Glendale, AZ—The uncertainty I’m feeling about the 2012 White Sox remains after having witnessed five spring training contests. As has been the pattern since the Sox left Sarasota for Arizona, the record is below .500–2-6 as of this morning. While that in itself is not serious cause for concern, all things considered a win is always better than a loss.
A few observations that contribute to the continuing uncertainty:
* Adam Dunn (knock on wood) looks much, much better. He’s making contact and looked his old powerful self with a three-run shot and a solid double against the Rangers last week.
* Alex Rios really hasn’t made an impression one way or another. A bit disappointing for those of us hoping for his revival.
* John Danks is struggling with his command. He doesn’t seem concerned since it’s happening so early in the spring, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
* Nestor Molina, who was acquired for Sergio Santos, got lit up in his first appearance, but seemed to be much more relaxed in a good outing the next time he took the mound. Simon Castro, who came to the Sox in the Carlos Quentin deal, had an appearance he’d like to forget. Entering the game in the top of the ninth with a 6-5 lead, he imploded with a walk, a wild pitch, a hit batsmen and then surrendered a grand slam home run, sending the Sox into defeat. Neither one will make the opening day roster, but much will be expected of both as early as this summer so it’s worth watching.
* I like what I’ve seen of Brent Morel. I think he’ll just get better and better. His infield mate Gordon Beckham, in somewhat of a do or die situation, has also been a positive. Defensively, they will combine with Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez to give the Sox a stellar infield presence.
* Matt Thornton is the leader in the clubhouse for the closer role, but youngster Addison Reed is lurking. Seems like the call won’t be made until the end of the spring.
* Tyler Flowers, the backup backstop, has struck out a lot, but has shown power. Those who have watched him see his potential at the plate, but he’s yet to show it on a consistent basis.
* One reserve position player will likely be selected from Eduardo Escobar, Ozzie Martinez, Dan Johnson, Dallas McPherson and Jim Gallagher. I would say Johnson is the guy right now.
It’s just been that kind of a spring.
It’s going to be a spring like no other in recent years. As opposed to the past few seasons when the conventional wisdom was that the White Sox were bonafide contenders, there is virtually no one on the outside that is predicting success for the Sox in 2012.
It all starts tomorrow as pitchers and catchers officially report with a group of position players who want to get a head start.
The good news is that there are surprise teams each year that fool the so-called experts. As I’ve stated in this space before, I have no idea how the Sox are going to fare, but they very well could have the makings of one of the teams that will fool the baseball world. If…
* Robin Ventura takes to this managing thing.
* Adam Dunn is the Adam Dunn of old.
* Gordon Beckham reverts to the success of his rookie season.
* Alex Rios plays like he did in 2010.
* Matt Thornton, Addison Reed or someone else becomes a competent closer
* Jake Peavy is close to his previous Cy Young form and he and his fellow starters–John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Phil Humber and newly-appointed rotation member Chris Sale–make up for the innings lost with Mark Buehrle‘s departure.
We’ll have to wait on these and other issues, but my gut tells me things aren’t going to be as dark as everyone is saying.
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
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 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.
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.
It’s easy to point to the sloppy defense and bad baserunning as the reasons for last night’s 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Angels. A loss, by the way, that dropped the Sox to 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the A.L. Central.
But the truth is that it’s the same old story for the Sox that has plagued them throughout this maddening season. Suffice it to say that, in my view, if Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham had just decent seasons that 6 1/2 game deficit would be wiped out and the Sox, with their solid pitching, would be on top of the division.
Just look at what one man–Justin Verlander–has done for Detroit. The team is 12 games above .500 with him on the mound, a .500 team without him. Think about the impact Dunn, Rios and Beckham would have had with fairly good seasons.
Here are the numbers through 127 games:
–Dunn: .167, 11 homers, 40 RBIs
–Rios: .214, 8 homers, 31 RBIs
–Beckham: .238, 9 homers, 34 RBIs
It’s hard to reach the postseason when three key cogs in the offense perform at such a low level.
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.