May 2012

Appreciate the Game (and the Sox)

In yesterday’s post I quoted White Sox skipper Robin Ventura as saying, “It gets frustrating, but I think the way it’s going, the way the guys are grinding, you can’t fault them for anything.” Those comments came after the doubleheader loss to the Indians, which saw the South Siders fall to 13-17 and five games behind the first place Tribe.

Ventura’s observation couldn’t have been made clearer in last night’s 10-inning triumph at Progressive Field. After coasting to a 3-0 lead behind John Danks‘ best performance of the season, the South Siders suddenly found themselves locked up in a 3-3 tie after eight innings. With that momentum switch and being on the road, the Sox could have laid down and died–but, to their manager’s point, they didn’t.

The Sox failed to score in the ninth and Hector Santiago survived the bottom half of the inning despite putting the potential winning run in scoring position. Then, in the top of the 10th, the Pale Hose came to life.

Facing closer Chris Perez, Paul Konerko led off the inning with a single. After A.J. Pierzynski popped out, Alex Rios tripled and scored Brent Lillibridge who was sent in to run for Konerko. Rios then scored the all-important insurance run to give the Sox a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 10th.

I still was not totally confident of the “W” because of the way both the red-hot Tribe has been playing and the recent fortunes of the Sox. But Addison Reed, confident and composed beyond his age and experience, rose to the occasion by setting down the heart of the Indian lineup in order: striking out Asdrubal Cabrera, retiring Carlos Santana on the flyout and fanning pinch-hitter Travis Hafner.

A 14-17 record is not something to brag about. But despite the record and losing a lot of close games (the club is 4-11 in games decided by two runs or less), the Sox are indeed grinding it out. And that’s something we should appreciate.

Come to think it, the Sox slogan, “Appreciate the Game,” kind of fits, doesn’t it?

Sox Notes of Note:  Rios got a bit of revenge on Perez with his clutch triple. The last time Rios faced the Indians’ closer  (last week in Chicago)  he was retired to end the game and Alex took exception to what he thought was Perez’s excessive exuberance. Nothing like a game-winning triple to get payback…I’m usually not good at lip-reading, but I did pick up something interesting in last night’s game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Cleveland’s Jack Hannahan coasted into second base on a Johnny Damon single. He then leaned over and asked Gordon Beckham, “Who’s your closer?” I found the comment intriguing since it was somewhat confusing to all of us with Sale being called upon in eighth and Santiago in the ninth.

Is it Just a Matter of Time?

“It gets frustrating, but I think the way it’s going, the way the guys are grinding, you can’t fault them for anything.”

–Sox skipper Robin Ventura, after last night’s doubleheader loss to the Tribe

Yesterday was certainly a day to forget as the Sox dropped Game 1 to the Tribe, 8-6, largely on the imperfect outing of Philip Humber, and lost Game 2, 3-2, despite a solid performance by Eric Stults.

Humber, who now has had three bad outings since his perfecto against the Mariners, coughed up eight runs, nine hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings. The silver lining, and yes there was one, was the terrific job Jose Quintana did in relief of Humber. Brought to the big club just for the doubleheader, Quintana’s major league debut was sterling as he gave up just one hit and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.

In the nightcap, Stults (who also was promoted yesterday) went six innings, allowing only two runs, four hits and four walks. If only he hadn’t walked No. 9 hitter Lou Marson with two outs in the fifth that ultimately gave the Tribe a 2-1 lead.

Ventura’s frustration noted above seems to be referring to all the close games the Sox are dropping. His refusal to place blame seems to refer to the fact that the club is putting forth the proper effort. Case in point is that in both games yesterday the Sox rallied in the late innings, only to come up short.

Robin’s hope is the same as ours. That it’s only a matter of time before the Sox begin winning the close ones.

A Run and Five Hits Not Enough in Rubber Match Against the Tigers

After Adam Dunn‘s first inning homer, I thought the Sox had a great chance to take the rubber game against the Tigers and head into Cleveland with some momentum. But it was not to be.

Dunn’s blast proved to be the only run the Sox could muster on just five hits. Still, they had their chances where a base hit could have tied the game or even put them ahead, but it didn’t  happen in the 3-1 loss. Give credit to Tiger starter Rick Porcello and relievers Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde.

Sox sub starter Dylan Axelrod wasn’t horrible, but didn’t last long was tagged by two long balls. In 4 1/3 innings he gave up two runs–solo homers to Austin Jackson and Prince Fielder. Axelrod and relievers Will Ohman, Zach Stewart and Hector Santiago did a credible job in the clutch as 12 Detroit runners were left on base. A credible job in the clutch with one exception. Santiago’s penchant to give up homers came back to bite him in the ninth as Andy Dirks‘ solo shot provided the Tigers with a key insurance run that proved key as the Sox had the tying runs on base in the final frame.

Chris Sale, welcome to the closer role.

What We’ve All Been Waiting For

Just when it appeared all was lost this afternoon in Detroit and our White Sox were about to continue their slide with a fourth straight defeat, a monstrous, one-out, ninth-inning two-run home run by slugger Adam Dunn dramatically turned the tide in a much-needed 3-2 Sox victory.

Today’s result was appropriate payback from last night’s disaster which saw Matt Thornton cough up a two-run, ninth inning walk-off homer to Jhonny Peralta in the Tigers’comeback win.

The “payback” wasn’t without its tense moments. Hector Santiago, perhaps closing his last game before the arrival of Chris Sale as the full-time closer on Monday, continued to have his struggles. He gave up a walk and a double in the bottom of the ninth, giving way to fellow rookie reliever Addison Reed, who struck out Austin Jackson with the tying and winning runs on second and third for his first major league save.

Despite the fact it’s only the first week of May, this was a pivotal win for the South Siders. Another loss would have prolonged their losing streak and sent them down to defeat in consecutive demoralizing losses against the team to beat in the A.L. Central. Also, the Sox are now only a game under .500, instead of three if not for the Dunn and Reed heroics.

Sox Notes of Note:

Gavin Floyd pitched seven impressive innings, allowing only two runs and seven hits along with six strikeouts…In addition to Reed picking up his first save, rookie reliever Nate Jones was credited with his first major league victory…Sizzling Paul Konerko got the Sox on the board in the seventh with his sixth homer. He’s also driven in 17 runs  and is among the league leaders with a .351 batting average…Both Dunn and Alejandro De DeAza, who was on base for Adam’s homer, collected two hits apiece.

Ouch!!

There are not many things I dislike more than the White Sox giving up a lead in the late innings and losing on a walk-off homer.

So, you can’t be surprised when I tell you I got little sleep last night after the Tigers 5-4 triumph.

On our way to the deflating loss, Jake Peavy was magnificent in eight innings of work and Gordon Beckham gave further hope that he’s on his way back with a single, double and two-run blast that gave us a 4-2 lead. Just a few days ago, his batting average was well under the .200 mark. He’s now at .233.  The fact these performances were wasted, made Jhonny Peralta‘s two-run, game-winning clout that much more disturbing.

New Sox Closer

Chris Sale couldn’t have been much better in his first foray as a major league starting pitcher (3-1, 2.81 ERA), but the Sox are moving him into the bullpen as the closer to preserve his career. Evidently, the youngster has had soreness and tightness in his elbow and the club is concerned it could cause problems down the road if he continued to start. It appears that Dylan Axelrod will have the first shot at replacing Sale in the rotation.

Oh, Brother!

John Danks said it himself after his subpar outing last night in the White Sox’s 7-5 loss to the Tribe: “The problem is I’m not making pitches and I’m getting my ass kicked out there.”

While pitching has been the club’s strength thus far, I would make the argument that Danks’ lack of success is the single most disappointing factor in the team’s young season. A few of the hitters have sputtered, but after showing their confidence in Danks with a mega contract in the offseason, the Sox were expecting the lefty to pick up where Mark Buehrle left off as the ace of the staff. It just hasn’t happened.

I’m not ready to give up on Danks. We’ve seen signs of brilliance and, in his own words, he “wants to be the guy.” But to state the obvious, he’s got to turn it around if the Sox are going to contend during the next few years.

Hope is Still Alive for Danks No. 2

While John has had his highs and lows since reaching the big leagues, brother Jordan Danks has had his struggles to make the majors. While he’s still striking out too much at AAA Charlotte (26 K’s in 27 games), there seems to be glimmer of hope that he’ll one day join his older sibling in “The Show.”  Jordan is currently hitting .292, with three homers, 13 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .404.  If it happens, better late than never.

Bend it Like Beckham

Let’s call it the Gordon Beckham factor.

I think all of us would agree that if the White Sox’s No. 1 draft pick from 2008 can recapture the kind of offensive production and excitement he generated in his rookie season, our Sox would have a lot better chance to contend in the A.L. Central.

Gordo reminded us of what he can do with a 3 for 4 effort with this first homer of the season and two RBIs in last night’s  7-2 Sox win over the Indians.

After the past two seasons, which saw Beckham hit .252 and and .230, respectively, with disappointing power numbers–9 HR and 49 RBI in 2010 and 10, 44 in 2011–it’s been hard to remember that he came on the scene in ’09 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs and a .270 batting average in his first 103 games.

By far his best offensive game in a long time (he has already proven to be one of the best defensive second basemen around). Beckham has given hope that he’s turned the corner. One game doesn’t make a season, but it’s something to build on.

In 2009, Beckham was named the A.L. Rookie of the Year in two different polls. It was then that  he was pegged as our next big star and the new, fresh face of the franchise. But life intervened and something happened, whether it was in his head or a flaw in his swing.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking to look at this performance against the Tribe and think Beckham will now return to elite status. But I, for one, choose to believe it.

Time will tell.

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