I’m not planning on purchasing playoff tickets just yet, but we all should be happy at what we’ve seen of the Sox as they’ve concluded their initial road trip with a 3-2 record.
* A.J. Pierzynski is on fire with two homers, six RBIs and a .313 batting average.
* Alejandro De Aza also has a pair of homers (hit in the same games as A.J. hit his) and is hitting a respectable .273 from the leadoff spot.
* Paul Konerko is homerless, but has driven in five runs and has an OPS of 1.100.
* Adam Dunn is hitting only .222 with just one homer and two RBIs, but looks much, much better and has an on-base percentage of .364.
* Dayan Viciedo has zeroes in HR and RBIs, but is hitting a somewhat acceptable .267.
* And there are always early-season stragglers looking to break out. In this case, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios and Brent Morel all need to get things going. I have to admit I’m concerned about Beckham and Rios while Alexei always gets off to a slow start.
* Chris Sale has to be the top early story here with his terrific performance against the Tribe in his first ML start. The other Sox victories were credited to Matt Thornton in relief against Texas and John Danks, who was far from in command yesterday in Cleveland, but gutted it out and benefitted from the 10 runs of support he got from his teammates.
* The pen has been solid with relievers Jesse Crain, Nate Jones, Addison Reed and Thornton all possessing 0.00 ERAs. And aside from surrendering a leadoff ninth inning homer in the opener against Cleveland, closer Hector Santiago has been impressive with his two saves.
Now it’s time to go home and convince the Tigers that they’re human.
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.
Scott Merkin whets our White Sox appetite today on whitesox.com with some facts, figures and projections to chew on:
* Pitchers and catchers report on February 23
* Full squad reports on February 28
* First Spring Training game, March 5, vs. the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch
* Opening Day, April 6, at Texas
Merkin’s Projected Batting Order:
Alejandro DeAza CF, Gordon Beckham 2B, Paul Konerko 1B, Adam Dunn DH, Alex Rios LF, A.J. Pierzynski C, Alexei Ramirez SS, Dayan Viciedo RF, Brent Morel 3B
John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Philip Humber
Matt Thornton Closer, Jesse Crain RH setup man, Will Ohman LH setup man (with all other spots up for grabs). Key bullpen prospect to watch is Addison Reed, who very well might be the closer (my two cents, not Merkin’s).
Nestor Molina RHP, Dan Johnson 1B, Ozzie Martinez IF and, of course, the skipper Robin Ventura
Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Ramon Castro, Jason Frasor
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 doesn’t escape me that the day the world was mourning Apple visionary Steve Jobs, the personification of thinking out of the box, that Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams named Robin Ventura manager of the White Sox.
All we’ve heard since Ozzie left for South Beach is that the top candidates were Sandy Alomar, Jr., Dave Martinez and Terry Francona. Then, yesterday, the Sox fooled us all and chose one of their own who has absolutely no professional coaching or managing experience.
I think it’s a terrific, inspired choice on multiple levels. Ventura is a proven leader, he is familiar with the White Sox, he’ll have credibility with the veterans, will nurture youngsters like Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo and will somewhat offset the loss of Guillen in the eyes of the fans. He will also be great with media in a non-Ozzie sort of way. He will be thoughtful with a touch of wry humor as opposed to his predecessor’s 24/7 stream of consciousness. And, as far as I know, he doesn’t have a twitter account.
As you would expect, many in the baseball community have come out of the woodwork very skeptical of the move. Everybody from Tigers’ coach Gene Lamont, a former Sox manager, to a legion of baseball writers. With experienced men out there for the taking, they’re saying, how can the White Sox pick someone with absolutely no experience?
My answer to them is that managing a baseball team is not rocket science. It’s about leadership. Everything else can be learned. What Ventura doesn’t know about pitching, he’s got Don Cooper. What he needs to understand about other facets of the game he’ll have an experienced bench coach and another quiet professional in Harold Baines. And in time, Robin, who was a smart player and a consummate pro as well as being enormously popular, will know all he needs to know.
Nobody, including Ventura, knows how this will play out. But with high risk there’s high reward. And although Mr. Jobs most likely didn’t know the White Sox from the Red Sox or Stan Williams from “No Neck” Williams, I think he would have approved of this decision.
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.