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White Sox' misery has company

There's a crisis of confidence and competence on the South Side, but other teams are dealing with worse

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Another day, another dispiriting loss for the Chicago White Sox, another series of quotes from Robin Ventura saying what they have to do, without any recent evidence that they have the wherewithal to do it.

  • "You have to be able to grind through and show some backbone to get through it."
  • "(You have to) grind in a way to get yourself back to where you need to be."
  • "You just have to be tough."
  • "We have to be able to swing the bats better."
  • "We have to be able to find a way out of it."
  • "We have to stop [getting outscored dramatically in the first inning]."
  • "You have to put something back on them, push back a little bit."

It all looks the same, it all sounds the same, and it leads to headlines like the one on James' Tuesday morning post on The Catbird Seat: "How many canings can you take before they define you?"

During a time where one fan's SENSE OF URGENCY is another fan's DUMBASSED BASERUNNING, I understand the arguments against gauging a team at an extreme. I also understand why a lot of people want change, even if it might end up being for the sake of change. Average out these emotions as I tend to do, and the result is ... I don't really care what happens to Ventura specifically, as long as there are attempts to improve.

If the Sox think firing Ventura might motivate the team more than Ventura's whip could, fine. If the Sox think they can optimize the roster better for Ventura (DFA Emilio Bonifacio, try a new fifth starter), fine. If Ventura wants to do something sensibly far out like bat Adam LaRoche second, fine. Ventura's quotes repeatedly underline the fact that the status quo isn't acceptable, and there are ways non-players can change things. They have to do it.

As fans, we don't have to do anything. However, I always recommend watching and reading about other teams in order to better contextualize the catastrophe unfolding in front of you, under the guiding principle of "Your Team's Problems Aren't Unique." And recently, I've seen three teams dealing with issues that are along the same lines. One just fired a manger in hopes of firing up a team, another has an offense that has fans questioning their existences, and the third just pulled off a greater display of incompetence than Ventura could ever dream of.

San Diego Padres

By trading for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris and Craig Kimbrel and signing James Shields, the Padres won the winter among National League teams.

By trading for Jeff Samardzija while signing Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Zach Duke and Emilio Bonifacio, the White Sox won the winter among American League teams.

After starting the season 32-33 with a bevy of strange failures -- no starters with an ERA+ of 100 or better, a power outage from Kemp, an injury to Myers -- the Padres fired longtime manager Bud Black.

The White Sox ... well, you know how it's going for them, and what a lot of people would like to see happen with their manager.

Black's on-paper track record -- a 649-713 record, zero postseason appearances and two winning seasons in eight full years -- makes you wonder what took so long. But he somehow had the gravitas to survive turmoil that included three different owners (and the transition between them resulting losing their best players), and it's hard to say the Padres often underperformed. Their roster tended to be so nondescript, and the ballpark so numbers-warping, that it was hard to really have any kind of concrete expectations from afar.

I can't say I have any strong impressions of Black myself. Really, the first thing that comes to mind is him coughing in vain to cover a fart to open a postgame interview.

He finally had expectations this year, and after the hiring of hyperactive GM A.J. Preller, apparently Black was heavily outnumbered by people who wanted a chance to choose their own manager. A slow start sealed the deal, and Gas Lamp Ball more or less treats it as something was going to happen. Eight and a half seasons is a pretty long time.

Yet despite the familiarity, there doesn't appear to be the equivocal amount of discontent -- at least based on Gas Lamp Ball's reaction before and after,  and elsewhere around Twitter. The (admittedly experimental) math on  managers have shown that he isn't giving games away with his presence, and, in fact, could be one of the best at guiding his players through the grind. Zero postseason appearances is troubling, but given the messy situations above him that he's endured, maybe the lack of disaster seasons speak louder.

The general consensus is that he'll find a job elsewhere if he wants one. Maybe he's poised for a strong second act, like the last manager the Padres let go. It's also worth noting that San Diego is 0-3 since firing Black.

Seattle Mariners

Let's check in on our friends at Lookout Landing to see how the Mariners are treating them.

We’ve emotionally invested ourselves in this unfeeling, unconscious Mariner ballclub, ceded some portion of control to the outcomes of random events. Now is the time to take that control back, decide for yourself how you’re supposed to feel. You can’t change this stupid team and its stupid outfield defense. But you can change what it means, how it matters, how you’ll live with it. Because you have to live with it, unless you’re able to turn it off.

Oh man.

Tonight, the Mariners have a chance to go a full two weeks without scoring more than three runs. They've scored three runs or less in 33 of their 57 games and sit last in the American League in runs scored per game.

And yet, seven of the nine players in their regular starting lineup are above average hitters (by wRC+). One of the other two is Robinson Cano. Line up the names—this group should be destroying worlds. But, as we've seen, names don't score runs. But still, what's anyone to do?


But ultimately, I watch as the Seattle Mariners visit what was once the worst team in all of baseball, and I watch as they promptly give up three runs in the first, two in the third, five in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth, and one more in the eighth.

I watch as the Seattle Mariners are no-hit into the sixth inning and I watch as a lineup walks up to the batters box and unhooks their veins from their wrists and lets the blood just spool out, out into the dirt and back into the away dugout where it infects everyone waiting to hit like there was some virus infecting those blue uniforms like the red-shirted-guys in those old Star Trek episodes.

I watch as the Seattle Mariners play--unequivocally--the worst game I can ever remember them playing, and for some reason I keep watching as Kyle Seager fouls off four pitches in the ninth inning, down thirteen, because I've spent eighteen years of my life watching this godforsaken team, and you have too, and why the fuck would it end before it needs to?

Jonah Keri called the Mariners the third-best team in baseball before the season. Two and a half months in, they're 29-36, mostly because they have the offense that's arguably -- only arguably -- worse than what the White Sox throw out there. And that's with Nelson Cruz hitting .317/.374/.579 and leading the league in homers at Safeco.

Philadelphia Phillies

Instead of watching the White Sox go gently into that Pittsburgh night on Tuesday, I flipped to the Phillies-Orioles game because Jeff Francoeur was pitching at Camden Yards. And not only was Frenchy pitching, but he was pitching the seventh inning. Ryne Sandberg wanted him to get six outs!

The idea wasn't all that nuts. The Phillies were trailing 17-3, Jerome Williams didn't make it out of the first, he and three (real) Phillies relievers combined to give up seven homers, and the pitcher tasked with wearing it was ejected. Moreover, Francoeur had some experience on the mound, pitching in eight games at Triple-A El Paso last year. When he retired the Orioles in order -- backwards K on a slider, 3-1 groundout, sawed-off lineout -- it exceeded everybody's expectations of enjoyment, and made a second inning seem sensible, as long as he had backup.

Then Ryan Flaherty led off the eighth with the Orioles' eighth homer, and Francouer plunked the next batter, and the fun began to evaporate. Nobody was warming up. He came back to get David Lough to fly out, but he showed he was laboring when he walked Matt Wieters on four pitches. Then, because baseball is a cruel monster, Travis Snider drew an eight-pitch walk to load the bases.

All the while, the Phillies' bullpen remained dormant. And why was nobody warming up? Because the Phillies' bullpen phone was off the hook:

Under normal circumstances, the sight of the Phillies' bullpen coach Rod Nichols obliviously parked by the disabled phone, followed by pitching coach Bob McClure waving the white towel while the screen showed an 18-3 deficit, would be the height of hilarity. But because we were also watching a position player battling through fatigue while his pitch count now started with a "3," there was an undercurrent of grave concern.

Francoeur, his velocity down 7 mph from the start of his night, started pitching to his ninth batter while the Phillies' brain trust tried to figure out how to get to Nichols. Nobody watching had seen these circumstances collide before -- ingredients that were independently funny, but dangerous and upsetting together.

Francoeur continued pitching to Jimmy Parides, during which McClure finally got Nichols' attention. On the fifth pitch of that battle, Parides almost hit a grand slam, but settled for a deep sac fly to left.

Still, Francoeur pitched ... and reloaded the bases with a six-pitch walk to Nolan Reimold.

Then, just when McClure tried to restore normalcy by making a mound visit to buy time, Chase Utley took it to another level by talking to McClure before McClure could talk to Francoeur:

Despite Utley's protest, the Phillies left Francoeur on the mound to face at least one more batter. Thankfully Chris Parmalee flied out to center on two pitches, closing out Francouer's first appearance with a pitch count of 48.

I've seen bullpen phone problems before. I've seen position players get hung out to dry on the mound. I've seen arguments during mound visits. But I've never seen all those things happen at the same time, resulting in such a damning reflection of the manager. There really are worse ones than Ventura, though such a specter shouldn't scare the Sox off from trying to find better, in whatever form that takes.