This week brought a critical divisional homestand versus the Royals and Twins. It offered a chance to improve the team's divisional record, a chance to go into the All-Star break on a good note, and more tangibly a chance to go into the break well over .500. Hell, when the Sox started the week they were only 3.5 games out of 1st place. Another torrid finish to a 1st half, and the White Sox--these Chicago White Sox we've been watching all year--could have been in 1st place themselves.
Instead they failed in every regard, and went 2-5. At least that's easy to wrap your head around.
The White Sox belabored some well-worn points in dropping 2 out 3 to the Royals and 3 out of 4 to the Twins.
-The offense sputtered and averaged 3.28 runs per game, despite getting a shot against Kansas City's league-worst by a mile rotation, Minnesota's league-worst bullpen*, and for fun on Sunday, Anthony Swarzak--a member of said awful bullpen--was thrown in and tossed 6 innings of one-run ball.
-Jake Peavy labored, didn't hit his prime velocity, couldn't throw the sharp slider that defined his prime, and was summarily singled to death in two starts this week; a fate known to befall strikeout pitchers when they can't get strikeouts. Oh, and he's probably hurt.
-Adam Dunn teased. He charmed the White Sox faithful by sarcastically tipping his cap after a bloop single, inspired them with his clutch wall-scraping homer to give the Sox the lead versus KC, and wowed them with a moonshot Friday night. Unfortunately, those were his only hits all week, and while strikeouts have always been a part of his game, K'ing in over 43% of your plate appearances isn't really a part of any successful major leaguer's game. Every week this stretches on makes it seem more permanent.
-Alex Rios celebrated the one year anniversary of the last time he was an above-average hitter in style, with some puzzling reads and throwing decisions in the outfield, and by OPS'ing under .400 for the week. Rios continues to be utterly baffling; other than a spike in pop-ups and a drastic decline in strikeouts, his contact is pretty much on par with last year except that the ball just isn't going anywhere. Note to self: No more 6-year contracts for Alex!
But the bullpen is stiiiiillll great!
If given the choice between four main performance groups: hitting, fielding, starting pitching, relief pitching, and asked which one I'd like to perform at an elite level, I probably wouldn't pick the one that affects only a sliver of the game, and doesn't even factor into the result some nights. But this is still nice to see:
Bullpen for the week: 23.1 IP, 1.16 ERA, 8.87 K/9, 1.93 BB/9
That's made to look better because the 3-run gut-punch bomb Will Ohman gave up to utilityman Luke Hughes was mostly laid on Gavin Floyd's tab, but goodness gracious that sparkles! Besides, every time designated LOOGY Will Ohman gets thrown into a jackpot and asked to retire right-handers, I feel he mostly gets a pass for what follows.
After sputtering to slow starts, both Thornton and Sale have been sporting ERA's around 1.00 and striking out just under a batter an inning since the close of May, Sergio Santos recently had his slider validated as the best wipeout pitch in the league, and Jesse Crain has earned this year's salary in terms of WAR by the All-Star break.
On top of that, the week saw the introduction of Hector Santiago; a call-up from Double-A who tossed 5.1 innings worth of shutout mop-up work. He didn't baffle many hitters, and his .067 BABIP indicates heaps of beginner's luck, but he throws plenty of strikes (and a screwball!). With Peavy in some sort of state of disrepair, and Danks still rehabbing his oblique muscle, it's nice to have a mildly encouraging option for an emergency starter now that Lucas Harrell is gone.
Meanwhile, Lucas Harrell is gone. My one good memory of him would be his July 30th start, but he only started because the Sox had traded Dan Hudson for Edwin Jackson that night, so I have no good memories of him. Also, Dayan Viciedo went 3 for 3 that night. Damn you, July 30th, 2010. Damn you right to hell.
Paul Konerko claimed victory in the Last Man vote to ensure that the White Sox actual best hitter would make the AL squad for the mid-summer classic. 8.4 million votes sent the Sox 1st basemen to Arizona, including 22,000 from a single man, who got to meet Konerko as a reward. It's a wonder what a lack of stimulation and simplifying the voting process to just entering a 5-digit code repeatedly can accomplish. That man has a fine future in the world of data entry if he wants it.
Any hope of Everyone's Little Miracle, Phil Humber earning his way in as an injury replacement were dashed when the Twins also singled him to death on Thursday to launch his ERA over 3.00. It might have been the start of a regression to his still-solid peripherals, but the timing absolutely couldn't have been worse for the hard luck journeyman to earn a thrill of a lifetime.
More on this will be coming during the break, but with the Sox hamstrung with an enormous payroll stacked with some unmovable albatrosses, it seems like the most obvious choice is to look for cheap in-house promotions to patch this ship. They have a couple of guys who have a shot at being league average hitters (or better!) in Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza, and the offense is frighteningly short on league average hitters.
Where (and if) the Sox will ever make room for them is a mystery. Juan Pierre was the most financially expendable player, but getting on base at a .439 clip the past two weeks will be more than enough for the team to justify keeping the Grinder Ball mascot. Being committed for years on end to Rios and Dunn looks pretty bad right now, but the Mark Teahen extension sticks out prominently at the moment, as the Sox can't even manage to dump under-performing bench players without hemorrhaging cash.
Tyler Flowers--the catcher of the future for three years running now--got called up as an injury replacement Sunday after Ramon Castro broke his hand the day before. It would sure be a great time for Flowers to slug with the Lord's fury, transform A.J. Pierzynski into a trade chip, and lead the Sox to the World Series while Buster Posey sues him for copyright infringement. But in all likelihood this will offer a decent look at a flawed prospect at best, and gums up what was a pretty decent platoon at the worst.
There's a critical road series against Detroit coming up on the weekend that's sure to involve Justin Verlander in the opening matchup. On the one hand, Detroit is the division leader, have a markedly better record at home, and the White Sox were swept the last time they traveled there. On the other hand, the Tigers have still managed to post a -7 run differential. As much as the White Sox may struggle, the AL Central will just not abandon them.
There are no games until Friday, which is good, because the Sox haven't been winning many of those suckers.
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, All-Star Game, baseball, buster posey, Carlos Quentin, Chris Sale, Dayan Viciedo, Detroit Tigers, hector santiago, Jake Peavy, jesse crain, Juan Pierre, Kansas City Royals, Matt Thornton, Minnesota Twins, Paul Konerko, phil humber, Ramon Castro, Tyler Flowers, White Sox, Will Ohman