After a loss to the Angels on June 29, the White Sox’ sixth defeat in an eight-game span, right-hander Michael Kopech delivered a message to anyone who cared to listen. He wanted people to know that, despite the team’s exasperating mediocrity in the first three months of the season, freak-outs were nonexistent in the clubhouse.
“Nobody is panicking,’’ he said.
My immediate thought then was the same as it is now: No, please, start panicking. Panic like a cornered dog. Panic like someone who forgot about an exam that starts in two hours. Activate the fight-or-flight response and, while you’re at it, forget about the flight part of the equation.
Panic would suggest a racing heart rate, which would suggest concern, which would suggest that the players and the manager are worried about losing their jobs, which would suggest they might want to, you know, do something!
Nothing else has worked for the Sox. One guy plays well. Five other guys don’t. Players get injured. Players return from injury. Six victories in seven games are followed by eight straight losses. Up and down. Down and up. It’s almost as if .500 has a magnetic pull for this team. The Sox have been in third place in the American League Central for more than a month, and they’ve mostly been four to six games out of first place since May 21. This is baseball being played on a hamster wheel.
Half a season would seem to be a decent sample size. The sample says the Sox are so-so, a major disappointment because they were supposed to be so good. Despite being down a few players because of injury, they still have talent, which is why Kopech was preaching calm after that late-June loss in Anaheim.
“We know we are a good team, and we can turn it around tomorrow if things go well,’’ he said. “It’s frustrating, yeah, but I think we know what we are capable of.
“We keep getting asked about how we feel about it. Look, nobody wants to lose, and the guys that are on the field every night, I promise they want to win more than anybody else that’s thinking about the team. So, yeah, we are not happy that we are not winning.”
The time for that kind of thoughtful analysis is over. It hasn’t led to consistent winning. Knowing what you’re capable of and being what you’re capable of are two different things, and it’s clear the Sox have no idea how to make the transition.
I’m not suggesting that someone on the team should re-create Chris Sale’s infamous Edward Scissorhands meltdown … wait, maybe I am. Remember? The former Sox pitcher taking a pair of scissors to throwback jerseys in the clubhouse in 2016 because he thought they were ugly and because he thought the club was putting a promotional campaign ahead of winning? It was a blowup of massive proportions. Sale, now with the Red Sox, had another eruption the other day after a rehab start didn’t go the way he wanted. Video captured him tearing up a runway to the dugout of Boston’s Triple-A team.
Some of you will say that grown men having temper tantrums is more of an embarrassment than an answer. I would agree in almost every case. But this is the case of a team that can’t seem to find itself, possibly because it can’t find its heartbeat.
It starts at the top. The criticism of Tony La Russa is that, at 77, he has lost touch. I wonder if we’ve cowed him into being something he shouldn’t be: passive. He came to town carrying an olive branch. Is it possible he has gone too far out of his way to play nice with everyone, players and media alike, to show that he’s not the ornery cuss he used to be? Is he better when he’s fiery?
Perhaps the players are following his subdued lead. Perhaps it’s time for some emotional dudes. Zeal and ferocity don’t always do for a baseball player what they do for a football player. But nothing else has worked.
I’m just spitballing here. By the way, if spitballing were a sport, the Sox would be .500 at that, too.
Fury. Anger. Panic. They’re all cut from the same emotional cloth. Whatever the Sox are wearing at the moment, it’s not made of that fabric.
“It’s tough right now,’’ Kopech said after giving up four home runs in a loss to the Twins on Tuesday.
He’s getting closer to a possible answer.