control their own destiny, even if that destiny requires them to maximize head-to-head opportunities against the teams in front of them.
But while they’d naturally say that games are played on the field and not on spreadsheets, they’re already staging their own debate over intangibles regarding the concept of “fire.”
Following Wednesday’s meltdown, Johnny Cueto said they lacked it:
La Russa has lauded his team’s “fight” and “guts” throughout the season, and he strongly defended them after Thursday’s loss as he often does. As for lacking fire, he pointed to a slick double play turned by second baseman Josh Harrison and rookie shortstop Lenyn Sosa behind Cueto.
“How did that happen?” La Russa said. “They weren’t fired up?”
Daryl Van Schouwen relayed quotes from Lucas Giolito and Andrew Vaughn that seemed to indicate that Cueto wasn’t wrong, and it’s also coming only a few days after José Abreu said his effort was the only thing he could control.
I try not to get wrapped up in discussions about fire or its relatives (urgency, effort, intensity), just because it distracts from more crucial issues. I always think about the years that Reynaldo López talked about addressing his poor results with increased focus, only to realize that he literally couldn’t see well. After two eye surgeries, he’s been able to contribute quite a bit more.
In this case, we knew that Rick Hahn failed to address issues like a righty-heavy offense that struggles to pull the ball in the air, or a defense playing too many guys out of position. Andrew Vaughn wasn’t outplayed by Nate Eaton in Kauffman’s corners this past series because of a lack of desire. Andrew Vaughn simply can’t run like an outfielder should.
But I’ll say that isn’t great when a veteran calls out his team for a lack of fire, and the manager seems more interested in sweeping it under the rug or turning it into a debate about the concept of fire itself. There’s really only one conversation that I’m interested involving the words “Tony La Russa” and “fire,” but the White Sox aren’t going to have that one until after the season, if ever.