Ruminations on a wild card chase that doesn't involve the White Sox

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The Rangers and Royals provide opportunities for second-guessing when a potential 100-loss season renders individual decisions irrelevant

One of the more pleasant byproducts of a lost season: You don't spend a lot of time dwelling over individual decisions.

For instance, in the early 2000s, a decent fifth starter could've made a world of difference. In 2009, families were torn apart by Mark Kotsay. But in seasons like 2013, you can only scratch your head and wonder why everybody started eating paste at the same time.

Had the Sox been closer to contention, the A.J. Pierzynski winter of discontent would have spilled over into spring and summer, because it's the only decision the Sox theoretically could have rolled back. They used the savings on Jeff Keppinger, which, looking back, means the Sox risked opening a hole in the roster in order to make a bigger one.

While Keppinger continues to languish among the league's least valuable players, Pierzynski's having another nice season. He's giving the Texas Rangers 2.2 WAR while Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley have led the Sox to below-replacement production from the catcher position.

Some days it seems like everybody but the Sox has a shot at the play-in game ("who's the latest wild card leader well guess what it's you"). Had the Sox disappointed in a more fathomable way, resulting in a record that's just out of the playoff picture, you could start pointing to the catcher production and asking, "What if?"

For all we can account, we know Pierzynski would have made no measurable difference on the 2013 White Sox. At the moment, he's struggling to make a measurable difference for a team that needs every win they can get.

The Rangers ended a seven-game losing streak on Tuesday night, which means they've only lost 13 of their last 17 games. In the process, they've gone from leading the AL West by 3½ games to 6½ games back of Oakland, and now they're clinging to a wild card spot by a half-game.

You can't point the finger at Pierzynski, at least from the outside. He's maintaining his overall production (.279/.305/.442) into September. For that matter, Alex Rios has snapped out of his singles-based approach to show some power in the final month (.322/.365/.525). And yet, there they are together, trying to avoid the same fate that befell them in 2012, just on a different team.

For Rios, it would be the second consecutive year his team faltered despite his best effort. He hit .324/.351/.537 in the final month of the 2012 season, but he didn't have much help. Should this year meet a similar end, he'll still be in search of his first postseason appearance in his 10-year career.

The Rangers are slumping to such an extent that respectable contributions from Pierzynski and Rios aren't enough to sustain an offense. Extrapolate the experience of this month over a full season, and you have the White Sox.

Star-divide

Over in the Central, the Kansas City Royals have lost two of their last three, which normally wouldn't be something to get upset about. But this isn't a normal season for the Royals, who are gunning for their first postseason appearance since 1985, and these weren't normal losses.

On Sunday, Ned Yost stuck with Jeremy Guthrie one batter too long. He had thrown 100 pitches over seven innings of two-run ball, and he had the best bullpen in baseball to pick up the work, but Yost tried to see if he could sneak Guthrie through the bottom of Detroit's order. Alex Avila sniffed out the plan and blasted a solo homer off

On Tuesday, the Royals blew a 3-0 lead to Cleveland, as the Indians poked holes in the league's best bullpen for a 5-3 victory. Over at Royals Review, they're questioning Yost's sequence of relievers. It seems difficult to pin on the manager, but frustration is mounting, dating back to a really confusing series of substitutions in a loss a week before. It just hasn't been a good stretch for Yost, who is showing why he was fired in Milwaukee with two weeks left in a pennant race in 2008.

Star-divide

These are the kinds of things we used to write about here, when the White Sox were in contention, or even one reasonable hot streak from getting into the mix. But individual decisions haven't mattered in months, and the collapse has rendered moves from the previous offseason irrelevant. Even the salary dumping at the trade deadline was rooted in accepting the inevitable than making choices.

The worst thing about a lost season is that you can easily lose your bearings. Is Jordan Danks any good? What about Gordon Beckham? Is Alexei Ramirez going to lose his skills at short? What do we make of Robin Ventura? It's hard to make any declarations of true talent when players who are used to contending have nothing to play for.

That's why I'm suppressing expectations about just how quickly Rick Hahn can turn this around. He suggests it could be quicker than people think, and I suppose it's possible. Sometimes you have no idea where you're going until you arrive at your destination. Dread-to-joy is one of the all-time underrated feelings -- think about the Blackhawks and 17 seconds -- but it's not one you want to try planning in advance. Right now, I look at the position-player portion of the roster and see Jell-O somebody forgot to put in the fridge, so the needle is leaning on "dread" pretty hard.

At this point, I'm just hoping that he can get the Sox back into a place where it's worthwhile to pore over single events -- trades, signings, roster shuffling, strategy, whatever -- as important parts of something bigger. It's strange to lack any solid idea of what's good and what's bad, and if that stage lasts too long, it seems to last forever.

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