And we’re off! The second half has started off with a bang, specifically Adam Dunn and his third straight game with a home run. He recorded a new stat I heard as well, the Dunn, which is a game with a strike out, walk and home run. Currently, according to Matt Spiegel he is number four on the all-time list. Jim Thome is the all-time leader in Dunns in case you were wondering. Adam Dunn is also a great place to start talking about the first half and the White Sox.
Basically, if you picked the White Sox to be leading by 3.5 at the break you are either a savant or a delusional White Sox fan who believes they are contenders every year. I will heartily admit that I did not have the Sox in the lead and saw them as I usually do a .500 team who with a little luck can contend for a division title (and this year the one-game play-in!). I didn’t agree with Sports Illustrated that this was a 90-loss team and I think they will have to be unbelievably bad to reach that number. On the flip side listening to some show while making dinner one night, a Sox caller said this team could win 98 games. This is just as silly.
A tweet from Jon Heyman has been making the rounds about Dunn, Rios and Peavy are all better this year, intimating that it’s because Ozzie is gone. I highly doubt that it is that simple. I recently read Earl Weaver’s book on baseball strategy and he puts the managerial job in a proper perspective. Namely, they don’t have that much influence, especially on the field. Players either perform or they don’t and the manager has very little to do with it. I can’t speak to the Rios situation because not much has come from out of it but a few things on Peavy and Dunn make the “Ozzie was the problem” argument pretty useless.
Jake Peavy is having a wonderful year, no question. He wasn’t as good last year, but I wouldn’t say he was horrible either. He was also coming off an injury that no one else has ever had and I would guess that readjusting to pitching after such a long layoff had more of an effect than Ozzie Guillen. Unless Ventura is giving him back rubs on off days, I don’t think he’s doing much more than Ozzie to get the best out of Peavy. More than anything I think the first full year without any injury (knock on wood) is the reason Peavy is pitching well, not anything the manager is or isn’t doing.
Regarding Dunn, a little of his private situation has come out this year, namely he was going through a divorce, and that hampered his performance a bit last year. I actually give this more credence than a mouthy manager. Also, Dunn was adjusting to a new league and comparing his body from last year to this year, he is in visibly better shape. Off season conditioning after a poor year probably would have happened with or without Ozzie. What I will say as a big difference between Ventura and Ozzie is how they have handled Dunn in the line-up and field. Basically, in an effort to get Dunn going, Ozzie shuffled Dunn all around, with no results. Ventura has kept him at the three spot all year and so far it has worked. Also he has given Dunn more field time without any ill-effects on the defense. Ozzie was very reluctant to put Dunn in the field last year. So as far as personality, I don’t think much can be made of the Ozzie is gone argument, but his decisions as far as batting order and defense, maybe a tad.
Regarding Rios, who knows? Better yet who cares? Rios was absolutely horrendous last year and this year he is playing much, much better. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in his batting stance, again something Rios probably worked on by himself. He is not getting into a deep crouch like last year. He’s more upright and it seems to be helping him drive the ball by making contact that fraction of a second sooner, if that makes any sense. I can’t remember a time Ozzie threw Rios under the bus, other than to say he wasn’t hitting, not exactly the harshest criticism. Of course, feel free to point out where Ozzie crucified Rios, I will stand corrected.
The biggest criticism of Ozzie that can be made goes back to Weaver and making out the line-up as the number one thing a manger has to do. It was widely documented (mostly by Joe Cowley) that Ozzie stood by Juan Pierre and kept him in the line-up and at the lead-off spot for the majority of the year. Ozzie didn’t want Viciedo nor De Aza for that matter (granted I didn’t have that much faith in De Aza). However, by insisting Pierre stick around, a better lead-off hitter was kept in the minors along with a more powerful bat in Viciedo. Releasing or trading Pierre was probably an easier front office move than trying to deal Rios, he of the big and quite bad contract. More than anything, that is where Ozzie failed and I don’t think Ventura had much to do with player management in the off-season. So to make many in the White Sox fan base heads explode, Kenny Williams should be credited with putting the better players on roster. Granted, maybe if he fired Ozzie sooner, then the outfield situation improves and 2011 isn’t quite the crapper that it was. Of course that holds about as much water as the theory that Ozzie being gone has drastically improved Dunn, Rios and Peavy.
As the second half begins, any cushion is better than being behind. As of yesterday, Detroit has moved into second and don’t be surprised if they get closer. There are a lot of games left with the Tigers, and the Indians for that matter, making for a pretty good race if I had to venture a guess. My biggest concern for the White Sox is the pitching, both relief and starting. They are relying quite a bit on a boatload of rookies or second and third year guys. If the wheels fall off anywhere, it will be there. The offense is good enough to win the AL Central, that’s about it, but I’ll take it. If the Sox make the playoffs and Jake Peavy and Chris Sale stay healthy, that is a pretty good one-two punch, especially in a five game series. Also if Quintana keeps pitching like he has been, that would make three strong starters for a playoff push that doesn’t completely suck. As a matter of fact, I think that makes for a better slogan than Appreciate the Game, “We Don’t Completely Suck.” Go Sox.