White Sox Week That Was 6/27-7/3 - Pretty good, pretty good

White Sox Week That Was 6/27-7/3 - Pretty good, pretty good
Nowadays, this passes for an RBI man // Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

These weekly wrap-ups are always heavily influenced by the result of the Sunday game.  Seeing as the Sox have been hugging all the turns on the road to mediocrity all year long, usually they're one game away from being deemed a failure anyway, so it's a flaw that's easily hidden most of the time.  But this week, the White Sox made as legit of an attempt as I can imagine to ruin a 4-1 start to a week by being handcuffed for 7 innings by none other than Rodrigo Lopez, a 35 year-old never-really-quite-was the Cubs acquired for a minor leaguer in a fit of desperation at the end of May.

That's no way to punctuate a week where the Sox scraped out 4 consecutive wins over the Rockies and Cubs with stirring late-inning rallies, but perhaps it underscored a larger point that had been easy to ignore when Juan Pierre was inexplicably winning games; the Sox still aren't hitting very much, and seem like they're operating without their morning coffee the first couple times through the order.  Which makes them look a lot like the Mariners.  That's fine, I like the Mariners, but they're not going to the playoff this year.

Still, the Sox managed to crawl within 3.5 games of first in a crap division and are now only one game under .500.  These days, those are words to drink to.

They ain't hitting...

Dunn wasn't really in on it, but some White Sox hitters were taunting fans with the notion that they might be on some sort of comeback trail recently.  Once our hopes were up, they gathered in the clubhouse, donned capes and Snidley Whiplash mustaches, laughed evily to each other, and then managed just 19 runs over 6 games, despite getting 5 extra innings in which to pad their stats.

For the week:

Alex Rios, 3-21, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 extra-base hits...is certainly not back.

Carlos Quentin, 3-17, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 extra-base hit...is saving it for the All-Star game.

Paul Konerko, 3-16, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 extra-base hit...has done enough already, dammit.  But those aren't quite 'only guy in the offense' numbers.

Alexei Ramirez, 4-24, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR...will make damn sure he hones in on a league average offensive season

Adam Dunn doesn't have a hit since June 24th, and I'm beginning to suspect he never boarded that flight back from Anaheim in May.  He's .127/.263/.231 since the 4-hit 'Adam's back!' game he had against the Angels.  Colin of South Side Sox took a long look into Dunn on the videotape and came away encouraged, and Dunn himself tried to sound positive after Sunday, but the results remain worse than anyone can imagine.

Do you stick with the proven slugger that you're massively invested in while he dive-bombs your playoff hopes?  Do you start to ebb away at-bats from him despite the $50 million owed because the pressure's on and you gotta win now?  I don't know, man.  Probably the former, but it sure is hard.

...but they're overcoming it more often than not

The White Sox pitching staff leads the AL in fWAR.  That's pretty heavy-duty, and at least a source of hope that the Sox can improve upon their 7th in the league ERA, even if we know Edwin Jackson may never ever pitch to his FIP.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been that surprising to see Phil Humber battle through a lapse in his command to get through 7 shutout innings on Saturday in Wrigley Field.  He's been scrapping together results that far outstrip his peripherals all year long, and having four pitches (the last one being the slider Don Cooper added for him) just makes him that much more slump-proof.

Mark Buehrle is managing to have another Mark Buehrle season; few strikeouts, even fewer walks, and an ERA about half a run lower than his xFIP.  His victory over Colorado was vintage work.  He cleared through 7 innings, struck out only 4, gave up a hit an inning, and once he started to wear down and miss spots at all he got hammered (solo HRs in the 6th and 7th).  But the results were there, and it'd be nice to keep him around.

Really, the story of the week is the White Sox bullpen.  They gave up one run all week in 17.2 IP, and that one run was probably Brent Lillibridge's fault.  Will Ohman is racking up close to the highest strikeout rate of his career, Matt Thornton has 12 straight scoreless appearances, and has struck out 11 batters in that time (not his best, but better), Jesse Crain seems hell-bent on improving on his career-year 2010, and Chris Sale and Sergio Santos are both dominant again after regaining their sliders.  Brian Bruney hasn't been awful either since getting bombed for a go-ahead home run by Mike Morse last week, but why he's being forced into regular use is anyone's guess.

You always get snubbed by the All-Star Game when your team is unpopular

Recent slump aside, Carlos Quentin is having a resurgent year, but was still a fairly unlikely choice as the sole White Sox representative.  AL manager Ron Washington clearly still has Carlos' 3 HR night in Arlington fresh on his mind.  It's the 2nd ASG appearance for the slugging outfielder, and he participated in a perfect relay to gun down Geovanny Soto at home Sunday just to prove that he is in fact, an outfielder.

Paul Konerko and Phil Humber seemed like the Sox best two candidates, but both seemed to fall victim to the crowded field issue.  Konerko might've had two legitimately more-deserving contenders ahead of him in Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, but Michael Young being selected as the DH reeks of a case of some team favoritism.  He has a chance to slide in as a Last Man candidate, and my colleagues are quite confident that he'll win, but his decisive loss last year in the Last Man competition, poor performance in fan voting, and the notable fact that the White Sox are one of 10 franchises that's never had a top-vote getting player in their history, all point to a team that doesn't poll well nationally.

Humber's an unknown guy who pitches to contact, and his starts probably don't register as appointment-viewing for many who live north of Roosevelt Road, so maybe he wasn't as obviously deserving as I thought he was 24 hours ago.  It's an absolutely loaded AL pitching field for starters, and Phil still has a decent chance to slide in as an alternate with many of the top guys scheduled to pitch right before the game.  Still, the fact that rec-bespeccled goofball Jose Valverde made it in--even though he's a reliever and probably didn't steal Phil's spot--is just irksome.  He's not even having a good year by Jose Valverde standards.

And while we're on the subjects of awards that will be disappointing, Gordon Beckham has only committed one error all season at 2nd base, and it occurred to me that when he got the second out of the 9th inning Saturday by racing to his right, and whipping a strong throw to 1st without even having time to plant, that high-difficultly plays aren't an abnormality for Becks anymore.  He's making the shift from adequate to being a true asset  His above-average defensive metrics get blown away by the likes of Pedroia and Zobrist, but only having one error is the type of eye-popping stat that wins Gold Gloves when they shouldn't.  There's a chance.

Looking ahead

Well, this might just be the most important stretch of the schedule to date.  Why?  Here's a fake conversation to explain:

"The White Sox stink!"

"No they don't!"

"They're a game under .500 and play in a crappy division!"

"A-ha!  But they've barely played the AL Central!"

Well, now comes 19 games against the AL Central in a row.  If the Sox are still knee-deep in fail-mud three weeks from now, well, that'd be quite a butcher knife to the groin of our optimism.  The first hurdles are the easy ones, 7 home games against the Royals and the Twins--the 4th and 5th place teams in said crappy division.  They can do this, right?

 

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