August 2011

A Frustrating Exercise, A Daunting Task

I debated whether or not to even post this morning after last night’s demoralizing 7-4 loss to the defending American League champion Rangers, which saw Jake Peavy cough up three homers. There doesn’t seem to be much to say that I haven’t written before. You know, the struggles of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham–yada, yada, yada.

So, we stand five games behind Detroit and three games under .500 in the midst of what is now a three-game losing streak. Just when you thought we might be making some headway, we crash. Certainly a familiar scenario in this season of South Side discontent.

It’s getting increasingly more difficult (if not impossible), even for a glass half-full fan like me, to visualize the Sox playing in October. Part of me wants to keep the faith, part of me wants to bag it and start focusing on how to fix things for 2012.

The former is a frustrating exercise, the latter a daunting task.

What Happened to Gordon Beckham?

Adam Dunn is on target to have the worst season by a qualifying position player in 91 years. Alex Rios, who boldly predicted in spring training that the White Sox were clearly the favorites in the A.L. Central, has been a colossal disappointment.  But I would make the argument that the most disheartening aspect of the 2011 Sox is the continuing decline of Gordon Beckham.

The eighth overall pick of the Sox in the 2008 draft after a outstanding college career at the University of Georgia, he was an instant sensation. He impressed that year at Class A Kannapolis and hit .394 in the Arizona Fall League. In 2009, after a terrific spring training and solid stints at AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte, Beckham was promoted to the major leagues in early June and had the look of nothing less than a future All-Star. In 103 games, he socked 14 homers and drove in 63 runs with a .270 batting average. As validation of his impact, two separate player polls gave him the nod as the A.L. Rookie of the Year.

The excitement that the Sox had the new face of the franchise was short-lived as Beckham began the 2010 season with a prolonged slumped. He rallied after the All-Star break and showed some signs he was on the way back to his ’09 form. But an injury to his right hand after getting hit by a pitch in late August forced him to the sidelines and aside from pinch-running he didn’t play the last two weeks of the season.

The concerns about Beckham’s future were put on the back-burner during spring training this year as Beckham looked like his old, impressive self. But then the season began and we’ve all seen the results. Once settled in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, he’s now a No. 9 hitter at .238 with nine homers and just 33 RBIs.

Beckham’s descent into mediocrity, which has made him “just another guy” was never more evident than last night as the Sox dropped the 4-2 decision to the Indians, losing the three-game series.  Apart from going 0-4, Beckham struck out to end the sixth inning with men on first and second and fanned again in a crucial situation with the bases loaded in the eighth as he had another opportunity to tie the score or put the Sox ahead.

My intention is not to make Beckham the scapegoat for this year’s failures. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Hopefully he’ll adjust and get his offensive mojo back to go along with his elite defensive ability. But, to me, of all the developments in this less-than-satisfying season–including the Dunn and Rios sagas–the puzzling decline of Beckham is the most disappointing of all.

Sox Look to Win Series vs. Tribe

With the White Sox at an even .500, 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Tigers and 1 1/2 games in back of second place Cleveland, the South Siders realistically need to win every game.

That said, we know that goal is impossible and some games are just going to wind up in the loss column due to “natural causes.” Last night’s 4-1 defeat to the Tribe was one of those losses. Fausto Carmona, who was beaten up badly in two previous starts against the Sox, was at his best as he limited the Good Guys to four hits. Two of them came off the bat of Alejandro De Aza, who has been quite impressive since his callup, hitting .310 and adding speed and energy to the lineup. The only run scored on Alexei Ramirez‘s 13th homer in the second inning, which at the time tied the score.

It was also the end of Mark Buehrle‘s team record 18-game streak of allowing three runs or less. He gave up four earned runs while being tagged for 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Regardless of the outcome, he remains a model of consistency.

While last night was just one of those losses that’s going to happen, tonight represents something much more. The Sox need to win in order to remain .500 or better, win the series and keep pace with the Tigers and Indians as the formidable Texas Rangers prepare to invade Chicago this weekend. Phil Humber looks to regain his early season form tonight against a very tough customer in Justin Masterton.

A Crazy Night at the Cell as Sox Move Above .500

Last night, after the White Sox failed to score Alex Rios from third base with nobody out in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Indians, it felt like it just wasn’t going to be our night–and, more to the point, it’s just not our year.

The Sox ultimately survived the 14-inning, 5 hour and 21 minute marathon, 8-7, thanks to Juan Pierre‘s game-winning single, but it was a maddening night for those of us watching the game. A game that put us over the .500 mark for the first time since April and moved us to within a half-game of the second-place Tribe.

Here’s what I mean:

–The Sox collected an impressive 22 hits, led by Paul Konerko and Brent Morel with four each, but stranded 16 runners.

–We  threatened the record books with five triples (Rios, Alejandro De Aza 2, Alexei Ramirez, Tyler Flowers), but only two of them scored.

–The bullpen outpenned the Cleveland pen, as all six full-time relievers saw action. But Chris Sale gave up a homer to Travis Hafner in the eighth and Sergio Santos blew a save in the ninth to allow the Indians to tie the game and send it into extras.

But in the end, the Sox were able to pull it out and there were a host of positives. In addition to Konerko, Morel, the five triples and a mostly solid bullpen, Pierre homered (only his second) and had three hits in all.  De Aza also totaled three hits and two RBIs (he’s pictured above sliding in with one of his triples) while Flowers had a double and a single and drove in a run. Even a struggling Gordon Beckham came through with a 14th inning double and scored the winning run.

It was a long night and I’m still trying to wake up. I would be feeling a whole lot worse if the uplifting win was, instead, a disheartening loss.

A.J. Not OK

If it weren’t bad enough that journeyman lefthander Bruce Chen of the Royals has beaten–let’s be honest, dominated–the White Sox three times this season, now we get more negative news.  As a result of a Chen pitch last Friday, A.J. Pierzynski has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a fractured left wrist.

With the Sox now only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Tigers and the second place Indians in town, this isn’t the kind of news we wanted to hear. It has been reported that Pierzynski will be out at least a month and in the meantime Tyler Flowers takes over the starting catching duties with long-time minor leaguer Donny Lucy backing him up–at least for now. I don’t think there’s any question that the Sox will be scouring the waiver wire for veteran catching help with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away.

Thome Joins Elite with No. 600

Jim Thome, who became the eighth member of the 600 home run club last night in the Twins win over the Tigers, hit 134 round-trippers in a White Sox uniform.

I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest Thome fan during his four seasons on the South Side. I felt he struck out or grounded out when an RBI double or homer was needed in a crucial situation. But no one can deny that he is a future Hall of Famer, universally loved by the baseball world for being an ideal teammate and all-round good guy. We all should be happy for him.

I also have a much different perspective about Thome’s tenure in Chicago after witnessing Adam Dunn‘s miserable season as the Sox DH.  I guess Gentleman Jim wasn’t so bad after all.

60-60

A time-honored adage among baseball aficionados is that every team wins 60 games and loses 60. It’s the other 42, conventional wisdom says, that determine how a club will fare over the 162-game season.

With the 6-2 White Sox win over the Royals this afternoon, the South Siders are exactly 60-60 as they once again become a .500 ballclub. While the adage above doesn’t  apply only to the symmetry of being even with 42 to go, the remaining games will indeed determine the final result of what has been a roller coaster season, to say the least.

The Sox have been here a few times, but getting over .500 is what has been the challenge as they haven’t been at that plateau since April. They’ll give it another try Tuesday night when they face the Indians in what will be a crucial three-game set.

Give It Up For Lilli

Brent Lillibridge is far from a perfect ballplayer, but he’s been a godsend this year for the Sox. He’s in the majors primarily for his defensive excellence and versatility–and as a result of the Paul Konerko injury and Adam Dunn‘s inability to hit the baseball, especially against lefties, he’s added first base to his repertoire of second, short, third and all three outfield positions. To his credit, he’s played first like he’s been doing it for years, making outstanding play after outstanding play. And by the way, his 10 homers are just one shy of Dunn’s 2011 output. Lilli’s 10th, of course, came today in the form of a three-run blast that gave the Sox an early 4-0 lead that they never relinquished. Brent has 146 at bats, Dunn 341.

Paulie’s a Marvel

It’s certainly not breaking news, but Konerko continues to display the kind of attitude and performance that is indicative of the consummate team leader. Saddled with the calf injury that has made it close to impossible for him to run the bases, the Sox All-Star has refused to take a seat on the bench. And as the full-time DH since the injury he hasn’t lost a beat in what has been one of his finest seasons. Today, he was 3 for 3 with two walks and a run scored.

Sox Pick Up a Game

Now at .500, the Sox now trail the Tigers by four games as a result of our win and the Detroit loss to Baltimore.

Sox Survive Royals as Flowers Blooms

If Billy Butler, Melky Cabrera and their young Royals’ teammates played everybody like they do the White Sox, Kansas City would be an A.L. Central contender instead of 20 games below .500.

After Friday night’s 5-1 drubbing, it’s a relief to see the Sox escape with a 5-4 win last night–especially at home and following two rain delays.  The winning run came across the plate as a result of a bases-loaded walk to Alejandro De Aza, but we’ll take it.

In the “what else is new?” category, Paul Konerko clubbed his 27th homer in the third inning, a two-run blast that gave the Sox an early 2-0 lead. The advantage was lost in the fifth as K.C. touched up Jake Peavy for four runs, but Tyler Flowers (pictured above, being congratulated by Juan Pierre) got the South Siders within a run in the fifth with his first major league home run. A Carlos Quentin RBI double and the De Aza base on balls turned the tide for good in the seventh. Then, Jesse Crain ( 1 1/3 innings) and Chris Sale, who set down the Royals 1-2-3 in the ninth for his fourth save, shut the door.

With the Tigers and Indians once again defeating the Orioles and Twins, respectively, the victory was a must. But the truth is they are all a must at this stage as the Sox try to make up the five-game Detroit deficit.

Sox Note of Note: At the beginning of the season, Pierre was going through a rocky time. He wasn’t getting on base, he wasn’t stealing bases when he did get on and his defense was bad at best. He’s still not close to his league-leading SB total from a year ago, but his defense has improved and, after his three hits last night, he’s now batting .285.

Frasor Crain Meets Frasier Crane

Has it dawned on anyone else that the new White Sox righthanded setup duo has a lot in common with a recently popular TV sitcom?

Take the last names of Jason Frasor and Jesse Crain (with some difference in the spelling) and what do you get–aside from a formidable pair of bullpen aces?

That’s right,  Frasier Crane, the fictional character played by Kelsey Grammer in the hit show, “Frasier.

Great Trip, Now Let’s Win at Home

A 6-1 road trip, after the disastrous 3-7 home stand , is good for the soul–especially because it  featured a sweep against the Twins.

Now the hard work starts as the Sox try to turn things around at the Cell. After last night’s 6-3 win over the Orioles, they are 34-27 on the road and only 24-32 at home. Stating the obvious, that puzzling stat has to change if the South Siders have any chance of winning the division.

As we look ahead to get the job done on the upcoming homestand, where we’ll face the Royals, Indians and Rangers in consecutive three-game series, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the history that was made in Baltimore last evening by a pair of Sox pitchers:

* Mark Buehrle tied the club record by allowing three runs or less in 18 straight starts. He now shares the mark with Frank Smith, who accomplished the feat 102 years ago. Buehrle also added to his team standard by winning at least 10 games for the 11th year in a row.

* By chalking up his 25th save, Sergio Santos was perfect in the ninth and in the process broke the great Mariano Rivera’s mark with his 25 consecutive scoreless appearance on the road to start a season.

“The I’m Done with Dunn Watch”:  Unfortunately Ozzie either didn’t read yesterday’s blog or ignored my call for Adam Dunn to be benched. For the record, the sorry slugger went 0 for 3 last night with two walks–and, of course, a strikeout.

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