After a 5-2 start, the White Sox have been pulled back to .500's tepid embrace, and for reasons that are familiar to all of us.
Whether they're familiar enough to Robin Ventura is a different story, and we're going to learn a lot about what he's seeing over the rest of this week.
Right now, he wants to stay the course, whether it's continuing to use Brent Morel in the second spot:
"I still think he’s going to be more of a contact hitter, hit line drives," Ventura said prior to Tuesday’s game. "I believe that, believe in him doing that. He’s going to stay there. He just needs to be a little more aggressive in the zone, and things will turn around for him."
Or starting Gordon Beckham at all:
"Part of [Beckham’s] process is trying to start the year proving last year wrong," Ventura said. "That is not the case. We are worried about what we are doing now and becoming confident and aware of this year, rather than what has happened the last couple of years."
But here's the problem -- while the parties involved might say that this year is its own animal, or "it's only nine games," that's not true here, not for the people in question.
There are some hitters for whom you would wave away early struggles. Guys like Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, Alexei Ramirez get leeway, because they've shown an ability to end up at a certain group of numbers no matter how they start. They have not abused that trust.
For Beckham and Morel -- and Adam Dunn and Alex Rios -- they received the benefit of the doubt last year, and they hugged it so hard they killed it. So now they're on a different timeline, and it includes a threshold where "it's only 10 games" or "it's only two weeks" becomes "it's been 175 effing games" overnight. Some people might be counting in triple digits already.
It's hard to know what Ventura thinks, and good luck reading into it. He's inherited a fragile situation with a unique collection of burgeoning and active catastrophes. It's possible that he's trapped in a Choose Your Own Adventure Book that ends in a fiery death no matter what he does. A wealth of experience might not make a difference, because look what's happening to Bobby Valentine in Boston.
But from where I sit in my chair of analyst/customer/auditor, it would be advised for him to show a greater sense of urgency pretty soon. He might not be responsible for the failures of the previous administration, but the Sox have to be aware that the fan base still wears the scars. If Ventura keeps writing a lineup card that has Dunn batting third against lefties and Morel second against everybody, it's no different from Juan Pierre leading off forever, or Rios qualifying for the batting title and Dunn falling six plate appearances short.
The mistakes of last season led to 11,267 fans Tuesday night, the lowest attendance in more than seven years. If the new administration can't figure out how to make modular lineups, that terrible trajectory will take everybody to dark places we haven't seen in 10 years -- except with far fewer traveling beat writers to even cover it.
And really, I'm just feeling sorry for Morel at this point, because the baseball gods are going Loki on him. Like, one baseball god roped Morel into a friendly conversation, while another baseball god got on all fours behind him. Then they pushed Morel over, sending him to the ground, because they can be jerks sometimes. But then they started kicking him. And they just keep kicking him. And oh no somebody help he's coughing blood please stop kicking him.
I didn't want him hitting second this season because he'd barely started to take care of his own business last year. I didn't want to see his attempts at forming his offensive identity compromised by additional responsibility, because it didn't go well last year. Maybe it was worth a quick look, but the look is too long, and those fears are being realized. Brutally.
Take Tuesday night. He started off by hitting a pretty good liner to left, and Nolan Reimold made a great play to rob him of a hit. Maybe extra bases. So he has nothing to show for a hard-hit ball for his second at-bat, and he strikes out. He's just 0-for-2 with a strikeout, one of many times he's been 0-for-2 with a strikeout this season.
In in third at-bat, he singles! And he scores! Super duper! Oh, but he's going to pay for it. He's going to come to the plate with the tying run on third in each of his last two at-bats, and he's not even going to come close to seizing the day. He strikes out in his first attempt, and taps out weakly to third to end the game. He's not allowed to identify himself by that single anymore.
And somewhere in the middle of that, he charged a chopper and short-armed a throw into foul territory, but since nobody advanced, it wasn't an error. For Morel in 2012, this was a good day. That's life when you're batting .118.
The baseball gods are trying to help, albeit in their special a-hole way. Morel was one of two White Sox to make it to the plate five times. He is one of the least deserving White Sox to get the most at-bats in any game. The gods are drawing attention to this imbalance, and if nobody with power notices, it's not their fault. Kick. Kick. Kick.