Through 11 games, the 2016 White Sox aren't reminding many people of the team that came before them, at least as a whole.
The offense, on the other hand, is making the demons stir a little.
After scoring just three runs over the first two games of this series against the Rays, the Sox have totaled just 37 runs. That's one fewer than they scored over their first 11 games of 2015. (Give this year's team credit for better distribution, as the 2015 club scored nearly a third of those runs in one night.)
A lot of their problems are contained to the first time through the order. They entered Saturday's game with the worst line against a starting pitcher over their first nine batters (league rank in parentheses):
1st: .152/.256/.203 (last)
2nd: .272/.302/.432 (eighth)
- 3rd: .259/.323/.431 (ninth)
Against Erasmo Ramirez, Adam Eaton singled, and the next eight went down in order, including a Jose Abreu double play. So you can drop that line down to ... (punches TI-83) ... .148/.242/.193.
These struggles take the team right into the teeth of the Rays' strategy. Their manager, Kevin Cash, goes through great pains to take out a starter before the other team gets too good a look. On Friday, Cash pulled Jake Odorizzi after seven scoreless innings, even though he'd thrown just 94 pitches. Cash took it to an even greater extreme on Saturday, going to the bullpen after Erasmo Ramirez threw 5⅔ scoreless innings on 66 pitches. Ramirez hadn't started a game yet this year, so he still needs to get stretched out, but Cash also came calling as Jose Abreu was going to face him for a third time.
This manner of offense also doesn't help the Sox' lesser pitchers. Chris Sale is good enough to hold a team down until support arrives toward the end of the game, and Jose Quintana has more or less resigned himself to that fate. One can't count on John Danks avoiding early pitfalls, though, and we don't know enough about Mat Latos to say anything definitively about his habits.
And then there's Robin Ventura, who has a pretty short leash on more than half of his relievers due to so many narrow margins. They've been able to tack on insurance runs in late innings, but it still means the high-leverage guys have to work up a lather. Leaning too heavily on them results in situations like Jake Petricka warming up in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game.
That leads to situations where a disappointing Danks outing and a no-show offense actually provide a little bit of a relief, because at least that means that David Robertson, Nate Jones and Matt Albers have not had to do anything for two days in a row. And all of a sudden, this team doesn't quite feel as sound as an 8-3 start would suggest.
I'm not ringing alarm bells yet. It's just a reminder that a healthy margin for error is on the White Sox' to-do list. The club has passed progress reports in other areas -- four-fifths of the rotation, fewer embarrassing brain farts -- but so far their recipe has relied on a yeoman offense grinding out four runs a game and not needing to score a fifth. Getting more production from Avisail Garcia and their big new offensive addition would go a long way, and see how easily it sounds like 2015 again?