March 2011

I Love Sports Illustrated, But…

SI_RS_SotY.jpgI love Sports Illustrated. I love the people there. I spent the 20 most enjoyable years of my life as the magazine’s chief spokesman and I treasure every moment.

Now that I’ve expressed my undying love for my “alma mater,” I have to take them to task for minimizing my favorite baseball team in this year’s Baseball Preview Issue. This is nothing new. All I have to do is point to 2004 and 2005 to make my point. 
In ’04, the powers that be at SI went gaga over the first Red Sox world title since 1918, naming the team and its fans Sportsmen of the Year. In ’05, the Pale Hose won its first World Series since 1917–a year longer between championships–and not only didn’t they win the Sportsman award, there wasn’t even a mention of the feat in that particular issue. Instead, there was yet another story about Roger Clemens’ excellence representing the year in baseball. By the way, how did that work out for Roger?
So, here it is 2011 and the editors of my favorite magazine are at it again. Here’s an example:
–In the Who’s Hot/Who’s Not section, the Motor City is deemed as hot, the Windy City as not. The “Not” opinion was based on the White Sox and Cubs spring training records. What? Since when did spring training records mean anything? And the statement that neither team has much hope for the playoffs is evidence that whoever wrote this simply has no clue. Many of the foremost experts in the game, including several knowledgeable scouts, pick the Sox to win the A.L. Central.

–Although the editors pick the South Siders to finish third behind the Twins and Tigers in the A.L., I can’t complain. Reasonable people can disagree and it’s likely the three clubs will battle for the top spot all season long. But why am I not surprised that SI picked the our Sox third?

–To add insult to injury, SI falls into the same trap as most of the sports media by glorifying the Media Darlings from the North Side. They even hired political pundit Jeff Greenfield to write a fantasy about the Cubs winning the World Series. SI, it’ll never happen.

–Lastly, the magazine picks the Red Sox to win it all. What a coincidence that the baseball editor is a Boston fan. Stunning.
Am I too sensitive? Yes. Am I overreacting? Probably. I guess that’s what happens when a White Sox fan has to deal with the national media’s prejudice in favor of the Yankees, Red Sox and the other team in Chicago that plays in that overrated dump of a ballpark.
Get a good night’s sleep. Big day tomorrow in Cleveland.

Sox Head East with Arizona in Rear-View Mirror

The Cactus League season ended today for the White Sox and it concluded the way it 

began–with a thud.
With their 3-2 loss to the Royals the Sox leave the Valley of the Sun with an 11-20-1 record, undistinguished for a team with World Series aspirations. But we all know spring training games are meaningless and perhaps even more meaningless for the Sox, who put absolutely no stock in winning exhibition games. Time will tell, however, if the South Siders’ pathetic record is an indication of what lies ahead in 2011.
The Sox are now on their way to Winston-Salem, N.C. to face the hometown Dash, one of two Class A clubs in the organization, tomorrow night. Then it’s on to Cleveland for the season opener Friday against the Tribe.

Latest Loss a Bad Ohman?

48b30f530e1285d76f405167b4927738-getty-108971775hh009_chicago_whit.jpgThe White Sox certainly didn’t distinguish themselves today in their spring finale at Camelback Ranch.
The confluence of events during the lopsided 9-1 loss to the Reds doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that this is the team favored to win the A.L. Central.
–Perhaps most troubling was Will Ohman‘s continuing spring habit of giving up the long ball. I believe today was the third time in recent games he was tagged for a homer. Today, he coughed up a three-run homer to the immortal Brian Barton.
Alexei Ramirez was scratched from the starting lineup due to lower back discomfort. According to the Missle, it doesn’t seem to be serious.
–Future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel, usually flawless in the field, committed two errors, one on a grounder, one on a throw.
–Speaking of giving up homers, John Danks surrendered his fourth of the spring today, a three-run blast to his good friend Drew Stubbs. He gave up four runs, four hits and two walks in five innings as he took the loss in his last spring start.
Brent Lillibridge had the lone RBI and all nine Sox hits were singles.
The Sox leave Arizona tomorrow after facing the Royals in Surprise. It’s off to Winston-Salem to play their Class A club there on Wednesday, an off-day on Thursday and Opening Day in Cleveland on Friday.
Now 11-19-1, I’m ready for the regular season.

Unofficially, Both Milledge and Lillibridge on Opening Day Roster

The White Sox can’t officially announce their final moves before leaving Glendale, but it seems the word is out:

Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge have both made the 25-man roster as the South Siders have decided, at least for now, to go with an 11-man pitching staff.
Jeff Marquez, thought to have secured the “seventh spot” in the bullpen, has been placed on waivers. Since he is out of options, he needs to clear the waiver wire before he returns to the Sox organization. This means that Philip Humber will fill the “fifth starter/long man out of the bullpen” role for the time being.
Jake Peavy (shoulder) and Dayan Viciedo (thumb) will start the season on the disabled list.
Sox play the Reds this afternoon, their last game at Camelback Ranch this spring. They travel to Surprise to play the Royals tomorrow, then break camp and head to Winston-Salem to face their Class A farm club there. After a day off Thursday, it’s Opening Day vs. the Tribe in Cleveland.

Jim Gallagher: The Forgotten Man

Feel free to give me an error on the play. Though White Sox minor league first baseman Jim Gallagher has been very much on my mind during spring training, it wasn’t until reading Scott Merkin’s story on that I realized I was remiss in not telling this tale.
During almost every game I attended in the Valley of the Sun, Gallagher appeared. The fact that he saw action in the final innings as a replacement for the big leaguers and wore No. 87 was a good indication he wasn’t being considered for the big club (not to mention that Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are in front of him on the depth chart). That said, the 25-year-old, who is headed for AAA Charlotte, always seemed to get a hit and keep a rally going regardless of the score. He also played outstanding defense.
With all the big league news surrounding the Sox, I never got around to writing about Gallagher except for a mention or two when it was part of a game description. I do remember, though, whispering to my friend Jeff Weiss at the March 14 game against the Padres that “this guy gets a hit every time up; watch, he’ll do it now.” And he did. 
You can get the details from the Merkin story, but one last thing. In yesterday’s 6-3 Sox loss to the Angels at Camelback Ranch, Gallagher had one at bat–in the eighth–and he doubled in a run.
That gives him a .538 batting average. Not bad, not bad at all.

Questions, Questions, Questions…

Less than a week from today, the White Sox begin their regular season journey in Cleveland which hopefully will end with some level of success in October.
While it will take more than one spring training game to answer all of the questions about the 2011 Sox, both short and long term, there were six possible indicators in last night’s 7-3 Sox victory over a Diamondbacks split squad.
* Fighting it out for the last spot on the Opening Day roster, Brent Lillibridge didn’t hurt his chances by smashing a first-inning home run on the second pitch he saw.

* Will
Carlos Quentin return to 2008 form and stay healthy in the process? Time will tell, but Quentin continued his surge last night with his fifth homer of the spring and is hitting .333. Just a few days ago he was well under .200.

* The questions swirling around Adam Dunn’s dismal spring, and his shockingly high strikeout total, have been dismissed to a certain extent (at least for a while) with his two-run homer, double and three RBIs against the D-backs. Needless to say, it was nice to see.

* What kind of contribution will Lastings Milledge make? He’s exceeded expectations with his .320 BA and has had some key RBIs. He had two more last night.

* Which Gavin Floyd will show up this season? Experiencing a so-so spring, he had a quality start last night pitching seven innings, allowing three runs and eight hits.

* We know Brent Morel is a major leaguer at third base, but will he hit enough to keep his job? After a 3 for 4 night against Arizona, he’s at .317 for the spring.

A Different Approach

For the rest of spring training–Opening Day in Cleveland is a week from today–I’ve decided NOT to provide my daily game recaps. For the most part, I enjoy writing them but with the White Sox record the way it is (9-17-1) and the regular season approaching, I’m going to start focusing on the key 2011 storylines. So, if you were expecting my angst about Philip Humber’s start yesterday against the Cubs or Adam Dunn‘s 0 for 5, three strikeout day, you’re going to be disappointed.

Morel’s the Man

It certainly was no surprise, but Ozzie’s declaration that rookie Brent Morel is the starting third baseman became official yesterday. The wise decision gives the Sox an excellent defensive player at an important position and a promising line-drive hitter in the lineup. As with any first-year player, there will be ups and downs with Morel, but Mark Teahen will have much more value in short spurts as a backup at third, first, left and right.
Who Will be the Last Man Standing?

I’m assuming, right or wrong, that Lastings Milledge has made the club as the fourth outfielder and Humber, despite yesterday’s performance, will be the fifth starter until Jake Peavy is ready. 
If that’s the case, the Sox will break camp with a 12th pitcher–presumably Jeffrey Marquez because he’s the only pitcher with uncertain status still in camp–or keep the versatility of Brent Lillibridge. 
The other possible scenario is the Sox acquiring a pitcher from outside the organization and Humber or Marquez filling the “seventh man in the bullpen” role with Lillibridge on the outside looking in–and he’s out of options.
By the way, what IS up with Dunn?

Is it Opening Day Yet?

If it’s a spring training game in Arizona, chances are the White Sox will wind up on the losing end. After a 6-2 loss to the Dodgers this afternoon, the South Siders find themselves at 9-16-1 and in the cellar of the Cactus League.
The Ups:

Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel (pictured on left) each collected a pair of hits…Carlos Quentin continued his hot streak with his fourth homer of the spring…Matt Thornton struck out the side in the ninth…Adam Dunn, who has struck out 22 times in 53 at bats this spring, didn’t record a “K” today. Did I mention that he didn’t play?
The Downs:

John Danks was touched up for four runs (three earned), six hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings…Mark Teahen continued his consistency by committing an error–this time at first base.
It’s Sox vs. Cubs in Mesa tomorrow.

The Highs and Lows of the Adam Dunn Persona

dunnuscellular.jpgThe White Sox lost another game today–a 9-5 decision to the Mariners in Peoria, dropping their spring record to 9-15-1.
I know, it’s spring training, the Sox don’t care about their record and the players are tired of exhibition games and are ready for the season. And for the record, I am not concerned about the overall Sox prospects. In fact, I’m convinced they are going to win the A.L. Central.
That said, I am worried about one significant member of the “All In” Sox–the new, highly-publicized DH. Adam Dunn. The issue was front and center today as the slugger went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
We are well aware what we are in for with Dunn being an all or nothing guy. He’s going to frustrate the bejesus out of us with his high strikeout totals and will thrill us with his tape measure homers–especially at the hitter-friendly Cell. We can accept the strikeouts if it’s balanced out by the home runs, but so far this spring Dunn has shown his propensity for the K without a whole lot of long ball. 
Why worry? For one thing, this is Dunn’s first foray in the American League where he’ll be facing a whole new set of pitchers. Second, he’s never been a DH on a regular basis. In other words, he’s never had to develop a routine between at bats, something most designated hitters have said is a challenge.
While I’m trying not to overreact and remain hopeful Dunn will adjust, I’ve seen too much of the whiff from him in Arizona and not enough of his home run trot.
Sox Cut Nine, Get Closer to Opening Day Roster

It was decision day for nine players in Sox camp. Outfielder Alejandro De Aza, pitcher Gregory Infante and catcher Tyler Flowers were all optioned to AAA Charlotte. Pitchers Brian Bruney, Jeff Gray, Josh Kinney and Shane Lindsay, infielder Dallas McPherson and outfielder Jordan Danks, all non-roster invitees, were reassigned to minor league camp.
The way it looks now, Philip Humber will assume the fifth starter role until Jake Peavy is ready to go. If the Sox leave camp with 12 pitchers, it seems Jeffrey Marquez will be the seventh man in the bullpen. Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge continue to battle for the final position player spot. Unless, of course, the club decides on an 11-man pitching staff where both Milledge and Lillibridge could make the club.
Sox vs. Dodgers today at Camelback Ranch.

Today’s Special: “Q” on a Roll

57622769.jpgWhile the back and forth continues on whether or not the White Sox should have been more cautious with Jake Peavy‘s comeback attempt, there’s a much more positive development for us to discuss.
Just days ago, Carlos Quentin was deemed a major disappointment in Cactus League play as his batting average plummeted to .167. Since he broke out with a homer, four hits and four RBIs on March 18, Quentin has been a different player. He continued his recent surge last night with a double and two singles in the 8-5 Sox victory over the Padres. Believe it or not, he’s now sporting a .326 BA.
What makes this so significant is that Quentin is one of the most important pieces of the Sox offense. With him staying healthy and reverting back to his 2008 “close to MVP” form, the lineup is as good as there is in baseball. With him out of the lineup or subpar at the plate, the South Siders are less formidable.
Sox Notes of Note:  The Sox played last night in Peoria on a day that saw most of spring training action in Arizona washed out. The inclement weather, however, caused the club to replace Mark Buehrle as the starting pitcher in favor of Jeff Marquez. Marquez, a fifth starter possibility with Peavy sidelined for a while, gave up two earned runs, five hits and a walk in four innings of work…With two more scoreless innings under his belt, Sergio Santos‘s ERA remains at 0.00…Alex Rios slammed his fourth home run of the spring, a two-run blast in the first inning.

Sox are in Peoria again this afternoon to face the Mariners, who share the complex with Padres.