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…
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.
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.
Just take a look at the picture above. It pretty much represents all you need to know about the White Sox’s impressive 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Orioles, their fourth consecutive victory.
–At the far left, there’s A.J. Pierzynski, who went 2 for 3 with three RBIs, including his sixth home run. He also made as good a catch on a foul pop as you’re ever going to see to record the second out of the eighth inning with men on first and second. Matt Thornton then came on to get the third out to thwart the Baltimore rally.
–Next to him is Alex Rios, whose two-out RBI single in the eighth (following an A.J. sac fly), broke a 6-6 tie after a three-run J.J. Hardy blast put the O’s ahead. It has to be said that Rios has been a different player the past three games after being benched in the opener in Minnesota for his less-than-spectacular offense. He has seven hits in the past three contests.
–At the far right of the photo is Gordon Beckham, whose two-run homer in the second provided the Sox with an early 4-0 lead.
–Right behind Beckham is Sergio Santos, who recorded his 23th save by striking out the side in the ninth. It was also his 28th straight scoreless appearance on the road. Not bad for a converted infielder.
–In the “who doesn’t belong and why” category, Brent Morel is also in the frame. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of his best nights. He went 0 for 4 and if it weren’t for the Sox rally he could have been the goat. He was charged with a missed catch error at third base in the seventh that put runners on first and third. One out later Hardy put the Orioles ahead.
Quite a day on the South Side. Here are some of the highlights:
–The 2-1 victory over the Tigers, giving the Sox their second straight series win over Detroit and enabling them to move within 3 1/2 games of the division leaders.
—Alejandro De Aza (above), just up from Charlotte, hit his first major league home run, which proved to be the difference in today’s triumph.
–De Aza’s promotion has moved Alex Rios to the bench, a smart move considering the latter’s disastrous season both at the plate and in the field.
—John Danks was outstanding today, giving up only a run and six hits in six innings along with 10 strikeouts. Most impressive was the fact he got out of jam after jam against the tough Tiger lineup.
–The Trade: Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Jays for reliever Jason Frasor and minor league pitcher Zach Stewart. The fact that Jackson will be a free agent at the end of the season made his departure an obvious move. Teahen is addition by subtraction. And Frasor, a Chicagoan who has always been tough on his hometown/new team, will be a big help in the pen.
For the record, Jackson was quickly dealt from the Jays to the Cardinals for centerfielder Colby Rasmus, who was rumored to coveted by the Sox. Counting Toronto, who Jackson never played for, St. Louis is Jackson’s seventh team–Dodgers, Rays, Tigers, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Blue Jays, Cardinals–in his nine big league campaigns.
–Extra! Extra! Adam Dunn didn’t strike out today and had a hit and three walks. A cause for celebration.
–The bullpen has been extraordinary most of the season. This afternoon was no exception as Chris Sale and Sergio Santos (21st save) preserved the Danks win, coming in for three frames of perfect relief. Sale did most of the heavy lifting in his 2 2/3 innings of work as Santos retired one batter–Brennan Boesch, who made the final out.
Sox Note of Note: Apart from the Jackson deal, rumors are flying that other moves are on the way as the Sox try to cut some payroll. Could Matt Thornton, Juan Pierre, Carlos Quentin or even Danks and Gavin Floyd be next?
The game last night was very winnable. Adam Dunn even homered to give the Sox a 2-0 lead, A.J. Pierzynski even threw out a runner at second base and Paul Konerko smashed a two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4.
But a name from our past, Wilson Betemit, reared his ugly head (nothing personal, Wilson) and singled in the eventual winning run and the hope of defeating Justin Verlander for the second time in a row went by the boards. For the record, Betemit is a guy who was horrible in his short stint, both at bat and on defense, on the South Side but as an opponent has owned Sox pitching.
I guess it just wasn’t to be as Jake Peavy weakened as the game went on and Matt Thornton couldn’t retire Betemit when he need to in the eighth. But even if Thornton had retired him, who knows if the Sox could scored the deciding run. We’ll never know.
So, no sweeping the Tigers, but a series victory is a must if the Sox are to keep pace with the division leaders. Especially with the Red Sox, Yankees and Twins looming.
Sox Note of Note: Charlotte outfielder Alejandro De Aza, who is hitting .322, was pulled from his game last night. It has led to speculation that some kind of deal is in the works as we’re days away from the trading deadline. No official word yet.
It’s been a long time coming, but the White Sox reached the .500 mark today with a nail-biting 1-0 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley for their fourth straight win. Phil Humber (above), who has been nothing short of extraordinary all season, chalked up his eighth win in seven innings of work. The season’s most pleasant surprise outpitched Matt Garza, who went all the way in the loss.
The South Siders went hitless for five innings before the red-hot Juan Pierre (who else?) collected the first Sox hit and drove in their lone run in the same at bat in the sixth.
With Sergio Santos having pitched three days in a row, Matt Thornton was called upon to preserve the shutout. He did, hurling two perfect frames for his third save. Another spectacular performance by a bullpen that has been nothing less than spectacular in recent days.
Nothing’s perfect, though, and if an Adam Dunn resurgence is forthcoming it’s going to have to wait. Dunn, playing in right field in place of Carlos Quentin, struck out three times. It seems his nightmare is never going to end.
Sox win 4 of first 5 against the Cubs to win Crosstown Cup with 1 game to go.
Admit it, you were asking yourself the same question I was asking myself in the ninth inning of today’s series finale against the A’s: Is it possible that Sergio Santos will blow two 5-3 leads in the ninth in the same series?
Thankfully the answer is no, but it wasn’t easy. The Sox closer escaped a heap full of self-induced trouble with the benefit of a favorable call to end the game as Sox nemesis Coco Crisp was called out on a bang-bang play at first, stranding the tying and lead runs.
For the middle of June, there was a lot at stake today. The win shaped the following headlines:
* The Sox are now only 3 1/2 games behind the A.L. Central lead as the pacesetting Tigers and Indians both lost.
* The South Siders moved to within two games of the .500 mark with the 6-4 homestand and are 33-35 as they head to Minnesota and Phoenix. A far cry from where we were a few weeks ago.
* Phil Humber, the find of the year, won his sixth game with yet another fine outing.
* Adam Dunn‘s three-run homer, his seventh, was a sight to behold.
* Like Dunn, it looks like Matt Thornton, who pitched a scoreless, hitless eighth, has turned things around.