Adam Dunn struck out four times on Sunday as the White Sox fell at home to the Nationals 2-1. This made it an even 100 K's for Dunn in a season as mystifying and disappointing as any in recent Chicago baseball history. Dunn was seen as the heir to Jim Thome's throne on the South Side -- a left-handed power hitter with a track record gaudy enough to make some wonder if a White Sox team that won 87 games the season before now had enough to make a serious run at the pennant. The Sox had plenty of question marks heading into the season -- Jake Peavy's health, Carlos Quentin's production, an unsettled closer competition -- but Dunn was not one of them.
Adam Dunn would hit because Adam Dunn always hits.
Now, as the White Sox sit three games under .500 and 4.5 games back in the AL Central after 79 games, it's becoming clear that Dunn's damn-near epic drop-off in production is the story of the season.
Baseball may not be devoid of narratives, but it's the one sport you probably don't have to watch to follow. Luckily for us, Joe Posnanski, he of the Greatest Living Sportswriter belt around his waist, has been watching Dunn with a close eye all season. From a Curiously Long post ominously titled The Least Exciting Player Ever.
It isn’t just that the thrill of the home runs is gone.The strikeouts, which used to seem dramatic and mere side effects for the 40 home runs he hit every year, now seem pointless and inevitable. The walks seems kind of pathetic. Everything about an Adam Dunn at-bat these days feels like trauma. That horrifying scene in Swingers where Favreau keeps calling back the girl he met in the bar? Yeah, every Adam Dunn at bat feels like that.
STRIKEOUTS, BABY. STRIKEOUTS. But for as much as I'd love to poke fun at movie references straight out of Bill Simmons' DVD shelf, Pos - as he always does - hits on something particularly poignant: for Sox fans, a Dunn at-bat is now best watched with your eyes closed. This has officially jumped from 'slow start' to a potential Ben Wallace-level disaster. Try as he might, Dunn can't raise his BA thirty points with one swing. The game simply doesn't allow it. At this moment, hoping for the type of slow, steady production Dunn has been able to contribute for years seems like wishful thinking, at best.
The numbers, as always, tell the entire story:
- Adam Dunn is 1-for-53 (.019) against left-handers. His only hit was an infield single.
- He is 14-for-111 (.126) at home.
- The lowest batting average in the last 75 years (with minimum plate appearances, of course) is Rob Deer's .179. Dunn is currently hitting .173.
We're talking about one of the most hitter-friendly parks in all of baseball. We're talking about a guy who was perceived as a shoe-in for 500 homers, if not 600.
For his part, Ozzie Guillen is saying all the right things.
"He will be on the bench tomorrow and the next day," Guillen said about Monday's off day and Tuesday's series opener at Colorado. "I can't bench that guy. He's making how much? All kind of money. We bring him to help us. He's not going to help us on the bench.
"The only way he can help us is to go out there and do it. Sometimes you bench guys not to punish them. You bench people to relax a little bit and don't think about the game. Hopefully that thing helps."
Dunn has already dug himself such a sizable hole that even if he does start to turn things around soon, his season numbers will still be miserable. That shouldn't be a concern for Sox fans right now, though. Dayan Viciedo will soon be on his way to the majors, and his return to the White Sox lineup should provide some much needed power. If Dunn can give Chicago anything, this offense that has struggled to score all season long could turn out half-way respectable by season's end.