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
Mark Buehrle, one of the great White Sox of all-time, leaves us with a treasure trove of memories gathered over his 12 seasons on the South Side. There’s the perfect game, the no-hitter, the Gold Gloves, the World Series save, the All-Star Game nods, the record Opening Day starts, his outstanding winning percentage and all those innings pitched. And I haven’t even mentioned the unbelievable between the legs throw on Opening Day 2010 (see below).
There are also the things that were more under the radar: his sense of humor, his leadership, the humility that was evidenced by him catching ceremonial first pitches (except on the days he pitched) through his Sox career and, of course, how beautifully he represented the franchise. Simply a class act.
It’s no surprise that Mark opted to play for Ozzie in Miami. He couldn’t resist the four-year, $58 million deal and the lure of playing in the National League, which he has dominated in interleague play. And the Sox apparently felt that at this stage of his career and the fact that they are in a rebuilding phase, it wasn’t feasible to match the offer as much as they wanted to keep him.
This week certainly hasn’t been a great one for the Sox. On Monday, Minnie Minoso was once again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame and yesterday another one of the club’s most popular players chose to take his talents to South Beach.
It won’t be the same on the South Side without No. 56, who very well might be the last Sox player to wear that number. But we’ll surivive, just as we did when the likes of Minoso, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Billy Pierce, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura changed uniforms.
And remember, you can go home again. Just ask Minnie, Billy, Frank, Robin and the others.
The former face of the franchise was in South Beach with his bench coach and the long-time pitching guru was the manager, but life went on last night at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago.
I’m in full agreement with Jerry Seinfeld‘s theory that we root for the jersey–the team–regardless of who is wearing it. Last evening at the Cell, the fans in attendance had lost their popular manager after a season we all want to forget, but they were still there rooting for their beloved Pale Hose. And, specifically, they were there to honor one of their favorites, Mark Buehrle, with a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls in what might have been his last appearance in a Sox uniform.
Buehrle, who along with Paul Konerko has represented the franchise with as much class as any players in the club’s history, was his typical consistent self in the 2-1 victory. He reached the 200-inning mark for the 11th year in a row as he won his 13th game of the season and 161st of his career–all with the Sox. And, of course, we will always savor his no-hitter, the perfect game, his All-Star appearances, his clutch World Series save in Game 3 and the ultra-competitive approach he demonstrated on the mound at all times.
If this was the last time we’ll cheer for Buehrle as a member of the Sox, it will be unfortunate and we will miss him. But life goes on.
I’m going to miss Our Ozzie.
I’ll miss his bewildering stream of conciousness, his fall-down-laughing humor, his solid managing and his debunking of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Most of all, though, I’ll miss that we had “one of us” at the helm of the White Sox who no longer will be the face of the franchise.
Having said all that as a fan of Ozzie since he put on the Sox uniform in 1985 and one who saw him guide the Sox to a World Series title, it’s time for the skipper, and for us, to move on. Nothing lasts forever and it became obvious when Ozzie began campaigning for a contract extension. Sorry, Oz, but that was bad timing if you really wanted to stay in Chicago. A contract extension after presiding over one of the most disappointing seasons in the teams’s history? There was no way that was going to fly with the Chairman.
So, what now? I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and find someone as colorful and fits as perfectly as Ozzie did in the context of his Sox bloodline. That person doesn’t exist. That’s not to say we won’t hire an outstanding manager with the potential of getting better results–even someone with a high profile who will help bring the fans back into the fold. But there’s only one Ozzie and we shouldn’t look for a clone.
The names of candidates are out there, though Kenny Williams hasn’t tipped his hand. Tony LaRussa is a longshot at best. There’s Dave Martinez, Sandy Alomar, Jr., up and coming AAA manager Joe McEwing, former manager and Sox player development director Buddy Bell, among them. Williams has said that because of Ozzie’s “warning” the Sox already have been focusing on a possible replacement and the decision could come sooner than later.
Last offseason, the Sox were “All In” for 2011. This offseason there undoubtedly will be substantial changes. A new manager, certainly new coaches and a belt-tightening that might see more familiar names–like Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton and Carlos Quentin–leaving as well.
It’s a time of change on the South Side. While I’ll miss Ozzie and some of the others, an overhaul is the right thing to do. We need to move on.
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.
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.
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.
A 6-1 road trip, after the disastrous 3-7 home stand , is good for the soul–especially because it featured a sweep against the Twins.
Now the hard work starts as the Sox try to turn things around at the Cell. After last night’s 6-3 win over the Orioles, they are 34-27 on the road and only 24-32 at home. Stating the obvious, that puzzling stat has to change if the South Siders have any chance of winning the division.
As we look ahead to get the job done on the upcoming homestand, where we’ll face the Royals, Indians and Rangers in consecutive three-game series, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the history that was made in Baltimore last evening by a pair of Sox pitchers:
* Mark Buehrle tied the club record by allowing three runs or less in 18 straight starts. He now shares the mark with Frank Smith, who accomplished the feat 102 years ago. Buehrle also added to his team standard by winning at least 10 games for the 11th year in a row.
* By chalking up his 25th save, Sergio Santos was perfect in the ninth and in the process broke the great Mariano Rivera’s mark with his 25 consecutive scoreless appearance on the road to start a season.
“The I’m Done with Dunn Watch”: Unfortunately Ozzie either didn’t read yesterday’s blog or ignored my call for Adam Dunn to be benched. For the record, the sorry slugger went 0 for 3 last night with two walks–and, of course, a strikeout.
After an inning and a half in last night’s game against the Twins, you could just imagine all the TVs and radios being shut off in disgust wherever White Sox fans had gathered.
The Sox blew a golden opportunity to take a sizeable lead by leaving the bases loaded after scoring just a single run in the top of the first. Then, a ground ball got through the legs of Adam Dunn at first base that paved the way for three unearned runs for Minny in the bottom half of the inning.
In the top of the second, Alejandro De Aza singled to lead off the inning, but was quickly caught stealing. Brent Morel reached on an error and Juan Pierre walked to set up a potential one-out rally. You guessed it, Alexei Ramirez grounded out and Paul Konerko popped out to the shortstop. Nada.
I know what you’re thinking. We’ve seen this movie before. But for the first time in a week, there was a different ending. Thanks to two players who can’t be blamed for the team’s woes this season, Carlos Quentin and Mark Buehrle, the Sox were able to win a game, snapping their six-game slide with a 5-3 victory.
Quentin hit a pair of homers and drove in four runs while Buehrle gave up only four hits in eight innings, allowing no earned runs and lowering his ERA to 3.04.
The Zach Stewart Era Begins Tonight
When minor leaguer Zach Stewart was recently acquired along with proven reliever Jason Fraser in the Edwin Jackson/Mark Teahen trade, Kenny Williams made it clear that Stewart would be in the major leagues before the end of the season.
The comment was somewhat surprising, but the 24-year-old righthander did make three major league starts in June before he was sent back to AA New Hampshire.
The future is now–as in tonight–for Stewart, who will take the mound for the Sox against Carl Pavano and the Twins with Jake Peavy being moved back to Sunday. It’ll be a challenge for the former high draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds as Pavano has had his way with the South Siders this season.
To make room for Stewart, the Sox designated reliever Brian Bruney for assignment.