by Mike DePilla
Thursday, August 13, 2009
For most of the 2009 season, the Sox have trudged along magnetically attracted to .500. They'd never fall too far below it, which is good, but they were never able to make a big surge above it either before somehow tripping themselves up.
It was frustrating, but Sox fans had to accept it because, as good as the team looked at times, it was a mediocre team getting mediocre results. When they would surge up to within a game of first place only to fall back to 4 or 5 games out by week's end, it was just a mediocre, .500 team playing up and down, mediocre, .500 baseball.
Then, in a little more than a week, Kenny Williams changed the whole complexion of the team and with it the expectations by which they are to be judged. Bringing in big names Jake Peavy and Alex Rios (without subtracting anything from your major league roster except your 5th starter/swingman) is a talent-level game changer. It turns the Sox from a middling team with mediocre talent to an underachieving team with exceptional talent.
They're not running Dewayne Wise or Brian Anderson out there to play centerfield anymore. Now it's two-time All-Star Rios, who is the first Sox centerfielder that can play both defense and offense capably since Aaron Rowand in 2005 (and Rios is better at both than Rowand was). They're not going to be flinging minor leaguers like Carlos Torres or retreads like Freddy Garcia out to the hill every fifth day; it'll be Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy.
Things have changed, for the better (hopefully), and this team can now very reasonably be expected to be a serious contender, as opposed to being a contender only because of the weak division they play in.
Sox fans can't use the old standbys like "this team is what it is" or "you get what you see." The bar has been raised, this is no longer a .500 team fighting with their life to make a run at the Tigers. The Sox are clear and away the most talented team in the division.
Though the future does look very bright, anything less than an AL Central division title this year will be a disappointment. Losing two out of three at home to the Indians or failing to score in 22 out of 23 innings, for example, is no longer "par" for this team.
Let's see how they handle this new intensity and level of expectations.
After showing some signs of life last week, Carlos Quentin could not pick up anything from Felix Hernandez last night in Seattle. It was the first time Q struck out more than once in a game all season, and the first time he struck out three times since August 11, 2008, which is really a testament to his offensive prowess. His 0-for-6 last night dropped his batting average to .238 in the 22 games since his July 20 return from the DL. The troubling part is that it appears his approach at the plate is changed from a year ago.
Someone, probably Ozzie Guillen or Greg Walker, needs to pull Quentin aside, punch him softly in the shoulder, and tell him to stop trying to pull every pitch out of the park for a 5-run homer. (Alexei Ramirez could use this advice as well, probably even more than Quentin.) What made the Quentin of 2008 so special was his abilities to lay off bad pitches and hang frozen ropes to every part of the ballpark. Not only did he launch 36 homers last year, he also posted a .394 OBP, which was aided by 66 walks.
His short, powerful, compact swing resulted in line drives, several of which happened to land over the fence. If you didn't give him a pitch to crush, fine, he would lay off the breaking balls out of the zone and take his base on balls. If you pitched him effectively in the strike zone but not over the heart of the plate, OK then, he'd take a base hit to right field.
But right now Quentin is in the proverbial "trying to do too much" conundrum. He's over anxious at the plate and pull happy, resulting in an OBP that is lower since his return than before, even though his batting average has gone up. (For reference, Quentin's OBP was 106 points higher than his batting average last season, since July 20 this year the difference is only only 84.)
Much like Paul Konerko in 2008, Quentin is plain and simple not going to "get his numbers" this season due to the time he missed and his early season slump. That's fine; he'll have plenty more seasons in the future that will look great on the back of a baseball card. For now, he has to ignore his batting average and Dewayne Wise-like power numbers and just take each at bat one at a time. It is a cheesy cliche- one at a time- but it applies.
As much as the slumping Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko, the Sox need Quentin to turn it around of they plan on winning the AL Central. Hopefully last night was just a small bump in the road- he was 13 for his last 36 (.361) with 6 extra base hits.
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