CHICAGO – Nearly one week into the season, the Chicago White Sox have narrowed their problems to two specific areas: hitting and pitching.
Too bad those problems encompass every single member of the roster.
It really is hard to tell if the most troublesome part of the White Sox’s 0-4 opening to the season is the lack of a quality starts from the rotation or the three games in which they scored one run or fewer, including Friday’s 6-0 defeat to the Minnesota Twins, against whom they had just three hits.
A divide also is growing between the group (mostly in the fan base) that feels the sky is falling after four games and the one that insists it is far too early to panic. Although simple math is on the far-too-early-to-panic side, the sky-is-falling group can’t be blamed for its disappointment.
Yes, the season is only 2.5 percent complete, and four consecutive defeats are going to happen multiple times, even to the best teams, but these are four completely flat defeats after the team spent six weeks in Arizona preparing to put its best foot forward when the season began.
Did the season start too early, or did spring training start too late?
“It’s disappointing,” said manager Robin Ventura, who was onto the lack of cohesion even before spring training ended. “I think right now guys are probably trying to force everything. We haven’t done a whole lot well. With the hitting, you get a sense guys are trying to hit a five-run homer with one guy on.”
Worried about a flat start, Ventura addressed the team’s lackadaisical spring-training play the day before the season began. The uninspired play continued anyway, and now it has become overanxious play.
“In the end, you’re going to be better off when you go through this, but these guys gotta fight through it,” Ventura said. “It’s tough when it’s at the beginning of the season like this, but you have to see your way through it and see the light at the end of the tunnel, and at the end, you’re going to be better off for it. But nobody likes going through it.”
On the pitching side, each of the four healthy starters in the White Sox’s rotation has taken a turn, and none has been able to walk away with a six-inning outing of three runs or fewer.
Hector Noesi had the wackiest outing of the bunch Friday, as he walked six, uncorked two wild pitches, threw 110 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings and still only allowed two runs to score. He even hit Eduardo Escobar with a pitch that bounced so far in front of the plate it came up and hit the Twins’ shortstop in the chest.
Noesi brings up the rear in the White Sox’s rotation, so his struggles aren’t as surprising as those of Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana. Both of them started at Kansas City to open the season, and each gave up five runs to the Royals -- Samardzija in six innings and Quintana in five.
The uplifting part is that staff ace Chris Sale will make his 2015 debut Sunday afternoon. He made a quick recovery from a fractured bone in his right foot Feb. 27 and rapidly progressed through an abbreviated spring training.
The offense is going to have to manufacture its own hope. Unlike in the case of the pitching staff, one of the best players in the game isn’t going to be walking into the newly refurbished clubhouse to help the cause Sunday.
In the late innings Friday, Adam Eaton tried to be the sparkplug the White Sox are looking for. He doubled to lead off the ninth with the third and final White Sox hit of the game. He then moved to third on a groundout and tried to score by tagging up on a pop-up down the line in shallow left field.
Escobar made the catch and threw home in time to cut Eaton down and end the game, which let the final bit of air out from the sagging balloon that was the home opener. Only a small portion of the 38,533 in attendance were still present to see it.
Afterward, Eaton politely declined an interview request and said he would talk Saturday.
“Today was not a good day, any way you slice it,” said Gordon Beckham, who nearly had a double twice in the fifth inning, only to have one drive go foul by inches and the other get caught on the run by Twins left fielder Oswaldo Arcia. “I mean, not a good day.”
Losing streaks and hitting slumps are magnified at the start of the season -- always have been, and always will be. The White Sox just need to get that first victory out of the way and try to settle into some type of comfort zone.
“Just play the game, let the game come to you, and when you get through it, hen you’re going to be better off,” Ventura said. “That’s the feeling I get: They’re trying to do way too much, maybe believing in the hype. But in the end, they are good players. It’s just you want to see more runs, you want to see the hitting and all that, but right now it’s tough.”
Of course, it’s too early to panic. It’s just that some panicked play is sending mixed signals.