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Lately, this White Sox joyride is all wet

With only 11 games to go before the start of the playoffs, it’s hard to find much inspiration in the way the Sox have been playing.

The White Sox leave the dugout after a loss to the Tigers.
The White Sox leave the dugout after a loss to the Tigers.
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

DETROIT — It happened here in the spring and again in the summer, and — talk about an inauspicious beginning — the first day of fall looked like it might be a wet, wild and woolly replay.

Flooded freeways.

Kind of makes it hard to get where you’re trying to go.

A warning came from a friendly local at Comerica Park, where the White Sox went nowhere fast in two losses to the Tigers before Wednesday’s series finale was postponed because of heavy rain that showed no signs of quitting.

“Stay off those freeways,” he advised.

And he had visuals for added emphasis, photos that show what can happen when local rivers overflow their banks and “ponding” sets in on these roads. The kind of photos that can make even an intrepid newsman skittish as he pilots his rental car from the ballpark to a hotel or, say, to Cleveland for a doubleheader Thursday.

Think: dozens of vehicles suddenly swimming in place — treading water, if you will — at an underpass.

Kind of like the Sox, when you stop and consider it.

The Sox have had more than their share of injuries, no doubt a major contributor to their second-half stall. A tip of the cap to them for building such an insurmountable division lead that they’ve been able to coast — all but certain the playoffs awaited them — since midsummer. We mustn’t take their success for granted given this is the first time in franchise history the Sox will be in back-to-back postseasons.

But enough with the pleasantries. They really don’t jibe with the deep gloom of a baseball rainout, not to mention with tortured metaphors of automotive distress.

On only one occasion during the second half have these Sox won consecutive series; it happened at home late last month against the woebegone Cubs and Pirates. The Sox are 31-31 since the break, third-best in a bad division behind the Tigers (34-27) and Royals (33-30). After last year’s 60-game regular season, it doesn’t seem like a small sample size.

The Sox — their magic number down to two — surely can scrounge up a “W” somewhere over five games against the second-place Indians. A Cleveland clincher might even be a tad poetic. But with only 11 games to go before the start of the playoffs, it’s hard to find much inspiration in the way the Sox have been playing. Before they take on the Astros or anyone else in October, wouldn’t it behoove them to swim out of this monthslong malaise?

“As long as we compete, we’ll be ready,” manager Tony La Russa said. “The thing is, you never take that for granted. We have 11 games left, so [11] chances to practice that competitive edge.”

The edge might have been present already if the Sox had faced an active threat in the standings at any point since July.

La Russa has managed 14 playoff teams before this one, and several of them were able to roll toward October unthreatened. But the run made by his last team, the 2011 Cardinals, sticks with him. The eventual World Series winners had both feet on the gas pedal throughout a long, wild stretch drive, finishing 16-5 to eke out 90 wins and claim the wild-card spot by a single game. Even his first championship team, the 1989 Athletics — a 99-win team — had to sprint to the tape with the Royals on their heels.

“If we compete, the numbers will take care of themselves,” he said. “Then your confidence is moving into the postseason, and the goal [becomes] to be the best you can be, respect your opponent and see who plays the best.”

The 2005 Sox were only two games above .500 in the second half heading into the final 10 games of the regular season. They went 8-2, winning their last five in Detroit and Cleveland, then tore through the postseason with a record of 11-1 — a stunning display of peak performance.

It’s tempting to look back on that bunch of world-beaters — an outstanding team some Sox fans idealize as an all-time-great one — and think: Of course they turned it on. They had competitive juice pumping through their veins. They were special.

But heading into their last 10 games, an ESPN heading referred to them as “reeling.” An AP story that ran in papers around the country on Sept. 23, 2005, began: “Their once commanding lead is almost gone, and the Chicago White Sox are showing no signs of shaking a late-season collapse.”

So? So, you just never know what’s coming.

With these Sox, too.

“We’ve been treading water for a while,” La Russa said.

It’s kind of making it hard to get where they’re trying to go.