The Movable Type server is not operating in a way that's conducive to my love of funny pictures at the moment, so you'll have to imagine that a cartoon picture of a bat with a hole burnt into it is up above this text. The White Sox were shut down, nay, flattened by Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann Thursday night in a 5-1 loss where.....wait for it.......
.....Mark Teahen's solo home run in the 8th inning was the only bright spot. For me, Gordon Beckham's liner that he hit 330 feet foul was the brightest moment. But that's only because I'm looking ahead to his possible future success. And I mean way ahead. Like 2013, when the Sox are legitimate AL Central contenders, and only then because Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are caught on videotape with the same underage girl on a booze cruise sponsored by Daunte Culpepper on Lake Minnetonka.
If I had any Twins fans readers, they would tell you that I was being obnoxious.
But seriously, this team can't hit, and it's not necessarily because they're slumping. It's more along the "just not good enough to compete with elite pitchers" lines.
So the Sox got shut down by Jeff Niemann tonight, who moved to 5-0 on the season and dropped his ERA down to 2.37. He's either the best or second best starting pitcher right now on the best pitching team in baseball. What's the shame in losing to a guy like that? Even if he worked 8 innings nonchalantly, throwing only 94 pitches. I mean, hey! Teahen got to him. That's something, right?
Well, I guess. But Teahen also looked at a hanging splitter for strike three with two runners on in the 2nd inning, right before Mark Kotsay committed a RSBP (Really Stupid Baserunning Play) for the third out of the inning, eliminating the closest thing to a rally the Sox had. Konerko similarly struck out twice, both on hanging breaking pitches up in the zone. Now it's one thing to face a great pitcher with all his stuff working and get beaten, it's quite another to be incapable of hitting mistakes. Most hitters these days are 'mistake hitters', in the sense that they're not going to hit any pitcher's best slider, or reach out and hit a 96mph tailing fastball on the outside corner. No, they're going to wait for him to screwup and hang a rolling curveball over the middle, or groove a fastball out over the plate, or leave a changeup up in the zone. With elite pitchers this approach becomes much more important, because their best stuff is increasingly impossible to connect with, and their mistakes are so rare that it becomes absolutely imperative to take advantage of every one. When the Sox trot up fatally flawed hitters who have glaring shortcomings that can be taken advantage of, pitchers lock in on on their problem areas: Paul Konerko (inexplicably struggling with breaking pitches), Gordon Beckham (lost to the point where he can't pull the trigger on mistakes down the middle), Carlos Quentin (can't hit anything up or on the outer half), Andruw Jones (swings like he's being attacked by bees), Mark Teahen (not good at anything). If you consider that the Sox hitters are consistently limiting their zones of effectiveness, reducing the number of mistakes that they're going to see, it becomes really bad when they're incapable of capitalizing on the few hittable pitches they get. If the Sox offense was a wheelchair-bound man who needed to find the strength to walk (and on so many nights, this is what they seem to be), then their current struggles to hit mistakes make their lives more difficult in a fashion equivalent to setting that man on fire and pushing his chair down the stairs...(hmm....that's horrifying, let me digress and just say they stink, and that it's Quentin's fault)
Now, I know, that was a lot of pontificating without a lot of focus or reason. But here's some more; the White Sox have one .300 hitter in Alex Rios, with no one else being over .260. Rios is certainly a nice player, but he is by no means capable of carrying a team, having never knocked in 100 runs in a season, and has traditionally worked as a complimentary hitter alongside the type of big bopper that Paul Konerko hasn't been for four years. As it stands, especially with Konerko and Jones mired in slumps at the moment, there are no true threats beyond Rios, and pitchers do not have to change up their approach or pitch with more caution at any point in the batting order. While Pierre, Ramirez, and Beckham all have the capability to be disruptive speed guys, none of them are actually proficient at getting on base. Alex Rios at bat with 2 outs and the bases empty every single time isn't exactly the recipe for ten runs a game. Which is probably the Sox have only scored double digits runs once all season, and it was a looooong time ago.
At a certain point, and it might be soon, (and very soon if the Sox just get taken behind the woodshed this entire season and end Memorial Day weekend 10 games under .500) the White Sox will have to concede the season, or at least concede going any farther this season just trying to tweak the status quo into some reasonable level of success. This is not quite a 'play the youngsters!' call as much as a 'play the guys with a conceivable future with the team' call. I know that you can look back as recently as the day before and find me stating that Kotsay should get playing time according to current standards, but if the team gets to Kenny Williams' 60 game benchmark, still 6 to 8 games under, how do you justify trying to push forth with marginal, aging talent? This team isn't going to compete with 34 year-old Mark Kotsay playing every day or hitting fifth, so it sure as hell won't win with him next year when he's 35. It'll be another 13 games before I officially condemn this year's team and start making crazy demands for Tyler Flowers, Jordan Danks, and free pretzels for everyone who bought a $400 Ozzie plan just to watch Juan Pierre try to bunt for a base hit with a runner on 2nd, 2 out, and the game tied in the 9th. But this team was never, ever going to win without Carlos Quentin being an impact guy. In my mind he has to be played as resolutely as Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez are, because the potential of the team without even a single member of those three coming around is nil. This team has nowhere near enough talent to survive on stopgap players.
If Niemann wasn't the best pitcher on the Rays roster, it was because David Price, the starter for Friday's game is. Price is 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA, but on the flip side, his one loss was to the Sox back on April 20th. That game was far more a case of John Danks winning a game single-handedly as Price merely gave up three big hits to Konerko (an RBI double), Rios (a triple, where he scored on a throwing error), and Jones (a solo home run). Price's last start was fairly middling as well, giving up 5 ER in 5 innings to an Astros team that makes the Sox look like they have nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately the one good starter the Sox have is not going Friday, and instead it will be Freddy Garcia. Perhaps you saw a little of Freddy's last start against the Marlins, perhaps you didn't. Freddy will need a vintage performance to keep the Sox in the game, as Price can't be expected to allow a great deal, meaning the Pale Hose might need to improve on their 1-20 record in games where they score 3 runs or less. Frankly I don't see it. It's not like the Rays are the most dynamic offensive team in the league, but they have young aggressive hitters who aren't likely to allow Freddy to hang curveballs up in the zone all day and not hit them a mile. If I were a gambling man I'd put at least $25 on an Evan Longoria home run.
The 2010 Chicago White Sox: Where Winning Big Gambling Against Your Own Team Happens