Well, last weekend was fun. Now prepare to die.
Not to be overly dramatic, but this would be a difficult road trip even if the Sox didn't nearly play themselves out of the division race two weeks into the season. Even bristling with excitement after dispatching a half-decent AL West team, the Sox will really need to get up to compete on the road with this other half-decent AL West team, the Texas Rangers.
The Texas Rangers, our brothers in disappointment, have also scuttled their way to only 8 wins in three weeks mostly due to inconsistent offense. The Rangers were picked as favorites to win their division, and actually by experts, not just mercurial hometown bloggers. And although the Rangers have underachieved, have bullpen issues so severe that they've already demoted their closer (They're one step ahead of us!), they have some legitimate studs in their lineup and will probably be looking at us as their opportunity to rebound and get their season rolling again.
And then after that we play the Yankees
It seems wrong that the Sox are thrust into such a harrowing road trip just as they might have developed a sliver of confidence. It's like taking a newborn puppy and throwing it down a waterfall.
The Rangers have a great deal of talent, and their poor record can really be attributed to that whole six game losing streak they had, of which the centerpiece was getting swept out of Yankee stadium (look into the future). They've won 3 out of their last 4, including taking 2 out of 3 from Detroit, and have gotten pretty good starting pitching from everyone in their rotation except Scott Feldman, who won 17 games last year (he's their Gavin Floyd!). The Sox will throw out Buerhle, Peavy, and Floyd, and I can't really predict what we'll get out of any them, but I expect the most out of Peavy. He was pretty dreadful versus Tampa, but could benefit from it being over 40 degrees when he starts for once, and has fared better on the road so far this year.
Buehrle was absolutely shelled his last time out, but this is something that happens. From time to time Buehrle gets in trouble because he cannot overpower hitters when he needs to shut down a rally. One bad start is not indicative of a breakdown of his mechanics, and this has happened far too often for him to lose his confidence. As for Gavin Floyd...well...at least he's going against Scott Feldman, who's averaged only five innings a start, and has a .321 batting average allowed.
The Sox face C.J. Wilson on Tuesday, a career reliever who has been dominant early on this season for, well, no reason whatsoever. Wilson has been dominant in his two starts against light-hitting teams Toronto and Boston, and was pretty pedestrian against the robust Yankee lineup. Unfortunately the Sox fit into the light-hitting category and struggle versus left-handers. Let's hope Buehrle is on his game.
The Rangers throw out Rich Harden on Wednesday, who pitches like a crazy person. In many ways, Harden has pitched terribly. He gives up about a hit an inning, has lasted less than five innings a start, and has walked 18 batters in 17.2 innings. 18 walks!
Can you imagine??!? Even in the era of Randy Williams this is a preposterous number. Harden has always been a guy with great stuff who can't quite put it together, but his control has never been this bad. At this rate, he might even walk Alexei Ramirez. Yet despite his troubles, he's still striking out over a batter an inning and his ERA is only a shade over 4.50. If the Sox get shut down by this guy, maybe Greg Walker should get fired after all.
With the exception of Frank Francisco*, who bombed as a closer to the point where he was replaced after two weeks, the Rangers' pen has put up decent numbers to contribute to the staff's 3.73 staff ERA (that's better than us), yet they've blown four out of their seven save opportunities. One of these blown saves has already come from Neftali Perez in his three opportunities since taking over as closer. The 21 year-old has dynamite stuff but is way too green to have been shoved into this role. Especially in this manner. Consider this a vulnerable spot.
*(Fun story about Frank Francisco. You may know him as the guy who hit a lady in the face with a chair in Oakland in 2004. A brawl broke out when Oakland fans heckled Texas pitcher Doug Brocail until he charged into the stands, and Francisco became a bit of an overenthusiastic participant. However, this story flips a bit when you include the detail that Oakland fans were heckling Brocail over his recently stillborn child. And the fact that Francisco managed to hit the girlfriend of the offending party with a folding chair he chucked into a crowd seems like a rather amazing display of accuracy, and makes his current control problems somewhat perplexing. All in all, September 13, 2004; not a great day for humanity.)
The Ranger lineup has an odd collection of a few guys on fire and a lot of the type of guys who you would think would play on a team 10th in the league in OPS. Nelson Cruz has hit 7 HRs and has an OPS over 1.100, Vladimir Guererro is hitting .364, and Joaquin Arias has been hitting .341 in limited at bats. Meanwhile, 2008 MVP candidate Josh Hamilton is hitting .230 with only one home run, and Michael Young has an OPS under .700. The trouble spots in the Rangers lineup can be pitched around.
Given their troubles, the Rangers are certainly vulnerable as we face two of their pitchers who are struggling the most, and could continue the trend of late-inning offense against their shaky bullpen. Winning 2 out 3 against another quality opponent would give the White Sox a jolt of confidence that could really help them as they head into Yankee stadium. Perhaps they could win a game. Probably the one that Javier Vazquez starts.
The Sox will avoid facing Sabathia and Burnett this coming weekend, but Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte have been excellent so far. It's impossible to tell how the Sox will fair against a juggernaut like the Yankees without seeing how they adjust to playing quality competition on the road. Yeah, that's right, I'm not putting off writing a preview of their series, I'm just waiting for more information. Yeah, because I'm a real journalist. Yeah.
I just hope Randy Williams get left at the airport or locked in his hotel room before Friday. Then everyone wins.