June 2011

Lilli, Danks Help Sox Forget Friday Meltdown

Thanks to tonight’s 3-2 win over the A’s, Sox fans can take comfort in the fact that last night’s devastating loss was just one isolated setback and not the start of a downward slide.

In fact, the South Siders were able to creep within three games of .500 and 4 1/2 games of both the Indians and Tigers, who are now in a virtual tie for the A.L. Central lead.

Tonight’s headliners were Brent Lillibridge, who robbed Coco Crisp of a two-run, potentially go-ahead homer (pictured above), and John Danks (below, getting a well-deserved ovation from the fans), who won his second consecutive game after eight straight losses. He gave up only two runs and four hits in 7 2/3 innings.

The Sox end their 10-game homestand tomorrow with Phil Humber on the mound, attempting to give the Pale Hose a 6-4 record since returning to the Cell a week ago last night. Then it’s off to Minnesota and Phoenix for three-game series vs. the Twins and Diamondbacks before coming home to face the Cubs.

Ozzie (and Me): “This One Hurts”

It was a tailor-made victory–or so it seemed. Bottom of the ninth, closer Sergio Santos on the mound, a two-run lead, two outs, nobody on base, two strikes on the batter.

But Santos, in only his third year as a professional pitcher and first as a closer, showed his inexperience at handling the pressure. He had a meltdown of gigantic proporations.

Three walks, a hit batsman, a single and a bases-clearing double later, the comfortable 5-3 lead turned into a 7-5 Oakland advantage as Santos (shown above sitting alone with his thoughts after being taken out of the game) gave way to Lucas Harrell to record the final out of the Oakland ninth. And the Sox went down in order in the bottom of the inning.

Short memories are important for closers and fans alike, but this one stings just a little bit more than usual. The Sox failed to capitalize on the fact that both the Indians and Tigers lost. They didn’t let sleeping dogs lie in the form of the A’s, who broke a 10-game losing streak and now may be ready to turn things around at the Sox expense the next two days. Santos, who has been such a breath of fresh air as the closer, has now had his second straight bad outing. And the South Siders relinquished any hope of reaching the .500 mark on this homestand and are now four games under and an even 4-4 since returning to the Cell after their last 10-game road trip.

For all of our sakes let’s hope Sergio’s memory is shorter than mine.

Why is This Man Smiling?

The craziest thing happened during the game last night. It seems that I dozed off and dreamt that in the White Sox 9-4 victory over the A’s, Adam Dunn hit a two-run, opposite field homer.

But wait. I didn’t doze off and wasn’t dreaming after all. The Dunn blast actually happened–in the third inning, to give the Sox a 5-1 lead.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but Sox fans have been wondering if the guy who has the second most home runs this decade and regularly drives in 100 runs would ever snap out of his funk and start being the Dunn the Sox thought they had when he was signed to the huge contract. Let’s hope the homer, which came during his first game back after the Ozzie-imposed two-day rest, is a sign of what’s ahead.

It’s no secret that a rejuvenated Dunn, an improved Alex Rios, combined with the fine seasons being enjoyed by Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, can maximize the offense and put the South Siders in a position to seriously get back in the race after the nightmare start.

Speaking of the divisional race, The Sox have made significant progress and stand only 5 1/2 games behind the stumbling Tribe. But Cleveland isn’t the only hurdle as the Tigers find themselves only a game behind the lead and serious about winning the A.L. Central. So, if the Sox are to win the division, they will have to overcome two teams, not just one.

It may be a longshot, but the Sox are in a position to reach the .500 mark by Sunday night if they can win the next three games against the reeling A’s. Two out of three is more realistic, but a guy can hope, can’t he?

White Sox Fail to Close the Deal

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Winning two of three from the Mariners and in the process defeating their two aces, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez, is cause for celebration. But the reality is that the Sox can’t afford to lose a game like they did last night when it’s a tie ballgame going into the ninth with their closer, Sergio Santos, on the hill.

Sure, it’s baseball and you can’t come through every night, but in the case of the Pale Hose there is simply very little margin for error after their horrendous start.

A victory would have enabled the South Siders to gain a game on both the Indians and Tigers, the two teams they are chasing.  As it stands, instead of standing five games behind Cleveland and three and a half in back of Detroit, it’s six and four and a half. Much improved from a few weeks ago, but the opportunity was there to shave the leads and the Sox couldn’t get it done.

It’s not that the Hose didn’t show signs of life. Down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Sox tied the score on Carlos Quentin‘s two-run homer, his second blast of the game and 17th of the season. Unfortunately, the offense stopped there and the Sox lost in 10 innings, 7-4.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the contest was a pattern with which we’re all too familiar. Leading off the top of the 10th, Seattle’s Justin Smoak blooped a double  that fell between Brent Morel and Juan Pierre in left field, which started the three-run rally (pictured above). Presumably Pierre was playing deep in a “no doubles” defense and it really wasn’t Morel’s play, although he made the effort from his position at third base.

Whether it was anyone’s fault or just one of those things, it doesn’t matter. If the Sox are to dig out of their early season hole, that play and others like it somehow have to be made.

King Felix? No Problem

The White Sox “To Do” list for the stretch of games vs. the the Mariners and A’s, beginning on June 6:

* Bounce back from the lost weekend series with Detroit…check

* Defeat Seattle’s rookie pitching sensation Michael Pinedacheck

* Find a way to beat 2010 Cy Young Award winner “King Felix” Hernandezcheck

* Overcome Mariners’ tough lefty Jason Vargas tonight for the sweep…mission pending

* Win the four-game series vs. Oakland, which begins on Thursday…pending

So far, so good, as the Sox continue their effort to accomplish everything on their check list. There’s much more to be done, but last night’s impressive 5-1 win over King Felix and his teammates was particularly satisfying.

Before the season, if you would have told me we’d be facing Hernandez without Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez in the starting lineup, I would have said we have little chance. But that’s exactly what occurred last night as the struggling (to say it mildly) Dunn and Rios were on the bench (Rios did pinch run and played defensively in the ninth) and Ramirez was given a rest in favor of Omar Vizquel.

Vizquel wasn’t simply Ramirez’s replacement, he was one of the game’s heroes. His triple drove in a pair of runs in the Sox four-run third inning. Along with Paul Konerko’s 14th homer and Carlos Quentin‘s two-run blast, his 15th, it provided more than enough offense for the victory.

And, of course, there was another virtuoso performance by the South Siders’ unlikely pitching ace, Phil Humber.  The former No. 1 draft choice of the Mets won his fifth game, allowing only a single run on five hits in 7 2/3 innings as he lowered his ERA to 2.87. Humber left the game in the eighth to a standing ovation.

Just think where we’d be without him.

Good News, Bad News and a Possible Solution

John Danks‘ first victory after eight losses, Paul Konerko‘s 13th homer and clutch RBI singles by Gordon Beckham and A.J. Pierzynski proved to be the difference tonight as the White Sox moved to within six games of the Indians with the 3-1 triumph over the Mariners and their impressive rookie hurler Michael Pineda.

That’s the good news. The bad news–again–was the performance of Adam Dunn. It was another empty effort with his 0-4, including two strikeouts, and an error that contributed to Seattle scoring its lone run. I don’t pretend to be a baseball genius, but I know this–I’ve seen enough.

Ozzie smartly decided to allow the slumping Alex Rios to take yesterday and today off in the hope it would help him relax and turn things around. The skipper has to do the same with Dunn or the Big Donkey may spiral totally out of control. It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to watch and the boo birds are there every step of the way.

My suggestion is for at least the next two games, Carlos Quentin should be the DH with Rios in center and Brent Lillibridge in right. It’s the correct thing to do in any case, but with Cy Award winner Felix Hernandez on the mound tomorrow night and lefty Jason Vargas on tap for Wednesday evening, why not spare Dunn the agony.

It can’t hurt and it just may help him get back to his National League form.

Thank you!

The latest leaders by page views was released today and I’m happy to say that Art of the Pale Hose ranked No. 24 among all blogs on the MLB network for the month of May. It’s my highest monthly ranking since my first effort in July of 2009.

I don’t write the blog for rankings. I write because of my passion for the White Sox and for the opportunity to express my joy and frustration as I live and die with my favorite team. But it’s gratifying that there are folks out there reading the blog. And I’m fully aware that I’m ranked this high because of your loyalty, and not because I have the talent of the great baseball writers.

I also want to congratulate three talented new friends who join me in blogging about the Pale Hose. They were all ranked as well and deservedly so. They are The Hitless Wonders (26), The Wizard of Ozzie (43) and Watching the Dandelions Grow (48)

Thanks for the support, please keep reading and let’s hope our Sox can turn it around soon.

Mariners Next as Sox Lose Series to Tigers

Just when we thought our season-long nightmare might be over on the strength of a four-game winning streak…BOOM.

Miguel Cabrera dashed our spirits last night with his game-winning homer and the lack of White Sox execution did us in today in the 7-3 loss to Detroit. So, instead of taking advantage of the Indians getting swept by the Rangers and moving to within 5 games of the Tribe, we remain 7 back and 4 1/2 behind the second-place Tigers, who are now only 2 1/2 out of first.

After three perfect innings and protecting an 2-0 lead, it all went south for Jake Peavy in the fourth as the Tigers scored six times. They may not have scored at all if Alexei Ramirez‘s errant throw to first prevented the Sox from turning a double play, which would have resulted into two outs and nobody on. Instead, there was a runner on first with one out and the roof fell in with a combination of walks and hits. Forgive me, but I don’t have the stomach to re-live the inning any more than that. To make matters worse, Peavy left after four with a groin injury.

The Sox had opportunities to get back in the game, but their inability to score with runners in scoring position with less than two outs–a major problem all year–surfaced again along with strong Tiger pitching. The South Siders never got closer than 6-3.

Losing two of three to Detroit just might be the start of a disastrous homestand if the Sox don’t get their act together. Beginning tomorrow night we face the three Seattle aces that have rejuvenated the Mariners and have them contending in the A.L. West. The matchups:

Michael Pineda: 6-2, 2.30  (vs. John Danks: 0-8, 5.25)

Defending  A.L. Cy Young Award winner “King Felix” Hernandez (pictured above): 6-4, 3.04 (vs. Phil Humber: 4-3, 3.06)

Jason Vargas, 4-3, 3.96 (vs. Gavin Floyd: 6-5, 3.84)

Just when we thought the nightmare might be over…

A Missed Opportunity and the Dunn/Rios Dilemma

I had a feeling during last night’s game that it was just a matter of time before the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera did some damage. In his first four at-bats, he walked, flied out, struck out and hit into a double-play–but that was too good to be true. With two outs, two strikes and a man on third in a 2-2 game in the ninth, the man who has the league’s highest batting average with runners in scoring position smashed a two-run, opposite field homer over the right field fence off of Jesse Crain to break the tie. Final score: Detroit 4, White Sox 2.

Despite Justin Verlander on the mound, this was another one of those games the Sox could have won with a clutch hit, but it wasn’t meant to be. Just a half-inning before they stranded Brent Morel, who was on third base with one out.  But Carlos Quentin struck out and A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to Verlander. You can chalk it up to one of the games, but the only problem is that the Sox have dug such a hole that every game becomes important to win.

Something has to be Dunn

When Paul Konerko gets back in the lineup and Ozzie isn’t forced to use Adam Dunn at first base, it’s time to think seriously about limiting Dunn’s playing time. He’s in more than a slump. He’s a cinch to strike out multiple times and rarely puts the ball in play. Last night was a perfect example as he struck out three times and only reached base because the Tigers couldn’t turn a double play. He’s now hitting a pitiful .178 without a homer in recent memory. How about Quentin at DH, at least against lefties, with the suddenly red-hot Brent Lillibridge in right field?

If the powers that be decide to keep Dunn as the full-time DH, perhaps the Sox can try to compensate for fellow underachiever Alex Rios‘s horrible season by playing Lillibridge more in centerfield.

It’s just too bad there aren’t more Lilli’s to go around.

Juan for the Books

Last night ‘s White Sox homecoming was full of both oddities and familiarities as the Sox defeated the Tigers, 6-4, to move within two and a half games of second-place Detroit and seven behind the division-leading Tribe.

The oddities: Juan Pierre homered for the first time this season. Adam Dunn reached on an infield hit, his first off of a lefty. The Sox failed to score twice with the bases loaded and once with men on second and third with no outs. The South Siders broke a nine-game losing streak against the Tigers and in the process won their fourth consecutive game for the first time in 2011. Not to mention that Paul Konerko sat out the game after undergoing a procedure on his wrist.

The familiar:  Carlos Quentin smashed a three-run homer, his 14th, to give the Sox a 4-0 lead. Red-hot Brent Lillibridge slammed a solo shot, his seventh. “Money” closer Sergio Santos‘s four-out save, his 10th in 11 tries, ended with a strikeout of the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera. Brent Morel made three sensational plays at third, reminiscent of Joe Crede. Mark Buehrle delivered another quality start, winning his fifth of the season. Also very familiar were Alex Rios‘s continuing struggles at the plate and Matt Thornton‘s less-than-effective appearance as a set-up man.

Amid all of that, it was Pierre that emerged as the primary hero. It was his great catch against the wall off the bat of catcher Alex Avila with the bases loaded in the eighth that saved the Sox from losing the lead. Moments later, in the bottom of the inning, his homer gave the Sox some breathing room heading into the ninth. In all, he reached base four times (homer, two walks, one HBP) with three runs scored.

I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Dunn (half-kidding here). He took a baby step toward respectability as he beat out that ground ball to halt his hitless streak against lefthanders.

Gratuitous photo of the day: Actress Minnie Driver throws out the ceremonial first pitch last night at the Cell.