Happy Opening Day! And now the flurry of questions about our 2012 White Sox will begin to be answered.
The April schedule won’t be a cakewalk. First it’s three against the Rangers, beginning this afternoon, then three vs. the Tribe–all on the road–then home for three against the mighty Tigers and four vs. the Orioles. The month concludes with a six-game road trip to Seattle and and Oakland and a four-game homestand against the Red Sox.
I hate to get ahead of myself because facing the two-time defending American League champs the next three days is imposing enough. But the facts are the facts. The Sox, in need of getting off to a good start to excite the South Side fandom, have their work cut out for them.
Today, we’ll see Robin Ventura‘s managerial debut and a new lineup that will look like this:
Beckham , 2B
One mystery is the identity of the closer. Ventura has been mum on the subject, but it seems Matt Thornton, Hector Santiago and Addison Reed are the likely suspects, in no particular order.
One game won’t make or break the season, but it sure would be nice to get out of the box with a “W” against the league champs. And it would be even sweeter if Dunn is a big part of it so he can exorcise those 2011 demons sooner than later.
In a few weeks the White Sox will be firmly embedded in spring training mode trying to assemble a team that’s ready to contend in the A.L. Central.
Conventional wisdom says it’s going to be a difficult task with the Tigers showing no signs of fading and the Royals and Indians seemingly poised to reach the next level.
You really can’t blame the skeptics. As names like Pujols, Fielder, Buehrle, Darvish, Wilson and others have been the talk of the hot stove period, the White Sox made “headlines” with the acquisition of minor league pitchers Nestor Molina, Simon Castro, Pedro Hernandez, Myles Jaye and Daniel Webb while losing known quantities Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor in the process. The only major news was the signing of John Danks, who we all thought was destined to be traded.
It’s really easy to look at all this and come to the conclusion that bad things are in store for the 2012 club. But we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. With myriad questions, the truth is that we just don’t know how the season will manifest.
How will the Ozzie-less Sox be with Robin Ventura at the helm?
Will the Sox survive without Buehrle?
Will Danks pick up where Buehrle left off?
Will an effective closer be found to replace Santos?
Will Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham rebound?
Will Alejandro De Aza be a competent major league leadoff hitter?
Will Paul Konerko be Paul Konerko?
Will Jake Peavy be the Cy Young Peavy?
Will Dayan Viciedo live up to the hype and make us forget Quentin?
Will Chris Sale make a successful switch to the starting rotation?
Will Kenny Williams make any more significant deals to upgrade the big league roster?
More than any other year I can remember, it’s hard to predict what’s in store for all of us this season. We’re just going to have to wait and see.
After the White Sox lost the opener and found themselves down 4-0 going into the fifth inning in the second game of yesterday’s split doubleheader vs. the Tribe, I wondered, Where is the Sox pride?”
Sure, the Sox have been eliminated from the A.L. Central race, but the truth is that there is still something to play for–second place and a .500 record. Modest achievements based on this season’s expectations, but in my view the players owe it to themselves, the organization and the fans to give it their all through Game 162.
So, it was heartening to see the Sox rally to overcome the four-run deficit to win the nightcap, 5-4. It makes me feel a whole lot better about this group.
It was also nice to see how they did it. Gordon Beckham smashed three doubles and drove in a run; Alejandro De Aza, who could be an important piece of the puzzle in 2012, knocked in a pair ; and Josh Kinney, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Chris Sale, in relief of Dylan Axelrod, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
Eight games to go.
I remember the day in October, 2009, when the White Sox claimed outfielder Alejandro De Aza on waivers from the Florida Marlins–and I wondered if he was good enough to make the major league roster.
De Aza had played professionally since he was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in 2001–but it was ba rocky road. After a couple seasons in the low minors, he was selected by the Marlins in the 2004 Minor League Rule 5 draft. He eventually had cups of coffee with Florida in 2007 and 2009, though wrist and ankle injuries hampered his progress. Obviously the Sox felt that if he were injury-free, he could contribute.
The speedy outfielder made a positive first impression in a Sox uniform as he enjoyed an outstanding spring training in 2010. He didn’t break camp with the Sox (though some thought he should have) but joined them during the season and hit an even .300 in 30 at bats while hitting .302 in 318 at bats at Charlotte.
While De Aza failed to make the team this year out of spring training, it was obvious to the White Sox after seeing him hit .322 in 385 at bats at Charlotte, that it was prudent to bring him up midseason to see if he could make an impact and compensate specifically for the poor play of Alex Rios and the overall stagnant offense.
Good call. From his first ’11 at bat, when he homered to win the game, to last night’s three-run homer, which tied the score in the Sox’s come-from-behind win over the Twins, he has been a sight for sore eyes. Add his blazing speed and outstanding defense and De Aza just might have finally reached his potential.
It remains to be seen if De Aza, 27, is an everyday player, but let’s enjoy his play while it lasts. No sense in speculating what his role will be in 2012 when we still have 29 games to go in 2011.
One thing, though, is for sure. He’s an exciting player and I’m rooting for him to succeed.
As the historically inadquate Adam Dunn takes a seat on the bench and Alex Rios holds firm with his .212 batting average and equally-deficient power numbers, a new wave of excitement has hit the South Side.
The emergence of Alejandro De Aza, Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo, who all started the season at AAA Charlotte, has poured new energy into what has been a stagnant offense. In the last two days, as the Sox have won their third and fourth games in a row against the Mariners and Twins, respectively, the threesome has delivered big-time.
* Viciedo has gone 4 for 6 with a homer, four RBIs, three runs scored and a pair of walks in his first two major league games this season. It has been particularly satisfying to see how improved his plate discipline has been. Those two walks represent a major accomplishment.
* Flowers (pictured above), batting a very respectable .281 as he subs for the injured A.J. Pierzynski, hit his first career grand slam against the Mariners on Sunday and drove in two of the three White Sox runs last night in the 3-0 victory over the Twins with a double and a sac fly.
* De Aza has been a breath of fresh air since joining the club and slamming a home run in his first ’11 major league at bat. He’s got great speed, is excellent defensively and is sporting a .319 batting average. Last night he went 2 for 3, including a double, with a run scored and a key stolen base.
While youth is being served, we can’t ignore the fact that the Mr. Perfect has been outstanding as well. Mark Buehrle was on his game once again last night as the Sox moved to within five games of Detroit and four games in the all-important loss column. He gave up just four hits in 7 2/3 innings as he improved his record to 11-6 and his ERA to a fine 3.05.
Duh, yeah, Alex Rios, you’re right about that: “The more wins we get, the better off we will be.”
I guess the White Sox centerfielder could be excused for his Yogism after he had a lot to do with the White Sox’s rare laugher this afternoon as they blanked the defending American League champion Rangers, 10-0. It was a banner day for the beleaguered Rios both at bat and in the field.
On a day like this when everything is clicking, it’s a pleasure to look at the box score:
–The South Siders scored 10 runs on 16 hits.
–Homers were cranked by Rios and Brent Lillibridge.
–A three-hit day was enjoyed by Lillibridge while Rios, Juan Pierre, Paul Konerko,Tyler Flowers, Alejandro De Aza and Gordon Beckham had two hits apiece. The only Sox player without a hit was Alexei Ramirez, but he scored a run after drawing a walk.
–Other offensive highlights included a three RBI day by De Aza, two apiece by Pierre, Lillibridge and Rios and Flowers’ three runs scored.
—Gavin Floyd was outstanding as he won his 11th game. In seven innings, he gave up just three hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Chris Sale pitched a scoreless eighth and Jason Frasor struck out the side in the ninth.
–The only blemishes were the two errors, one by Lilli and one by Alexei.
With the victory the Sox are back at .500. They remain five games in back of the Tigers and are now just a half-game behind the Indians.
Sox Note of Note: It’s likely that Carlos Quentin won’t be back in the lineup until the end of the week at the earliest. The possibility of him being put on the DL is still there with Dayan Viciedo waiting in the wings.
With the White Sox at an even .500, 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Tigers and 1 1/2 games in back of second place Cleveland, the South Siders realistically need to win every game.
That said, we know that goal is impossible and some games are just going to wind up in the loss column due to “natural causes.” Last night’s 4-1 defeat to the Tribe was one of those losses. Fausto Carmona, who was beaten up badly in two previous starts against the Sox, was at his best as he limited the Good Guys to four hits. Two of them came off the bat of Alejandro De Aza, who has been quite impressive since his callup, hitting .310 and adding speed and energy to the lineup. The only run scored on Alexei Ramirez‘s 13th homer in the second inning, which at the time tied the score.
It was also the end of Mark Buehrle‘s team record 18-game streak of allowing three runs or less. He gave up four earned runs while being tagged for 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Regardless of the outcome, he remains a model of consistency.
While last night was just one of those losses that’s going to happen, tonight represents something much more. The Sox need to win in order to remain .500 or better, win the series and keep pace with the Tigers and Indians as the formidable Texas Rangers prepare to invade Chicago this weekend. Phil Humber looks to regain his early season form tonight against a very tough customer in Justin Masterton.