We all know how this works. A baseball team starts poorly, doesn’t meet raging expectations, watches everything go wrong and … hey, where’s the guillotine?
Fire the manager, trade the players, dismiss the unpaid interns.
This is where the White Sox have been for the better part of three months, but – dare anyone utter these words? – maybe the worst is over.
A 5-1 dismissal of the Cubs and Jon Lester on Saturday was the ninth victory in the last 11 games for the South Siders, and even the most stubborn, hardened, Sox-fan heart might have felt an unfamiliar throb afterward.
Is there time for this team to get back into the playoff picture?
But will they?
Ah, well, yes, about that.
You’d have to be either criminally gullible or clinically deluded to say with certainty that the Sox are on their way. Every time they have purportedly turned a corner this season, they have found themselves modeling the grille of a speeding truck.
I’d be more inclined to believe in the Sox if Chris Sale could pitch every second day instead of every fifth day. He was terrific at Wrigley Field on Saturday, striking out 10 and walking one in seven-plus innings. But his pitching-staff mates have been doing good work too. When Sale gave up a run in the seventh inning, it ended a 30-inning scoreless streak for White Sox pitchers.
And the bats, although still barely speaking above a whisper this season, have had their moments. Alexei Ramirez has been having regular near-life experiences at the plate, including Saturday, when he knocked in a run with a seventh-inning single. He is 11-for-31 in his last nine games. That has bumped his batting average all the way up to .227, well below his .273 career average.
The Sox were supposed to be this good from the beginning. We don’t leave much room for latent winners in sports, and even less so in baseball, where front-office people pull the plug so quickly and so often, they have chronic rotator-cuff issues.
This is the thinking: If you’re supposed to be good, you should be good right away. If you’re not, it’s time to think about next year.
It’s true that the Sox would have to leapfrog seven teams to get into a wild-card spot. They are five games out of the final berth. Difficult, not impossible.
“We still have nearly half the season left,’’ outfielder Adam Eaton said. “Yeah, there’s plenty of time.’’
Judging by the loud music in the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley and the smiles on the faces of the players, this would be no time to think about trading anyone.
“When you play the way we were and you lose games, you lose tough ones, morale can be down, but you continue to come back,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “We have some professional guys in here that continue to just grind away. Right now, you don’t think too far down the line and too much in the past.
“You just play today, and I think they’re starting to kind of feel that.’’
There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why the talented Sox were playing badly before, and there’s no good explanation for why they’ve turned it on now. It’s enough to make a manager lose his mind, but Ventura is calmer than a windless lake.
“That’s part of baseball,’’ he said. “You go through things that don’t make sense, but you don’t sit there and try and figure it out right now. For me, it’s just let them play. I want them to feel good about going out’’ and playing.
Last year, when Cubs manager Joe Maddon was managing the Rays, Tampa Bay started the season 24-42, then went 29-13. Then they traded ace David Price to the Tigers and sputtered down the stretch.
If there’s a lesson in there, it’s don’t trade Jeff Samardzija. The Sox pitcher has been the subject of trade rumors because the team has struggled and because Samardzija is always the subject of trade rumors. But it would be silly to do something now with the team on a hot streak.
Life is rosy. Or at least rosier.
“It’s fun, coming in here laughing, joking, hearing some music playing,’’ Sale said. “It’s always a good time. You get on rolls like this, and you just try to keep going. Run into a bump in the road and just look at it as nothing. Just keep rolling.’’
Right through the July 31 trade deadline.