It turns out that even Tyler Flowers can't cut Jeff Samardzija completely loose from his struggles.
After working together to get through seven arduous innings of one-run ball against the Angels last week, Samardzija returned to his familiar self against Boston on Monday even with Flowers behind the plate. He ran into sudden trouble at random spots, making it hard for Robin Ventura to know when he should get the bullpen stirring.
Samardzija's postgame quotes have been pretty consistent, finding the sweet spot between making excuses for himself and Chris Sale's self-flagellation and delivering nothing of note. For example:
"Castillo put some good at-bats out there with runners on," Samardzija said. "Again it goes back to putting runners on base. Solo shots, your team is a little closer in it, one run puts you right there in a tie ballgame. He got me today."
"It's something that is going to require more in-depth thought and discussion than we've ever had, at least since I've been here.
"I've not watched a team I've had this long and still not been able to figure it out. Generally, in June, I can figure out what our identity is and can look at a schedule and say, 'We should win this game, we're going to have a tougher time with this one.' I don't know with this club that I'm able to do that. This club is a little more difficult to evaluate.
"We're going to get together and continue to discuss it," Williams said. "But this is a perplexing situation."
It's true, because as Ethan Spalding at The Catbird Seat noted:
7 white sox have made a start this year: Sale, Quintana, Samardizja, Danks, Rodon, Noesi, Beck. Beck was a double header spot stsrt— fka balls (@SpaldingEthan) August 18, 2015
The thing that was most necessary to success entering the season -- starting pitcher health -- has held up. But only John Danks was supposed to just show up with fingers crossed every five days and hope that would provide its own kind of value (sparing another season relying on Scott Carroll, mainly). Now it's late August and Samardzija's ERA is pretty much the same as Danks', and so that makes that trade a clear and present failure no matter how Samardzija closes out the season.
Fittingly, the centerpiece of the AL's most exciting season is also setting the tone for one of the league's most disappointing teams. Of the six most notable acquisitions, the David Robertson signing is the only one that can make an argument for meeting expectations, although even he's saying he's having a bad season. After that, you have:
- Melky Cabrera, who managed to claw his way out of his awful start but is still short on production.
- Adam LaRoche, who couldn't even accomplish the former.
- Emilio Bonifacio, who offered nothing of note after his role was marginalized by the signing of...
- Gordon Beckham, who collapsed after taking playing time away from Conor Gillaspie.
Of course, the Sox have a rich and storied history of importing position players only to watch them forget how to play baseball. Samardzija shouldn't have taken this big of a step backward. Entering the season, we compared the trade to the ones for Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon (with the David Wells trade making a health-caveat cameo).
Instead, it's looking something closer to the Todd Ritchie trade. Samardzija hasn't pitched that poorly, but he didn't supply the immediate boost expected of him. Meanwhile, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley and Chris Bassitt have had moments for the Oakland A's this year, just like Kip Wells and Josh Fogg gave the Pirates back in 2002.
It's not the kind of trade that will set the franchise back for a half-decade, because the Sox didn't lose players who had roles for them. Semien has been a replacement-level player the last three months after a hot start, so good luck separating him from Carlos Sanchez or Tyler Saladino. Phegley's offensive numbers have vindicated his ever-present confidence, but some of his receiving stats back up the Sox' perspective. Bassitt's the weird one right now, as he owns a 2.31 ERA over nine starts but seems due for a correction against left-handed hitters. The Sox might've traded three 10-year major leaguers for a year of bad Samardzija, but they could just as easily all be the recipients of change-of-scenery boosts, with Semien being the first to fall back to Earth.
(The same thing happened to Fogg, and Kip Wells to a lesser extent. We just remember the Ritchie trade because the high expectations were inexplicable from the start, and he would've had to openly disparage Chicago to be any more of a disappointment.)
It's sad that this is the best thing you can say about the season -- the Sox didn't trade players they were attached to, and Samardzija has at least given the Sox a lot of innings. But Rick Hahn will have to break out a forensic investigation for the last winter, because this three-year window requires the White Sox to press on, and that road likely includes trading a prospect or four who truly matter to them.