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An Abject Train Wreck

by Mike DePilla
Thursday, April 22, 2010
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After being swept by the Indians (who, I think, had more runs scored than fans in Progressive Field over the weekend), the 4-9 Sox were off to their worst start since 1997, better known as the year of the White Flag trade.

A little home cookin' to turn things around? Not quite.

John Danks put the team on his back Tuesday night, carrying the team to victory over the Tampa Bay Rays with 8 dominant innings of two-hit, one-run ball. But last night it was back to the grind, as the Rays handed the Sox their worst loss of the season: a 12-0 pounding aptly described by my buddy Sip, who froze his butt off alongside me at the Cell, as an " abject train wreck."

Mark Buehrle took the hill for the Sox, and though he wasn't as... perfect... as the last time he faced the Rays, he deserved much better than the 9 hits and 6 earned runs in 4.1 innings his line shows. There were ducksnorts, Matt Abbatacolas, gork shots and Texas Leaguers a-plenty for the Rays and poor defense from the Sox, but not in an "errors and unearned runs" kind of way.

Once again: You cannot just call a team "Smallball" or "Ozzieball." You actually have to do it. The obsession with bunting is one thing, but this team's defense showcases startlingly bad fundamentals. Bad communication on pop ups, OK that is a once-in-a-while occurrence. But the inability to manage a standard relay throw or hit a cut-off man is nothing new and needs to change now.

Carlos Quentin, poster boy for all that I'm talking about, looks utterly lost at the plate and in the field right now. At the plate, Quentin is a good bet to rebound. Maybe he over-performed a bit in 2008 and MVP consideration is expecting too much, but he's not this bad. He is still a solid hitter who will get it together once he regains his strike zone judgment and stops trying to hit everything onto the Dan Ryan.

Last night he swung feebly at breaking pitches low and out of the zone several times, indicating to me he's not his normal self. When Quentin came to the Sox, he was heralded as an OBP machine who could take a walk like Big Frank and play pepper with the rightfield wall for doubles. That's the guy I want, not the guy who is going to sacrifice 50 points of batting average or OBP for some extra homeruns and strikeouts. Hitless in his last 20 at bats, he needs to get back to that approach.

I am surprisingly disappointed with his defense however. The good news is if he becomes a legend and the Sox want to erect a statue to him on the concourse, they can just use the one the team puts in rightfield every time the team plays defense.

The bar was set pretty low for Quentin to improve on Jermaine Dye's D in right, and yet with a lack of mobility and erratic throws, he's still not clearing it easily. It might be time to try Andruw Jones in right and Q at DH.

******

The Sox offense? Ugh. It's bad, we all know. But did anybody watch Jason Bartlett's at bat in the 4th inning last night? Buehrle threw him an offspeed pitch over the outer half of the plate. What did Bartlett do? He kept his hands back and took a short swing at the ball, going with the pitch and serving it into right field for a base hit. Was it a good pitcher's pitch? Yes. Was Bartlett fooled? Maybe. But he wasn't greedy.

When will the Sox ever learn to do this? For the better part of a decade, you can pitch the Sox soft away and watch them roll over the ball for a double play grounder or take a huge swing resulting in a pop up. The names on the back of the jerseys may have changed, but the approach hasn't. And they continue to struggle against pitchers they've never faced before.

(Don't just blame the hitting coach- as much as I dislike Walker, look at how little of an effect guru Rudy Jaramillo has had on the hapless Cubs.)

But, in fairness to the Sox, it was really cold outside. Too cold for hitting. Look at the Rays, they only managed 12 runs in those horrible conditions. Too cold to field- catching foul pop ups and hitting cut off men will come more naturally when the weather heats up. And certainly too cold to pitch strikes. Randy Williams needs a few more degrees on the thermometer to avoid four pitch walks with the bases loaded.

The best thing by far about the game was the sweet potato fries. Have you ever been in the LG Skyline Club? It's a whole different ballgame up there; I highly recommend it.

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