Monday, August 28, 2006

Those Pesky Twins

A.J. Pierzynski had 2 home runs against his old team, but the Sox still dropped 2 of 3.

The Minnesota Twins have to be about the 9th-best team in the American League, in terms of raw talent. With the exception of Johan Santana and Joe Mauer, I wouldn't take one player from the Twins and put him on the Sox.

And yet, just as they've been doing since 2001, the Twins keep poking and prodding and blooping and gnawing until you look around to discover you have no skin left. Hence Ozzie's all-too-perfect nickname for them, The Piranhas.

The Sox were equal to the task this weekend against the Twinkies, yet still managed to lose two of three. Friday was a team failure with runs being cut down at the plate and Javy Vazquez, Neal Cotts, and David Riske blow a 3-0 lead for a 6-5 loss. The ghost of Steve Bartman was invoked as well, with the final out being recorded after a fan interfered with Justin Morneau's attempt to catch Jermaine Dye's foul pop. Then on Saturday, Jose Contreras remained in his free-fall and put the Sox in a 5-1 hole...yet JD cranked a 2-run shot off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 7...only to have Nick Cobb (er...Punto) win the game with a seeing-eye single in the 11th.

So for those of you who were contemplating suicide after the first two games, the news that Mark Buehrle was set to start the finale probably didn't move you too far off the ledge. Buehrle has just one win in his last 11 starts. Sunday, however, he was dynamic to the tune of 1 run over 7 and 1/3. The win pulled the Sox back to within a half-game of the Wild Card lead and held position at 5.5 back of the Tigers in the Divisional race.

With the Sox playing Tampa Bay in the middle of the week followed by a trip to Cleveland, the top 3 teams in the AL Central could also be the top 3 teams in the American League by Labor Day, with all of them seperated by 2 to 3 games. Whole lotta baseball left to play...


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Showdown Series The Third, Stanza 4

White Sox 10, Tigers 0.

SOX STANDINGS: 75-52, .5 Ahead in the Wild Card, 5.5 Back in the Central. Magic # for the Playoffs: 36.

Now that's what I call momentum.

The Sox pick up another brilliant start from Jon Garland, who's not only matching his first half of 2005 during this run, but exceeding it because his best starts have come at a time when his team needs them the most. Last Saturday it was Garland who got thrown into the fire against Minnesota's hottest starter to try to stem talk of an easy sweep; today he needed to come up with a great start to help the Sox salvage the split. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

The Sox offense rediscovered the art of clutch hitting during the last two days also, with Jermaine Dye the biggest hero. He finished the series with 3 HR and 6 RBI in the final two games. This could wind up being akin to what Minnesota did to the Sox in 2003 - drop the first two of a key four-game set, then take the second two to break even and then take off from there. We'll just have to wait and see...

TOMORROW -- Sox Vs. Twins. Radke vs. Vazquez. 7:35 CT.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Showdown Series The Third, Stanza 3

White Sox 7, Tigers 5.

SOX STANDINGS: 74-52, .5 Ahead in the Wild Card, 6.5 Back in the Central. Magic # for the Playoffs: 37.


Pretty soon, everybody's gonna have their name turned in to an obnoxiously loud catchphrase uttered by one Hawk Harrelson.

But those three Pale Hosers certainly stand out as the heroes of tonight's much-needed win. Pretty game? Not when Freddy Garcia needed all of one inning to squander the lead after JD's 3-run homer in the first. Nor when Matt Thornton relieved in the sixth inning and surrended a 2-run double to Sean Casey to tighten the game at 6-5. However, here's what matters: was it a win? Hell yes.

The Sox have a big opportunity to re-establish some momentum with Jon Garland heading to bump for the series finale. In 2005, you'd absolutely love to be in this situation becuase you felt there was no way the starter wouldn't deliver. And despite Jonny Hollywood's recent hot streak, is anything a given with this Sox team?

NEXT GAME: 1:05 ET Thursday, Jon Garland vs. Nate Robertson.


Showdown Series The Third, Stanza 2

Tigers 4, White Sox 0.

SOX STANDINGS: 73-52, .5 Ahead in the Wild Card, 7.5 Back in the Central. Magic # for the Playoffs: 38

We in trouble now, ain't we?

The Sox spent a lot of time scratching their heads at the strike zone of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, and while it was wider than David Wells' belly, what good does moaning about it do? That's Hawk Harrelson's job.

And piss-poor strike zone or not, the White Sox rotation continues to be the team's undoing. Tonight it was Mark Buehrle's turn to pitch just poorly enough to give the Sox no chance at a win, surrendering 2 first inning runs and 4 over his scatter-shot 5 and 1/3 innings.

I'm not gonna lie, this is starting to get serious. Much like that September collapse in 2003, I can feel the season starting to slip away. And you know who's fault it is? Those g***am Royals. If the Sox had been required to play a real team after the sweep of Detroit last week, they'd have built themselves into a groove. As it is, they let up against inferior competition and have been knocked off their game.

The good news is the Sox have two more cracks at Detroit, and have already faced the Tigers two best pitchers. It's time for "Big Game Freddy" to make an appearance during tonight's contest.

TONIGHT - 7:05 ET, Freddy Garcia vs. Zach Miner


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Showdown Series The Third, Stanza 1

Tigers 7, White Sox 1.

SOX STANDINGS: 73-51, .5 Ahead of the Twins in the Wild Card (6.5 Back of Detroit). Magic #: 39 and Holding.

F---. F---. F---, F---, F---.

Where's Jose's stuff when you need it? It took Contreras three and a half years to record his first complete game shutout in the majors, last Friday against this same Detroit squad. Since then he's looked like he has absolutely no clue what's going on. In back to back starts he's given up 7 earned runs and allowed his ERA to balloon over 4. Is nobody safe on the Sox pitching staff? It's tough to fault a lack of offensive production during these last two games when you consider the Sox faced off against Johan Santana and Justin Verlander on consecutive days, but it's still all about the pitching with this team. The starters give them a chance to win, they'll come out with a 'W' more often than not. The starters put them in a 7-1 hole, and it's tough to bounce back.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Answer: Major League Leader in Road Victories

Question: Who is Jon Garland? White Sox 4, Twins 1.

SOX STANDINGS: 73-49, 5.5 Back of Detroit, 2 Up on Minnesota for the Wild Card. Magic # for the Playoffs: 39.

Garland twirled an outstanding game tonight, going into the 8th while allowing 1 unearned run. Twin counterpart Brad Radke was almost as good, but couldn't pitch over two uncharacteristic errors by his defense - both led to Sox runs, and Rob Mackowiak provides the finishing power with a 420 foot bomb.

It's not just that the Sox got the kind of pitching performance that was automatic in 2005, or that they picked up a game on the Tigers. With Johan Santana matched up against Javy Vazquez tomorrow afternoon, this was a game the Sox
had to have, and they responded that way. Was the game perfect? No, but Garland setting down 14 in a row, a few web gems by Joe Crede, run-scoring production from the bench and bottom of the order, and capitalizing on the Twins mistakes (they don't make many, after all) bode well for the team's confidence.

The Sox now have 40 games left - 7 against the Tigers, 6 against the Twins, 3 against the Red Sox, 3 against the Angels and 3 against the Athletics. In September they'll have to travel to several places that have traditionally been Houses of Horror, particularly the Oakland Coliseum. The starters might be tired - they can rest later. Coffee is for closers, and it's time for the Sox biggest asset to step up their game in a championship setting.

TOMORROW - Javy Vazquez vs. Johan Santana, 1:10 CT.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Showdown Series Part Deux, Episode Three

White Sox 7, Tigers 3. Sweep, baby, sweep.

SOX STANDINGS: 70-46, 5.5 Back. Magic # for the Playoffs: 45

For starters, let me say that much like Bruce Banner, you wouldn't like Pudge Rodriguez when he's angry.

The Sox were back with the tried-and-true 2005 formula - they got two good scoring chances in the first two innings and capitalized on both (bases-clearing double by Alex Cintron capping the early production). The day's starter stepped up when needed (Freddy Garcia was touched for 3 runs in the first four innings, then buckled down to retire the last 12 he faced.) The bullpen continued to bring it as Matt Thornton killed Detroit's last chance to get back in the game, inducing a first-pitch ground ball double play from Carlos Guillen in the 8th. Bobby Jenks sealed the sweep with a nasty curve on Curtis Granderson with two runners on in the 9th...and the crowd went wild.

As well they should. Sweeping any team in baseball is huge, particularly the team you're trying to catch. But for the Sox to dominate this series the way they did on the second weekend of August speaks a lot about their character - and surely is planting seeds of doubt in the Tigers' head. Are they cracking under the pressures of a long season and the knowledge that the defending champs are now charging fast? Hard to say. Surely, however, the Sox have a chance to kick Detroit while they're down - a four-game set against Kansas City is on the docket for the Sox, while the Tigers head for Boston and three games against Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and David Wells. First place could very well be on the line when the teams hook up for four more next week at Comerica.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Showdown Series Part Deux, Episode Two

White Sox 4, Tigers 3.

SOX STANDINGS: 69-46, 6.5 Back

Two weeks ago the Sox jumped in the way back machine, time-warping into September of 2004. Now it seems they're playing as well and as loose as October 2005.

For the fifth straight game, Comiskey rocked in a high-stakes, late-season game against a fellow playoff competitor. And for the third time in five games, the Sox emerged victorious by one run. They took advantage of costly errors. They delivered clutch hits. They played good defense (at least, far more often than they played bad defense). They got a serviceable effort from their starter. And Bobby Jenks closed the door.

Mark Buehrle was on fire to start the game, striking out seven in the first four innings. He couldn't bail himself out in the fifth after Juan Uribe slow-charged a grounder and failed to convert the double play, allowing the Tigers to plate 3 runs. That's okay though, because Kenny Rogers couldn't pick up his D either, as they made far more costly blunders. Carlos Guillen fumbled away a slow roller from Sandy Alomar. Marcus Thames misplayed a line-shot single from Brian Anderson. Brandon Inge threw away a sure-fire twin killing which led directly to the decisive run.

So what do we make of these last two games? All of a sudden the offense is putting together some solid performances, Contreras pitched like an ace, Buerhle showed marked improvement and the bullpen retired all 9 batters they faced. It helps to remember who's still chasing who, however. The Sox could really use a sweep tomorrow and gather momentum, especially when you consider they next welcome in Kansas City for 4 while Detroit heads to Boston.

TOMORROW: 1:05 CT, Freddy Garcia vs. Zach Miner.


Showdown Series Part Deux, Episode One

White Sox 5, Tigers 0.

THAT was huge.

Jose Contreras turned in a classic 2005 performance in a game that was probably the most important for the Sox since the 2005 playoffs. Not that catching Detroit should be first and foremost on their minds, but to come out in a series opener in your home park against the best team in baseball and the game's hottest young pitcher with a 3-hit masterpiece is the definition of "ace".

The offense displayed an unusual amount of patience as well, waiting out Justin Verlander's 97-mph heat (which was down to about 92-93 by the fifth inning; perhaps his arm is more than merely 'tired') and pouncing on his average breaking ball. Jim Thome and A.J. Pierzynski each belted two-run homers, and Scott Podsednik and Tadahtio Iguchi again set the table at the top of the order, each picking up a pair of hits. Pods was even up to his old tricks on the basepaths, baiting Verlander into an errant pickoff throw that moved him from first to third and led to the Sox first run. While you'd like to pile on in a game where you outhit a team 15-3, this is still no time to be complaining about style points. J-K-W: Just...Keep...Winnin'.

They also say that momentum only lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher. In ordinary times as a White Sox fan, you'd look at the schedule and see Mark Buehrle heading to the mound on Saturday and feel pretty damn good. Good, that is, until realizing that Buehrle's 2006 season has nosedived since July 1 and he's 0-6 in his last 9 starts. But then again, Jose was only 1-4 in his previous six before tonight.

Game 2: Mark Buehrle vs. Kenny Rogers, 12:20 CT.

Sox: 68-46, 7.5 Back in the Division, 1.5 Up in the Wild Card (Magic # for the Postseason: 47)


Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Resurrection of Javy Vazquez

Holy s&*t.

The Puerto Rican Jim Parque looked like vintage Pedro in Toronto today, fanning 13 over 8 outstanding innings. The Sox offense pitched in as well for a 7-1 victory, assuring the Sox the series win. Jose Contreras starts tomorrow against A.J. Burnett.