Thursday, June 30, 2005

53-24: Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Johnny Mostil is headed for a much needed vacation beside a quiet lake in the middle of nowhere, but he goes on the vacation with his beloved Sox 29 games over .500 at 53-24 after 77 games after Freddy Garcia dominated the Detroit Tigers 6-1 on Thursday afternoon. The Sox head to Oakland with what Jim Baker in Baseball Prospectus called an 'unscre[w]able pooch'. And unscrewable it is -- no team has blown a 10-game lead in, well, forever. Even Torii Hunter conceded the race a few games ago.

So now comes the question: is the Jason Schmidt rumor the Chicago Tribune is promoting actually true? Now, Jason's having some trouble this year, but man, he is one hell of a pitcher and acquiring him would be the end of worrying about the Cubans.

The White Sox were 18-7 in June.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

51-24: In the Humdrum

The White Sox, with a 9 1/2 game lead, are making the season, well, pleasantly humdrum...

Mark Buerhle has been a good pitcher for several years, but so far he's having the best season of his career. Last night was no exception to his recent record as he shut down the Tigers, letting in just one run, and notched his 10th win against only one loss. (His only loss, of course, was the ESPN Sunday Night game against Santana early in April.) He needed some help with the White Sox flailing a little against Nate Robertson (I blame hangovers from Maddux and Prior), but Dustin Hermanson stranded a leadoff I-Rod triple in the ninth to hold on to a 2-1 win.

Tonight the Sox run Brandon McCarthy to the hill. McCarthy has had a decent start against the Cubs and two awful starts against the Rangers and Royals. It seems it doesn't matter which AAA starter the Sox bring up these last two years, he's going to post a 9.00 ERA. Perhaps that says something about the White Sox upper-level pitching coaching in the minors?

The Twins lost already today, in part because their confounded stadium bit them and Shannon Stewart lost a fly ball. McCarthy doesn't need to put in a brilliant start. Let's see what happens now.

Monday, June 27, 2005

50-24: Not about us

I have read a few -- not many, but a few -- comments about how inept the White Sox were on Sunday. It's not about the White Sox. Mark Prior was unbelievably good, and this is not something new, he's done it before a few times. I read complaints about how the Sox tried to hit everything out of the park, and how they should have gone the other way. Let me say this: contrary to what every baseball broadcaster tells you, opposite field hitting is not a guarantee of success. When the other team plays you to hit the other way, you're going to make outs. Prior took away the pull hitting by his approach and the Cubs played defense to take away the other way. Game over.

Other quick remarks:
  • Cheat, who complains only mildly about the ineptness of the offense, also sensibly points out that "SmartBall" is a PR ploy.
  • Prior was brilliant, but you have to wonder if he'll make it through the season with a manager who treats him so cavalierly; that and his abominable luck seems to always get to him.
  • Yet another slightly bizarre effort to analyze the White Sox offense manages to get in the bizarre digs about the White Sox pitching being "non-normative". The Sox defense is better, which is reflected in their DER, but that can't explain a 1.3-run drop is runs scored against. So, it must be luck. Hello! Hello! You can't really predict pitching. Pitchers learn new pitches. Pitchers adjust to situations. Batters hit differently in close games than in blowouts. You can predict hitting reasonably well, but pitching may simply never be predictable. What will Garland's ERA be in 2006? I have no idea -- and neither do you, and neither, I suspect, does anybody -- not close enough to be truly useful. You won't read that a lot of places because a lot of people are trying to make money convincing you that they can indeed predict pitcher performance.
  • Why, exactly, doesn't A. J. Pierzynski get as much credit as I think is due? Maybe that 1.3 runs has something to do with getting two new catchers in the game? Is it a possibility at least?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

50-23: How I wish it would rain down, down on me...

Greg Maddux stymied the White Sox on a Saturday afternoon and Jose Contreras struggled early to put the team in a big hole in a 6-2 loss to end the eight-game streak. In the top of the first, a bunt single, a couple of walks and a bomb pegged the Cubs to a 4-0 lead. Back to back homers in the second drew the Sox to 4-2, and Joe Crede just missed a two-run shot later in the inning, but that was all for the White Sox, whose offense crawled into a shell the rest of the game. So the eight-game streak is gone and the Sox, last I heard, had Prior to contend with tomorrow.

The Twins must have been watching, they posted a quick three on Milwaukee in the first. If they win, they'll be -- gasp -- only 9 1/2 games behind! Take cover!

50-22: Here comes the feeling...

After completing two 5-1 Regicides and a 12-2 laugher over the Cubs, the Sox find themselves with a 10 1/2 game lead after 72 games. The Twins aren't quite done yet, but they have wandered aimlessly, shell-shocked, for the last couple of weeks. Certainly nobody except the drunkest Pale Hose crank would have predicted a Secretariat-like lead at this point in the season.

Just some thoughts:
  • Sox send Contreras and Garland against Maddux and, a head-scratcher, Prior for the last two Close Encounters. Prior is one of the great pitching talents of the decade, and I don't get asking him to pitch again four weeks after suffering a slight bone fracture.
  • One presumes that once Frank's leg is 100% he'll stop trying to hit everything into Lake Michigan, but it's been fun, hasn't it?
  • I think we all know how the Everett/Thomas thing is working out, and I think most of us Soxfans like it.
  • The latest negativity buzz from the well of endless South Side paranoia is that Podsednik's getting picked off too much. One thing about White Sox fans -- if there's a speck of a possible problem, they'll be all over it and ignore everything good. I call it the Mike Squires Effect: let's overreact to some marginalia and wound the whole team.
  • Latest rumor is Ted Lilly might be coming over to serve as the swingman. But for whom? Keep your eyes peeled for Kenny's Wild Bazaar, something always happens about this time of year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

47-22: Breathe

Two more slightly improbable wins later...
  • I was worried sick about Brandon McCarthy earlier than most people, I suspect, because I was "watching" through GameCast. McCarthy wasn't getting any "Swinging Strikes", and that is just not a good sign because it meant he wasn't fooling anybody. Because the Sox pounded out 11 runs it didn't matter so much, but he's just got to dominate at least a few hitters...
  • You know right now the consensus preseason predictions would be dead on -- if the White Sox were cooperating. The Twins fan base seems to think their team is underperforming, but 38-29 (.567) is probably above what they should have expected, hardly out of line. The Indians at 37-31 are doing a little better than expected, the Tigers are at .500, and the Royals are 14 games back of the Twins. The White Sox are the only team not cooperating, having won about a dozen more games than most people expected. Shucks.
  • So far the Hunter Wendlestedt Effect hasn't popped up... let's hope it doesn't.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

45-22: Wake me up before you Go-Go

Last night's game was astonishing. Dominated for eight innings by Elmer Dessens and underappreciated Dodgers 2B Jeff Kent, the White Sox destroyed Yancy Brozhoban in stunning fashion to pull out a 5-3 miracle. With the White Sox trailing 3-1 and playing classic "Corpseball", Tad Iguchi walked, took second on a groundout, and scored on an Everett single. Willie Harris pinch-ran for Everett and stole second base and scored on a Rowand bouncing single up the middle. A. J. Pierzysnki worked the count full, fouled off several pitches, then -- improbably -- homered over the left center field fence to stun the Dodgers and win the game.

  • The end of this game was the classic mix of Go-Go (steals and hit- and-runs and singles) with 21st century White Sox 8th Air Force bombing.
  • Give Freddy Garcia credit. He had nothing and he held the Dodgers to three runs in 8 innings. They may have been depleted but all those walks should have cooked Garcia and they didn't.
  • Is AJP the heart and soul of this team?
  • The White Sox are just not fading. If they had built their 45-22 record by racing out to a flukey record and then hanging on, I'd be less confident. They're 7-3 over their last 10, 12-8 over their last 20, 18-12 over their last 30, and 25-15 over their last 40 games. This consistency suggests they aren't going to suddenly start playing .500 ball, and in fact, they aren't showing any signs of regression yet.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Not Make Believe

Chris Widger is not a surprise.

Chris Widger has ALWAYS played well -- over his whole career -- in certain situations. He has always hit lefthanders far more than adequately (.277/.333/.502 career in 224 games and counting).

But, like Miguel Olivo, he's never been particularly good (or even "non-craptastic") against RHP-- he's a .231/.288/.368 lifetime hitter in that situation. He can't play regularly because of this. Tony LaRussa two years ago basically used him as backup, but usually only against RHP and he sucked, further hurting his rep with GMs who don't look deeper than the backs of the Topps cards on their bulletin boards.

Ozzie, who is NOT Jerry Manuel or Tony LaRussa, has cleverly used The Widge mostly against LHPs. Chris has responded, hitting .313/.353/.594 against them, basically in line with his career numbers. It is to be EXPECTED that he'll hit like that against LHPs -- because he always has!

Against RHPs he's at .296 this year but with almost all singles, and there I'll grant you the sample-size argument -- but he isn't hitting well even with that empty average, so his career expectations are still being fulfilled.

Considering that the White Sox' primary catcher is a lefthanded batter, and that Widge can hit LHP solidly, he's a pretty good guy to have around.

He has trouble keeping a job because he can't hit RHP well enough to keep a regular job, and many major league teams try to platoon their catchers based on the starting pitcher ("caddies"), which plays hell with the hitting for a guy with certain limited skills. Just because other managers, for a semi-idiotic reason, and despite a massive 180-point platoon split, made sure Widger has gotten almost 3/4 of his plate appearances when he's at a disadvantage doesn't mean he can't play.

The secret to being a good baseball manager is to find ways to use your players in situations where they are best. Ozzie's done that with Widger.

44-22: All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun

Last night's 6-0 blanking of the depleted Dodgers featured Mark Buerhle scattering 8 hits in a complete-game shutout, Frank Thomas hitting a two-run insurance homer, and, most importantly, that rarest of events in the 2005 White Sox slate, a comfortable victory. Actually, they've been a lot more frequent since about the 30th of May.
  • The shutout was the third, combination or otherwise, for Mark Buehrle this year, who now sports a 2.67 ERA. The beginning of the 2004 season marks a key dividing line in Buehrle's career; he started striking more batters out, and since then, his ERA has been in the mid 3's. While Garland has had a marvelous first 40% of the year, there's little question Buehrle's the stopper on this team.
  • Frank Thomas now has five home runs in 28 at bats and could have a few more; he's just missed at least three more bombs. Not bad at all for somebody who hadn't played baseball in almost a year. When Thomas announced he was ready despite hitting under .200 in his rehab assignment, it scared the daylights out of me. I was wrong, he was ready.
  • Joe Crede looked like the player he was supposed to be all through April; he scuffled through May, and has hit OK so far through June (.275/.370/.625) but he's obviously slipped into another funk that will end, well, nobody knows when. His defense is keeping him in the lineup -- that, and a lack of suitable replacement. The only really readily "available" replacement is Red Joe Randa, who would be a bit of n offensive upgrade but probably not one worth the cost he would command. But, since when has that stopped Ken Williams?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

43-22: Dance On A Volcano

After a classic crawl-from-behind win at San Diego came two listless blowouts at the hands of the once-lowly (but now average) Arizona Diamondbacks. Wednesday night looked like another one when a couple of defensive slips and a bad home run game the Snakes a 6-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth. Russ Ortiz, of all pitchers, was dominant, and the Sox looked doomed to their fourth loss in five games. You better start doing it right. The Twins are lurking...

Then the Diamonbacks fielders crated and so did Ortiz, and the Sox blew up all over the Arizonans. The Sox sneaked in a run on an error, then Frank homered... then the fun came. Royce Clayton botched two plays and Uribe and Konerko hit three-run homers in a ten-run outburst that turned a 6-2 game into a 12-6 game. Jon Garland, taken off the hook by the biggest Sox inning in several years, escaped with his 11th win.

Meanwhile, the invincible Twins bullpen let in three insurance runs in an 8-4 loss, and the White Sox found themselves staked back to a five-game lead. The magic continues...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

41-20: Dustin The Wind [groan]

Dustin Hermanson detonated spectacularly in San Diego, blowing his first save of the season, and spoiling a Buehrle masterpiece in a 2-1 loss. After a horrendous, gut-wrenching blown play and the plate call where Paul Konerko was incorrectly called out to end the top of the ninth with the Sox leading 1-0, with one out Ramon Hernandez homered to left, the Padres dinked in weak hit, a double, an intentional walk, and a single through the infield gave them a 2-1 win.

The White Sox struggled all night against a terrific-looking rookie pitcher with a nasty, Wilson-Alvarez-grade hook. It was one of those games where you just knew something bad was going to happen, and when Konerko was called out and Hernandez hit the home run, I thought I'd burst a blood vessel. Fortunately (he writes sarcastically), Hermanson royally blew up, and saved Johnny Mostil from his own bile.

Ozzie got caught in a tactical bind in the top of the 8th when Uribe walked and Crede singled to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Buehrle was due to hit, and Ozzie let him hit; he failed to get a bunt down in a situation normally crying for a pinch hitter. This bit of nastiness I blame on the perversity of making AL teams play by the NL's anachronistic rules more than any "mistake" by Ozzie -- pinch hitting would have been second-guessable as well -- and with Marte not available and Giles lurking third in the bottom of the inning, I guess I can see why he left Buehrle in. Podsednik took a questionable called third strike and Iguchi struck out too to snuff the rally.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Quick One

Ozzie Guillen's Sox have come to first place to stay.

To whip the Tribe and Royals good, and brush Detroit away.

To shoo the Yankees from the field and dust the Coors field team,

And make the bunts and hit 'n run and make the Angels scream.

While all us loyal Sox fans, when the evening game is done,

We surf around the Internet and have the most of fun,

Reading all the witch tales that those weblogs tell about

How the Twins are gonna get us if we don't watch out!

41-19: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

While I was in China (really), the White Sox swept Colorado, pounding out 27 runs in three games at Coors field. When I returned from my oriental odyssey, they followed that up with a 4-2 series opener over San Diego. Still they get virtually no respect from some quarters.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus finally [$$$] 'fessed up that he'd blown his start-of-the-season prediction (20 games under .500). Of course he had to get in a slam that the team's actually a below .500 team, that they'll stagger in behind the Twins at around 85-90 wins, and that this may or may not be good enough for a wild card berth. The White Sox, who apparently don't spent the $34.95 a year to partake of Joe Sheehan's for-sale wisdom, promptly won their next three games in a row, including a merciless 15-run pounding, to get 22 games over .500 at the 60 game mark.

The Twins, of course, simultaneously lost two or four to fall 5 1/2 games back. The White Sox need more predictions like Joe Sheehan's. Go ahead, Joe. Write me a column about exactly why it is the White Sox can't ever reach the World Series. Save it for August or September, please. Then write me one about how the Yankees will never, ever, go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Over the last 20 games the White Sox are 13-7, following up a 16-4 first 20 games and 12-8 second 20 games. Where, exactly, is the slowdown, the regression to mediocrity that some people keep predicting? They regressed - to .600 baseball.

Two more in San Diego... then home.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

36-18: Distant Early Warning...

The White Sox survived a wild night by El Duque in front of a disappointing crowd to beat the Indians 6-4. The Sox put together a four-run first fueled in part by weird Cleveland defensive positioning and some outright crazy lucky, but the Indians topped that when Coco Crisp rang the foul pole with two on to tie the game. The Sox plated two in the bottom of the fifth with three singles, a wild pitch, and a sac fly. The Pale Hose played long-sequence ball with lots of singles and efficiently pushed across most of their baserunners. Neil Cotts and Hermanson sailed through the final three innings to nail down the win.

The stories recently, though, are off the field:
  • Frank Thomas didn't play again, despite publicly saying his hip flexor was healed, because of Everett's history against Cleveland pitcher Jake Westbrook. Naturally, this fuels all sorts of media discussion about there not being room for Frank, Frank being traded, Ozzie hating Frank, and (although I haven't read it) presumably about Frank's devotion to Darth Sidious or something equally silly. The Tribune, especially, seems fixated on how Frank doesn't fit in and how the White Sox would dearly love to dump him on some unsuspecting team. Sure. You know why this doesn't make sense? Because Frank not playing does nothing for his trade value, and because the only teams who would be interested are the White Sox' competitors. Still, where there's smoke there's often fire, and despite the fast start, there isn't a lot of evidence that the White Sox understand what wins baseball games. The 2005 Frank Thomas isn't the 1993 model Frank Thomas -- the horsepower is way down and the fuel economy also -- and Frank has to be thinking he needs to go out on top somehow to ensure Cooperstown. It's hard to disagree, seeing as how Trammell and Whitaker, who clearly belong there, aren't deemed worthy.
  • Joe Crede didn't hit again, stretching his slump to 6-for-61 according to the AP, and fueling some rumors about Eric Chavez being traded for Crede, McCarthy, and presumably Brian Anderson. Billy Beane denies it, Chavez denies it -- everybody denies it -- but it fits the Moneyball paradigm so look out. Chavez is signed for $11M a year for a long time, but he's hitting only .230 with 5 home runs 1/3 of the way through the season, and the A's rebuilding plan may need some architectural changes. I can't see how Beane would be the slightest bit interested in Crede, who doesn't play ball the way they like, but McCarthy would definitely get his engine jumpstarted, and so would Brian Anderson -- and Frank Thomas, old as he is, is a poster boy for their philosophy. So, the rumor makes some baseball sense, fits the MOs of the two GMs... and smacks around the future, a White Sox trademark in the Kenny Williams era. The fly in the ointment is steroids. I don't have any evidence that Chavez was juiced, but when any player suffers a substantial falloff in production this season, you have to worry that he was an abuser.

Friday, June 03, 2005

35-18: Losing [Jeff Brantley's] Religion

Jeff Brantley spent the Monday and Wednesday games trashing Ozzie Guillen for using Dustin Hermanson like a righthanded relief pitcher instead of treating him as the Archbishop of Closerbury. Without digging into the obvious statements of fact that (1) the White Sox won that game anyway, and (2) the Angels lucked into their two runs mostly because Iguchi mishanded a DP grounder, we can say that Brantley seemed to forget that Dustin Hermanson was not signed to be the closer and he is filling that role -- admirably -- by default!

Far more open to criticism was Mike Scioscia's mysteriously by-the-book handling of K-Rod coming back from the DL, who obviously had very little command and who came within a thumb's width of giving up five runs and losing the game when Uribe walloped one of his pitches deep into the seats just outside the left field foul pole with the bases loaded in a 10-7 games. Jeff Brantley had nothing to say at all about that decision, which was far more questionable than Guillen's treatment of Hermanson, because much more important than winning a game is using the pitcher in such a way that he fits the closer dogma.

Other notes:
  • The White Sox now exit their late May death march (Orioles, Texas , Cubs, Angels, Texas, Angels) having managed to tread water at 10-9 over that stretch. Consider that the Cubs are the only team that wasn't at least sniffing first place during that stretch, and consider that the pitching the White Sox faced night after night was good.
  • OK, good, Kevin Walker hit the minors, and the team's back to a six-man bullpen.
  • The staff ERA took a serious hit over the last five games, but it was mostly the bullpen that took the hit, and I think we can now get over the "White Sox have been lucky" myth. The Angels and Rangers hit a month's worth of seeing-eye grounders and bloop singles.
  • I hear where there's discussion of instant replay and baseball. Let me go on record with "no". Not because it's a bad idea, but because they always want to exclude the very plays that need the be reviewable, like in football, where the things they hairsplit on (possession) are no less important than the things they are forbidden to examine (holding, illegal block, and motion penalties). Nobody wants to replace ball-strike calls, but those are the most often blown. I want machine vision calling strikes first.
Now, the Offensive Racist Cartoon Team is in for three games.