Monday, July 31, 2006

July 31st - D-Day Passes in Silence

Well, July 31st came and the trade deadline went, and the Sox will battle the final two months of the season with the team they had for the first four largely intact, minus a few tweaks.

Chris Widger & Cliff Politte out. Sandy Alomar, Jr. & Mike MacDougal in. I really like the MacDougal trade - he's as devestating as Jenks is when he has command of his fastball and allows David Riske to move into a more comfortable role as the sixth/seventh inning bridge man. Lots of Sox fan are moping about this being the second straight year in which Kenny Williams failed to land a big fish in the trade deadline.

Excuse me for asking, but why does a team which leads the majors in runs scored need Alfonso Soriano? Another popular topic of conversation among Sox fans is the plummeting skills of Scott Podsednik (supposedly), yet you trust Soriano in left field in a close game? Or Rob Mackowiak, God forbid?

The biggest problem this team had six weeks ago was its bullpen. That need has been addressed as Kenny picked up MacDougal, Riske, & Matt Thornton to plug the holes where once existed Dustin Hermanson, Politte, & Damaso Marte. This has the potential to once again be a shutdown 'pen with an undervalued starter in Brandon McCarthy available as the first line of defense in a slugfest.

Ah, slugfests. Seems the Sox are in a lot of those lately. Last year all four regular Sox starters had ERAs under 4.00. This year only one does (Jose Contreras), while Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, and Mark Buehrle are all flirting with 5.00. Don't even get me started on Javier Vazquez, also known as the Puerto Rican Jim Parque. But if the Sox offense can power the team long enough for the rotation to emerge from its funk, the Sox could have something special cookin' once again in October.

That's all dependent on the rotation actually
emerging from its funk. It's been kind of depressing over the past six weeks to see the Sox biggest asset get transformed into their biggest liability. Do Freddy, Mark, Jon, & Jose have enough in them for another go-round?

(Sorry Javy, no late season resurgence for you. Please begin consulting El Duque on how to be a a postseason bullpen savior.)


Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Turning Point

In a month it could be looked as a home run of Jeff Abbott proportions. Or it could've just been dumb luck.

Some of you may recall Jeff Abbott's pinch-hit shocker of a home run in a May 2000 game against the Twins that seemed to snap to Sox out of a slumber and propelled them to a divisional title. Ross Gload entered last night's game against the Orioles after Paul Konerko shanked a foul off his ankle, and stepped to the plate with 1 out, the bases loaded, and the Sox trailing 4-2.

Gload deposited a 3-2 hanging slider into the left field seats for a 6-4 White Sox Winner, easily the most important win of the season. The Sox had just come off an ugly homestand (it seems like a long time ago that they possessed the best home record in the majors) and needed to recharge themselves on a road trip against two weak teams (Orioles & Royals) and one semi-contender for the playoffs (Blue Jays) before returning to Comiskey on August 7th for the biggest homestand of the year.

Mission accomplished so far. Jon Garland & the Sox pitching staff didn't exactly capitalize on the newfound momentum as they nearly fumbled away an 11-4 lead in today's game, but the Sox bats slugged just enough for a 13-11 win. Javy Vazquez vs. Bruce Chen in tomorrow's finale has all the makings of another slugfest, but then the way Garland had been pitching up until now suggested that today would be kind of easy, right?

Point remains the Sox have taken the series and put themselves in position to sweep before heading to the doormat of the Majors, the Kansas City Royals. When you're in the thick of the playoff race, you'd much rather discuss a 13-11 win than a 1-0 loss. Remember what Vin Diesel says...


Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Is it just me, or have I seen this movie before?

White Sox get out to great first half - one of the best in baseball. As the summer drags on into the dog days, they seem to hit something of a wall. The starters suffer a noticeable fall-off. The offense disappears in the same type of clutch situations they dominated in the first half. People beginning clamoring - nay, demanding - a blockbuster trade for a proven All-Star bat. And all across the Southside, casual fans jump ship on the team in droves.

Wait. I have seen this movie before. It's called the 2005 World Series Championship Film.

I appear here to ask all Sox fans to do one thing - breathe. Everybody inhale and realize that two full months in the season remain. 10 bad days in July don't sink the season...yet. Everything can be regained with one fell swoop in August. And if the season ended today, the Sox would STILL be in the playoffs. Don't start that bush-league "Yeah, but they don't deserve to be there" argument. What the hell does that mean? The point of playing an ENTIRE SEASON is to gage who's the best team over the whole season. The Twins haven't automatically become more worthy of postseason play than the Sox because of a great 40-game stretch. Where were they for the first 60 games when the Sox were piling up baseball's second-best record?

ESPN holds firm to its report that the Sox are "extremely close" to a deal for Alfonso Soriano, and that said deal would surely involve Brandon McCarthy. Kenny Williams appeared on the radio today and issued a flat-out denial that B-Mac was on the move anywhere other than into the ChiSox rotation eventually. On that same note, after tonight's game where (AGAIN!) Javy Vazquez imploded the third time through the lineup and gave away a White Sox lead, does anybody want to argue he wouldn't be better served by evolving into a relief specialist while McCarthy takes his long-term spot in the rotation?

Also - Sox re-acquire Sandy Alomar, Jr. as a more effective backup than Chris Widger, but experience doesn't change the fact that Sandy is a broken 41-year old. And KW deals lefty minor leaguer Tyler Lumsden for the hard-throwing former Royals closer Mike McDougal, the surest sign yet that Dustin Hermanson shall not return. That Sox bullpen could wind up one of the more efficient AL units before the season is over.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Trouble Brewin'

Rangers 3, White Sox 1.

Seven of Eight. Nine of Eleven. The losses keep piling up, the fans keep getting madder...and if the season ended today, the Sox would STILL be in the playoffs.

Not that the last part means anything. It is refreshing to see that a championship hasn't softened up the Sox fanbase any - can you imagine what it would be like right now if they HADN'T won the World Series in 2005? Ozzie would have been fired in the minds of the average Sox fan by now.

But still, when Mark Buehrle is getting booed off the mound, you know all is not right in the City of Sox. It's pretty simple - revamped offense or not, this Sox club will still sink or swim on the strength of its starting pitching. And that commodity has been maddeningly incosistent since the calender turned over to July. Buehrle has lost all four starts this month and looked awful doing so. Contreras has been tagged with his first two losses. Javy Vazquez remains bedeviled by the "one big inning". Freddy Garcia can toss 7 innings of 1-run ball, then get torched in the first inning of his next start. And Jon Garland is as much of a mystery for how consistent he's been since that interleague start in Cincinnati.

Rumors abound that the Sox are preparing to wheel and deal in the trade market - Scott Podsedink for Alfonso Soriano, Brian Anderson & Josh Fields for Andruw Jones, Garcia for Tom Gordon, Vazquez for Scott Linebrink. When Kenny Williams has something to report Sox fans, he'll let us know. Until then keep your damn traps shut.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Showdown Series (Act III)

That hurt.

Tigers 2, White Sox 1.

Jose Contreras was outstanding for 6 and 2/3. A hard slide by Marcus Thames and a Chris Shelton double later, he was on the wrong end of an incredibly well-pitched game on both sides.

Despite the sting of falling 5.5 back, this game doesn't bother me nearly as much as last night's. Everything just seemed off about that one. But if the Sox keep playing like this, it'll turn back in their favor - and it'll have to, because now is no time to ease up. The Rangers and the smokin'-hot Twins come to Comiskey next, followed by a three-game set in Baltimore. The schedule doesn't get easier until a month-ending set at Kansas City...which then segues right into a trip to Toronto and a 7-game home stretch against the Angels (makeup game), Yankees, and Tigers.

It's gut check time.

Win or Die Trying...Again.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Showdown Series (Act II)

Tigers 5, White Sox 2.


I don't know what craziness prompted it, but I had a terrible feeling about this game. Probably was hearing about Javy Vazquez's super intimidating 7.67 ERA over his last 5 starts, during which time he has amazingly gone 2-1 thanks to the best run-support in the American League.

Even when Joe Crede hit his 19th homer I felt uncomfortable. Even when Juan Uribe homered I felt uneasy. And for some reason, the most unsettling thing of all was when Vazquez got through the first five innings while allowing just 2 hits.

The reason for my nerves was simple, and ultimately well-justified - Javy Vazquez does not escape the big inning. 8 times he has given up at least two runs in an inning this season. Another 8 times he has surrendered three. He has surrendered 5 in an inning FOUR times. You knew it was coming, especially when they threw in the stat that he has gone 8 straight starts without holding the opponent to fewer than 5 runs. He was going to break eventually. It was just a question of when.

The answer turned out to be the bottom of the sixth, when Detroit opened with 4 straight hits to cut the lead to 2-1. Vazquez got a ground ball to force Pudge Rodriguez at home. One more of those and he could've escaped with the lead, or at the worst a tie. Instead he hung one to Craig Monroe and Tigers led 5-2 on their first grand slam of the season.

So now the Sox have a pivotal swing game tomorrow - take the finale behind Jose Contreras and they win their third straight series over the Tigers, clip a game off the lead and let Detroit know that the road to the division still goes through them. Lose, and a lot of the confidence shift to the Tigers side of the ball. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, their will still be 70 games left to play.

A ton can happen - and it usually will when Vazquez is on the mound. It was a bold move, KW, but it's time to put Brandon McCarthy in the rotation and groom Javy for a relief role in the postseason.

It's not a question of if...but when.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Showdown Series (Act 1)

White Sox 7, Tigers 1.

When Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson can legitimately say that this 3-game set in mid-July in the first meaningful series in the history of Comerica Park, you have to question the logic that says the Sox are the ones who need to be feeling the pressure.

And they certainly played like all the tension was in the Detroit dugout, coming up with 6 run-scoring hits with 2 outs. None was bigger than Paul Konerko's three-run shot to the opposite field off Jason Grilli (former Sox hurler) to put the game out of reach in the 7th inning.

Jon Garland, meanwhile, improved to 9-3 and continued to display flashes of his pre-2005 All-Star break form. Over his last two starts he has gone 7+ innings while allowing just one run in each. Factoring out the debacles of his first two starts of the year (when he allowed 7 & 9 runs respectively yet still escaped with a 1-0 record), his record is 8-2 with a respectable 4.25 ERA. At the moment, he is the most reliable arm in the rotation, with Jose Contreras right behind him.

But, in between Contreras and Garland lies the man, the myth, the mystery - Javy Vazquez. There was a time when he led the staff in wins. No, seriously, there was.

Sox up the record to 58-34, 3.5 back. Game 2 tomorrow night, 6:05 PM CT.