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White Sox: Domino Theory Applies To Massive Downslide

Starting with the bullpen, one thing after another began going wrong for the White Sox.

Call me mad. But hear me out.

The old-fashioned "domino theory," which did not apply as LBJ thought to Southeast Asia, has embraced the White Sox in its death grip. And it couldn't have happened at the wrong time, in the wrong economic situation, for the financial health of the Sox, so dependent on the return of big crowds to U.S. Cellular Field to finance a record $129 million payroll.

Start out with the idea that nothing wrecks a team's confidence more than an unreliable bullpen. If the relief corps keeps coughing up leads, day after day, its teammates get buried psychologically. That had to be the state of mind of the Sox in the first two weeks. The best efforts of prodigious offense and decent starting pitching sometimes were undone out of the gate by a 1-for-7 record in save opportunities, made worse by shaky defense. Juan Pierre owns up to screwing things up even more with two dropped fly balls in left. The Sox started 7-4, but pundits figured they could have been as good as 10-1 if the bullpen hadn't melted down in the manner it did.

No player will admit it, but the "bad bullpen," as manager Ozzie Guillen himself proclaimed at wit's end after the worst collapse, crept into some hitters' heads. The mindset likely was: We've got to try even harder to build up leads even our guys won't give away. So they began to press. And hitting slumps are contagious. They spread like an epidemic to the entire team. Losing streaks and big downslides are usually hitting-based. You don't usually see a team slump centered around starting pitching. The Cubs have offered up some atrocious starting performances so far, but that has not prompted a Sox-style slide.

As the hitters continue to struggle, pressure then mounts on the pitching staff to hold down the score for any chance to win. Eventually the pitchers crack. And those who continue to pitch well for the most part, like 0-4 John Danks, often have nothing to show for their efforts. The domino effect snowballs downward until some catalyst, some combination of  a couple of revived hitters and a pitcher or two, break the slide.

Still another sidebar to the mess is the truism that power-laden teams inevitably short-circuit at some point during the season. If every home-run hitter was consistent in reaching the fences, all would belt 70 or more homers, without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. But that has never happened in the game. Prodigious power still comes and goes, usually unpredictably. The Sox short-circuit took place much earlier than expected. You usually can expect the sluggers to go quiet at some point in mid-season. Sure enough, the likes of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios fell into a big ditch. But the problem compounded when Gordon Beckham, a gap-to-gap doubles guy, went 6-for-his-last-59 going into Sundays' game, while rookie Brent Morel was 4-for-35.

The worst aspect of the Sox collapse -- they are now further under .500 than at any point in 2010, when a 25-33 start crimped their season -- is the disastrous effect on attendance. GM Kenny Williams confirmed Friday that crowds that don't show up in April and May can't be compensated for by bigger throngs in June. The way the Sox are going, maybe those increased June gates won't be as big as projected. Some 70,000 total announced attendance -- with fewer actual bodies in The Cell's seats -- during the first three games of the Orioles series was an ominous figure.

A positive domino theory worked for the Sox in 2005. Things began going right, and fed on each other. Now it's going the other way, in a hurry. In the wake of the Great Recession and amid gas prices racing toward $5 a gallon,  with fans more discriminating than ever about how they spend their scarce discretionary dollars, the timing could not be worse on the South Side.