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White Sox not pushing panic button

White Sox not pushing panic button

CLEVELAND -- It's still early. It's only 13 games into a long season. It's not how you start but how you finish.

All of these platitudes have been invoked by the White Sox during a 4-8 showing entering Sunday's series finale for a team with at least American League Central title aspirations.

A question arises, though, as the White Sox, with the third-worst record in the Majors, prepare to return home for six games after finishing off a weekend set in Cleveland. When does the time come for this team to worry, or more accurately, when is it no longer too early?

"I don't know what point that is," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said Saturday with a resigned smile. "It's not now.

"I've said it for a week now. I think we are really pressing. We really want to win so bad that we are almost hindering ourselves in a certain way."

Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Indians followed a familiar 2010 formula. Solid pitching plus not much timely hitting equal one minor misstep before a victory suddenly becomes a defeat. People will look at the game-tying home run Asdrubal Cabrera hit off of Jake Peavy's 109th pitch delivered with one out in the eighth inning, and ask why Matt Thornton wasn't brought into the game to start the frame.

After all, Thornton has been as close to unhittable as any present reliever in the game. But before taking manager Ozzie Guillen to task for this particular decision, don't forget earlier missed opportunities.

Beckham was doubled off second on Carlos Quentin's line drive to second baseman Luis Valbuena to end the first inning Saturday. Alex Rios singled and swiped second to start the third but never advanced from that spot. In the sixth, after Beckham walked on four pitches to put runners on first and third with one out in a 1-1 tie, Quentin swung at the next pitch and bounced into an around-the-horn double play.

Unfortunately, the problem for the White Sox runs deeper than what they are failing to do. Through the first 12 games, Minnesota already had grabbed a five-game lead over the team many consider to be the co-favorite in the AL Central.

With 15 games remaining against the Twins, including 13 after the All-Star break, when the White Sox surely hope to be clicking on all cylinders, a five-game turnaround basically amounts to a pair of successful series. But go back to the original premise, in that how big of a deficit behind Minnesota causes pause for thought, regardless of whether it's April or September?

"We play these guys enough in our division that we can control our own destiny, so to speak," White Sox left fielder and leadoff hitter Juan Pierre said. "But it's never too early to play good baseball.

"Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but it's the way you go about it and the stuff you put into it. Then, that carries over, I believe. It's never too early to win, but you have to stay on an even keel.

"A lot of teams get off to hot starts, and very few keep them all throughout the year," Pierre said. "You have to maintain when you are not playing well."

Pierre can provide first-hand testimony as to how a rough beginning doesn't always predict a bad season. The 2003 Marlins, for whom Pierre knocked out 204 hits and added 65 stolen bases, sat at 19-29 and 13 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East on May 22.

They finished at 91-71, won the NL Wild Card and then broke Cubs fans hearts by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NL pennant before besting the Yankees for the World Series title. Guillen was the third-base coach on that particular team.

How about the 2005 Astros, who the White Sox dispatched in four hard-fought games to win their own World Series championship? Houston featured a dismal 15-30 record on May 24, only to emerge with 89 victories and the NL Wild Card.

There's no doubt the White Sox have plenty of time to prove their value. Then again, maybe this is a team whose preseason expectations were set too high, a group who won't have enough offense to sustain a top-notch pitching staff.

Count Beckham as one who doesn't believe that negative assertion is close to true.

"The talent is here to win," Beckham said. "Whether or not the Twins or Tigers ... maybe they don't lose a game the rest of the year, you don't know. I feel we are good enough to win and better than what we've been showing.

"We just haven't clicked. It's a matter of time, in my opinion, and when we do, it's going to be a lot of fun and we are going to win a lot of games."

If and when said clicking takes place, the South Siders just have to hope the run of success comes when it still matters. But don't believe these early struggles won't factor into the final product.

Yes, 149 games remain following Sunday, and it's not how you start but how you finish. These first 13 games still might be something the White Sox look back on with regret during a tight race come September.

"Every game matters, from Day 1 to Day 162," Thornton said. "We need to win games, and we are not doing that right now. It's a matter of getting together and playing good baseball. It's not like we are getting beat bad. We have moments where we look good, but it's a matter of putting a run together, and we haven't done that yet."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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