White Sox fans are in a real bind, and it stinks

The mediocre team still can win a mediocre division ... or not.

SHARE White Sox fans are in a real bind, and it stinks
White Sox manager Pedro Grifol, center, looks down as he talks to players during the ninth inning of a game against the Miami Marlins.

The White Sox have manager Pedro Grifol in a difficult spot.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

These are strange days for White Sox fans. It’s totally OK if you’re a Sox fan and you’re not sure what to think because what we’re seeing in 2023 is unprecedented. It leads to a really interesting existential question:

What is it that you’re actually rooting for?

Most of the time, the objective for a team is clear: Either you think you’re a World Series contender or you don’t. The season is long and full of mirages, but fans don’t usually assign World Series aspirations to a team that’s unworthy. With this Sox team, it’s difficult to find sure footing inside an opinion.

The way I see it, Sox fans are stuck rooting for two things: either the Sox are good or the American League Central is so bad that the Sox can manufacture hope. Walking into the season, Sox fans were hoping for the former. Since the season has started, they’ll settle for the latter.

It doesn’t feel good to be scoreboard-watching the way the team, its broadcasters and the fans are at this point. That’s usually a phenomenon that happens later in a season and often is connected to the team you root for being good enough to take advantage of it.

That’s not the case with this Sox team so far. There have been plenty of nights that the entire division has lost a game and everyone stays status quo. The beginning of this week saw the Tigers sporting a nine-game losing streak and the Royals a six-gamer. The type of incompetence the AL Central has shown would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn sad.

Enter the Sox.

Despite the fact that the Sox are well below .500, they legitimately can say they’re in the race for the division title. It seems silly to me. It might seem silly to you, but if I were on the team in any capacity, I would see hope. I want the Sox to play that way, like there’s something to be gained, but it all feels so hollow.

Sox fans deserve a team that’s good, not a team that’s barely hanging on because the division leader can’t stay above .500 for more than a couple of days. It’s frustrating when the Sox give you glimpses of what they can be. Last week, their five-game winning streak lent credence to the idea that the division could be had. Alas, the Sox have run into problems that have been all too familiar to its leadership and fans: an inconsistent bullpen, lack of hitting and injuries.

Injuries have been the biggest nemesis for the Sox in the last few seasons. It has become so predictable that Sox fans fear when a player is listed as ‘‘day-to-day.’’ Why? Because it usually turns into a long stint on the injured list.

The worst part of the injury bug for the Sox is the lack of organizational depth. That makes for hard choices for the front office. Think about how many players have come back from an injury too soon. Maybe a player isn’t in any danger of hurting himself further, but he’s clearly not 100%. The choice the Sox seem to keep making is playing a player at 75% because it’s probably better than playing his replacement.

Rehabbing an injury at the major-league level is folly. I struggle with judging players too harshly when they return because they clearly don’t look like themselves. It becomes unfair to the player at a certain point, too. The player sells out to get back as soon as possible and, when he struggles, catches our wrath. Just once I’d love to hear one of these players defend themselves and say that they’re stuck in baseball’s version of the ‘‘Kobayashi Maru’’ exercise. For those of you who don’t speak geek, it’s Star Trek’s way of saying ‘‘no-win.’’

Personally, I’d rather the Sox be good, fighting and clawing their way to relevance. But we’re all stuck rooting against the rest of the division because it allows the Sox to stay in striking distance. It just doesn’t feel very good. Strange days, indeed.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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