When an organization waves the white flag before the trade deadline has even begun, the team can’t simply just quit. There’s a whole two and a half months of baseball left to play, and that notion becomes taxing on everyone involved with the team. From the front office, to the broadcast booth, to the fans; putting on a smile everyday while the question of “what are we even doing here?” lurks closer and closer to the forefront of our consciousness can be rough.
Why are we continuing to play? Right, because there is a 162-game schedule to fulfill, win or lose.
Though most have kept their feelings pent up or only let them seep out in appropriate tones and settings, baseball people know that if there is one person who is the pinnacle of a the ‘no holds barred’ mentality, it’s now-part-time broadcast announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.
Harrelson, who was a guest on 670 AM The Score with Mully and Hanley last Thursday, bluntly came out with the accusation that “the schedule makers stuck it up our behind this year” as the purported reason behind the White Sox epic collapse in May.
“The whole thing — and it’s not an excuse — was the way the schedule started off, with one off day in April,” Harrelson said.
Sure, having one day off in April will do a number on the bullpen, and the club as a whole. But by now, with the All-Star Break a decent three weeks behind them, teams have bounced back from some of the wear-and-tear. This isn’t the first, nor the only team, that’s been subjected to a brutal schedule.
The White Sox offense collapsed, with Jose Abreu, the former AL Rookie of the Year becoming a shell of himself that hit .229/.303/.354 in April. Sure, the chill of April in Chicago often suppresses the dominance of hitters such as Abreu early on in the season, but he also hit just .252/.306/.405 during May. The starting pitching, save for Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, was a disaster of epic proportions that even when the Sox attempted to rectify it, went into a worse tailspin. Chief among the problems was tragedy of James Shields, who had an ERA of 11.07 during his first month of starts on the South side. Losing Austin Jackson to injury, which moved Adam Eaton back to center field didn’t do wonders from a defensive standpoint, and no schedule nor excuse could veil the guest-who-wouldn’t-leave tale of Avisail Garcia’s stay in right field and at DH. This team’s true talent just showed through.
Did the schedule affect some of these things? Sure. Perhaps Jackson may have been saved if hadn’t played nearly two months-straight of baseball. But the disaster of Shields and the struggle for consistency seen from Carlos Rodon can’t be blamed on that. Pitchers don’t play everyday, and Shields came from an entirely different organization.
Hawk claimed that the Diamondbacks were the only other team in baseball that had one day off in April, but the Red Sox did as well, and they seem to be doing just fine. They may have had two rainouts in April, but those were not anticipated days off. (If we’re playing that game, the White Sox had a rainout on April 10 as well.)
There was also the quality of opponents issue on the schedule. Back in the end of May, when the downfall of the season was just a tiny twinge of apprehension in the minds of White Sox fans, I wrote this about the impending May schedule:
“The White Sox are currently on a stretch in which they face three series in a row against intra-division rivals; the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, and then the Royals yet again. After those three sets, they will face the defending NL pennant-winning New York Mets and then continue their intra-divisional play in Detroit with the Tigers. All of that with just a single day of rest in between. So, no, this is not an easy portion of the schedule by any means, and it looks even worse for a scuffling team. When looking into the fine details of this team’s recent struggles, the scheduling has certainly been a big red flag.”
When a team is suffering from the alleged fatigue of the first month schedule, and then goes into the second month of the season to face a relentless stretch of games against tough opponents, it’ll be sure to hurt any club. That’s a one-two punch that would put almost anyone down. That has to do with the strength of opponent more than anything, and the problem is the Sox just weren’t the stronger team.
So sure, Hawk. The schedule makers may have metaphorically stuck it up the Sox behind this season, but the reason that it hurt so much more than it should have was because this team wasn’t constructed to handle the pressure. The schedule simply served to expose the weakest parts of the organization, as well as it’s true talent level, and then continued to brutally exploit them. The White Sox turned into a pumpkin again, and the schedule was perhaps just the Fairy Godmother who set the spell to expire at midnight.
Lead photo courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports