August 2011

The Rubber Meets the Road in Motown

 

It’s never a good thing when your starting pitcher gives up six runs–highlighted by two homers and three doubles–in the first inning. But the White Sox, despite Jake Peavy‘s early meltdown, gave it a shot this afternoon and came up one run short in the 7-6 loss to the Twins. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios both had their chances to be heroes in the ninth, but didn’t deliver. Sound familiar?

So, the five game winning streak is history and we sink to six games behind the Tigers, who staged a late-inning rally for a come-from-behind triumph over the Royals.

Now the fun begins as we head to Detroit for a three-game series after tomorrow’s off-day.  The pitching matchups:

Friday night: John Danks vs. Justin Verlander, he of the 20 wins–already.

Saturday afternoon: Gavin Floyd vs. Brad Penny

Sunday night: Mark Buehrle vs. Matt Scherzer

Look at the bright side, it’s the end of August and we’re still alive.

Is De Aza For Real? I, For One, Hope So

I remember the day in October, 2009, when the White Sox claimed outfielder Alejandro De Aza on waivers from the Florida Marlins–and I wondered if he was good enough to make the major league roster.

De Aza had played professionally since he was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in 2001–but it was ba rocky road. After a couple seasons in the low minors, he was selected by the Marlins in the 2004 Minor League Rule 5 draft. He eventually had cups of coffee with Florida in 2007 and 2009, though wrist and ankle injuries hampered his progress. Obviously the Sox felt that if he were injury-free, he could contribute.

The speedy outfielder made a positive first impression in a Sox uniform as he enjoyed an outstanding spring training in 2010. He didn’t break camp with the Sox (though some thought he should have) but joined them during the season and hit an even .300 in 30 at bats while hitting .302 in 318 at bats at Charlotte.

While De Aza failed to make the team this year out of spring training, it was obvious to the White Sox after seeing him hit .322 in 385 at bats at Charlotte, that it was prudent to bring him up midseason to see if he could make an impact and compensate specifically for the poor play of Alex Rios and the overall stagnant offense.

Good call. From his first ’11 at bat, when he homered to win the game, to last night’s three-run homer, which tied the score in the Sox’s come-from-behind win over the Twins, he has been a sight for sore eyes. Add his blazing speed and outstanding defense and De Aza just might have finally reached his potential.

It remains to be seen if De Aza, 27, is an everyday player, but let’s enjoy his play while it lasts. No sense in speculating what his role will be in 2012 when we still have 29 games to go in 2011.

One thing, though, is for sure. He’s an exciting player and I’m rooting for him to succeed.

Mr. Perfect and the “Charlotte Three”

As the historically inadquate Adam Dunn takes a seat on the bench and Alex Rios holds firm with his .212 batting average and equally-deficient power numbers, a new wave of excitement has hit the South Side.

The emergence of Alejandro De Aza, Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo, who all started the season at AAA Charlotte, has poured new energy into what has been a stagnant offense. In the last two days, as the Sox have won their third and fourth games in a row against the Mariners and Twins, respectively, the threesome has delivered big-time.

* Viciedo has gone 4 for 6 with a homer, four RBIs, three runs scored and a pair of walks in his first two major league games this season. It has been particularly satisfying to see how improved his plate discipline has been. Those two walks represent a major accomplishment.

* Flowers (pictured above), batting a very respectable .281 as he subs for the injured A.J. Pierzynski, hit his first career grand slam against the Mariners on Sunday and drove in two of the three White Sox runs last night  in the 3-0 victory over the Twins with a double and a sac fly.

* De Aza has been a breath of fresh air since joining the club and slamming a home run in his first ’11 major league at bat. He’s got great speed, is excellent defensively and is sporting a .319 batting average. Last night he went  2 for 3, including a double, with a run scored and a key stolen base.

While youth is being served, we can’t ignore the fact that the Mr. Perfect has been outstanding as well. Mark Buehrle was on his game once again last night as the Sox moved to within five games of Detroit and four games in the all-important loss column. He gave up just four hits in 7 2/3 innings as he improved his record to 11-6 and his ERA to a fine 3.05.

The Viciedo Factor

You can make the case that the White Sox would have been better off, provided they won today’s game, if Dayan Viciedo didn’t single in his first at bat, slug a three-run homer in his second appearance and draw a walk the third time (which put him on base for Tyler Flowers‘ first career grand slam).

Now, all the pundits, internet geeks and talk show callers are going to be more vocal than ever that Viciedo should have been brought up weeks ago to compensate for the failures of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

As inviting as it might be, I’m going to resist the temptation to criticize. The fact is that he wasn’t called up before and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m just going to look ahead and hope Viciedo, in that Hollywood ending I suggested in my last post, helps turn the tide.

On the heels of today’s 9-3 victory and three-game sweep in Seattle, the Sox come home to face the Twins in an abbreviated three-game homestand. And by virtue of the Tigers’ loss to Minny and the Indians defeat at the hands of the Royals, the Sox find themselves in second place, six games behind Detroit and a half-game ahead of Cleveland.

The Viciedo Era has begun.

Sox Note of Note: With all the talk about the barren Sox farm system, it’s particularly comforting to see Viciedo and Flowers come through this afternoon. Although he hasn’t been given as much credit as he deserves, Flowers has done a terrific job in place of A.J. Pierzynski, hitting .273 with a pair of homers and playing above average defense behind the plate. Let’s hope the performance of these two youngsters are a sign of positive things to come.

A Hollywood Ending?

Breaking News:  Carlos Quentin placed on the 15-day disabled list, Dayan Viciedo recalled from Charlotte.

This is a Hollywood script in the making. Just imagine, Viciedo finally arrives on the South Side, has a monster five weeks and helps the White Sox overcome the seven-game deficit to win the A.L. Central.

I’m just saying…

What were the odds…at the beginning of the season that Brent Lillibridge (12) would have more home runs than Adam Dunn (11) at the end of August? And Lilli has done it in about 200 less at bats.  Brent’s 12th, a two-run blast, came last night and proved to be the difference in the 4-2 Sox victory over the Mariners At Safeco Field. A native of the Seattle area, Lilli is shown above, perhaps pointing to this friends and family in the stands.

The Blame Game

The conventional wisdom in the media is that lists, polls and surveys are sure to create buzz among its viewers, listeners and readers. So, everybody does it.

I was particularly amused today when I saw a poll in the Chicago Tribune asking readers to answer the question, “Who is most to blame for the Adam Dunn debacle?” The question is certainly a legitimate one so I have no problem with the paper posing the inquiry. What made me chuckle was the responses from the 2,462 individuals who participated as of this morning.

–68 percent blamed Dunn himself

–24 percent pointed to GM Kenny Williams, who signed the slugger

–4 percent said skipper Ozzie Guillen

–4 percent said Greg Walker

I don’t know if you agree, but how can only 68 percent blame Dunn himself? I know that nothing is black and white and I can see small percentages for Guillen and Walker if you are so inclined to believe they have had a negative effect. And even though he thought he was getting a proven 40 homer, 100 RBI man, I can see why some blame Williams. But to me, the percentages are way off.

Here’s the way I think it should measure up:

–Dunn: 90 percent…he’s the one who has been unable to hit and has given new meaning to the phrases “mental block” and “being out of shape.”

–Williams: 10 percent…He made the right move, but the player didn’t deliver…Why am I giving him any blame at all? It’s a token gesture since he was the architect of the signing.

–Walker: 0 percent…he’s a hitting coach, not a shrink.

–Guillen: 0 percent…No manager could have been more patient. He played Dunn in an effort to get him out of his doldrums, played him at first in case his inexperience at DH was the problem and rested him when he thought it was prudent. And I don’t buy the argument that Ozzie should have benched Dunn early and often. The hope was that he would turn it around and he couldn’t do that from a seat on the bench. Whether the Big Donkey was in the lineup or sitting next to the skipper in the dugout, the truth is that we were going nowhere without him hitting.

It Is What It Is

The day-to-day angst that comes with following a contending team in the heat of a pennant race has diminished a bit for me as the White Sox have dipped below .500 once again and stand 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers. The feeling now is more along the lines of let things play out and hope for the best.

As long as there is hope, mathematical or otherwise, I’ve never given up and won’t this year. As you Sox fans know, we’ve seen much worse. But the big difference in 2011, as opposed to many of the really lean years, has been the high expectations of a team that was favored by a host of experts to win the division. We expected so much more.

The reasons are obvious and there’s plenty of blame to go around, but blame isn’t going to get us to the postseason. It is what it is.

It’s easy to point to the sloppy defense and bad baserunning as the reasons for  last night’s 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Angels. A loss, by the way, that dropped the Sox to 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the A.L. Central.

But the truth is that it’s the same old story for the Sox that has plagued them throughout this maddening season. Suffice it to say that, in my view, if Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham had just decent seasons that 6 1/2 game deficit would be wiped out and the Sox, with their solid pitching, would be on top of the division.

Just look at what one man–Justin Verlander–has done for Detroit. The team is 12 games above .500 with him on the mound, a .500 team without him. Think about the impact Dunn, Rios and Beckham would have had with fairly good seasons.

Here are the numbers through 127 games:

–Dunn: .167, 11 homers, 40 RBIs

–Rios: .214, 8 homers, 31 RBIs

–Beckham: .238, 9 homers, 34 RBIs

It’s hard to reach the postseason when three key cogs in the offense perform at such a low level.

“The More Wins We Get, The Better Off We Will Be”

Duh, yeah, Alex Rios, you’re right about that: “The more wins we get, the better off we will be.”

I guess the White Sox centerfielder could be excused for his Yogism after he had a lot to do with the White Sox’s rare laugher this afternoon as they blanked the defending American League champion Rangers, 10-0.  It was a banner day for the beleaguered Rios both at bat and in the field.

On a day like this when everything is clicking, it’s a pleasure to look at the box score:

–The South Siders scored 10 runs on 16 hits.

–Homers were cranked  by Rios and Brent Lillibridge.

–A three-hit day was enjoyed  by Lillibridge while Rios, Juan Pierre, Paul Konerko,Tyler Flowers, Alejandro De Aza and Gordon Beckham had two hits apiece. The only Sox player without a hit was Alexei Ramirez, but he scored a run after drawing a walk.

–Other offensive highlights included a three RBI day by De Aza, two apiece by Pierre, Lillibridge and Rios and Flowers’ three runs scored.

Gavin Floyd was outstanding as he won his 11th game. In seven innings, he gave up just three hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Chris Sale pitched a scoreless eighth and Jason Frasor struck out the side in the ninth.

–The only blemishes were the two errors, one by Lilli and one by Alexei.

With the victory the Sox are back at .500. They remain five games in back of the Tigers and are now just a half-game behind the Indians.

Sox Note of Note:  It’s likely that Carlos Quentin won’t be back in the lineup until the end of the week at the earliest. The possibility of him being put on the DL is still there with Dayan Viciedo waiting in the wings.

Is Viciedo on the Way?

The important subtext from last night’s satisfying 3-2 victory over the Rangers is the shoulder injury to Carlos Quentin.

We’re told he won’t be in the lineup today and will be re-evaluated Tuesday in Anaheim after tomorrow’s day off. The 800-pound elephant in the room, of course, is that Dayan Viciedo (pictured below) is waiting in the wings if Quentin goes on the disabled list.

I think we all agree that losing Quentin is not a good thing. Aside from Paul Konerko, he has been the club’s most potent run producer. But if fate should have it that Quentin can’t play, the seemingly major league-ready Viciedo will be welcomed with open arms with the hope he can provide an offensive spark. Lord knows, we need it.

Sox Note of Note:  A bit ironic, don’t you think, that last night’s hero was Quentin’s outfield replacement–the much-maligned Alex Rios, who doubled in the winning run?

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