The White Sox have officially exhausted the benefit of the doubt.
That's not to say the season's over, although it's understandable if you're already thinking toward 2016. From my perspective, there are 100 games remaining after tonight's game in Pittsburgh, this whole season is backwards, and I've seen enough bloggers make sweeping declarations that haunt them for years to know I'd rather limit my inevitable wrongness. I can wait until the trade deadline to make that call. There's no rush.
But the Sox have provided no real reason to believe they're better than a slightly under .500 team.
They already negated one six-game winning streak by going 1-7 over the following eight games. This past weekend, they erased a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros by suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays.
As the saying goes: Fool a man twice, he fishes today; fool a man twice, shame on me.
They could have won all three games. Acknowledging that fortune will conspire against a team from time to time, two wins were there. One of three wouldn't have been a total loss, literally or figuratively.
Instead, they dropped three games in three different ways: bad luck, bad crunch-time decision-making, and bad offense. The latter two have been chronic conditions, and they joined forces on Sunday to make "let Pissed Sale redline fastballs past the 125-pitch barrier" seem like an acceptable idea. It isn't. It's the mark of a team that has few other ideas about how to win.
There's not a lot anybody can do or say. The Sox are second-to-last in runs per game. They have the league's worst slugging percentage, they're one point away from the league's worst OBP, and on top of that, baserunners who aren't Alexei Ramirez are 12-for-29 trying to steal bases. There's nobody who is coming off the DL. Nobody's knocking down the door in Charlotte.
There's one roster spot to play with -- Emilio Bonifacio is Kosuke Fukudome without a primary position, and considering he hasn't stolen a base this season, he hasn't shown even a primary skill. Perhaps the Sox could try to bulk up their right-handed bench options by claiming Justin Ruggiano. Perhaps they could bring back Micah Johnson and let him brawl with Carlos Sanchez for playing time the rest of the season.
Either way, that isn't enough to change the complexion of the team. Dropping the ax on Robin Ventura and/or selected coaches would create a tangible difference, but the roster remains the same.
It's the sameness that's numbing, which is why #FireRobin is as popular as it is. If the Sox had the ability to bust out for eight or nine runs on a semi-regular basis -- even if it didn't result in more wins -- you could give the Sox a greater margin for error, as well as a margin for improvement, tightening up and whatnot. Instead, improvement relies on them doing things they haven't shown an ability to do through 61 games.
Positive regression remains in play, with Adam Eaton and Alexei Ramirez and Melky Cabrera. A working mix could be discovered at third, second and/or catcher after more trial and error. The starting pitching doesn't need a Blue Jays-like offense to work, so reducing the dead spots from five to two could be good enough.
Alas, that's not to be expected. What is to be expected is what they've shown, and those hopes and wishes are now lumped into "until proven otherwise."
They have about a month to do just that before the front office starts subtracting. In the meantime, all quotes reflecting optimism are going to ring hollow.
When Rick Hahn says "the arrow is pointing up" ... it ain't. Sideways at best. Likewise, I would expect David Robertson to still have hope for the team he chose to join over the Astros...
"Absolutely. We definitely have the players here to make it happen," Robertson said. "It's a matter of us actually doing it and putting together good stretches where we take two of three a lot of times.
"If we pick up a few series against the Royals or Detroit … We had a great opportunity to get Detroit: they weren't playing real well and we squandered that opportunity. But we are still very capable."
... but it's going to take two good weeks of different-looking baseball for it to mean something outside the clubhouse. Glass half empty: Their next 11 series are against opponents who are .500 or better. Glass half full: The schedule is mostly irrelevant during a season in which nothing comes easy. That's what passes for optimism these days.