What a difference a few days makes.
Life in the real world has been calling for the past few days, so I haven’t had time to share an update with everyone, but suffice it to say that life is good. I have been quite encouraged by the White Sox starting pitching the past few days, even in the two losses suffered to Minnesota (v. Santana) and Oakland (the 9th-inning collapse). Every one of the starters had a quality start, and they seem to be throwing the ball very, very well.
I am also quite impressed with the fact that the White Sox did not give up a home run at all during the A’s series. While pitchers will make mistakes from time to time, the fact that they haven’t conceded a home run in three games is telling – it means that the Sox pitchers’ mistakes are not so glaring that they travel 400+ feet in the opposite direction, or that the mistakes they make are spaced out among other very good pitches, so the opposing batters do not have the opportunity to recognize the "mistake" pitches in the same way they would as if the White Sox pitching were already throwing only mediocre games.
The offense does need to get it going, however. I’ll give them a pass, though, because of the amount of truly quality pitching they’ve seen over the first 8 games – starters including Sabathia, Westbrook, Santana, and Harden. That they’ve gone 4-4 is not a bad deal, although now that they’ve started to settle into the season, it’s time to start stringing together wins more frequently. Timely hitting has evoked itself over the first few games – Dye’s home run yesterday could not have come at a more opportune moment. And after that, the patience shown by hitters at the plate in the 9th inning allowed them ample opportunity to take the lead, which they did – with walks, singles, and a sac fly. Konerko’s double was just the icing on the cake. I like this – last year, it seemed that the home run was the primary vehicle for their run-scoring offense. So far this year, the home run is more of a useful supplement, which (in my humble opinion) is how it should be.
I hate this cold weather. I can’t wait for the warmth to finally descend upon Chicago. Until later…
When the seventh inning came around, Javier Vazquez started out HBP-BB to the first two batters he faced. The first thought in my mind was, "Here we go again."
And then something strange happened.
He rolled a garden-variety double play, leaving one man on third and two outs in the inning. Andrew Sisco came in and struck out Jeff Cirillo on four pitches. And just like that, the Sox were safe once again. I never thought I’d see the day.
You see, I was still in the mode of thinking that Vazquez would get through the lineup unscathed twice, and then let it go the third time. Instead of folding, though, it seemed that he almost got stronger the third time through the lineup. He was able to vary his pitches more because instead of going to his third and fourth pitches every time he got in trouble, he relied on his fastball more in the early part of the game so that if he ever got into a jam later on, he could fall back on those other pitches more readily and catch the batter unawares. Let’s see if he can have that same confidence in his fastball and changeup in the next few starts because it was certainly working for him yesterday.
And now the Twins play the game they’ve been playing since ’04 now: "Santana, Crain, and pray for rain…"
John Danks is officially the 5th starter for the Chicago White Sox. I’m officially excited. This guy was a great acquisition – I was one of the many who was shocked by the Brandon McCarthy move, but by getting instant value in Danks, it automatically lends a bit of legitimacy to the trade. Now, Danks simply has to translate his spring success into regular season wins.
An interesting bit in the Chicago Sun-Times: Joe Cowley (e-mail) projects the White Sox opening day lineup to go like this:
1. Pablo Ozuna (LF)
2. Darin Erstad (CF)
3. Jim Thome (DH)
4. Paul Konerko (1B)
5. Jermaine Dye (RF)
6. Tadahito Iguchi (2B)
7. A.J. Pierzynski (C)
8. Joe Crede (3B)
9. Juan Uribe (SS)
I find this lineup interesting, if not still possibly fluid. Cowley has Anderson off the 25-man roster and (presumably) in AAA Charlotte. This, despite the very nice numbers (.300-2-5) he has put up in 14 games this spring. He has Podsednik starting on the bench (though, he concedes, Podsednik will be "atop the lineup and in left field most of the season") and Eduardo Perez as the fifth outfielder. Interesting. Perez has had a great spring (.526-3-9 in 19 AB over 6 games) so he has certainly proven his worth. Perez, though, is not a natural outfielder – he learned the outfield and converted himself to a utility player, which means his value defensively is uncertain (a 1.000 FLD% notwithstanding). As for the logjam at the bottom of the order, I think Cowley’s prediction is also a reaction to the fact that Crede, Iguchi, and Pierzynski really can bat in any order in the 6-7-8 spot. I don’t believe that Guillen will bat Crede 8th without any protection at the bottom of the order – while I definitely believe that Uribe will be much improved from last year, Uribe is still a free-swinger who has the tendency to make a bad out at the wrong time. I believe Guillen might be better served batting Crede-Iguchi-Pierzynski for two reasons: One, Iguchi provides Crede protection in the lineup and will force pitchers to make pitches against Crede, while forcing most right-handers to still pitch to Iguchi in order to avoid making walks against both and facing a left-handed hitter with two men on base; and two, the free-swinging Uribe will still provide a presence in the #9 spot and make pitchers think twice about pitching around A.J. to get to Uribe. The eighth spot would also serve platoon/backup catcher Toby Hall equally well and will still allow the same kind of lineup protection when left-handed pitchers go up against the three.
To sum up, if they perform, I think the White Sox have the most dangerous lineup in the American League. A team that can afford to bat A.J. Pierzynski eighth, despite consistent production, shows a breadth of hitting talent that few teams in the AL can match.
Now if we can only do something about that pitching…
Coming soon: The 1941 debate continues with my rebuttal.
If you had asked me a week ago, I figured it would be John Danks.
Now I’m not quite so sure…
The one thing that worries me more than anything else is the maddening inconsistency shown by both Danks and Gavin Floyd over spring training. Just when the young Danks appeared to be putting the exclamation point on a solid spring training that would eventually nail down his position as the #5 starter, he goes out and lays an egg, raising more questions about his ability to be a consistent fifth/spot starter.
And then Gavin Floyd goes out, cleans up the damage, and settles in for 4+ innings of 1-run baseball.
Many things are uncertain about this situation, but I can say this – Ozzie Guillen cannot allow this to deteriorate into another go-round a la 2004, where the multitude of fifth starters that Guillen rolled out probably cost his inaugural team five or six wins over the course of the season. The White Sox, this season, have the capacity to go out and rack up another 90-95 wins – but five or six games could be the difference between a playoff spot and a spot on the couch. Ozzie was right last year when he said that 95 wins would win the division – and for my money, 95 wins will do it again this year. But when you’ve got a strong Tigers squad, an always unpredictable Twins team, and an Indians team who very well could do some damage, you can’t afford to deal in question marks for very long – especially when it comes to pitching. I know Ozzie is waiting to make the decision, and some reports have him not making the decision until camp breaks on the 29th…but I am of the opinion that the sooner we know, and the sooner the eventual starter knows, the longer he will have to prepare – and considering the state of the candidates, they’ll need all the time they can get…