by Mike DePilla
Thursday, September 2, 2010
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I toned down the, let's call it "edginess", of this article since the White Sox came back and won the last two games in Cleveland. One thing is for sure: that was the most drama-filled, anger-inducing, sweat-it-out, hold-your-breath three game sweeps I've ever seen.
So, to put it mildly, I'll just use the following statement: The White Sox won Tuesday and Wednesday despite the efforts of their manager, not because of them. Look, I know Ozzie Guillen comes from the grind-it-out, smallball school, but he has to stop managing this team like it is in the National League. He is in a pennant race in the American League, and he needs to let his offense hit because he is literally costing his team runs.
I've vented numerous times on here about how much I hate sacrifice bunts. Here is one example from this season. Here is another from last year. In addition, Jim at Sox Machine covered the dubious strategy of "backwards baserunning" in depth last week. And then, to cement the point even more, he followed it up with hard numbers about Juan Pierre and more solid analysis on Thursday.
So everyone knows how everyone else hates the darn bunting. And yet Ozzie rubs it in our face even more, as if to stubbornly dig his heels in. The fact is Ozzie's bunting is just out of control. This may sound like hyperbole but its not: it is a legitimate reason for firing him as manager of the Sox.
I'm not saying I am ready to give him his walking papers, but it has gotten to the point where I think it is a serious debate, for no other reason than his incessant sacrifice bunting.
The 8th inning of Tuesday night's game was one of the worst-managed innings I've seen, as the Sox wastefully gave away two outs: a needless sacrifice bunt by Alexei Ramirez, one of the team's hottest hitters, and a caught stealing by Mark Teahen, who is now 3-for-8 (37.5%) on steals this season.
Indians' starter Justin Masterson, who cruised through seven innings, clearly lost everything when he came out there for the 8th. He walked the lead off hitter, Mark Kotsay, but was handed a free out when Guillen chose to bunt with a hot hitter (Ramirez) to move pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge to second for a cold one (Teahen). Teahen rose to the occasion, driving in the tying run with a base hit up the middle and validating Guillen's decision, in the minds of many.
But the Sox would almost certainly have scored more than one run in the inning if Ramirez was allowed to have a full at bat, as Masterson, out of gas, likely would have walked him or allowed a hit. Indeed Masterson walked the next batter he faced, Juan Pierre, but the bases were empty after Teahen's mystifying caught stealing.
Someone explain to me why Guillen thinks its prudent to let slow-footed Teahen steal with one out but insists on bunting fleet-footed Pierre over with zero outs.
In effect Masterson allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach base, yet the Sox scored only one run. Managed differently, the Sox could have had the bases loaded with nobody out and gone on to a huge inning.
Then there was Wednesday afternoon, which featured an equally stupefying strategy. With Pierre on second base in the 6th inning, Guillen called on Omar Vizquel for yet another sacrifice bunt. Now, in general, bunting a runner over to third so he can score without a hit is not a bad move (especially when compared to the mind boggling inefficiency of bunting a runner to second). Not a bad move, that is, if you're playing for one run. Thing is, the Sox were down by three.
Playing for one run, with the heart of the order coming up, when you're down by three in the 6th inning is, once again, just madness. (The Sox failed to score that inning.) I can't take it anymore. It's agony. Forcing me to watch all this is like forcing Homer Simpson to watch a burning doughnut.
The fact is, the Sox won both games. The go-ahead runs, by the way, scored on homeruns both times. Does the fact that the Sox won validate Ozzie's strategy, even though he absolutely, cut-and-dry minimized his team's run-scoring chances? Not to me.
I really admire the way Guillen handles his pitching staff, runs his clubhouse and inspires his troops. But the NL-style bunting is such a drawback to his managerial style that if it continues to minimize the Sox run-scoring chances (especially for "crooked numbers", but also in one-run situations) so frequently and thus lowers the team's chance of victory, his job security needs to be questioned.
Poor offensive showings in three of the last four days against rookies Ian Nova, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco perpetuates the storyline that the Sox just don't have a gameplan against pitchers they've never seen before. All three of those pitchers have good stuff and bright futures, but none of them should have shut a contending team down they way they did. (The Sox scored a total of five runs in 20.2 innings against them- which would work out to a 2.18 ERA).
Carrasco pitched very well Wednesday, getting great movement and deception on his two-seam fastball and change up. Just ask Ramon Castro, who was aced in the 5th inning in a true tip-your-cap at bat. But enough pitches were left over the plate in the rest of the game for the Sox to capitalize when they instead over-swung. The Sox are a team that doesn't draw many walks and their offense has ranked at the top of the AL for the month of August, so I can't really log a complaint now. But the Never Seen 'Em Before thing still isn't going away.
Some interesting stats: 12 of Paul Konerko's 33 homers this season have come in the 7th inning or later. His wOBA of .417, SLG of .587 and OPS+ of 160 are all career highs. And his baseball card line- .319 AVG with 33 HRs and 98 RBIs (with 29 games left to play)- is looking awesome.
I ride Paulie when he's slumping so I have to give him major props in times like this when he carries the team. Here's hoping the Sox stay in the AL Central race and Konerko finishes in the top three for the AL MVP. He definitely deserves it.
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