by Mike DePilla
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
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All it took was three bad series to clear a heck of a lot of room on the White Sox bandwagon.
The bats went into hibernation in Baltimore, the starting pitching hit the skids against the Twins and the bullpen imploded versus the Tigers, resulting in a 3-7 stretch that knocked the Sox out of first place and, in the minds of some overreacting fans, into the obituaries.
Now the Sox take their string of bad mojo into Target Field, where they were last seen blowing a three-run 9th inning lead without retiring a batter. The Twins have surged since that dramatic walk off, going 19-7, while the Sox have stumbled at 15-12.
All of this leads to the hyperbolic doomsday prognostications that have the Sox already unpacking their golf clubs and scheduling fall vacations if they can't win at least two games in this series.
It's a big series, and the Sox have their share of problems to work out, but let's everybody take a step in off the ledge for a moment here. The Chicago White Sox are probably going to lose two out of three this week, dropping them to four games out of first. They will not be eliminated from the playoff race. This is NOT a do-or-die series
It's called a slump, and it happens to all teams. Guess what AL powerhouse is a mere 6-9 in the month of August? The New York Yankees. Over the course of a long season, the team is going to struggle at times; besides, there was no way the Sox could continue the torrid pace they were on in June and July.
Now, how and when the Sox pull out of this slump, and how they respond after the slump is over, are what will determine the team's fate. Last year, the Sox had a terrifically talented team, boosted with midseason acquisitions, in a weak AL Central. On this date- August 17- one year ago, the Sox were in second place, two games behind the front-running Tigers. The Twins, coming off a 3-7 stretch, were 6.5 games out and left for dead.
Do you remember who won the division last year?
The Sox never pulled out of their August swoon in 2009, instead they went quietly into the night. But the point is there is plenty of baseball left in 2010 and a three- or four-game deficit is not worth panicking about, IF this team is resilient enough to play good baseball down the stretch. That would separate them from the '03, '04, '06 and '09 models. ('07 doesn't count for anything.)
Even in the mythical 2005 season the Sox struggled substantially in August, going 12-16 that month before rebounding to 19-12 in September and then of course saving their best baseball for October.
One other misconception about what is going on:
The bullpen is NOT a disaster.
Due to his health and lack of production, Bobby Jenks is a huge question mark. That is not up for debate. But the rest of the bullpen is still strong enough to match up with any other in the American League.
JJ Putz has received a lot of scrutiny because of his recent slump. As Jim points out, the guy had been pitching out of his mind and was due for some regression. Again: slumps happen. He allowed a homerun in Baltimore and another two appearances later at the Cell, both resulting in losses. Then, pitching in his third consecutive game for the first time in three years, he was one misplayed fly ball away from escaping Sunday's game unscathed.
Putz isn't injured, and I don't think he is overly fatigued. He just hit a bad spell and gave up a few longballs. He should continue to be trusted in the highest leverage situations for the rest of the season.
Matt Thornton is rock-solid reliable as always; I can't imagine what more anybody could ask of him. Sergio Santos, as a rookie, has been surprisingly consistent as well. In 11 appearances since the All-Star break, Santos has allowed one earned run (a homer by Miguel Cabrera). His peripheral stats have gone just a tad south: his WHIP is 0.18 higher and his BAA is 46 points higher. But his K/BB ratio is right in line with the rest of his season. He's fine.
Then there is Chris Sale, who has breezed though his first taste big leagues, giving the Sox a dependable second lefty for the first time since baseball players wore gloves on their non-throwing hands. Since his shaky major league debut, his line is: 3.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K.
Tony Pena is inconsistent and unreliable in any high leverage, late-inning appearances, but is fine (for the rest of this season) as the first man out of the pen long man, i.e DJ Carrasco 2010. Scott Linebrink.... who cares.
The point here is that, sure, there has been a hiccup in the relievers' overall production in the past few games, but it has been blown way out of proportion. Every bullpen in the league is imperfect. I will still take this Sox bullpen against any other in the league. With Thornton, Putz, Santos and Sale all viable for high-leverage work, it's reckless to write them off now and call them a major problem for the rest of the season.
Now, take all of that for what it is worth. I picked the Twins to win the division at the beginning of the season and at no point from then through now, with all the ups and downs, have I changed that prediction.
The Sox do have some problems, mostly with the bats. And if they get swept this week it will be tough sledding to go through the Yankees and Red Sox to make up a 6+ game deficit.
But the idea that the Sox are cooked because of one bad week is silly. I just hope it doesn't create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Just two weeks ago, the Twins were more than three games out of first, and they weren't panicking. The Sox shouldn't either.
Speaking of "August 17 in Sox history", Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times remembers temperamental Nolan Ryan's brilliant performance against the White Sox 20 years ago today. Follow that link for a reference to the most unlikely back-to-back homeruns ever hit.
And sabermetic-advocate JJ heaps some surprising praise on "sabermetric whipping boy" Juan Pierre over at White Sox Examiner.
Lastly, going back to last week for a minute, Jim from Sox Machine speaks the mind of everyone in Sox Army with his Jim Thome coverage.
And Adam and Jeff are out with a new Oral Sox podcast. Last week they graciously mentioned yours truly. They also featured a Bobby Jenks parody song and call it "highly-acclaimed", but you should listen and be the judge of that.
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