White Sox bullpen situation is...interesting...

White Sox bullpen situation is...interesting...
60878447.jpg

This is not a pithy photo caption occasion, people!....Oh fine, it is. Count the number of people with crossed arms staring disapprovingly. HINT: One is hidden // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

My job annoys me (the real one, not whatever this is).  Without getting into it, a rush hour drive from Blue Island to Logan Square can be taxing.

But today, I'm thankful for it.  Rushing headlong into writing about Wednesday's bullpen meltdown spectacular while still bursting with frustration might have produced...well...probably something easily found elsewhere on this site, but perhaps not what we're going for here.

There's a lot to be frustrated about here in the wake of a 7-4 loss to
Oakland in 10 innings.  The Sox received 8 glittering innings from John
Danks, who as if out of force of habit from being used to tremendous
bullpen work, had been ceasing effective operations after the 6th inning
so far this season.  Instead, the offense--with substantial aid from
Oakland--produced 4 runs off the very superb Brett Anderson, and Danks
left the game on the doorstep of victory, with the pen staked to a 3-run
lead versus what figures to be a very weak offense.

Ideal circumstances, surely. 

Thornton was rested, the defense was not thinking about dinner at
Wendy's yet.  Matt could get three outs without much trouble, and all
these subjective arguments about "closer mentality" could be stacked and
lit ablaze like a pile of used tires, and man, woman, and child could
gather by the warm glow of said tire fire, and comment on their fortune
in persevering through troubled times.

----------------------------------------------------------------

60857886.jpg

Oops! Wrong game! // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

There's
no real way for me to analyze the horror of a wave of four Sox
relievers yielding 6 runs in two innings than blow-by-blow.  Combined
all together, it's frankly a bit to comprehend. 

I mean, good gravy!  What to compare it to?  Did you ever have to sit
through the movie Meet Joe Black?  And there's that scene, where Brad
Pitt gets hit with a car?  Then hit by another car while he's flying
through the air?  No?  No one?  Crap movie, you say?  Well, I'll just
get on with it.

Leading 4-1 heading into the 9th, the White Sox remove John Danks after 108 pitches

At
this point, and for not much longer, I am on board.  Unlike with
Buehrle on Monday night, Danks' level of ease was noticeably declining. 
He fought through an 11-pitch at-bat in the 8th where he couldn't
overwhelm Cliff Pennington of all people with his fastball.  A 3-run
lead was big enough for me to trust the bullpen...wait, big enough to trust the bullpen?  I see I'm already thinking against myself here.

The White Sox bring in RHP Chris Sale to begin the 9th

Cuuuuurious. 
Sale had thrown 2 innings and 34 pitches less than 16 hours before, so a
rested Crain or Thornton seemed like significantly more logical choices
unless Ozzie was uniquely hellbent on making a "MATT IS NOT MY CLOSER"
statement.  Looking back, I would have to say that out of the four real
bullpen options, this was the worst pick. 

Sale's limited big league platoon splits have been neutral though, so
the criticism that he was set to face a slate of righties is irrelevant.

So there's that to hang your hat on

Sale allows three consecutive hits, one run, and is relieved by RHP Jesse Crain.  It's 4-2 now, for reference.

Yikes. 
There were perhaps some earlier signs that Sale wasn't on point.  His
fastball was about the same as it's been all year (which is to say it's
over 2 mph down from 2010), but was getting hammered without much sign
of an out-pitch.  PitchFX has him throwing only one slider, and the
velocity is set at 91.6 mph (way too high), suggesting a misread.  He
didn't have much, on no rest.  This is the saddest sarcastic 'Go figure'
I will ever utter.

Have to agree with bringing Crain in.  He was
rested, wiggled out of a similar situation Friday night, and the "Eff
Thornton" precedent was established when a gassed Sale was brought in to
start the inning.  Can't go against it now!

Crain walks the
bases loaded, and strikes out a batter while throwing few pitches in the
zone in either case.  Oakland counters with lefty Ryan Sweeney, and the
White Sox bring in LHP Matt Thornton

It is worth mentioning,
that when you start dropping relievers into bases loaded situations,
they're pretty much screwed from the outset.  Or with multiple runners
on at all.  Just saying.

Granted the stakes had raised
considerably, the difference between how long Sale was able to pitch
through an intense bout of hittability compared to how quickly Crain was
pulled for struggling with control is noticeable.  That said, he was
airmailing everything, does not have a great history of control, and the
bases were loaded.  Thornton is rested and ready to go, and there's a
lefty coming up.  Friggin' go for it.  You're not managing for the 10th
inning here.

Matt Thornton strikes out Ryan Sweeney.  Now there's 2 out, still up 4-2.

At this point I made the grave error of hope.

60878431.jpg

This is what you get for being such a gamer, Chris // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

Matt
Thornton throws a 94 mph fastball through perhaps the exact center of
the strike zone, Cliff Pennington--still not a great hitter--singles it
up the middle and ties the game

So we're clear, Thornton is
still making mistakes over the heart of the zone and suffering from bad
location, lest we forget that his control was every bit his lifeblood as
his velocity throughout his prime.

Thornton returns for the 10th

Justifiable
actually.  He had faced three hitters, retired two, and allowed a weak
single for the other.  Sure, it happened to be the most important weak
single of the series, but still not a stinging indictment.

Thornton's control abandons him for good, after inducing a groundout
he walks two, then yields two singles, and achieves perfect symmetry by
allowing 2 runs...in his 2nd inning of work!  Hey now!

He probably needs to be pulled after the second walk; the game's
still tied, and if somehow they hauled the flaming wreckage of this game
deeper into extras, the stench of all the dead bodies that piled up in
the 9th would have subsided, and the Sox could have won this damn
thing.  I can only imagine Ozzie is at tectonic plate-shifting levels of
exasperation at this point, and at least he didn't compound the mistake
of bringing in Sale with no rest by using it justify bringing in Santos
with no rest.

Three of the four primary relievers were bloodied in this game, and if
Santos has stepped into the near impossible situation and fallen short,
what pipe dream would we have left to cling to?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

I've been steadfast sticking to the idea of a sort of
pitching-to-the-situation bullpen for a while now, but the unbridled
calamity of the past couple weeks makes me more than willing to submit
to the "guys need defined roles" talk that experienced professionals
have been trotting out for years.

That's not much of a concession, because neither approach works if no
one's pitching well, and both would have the same solution at this
point: find somebody--anybody--who can get some outs and ride them like
Wilbur Wood.  Ozzie's exasperated firing of uh...well, everyone,
from the closer role essentially put the job up for grabs, and if he
was really sampling Chris Sale's opinion on his availability 15 hours
after throwing 34 pitches, then it probably has been for a while.

As much as I'd like to see Sergio Santos get the ball in the next
important relief opportunity  because he's the only reliever riding
successive outings where he's been worth a damn at the moment, all these
guys have to continue to get work.  Even if Thornton, Sale, and Crain
(who's actually been just fine overall) reach career-high levels of
badness over the whole season, it's not going to be Team Bullpen ERA of
6.14-level bad. 

If everyone besides Sergio "lacks the character to close", then that's
going to be best-case scenario and easiest problem to fix.

More likely is that the two most trusted relievers coming into this year
are struggling at the same time, and getting them right won't require
the right fix, but patience.  If Wednesday's any indication, it's going
to be almost unbearable.

Follow White Sox Observer on Twitter @ JRFegan and on Facebook

Leave a comment