As SoxFest is being celebrated this weekend at the Palmer House Hilton, bits of news are filtering out. Here are some of the things that caught my attention:
* Adam Dunn, who last year endured what was arguably the worst season ever for a major league position player, was in the house. A slimmed down Dunn (that’s not him above, but you get my point) said that all the Sox need is for last season’s two biggest disappointments–himself and Alex Rios–to rebound and that would prove to be, in essence, two major offseason moves. He also said he can’t wait for opening day and is putting the past behind him.
* Don Cooper, who Steve Stone called one of the Top 5 pitching coaches in the game, said he sees three openings in the bullpen with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman and rookie Addison Reed as the staples going into spring training.
* Jeff Manto, who has replaced Greg Walker as the Pale Hose hitting coach, said (and I’m paraphrasing) he would be nuts not to look to new skipper Robin Ventura and coach Harold Baines for help in dealing with the hitters.
* Speaking of the new manager, Ventura kiddingly said that Cooper is now his BFF as he approaches his rookie year at the helm of the ballclub.
* Kenny Williams put his cards on the table: If the Sox hit, they’ll contend. See Dunn, Rios and Gordon Beckham for details.
* Williams also said we should expect righthanded hurler Nestor Molina, acquired in the trade for Sergio Santos, to be in the majors as early as mid-season this year.
* Joe Crede got the biggest applause when members of the 2005 World Champs were announced. Among the others were Pablo Ozuna and Cliff Politte.
* Ventura said he wants Beckham to have as much confidence at the plate that he does at second base.
SoxFest runs through tomorrow…
The Tigers certainly seem in it to win it. Victor Martinez out for the season? No problem, let’s spend $214 million on Prince Fielder to replace him.
With yesterday’s signing, Detroit should unquestionably be the heavy favorites to win the A.L. Central. But we all know that the winners in the offseason aren’t always the winners when all is said and done.
The combination of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hitting back to back in scary. And add Justin Verlander heading up a solid pitching staff, it’s pretty hard to think the Sox, Indians, Royals or Twins could outlast the rivals from Motown.
That said, stranger things have happened and it would be foolish to just give up and hand over the division title to Detroit. From a White Sox perspective, let’s just hope Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham rebound and our newly-formed pitching staff delivers. If they do, the South Siders certainly could be as big a pleasant surprise as we were a disappointing one a year ago.
When I heard the Fielder announcement, all I could think of was that the Sox once had Frank Thomas and Albert Belle hitting back to back–a duo even more formidable than the Fielder/Cabrera duo. And the record shows that it didn’t produce a championship team. In fact, the Sox finished around .500 in both seasons Thomas and Belle played together.
So, keep the faith.
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.
It’s never a good thing when your starting pitcher gives up six runs–highlighted by two homers and three doubles–in the first inning. But the White Sox, despite Jake Peavy‘s early meltdown, gave it a shot this afternoon and came up one run short in the 7-6 loss to the Twins. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios both had their chances to be heroes in the ninth, but didn’t deliver. Sound familiar?
So, the five game winning streak is history and we sink to six games behind the Tigers, who staged a late-inning rally for a come-from-behind triumph over the Royals.
Now the fun begins as we head to Detroit for a three-game series after tomorrow’s off-day. The pitching matchups:
Friday night: John Danks vs. Justin Verlander, he of the 20 wins–already.
Saturday afternoon: Gavin Floyd vs. Brad Penny
Sunday night: Mark Buehrle vs. Matt Scherzer
Look at the bright side, it’s the end of August and we’re still alive.
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.
You can make the case that the White Sox would have been better off, provided they won today’s game, if Dayan Viciedo didn’t single in his first at bat, slug a three-run homer in his second appearance and draw a walk the third time (which put him on base for Tyler Flowers‘ first career grand slam).
Now, all the pundits, internet geeks and talk show callers are going to be more vocal than ever that Viciedo should have been brought up weeks ago to compensate for the failures of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
As inviting as it might be, I’m going to resist the temptation to criticize. The fact is that he wasn’t called up before and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m just going to look ahead and hope Viciedo, in that Hollywood ending I suggested in my last post, helps turn the tide.
On the heels of today’s 9-3 victory and three-game sweep in Seattle, the Sox come home to face the Twins in an abbreviated three-game homestand. And by virtue of the Tigers’ loss to Minny and the Indians defeat at the hands of the Royals, the Sox find themselves in second place, six games behind Detroit and a half-game ahead of Cleveland.
The Viciedo Era has begun.
Sox Note of Note: With all the talk about the barren Sox farm system, it’s particularly comforting to see Viciedo and Flowers come through this afternoon. Although he hasn’t been given as much credit as he deserves, Flowers has done a terrific job in place of A.J. Pierzynski, hitting .273 with a pair of homers and playing above average defense behind the plate. Let’s hope the performance of these two youngsters are a sign of positive things to come.