On the ropes, the White Sox return home

The White Sox return home today after a disappointing 4-7 road trip. The return to Chicago isn't exactly good news, because prior to their East Coast travels, the Sox had a 10-game homestand in which they finished 4-6.

In some respects, the Sox are lucky to be where they are. They finagled a split against the Yankees, even though they scored just nine runs over four games. They were held to two runs or fewer in eight of their 11 away games, and there are a boatload of Sox who will be licking their wounds in the home locker room. We reviewed Gordon Beckham's 4-for-50 slump on Thursday morning, but he has plenty of company. Dead weight saddled more than 50 percent of the lineup on the road trip, including:

  • Alex Rios: 2-for-34 (.059/.158/.059), and his bad toe may be in worse shape after he jammed it into the center field fence.
  • Brent Morel: 3-for-22 (.136/.136/.182). Don't look now, but he's up to 71 plate appearances without a walk. With 11 more, he'll match Dayan Viciedo's season-starting walkless streak last season.
  • Adam Dunn: 5-for-35 (.143/.268/.200).
  • Alexei Ramirez: 7-for-39 (.179/.238/.179).
  • Juan Pierre: 7-for-38 (.184/.244/.184).

Two-thirds of the lineup is contributing nothing or next to it. Worse yet, one of the hitters not included on this list is A.J. Pierzynski, and even he's not in great shape. He hit .290 during the road trip, but it was almost as empty as it could get (one walk, no extra-base hits).

Greg Walker, a little less sarcastically this time, said he's seen it all before. That's true. But nobody can see that much more of it as the Sox return for a six-game homestand.

Remember how everybody agreed the White Sox started horribly last year? Well, tthey're a game behind that pace in 2011.

Fortunately -- maybe -- they will face two teams who have been equally putrid as of late.

Baltimore Orioles (four games): They started the season 6-1; they've gone 4-12 since. None of their offensive players have an OPS over .800. I'm not talking about only the starters. No, this includes anybody who has picked up a bat for the Orioles this year. They don't even have any 1-for-2 guys. They're 12th in the American League in OPS, and U-God will go into more detail later today.

Minnesota Twins (two games): And here's the team behind the Orioles in OPS. If you don't think the White Sox could have started any worse, you haven't been paying attention to the Twinkies. They're the only American League team without 10 wins. They have the worst run differential in the league. Their best player is on the DL, and his health was grossly mismanaged in the spring. Their second best player hasn't hit a homer since suffering a severe concussion. Their best pitcher is a wreck. Their closer situation is equally shaky. And their clubhouse was just ravaged by the flu.

Here's how bad it's been for Minnesota - they scheduled a Thursday doubleheader that the Tampa Bay Rays objected to ... and the Rays thrashed them by a combined score of 21-4. Jeff Niemann, a pitcher the Sox beat twice this year, flirted with a no-hitter in the nightcap.

We can go even deeper into these teams' woes (and U-God likely will). Yet at a certain point -- and we may have even crossed it just now -- anything we say can be used against the White Sox, by the simple rules of "Scoreboard." The Sox are even in the standings with the Twins, and 1 1/2 games worse than the O's. The Sox haven't played particularly well against either team over the last few years. As far as anybody knows, fans at U.S. Cellular Field will see three bad baseball teams on display over the next six days.

The White Sox have a chance to separate themselves from the dreck fo the league, and that's why a good homestand is paramount to organizational health. None of the games in and of themselves are must-wins (yet), but the last time Sox fans saw this team in person, they had nothing to feel good about. They came home mostly in the same shape. Finishing 3-3 against the Orioles and Twins might set back attendance for weeks, especially when considering what follows:

  • A West Coast swing with three apiece against Seattle, Los Angels and Oakland.
  • Two against the first-place Rangers at home.
  • Two against the first-place Indians at home.

Last year, the Cheat was saving his "blow up the team" post for when the Sox fell 10 games under .500. They bottomed out at nine (24-33), so the Sox remained free from his wrath. If the Sox don't have a winning homestand starting this weekend, they'll run the risk of being right up against that 10-game barrier once again.

The good news is that the AL Central looks worse than advertised. The Cleveland Indians are the only team above .500, as the Kansas City Royals have lost six straight. The Detroit Tigers swept the Sox in the first series of the season, and that's the only difference between the two teams' records. It looks quite possible that three or four teams will be mud-wrestling their way towards 80 wins.

That could make for an exciting September, but it's not going to bring people to the park in the months before. That's why this homestand is crucial. They can shrug off April with a strong six-game set and give people something to talk about, or they can dissuade them from investing much more money in the team. It'd be rash to say a bad six games will spoil the Sox's season, but it could very well decide where a lot of people will spend their summer.

Star-divide

By the way:

The first line is what Hudson gave to the White Sox in his three starts last year, before Kenny Williams sent him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the services of Jackson. The second line is what Jackson has given to the Sox in his most recent three starts, including Thursday's stinkbomb.

The Jackson the Sox have right now is pitching worse than a decent prospect who failed his major-league audition last season, and Williams is paying $8 million more for the privilege. Sure, I might be cherrypicking the numbers a little bit, but you could expand it to four starts, and the story remains the same. His command has been nonexistent, and that was a very real risk entering the season.

I suppose I could use Jackson's awful performance to further illustrate how important it was for Mark Buehrle to fare well against the Yankees, but I'm getting tired of having to extend myself to provide positive things to highlight. That the White Sox's job, and they really should resume their duties tonight.

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