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Justified hope, or dead cat bounce?

Is taking three from the Twins a good sign, or just one of those things?

MLB: Game Two-Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Guardians
Yeah, you could have made an All-Star case for Dylan.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If you follow politics or the markets at all — and if you don’t, bless you, for you are probably far happier than I am, and must be gratefully surprised at that yellow orb popping up every day — you’re probably familiar with the term “dead cat bounce.”

It originated in the markets in the 80s, to indicate a brief rise in the market in the middle of a downward trend. The idea is that, and I quote, “even a dead cat will bounce if dropped from a great height.”

Syndication: Lansing State Journal
“What the hell?”
Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Now, that’s almost certainly not true; I imagine that the result would be much more splattery, though I request you resist the scientific urge to find out. The point is that the cat isn’t actually jumping up; it’s an illusion of recovery. In the markets, this is also known, less violently but more directly, as a “sucker’s bounce.”

Which brings us to our White Sox, who rolled into the break.

As I wrote this on Sunday, we were up, 10-0, in the top of the eighth. Yoán Moncada homered, continuing a hot streak. Josh Harrison and Andrew Vaughn homered. Everyone had a hit except Gavin Sheets, and he mollywalloped a ball only to be robbed by a great catch. Dylan Cease was pitching like a guy who wants the All Star Game to watch him.

The Sox finished the first half at .500, disappointing, but at only three games back. And having taken three out of four from the Twins, they look like a team that might be back. Everything already seems better in life.

If you look at this four-game sample (or hell, six-game sample, if you want to include the last two from the Cleveland series), this is how we drew it up: Lots of runs, with the ball flying out of park, up and down the lineup. Solid, if not spectacular, defense. And except for the broken hero Lance Lynn, great pitching.

If the final score holds up (it’s the bottom of the eighth now, and aren’t you excited to have this real-time journey?) we’ll have beaten Minnesota, 32-10, over four games. That’s really good!

But this is a team that has been insanely, grimy focused on raising hopes just to shatter them. They’ve had HIMAR-like precision guidance launched toward disappointing you. The dancing around .500 over the last three months has been regular enough to set your watch to. This is a team that turned a near-breakout in a crucial home game against Minnesota into a brain-melting triple play.

One basic statistical way to sum up the potential and frustration of the first half is that the Sox are fourth in baseball with a .255 average with runners in scoring position, but are somehow 16th in runs scored. Or, another more anecdotal way, every time a rally seems to be cooking, you look up and somehow Leury García is batting again.

Ah, but there are signs of life. The explosion of runs to end the first half has been spectacular to watch, even as Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert play sparingly. And when Robert does play, he’s been close to what we’re hoping for.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Downright dreamy.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

So, the question: Is this real? Is this the White Sox surge we’ve been hoping for? Is this where they turn it around? Are we going to see spectacular pitching and lights-out hitting from here on out?

Or, is this a dead-cat bounce?

That’s the maddening and beautiful thing about baseball. You can take each individual game, and explain it as just one of those things. Guys struggle, guys get hot, and things happen. The worst team in baseball beats the Yankees; a banjo hitter puts one into the drink. It’s hard to say that any one game was a sign of anything, except in retrospect.

But that’s also the beauty of baseball. A really good game can convince you that great things are afoot. Playing your best game of the season at the most important time of the season can give a fan a frisson of hope. Playing your best series in the most important stretch of the year is downright joyful. Most importantly, doing so because you’re finally playing like you’re supposed to is the best reason to be hopeful.

The season starts over after the break, and the hole’s not too deep.

Maybe the cat’s not actually dead. Maybe it’ll hit the ground running. For the next few days, we’re going to be looking at that cat, suspended with Schrodinger-y uncertainty in the air, to see if it’s alive or if it, like our hopes, will just go splat.