Last year, I attended the first and third games of last September's 3-game set with the Minnesota Twins.
In other words, I was there when the 2010 White Sox got put in the ground. They would have been demoralizing losses for the consequences alone, but with the Twins racking up 25 runs against the Sox' vaunted pitching staff, coupled with the Tuesday game where Francisco Liriano set the table several times, only to eviscerate the heart of the order with the result on the line...well, it's hard for one team to more thoroughly prove itself better than another in a 3-game period.
As a fan who's long since valued the Twins rivalry over anything else, it smarted. It was my lasting impression of the White Sox all winter: a dangerous squad that had no business passing for the elite of the league.
When I purchased tickets for a late-August Twins series in January, it seemed like a chance to see the sequel. Where the Sox would get revenge. When things would be different. Or at the very least, I might get to see the funeral again. I have tickets to see Detroit in two weeks, so maybe that will still come later.
The White Sox are a cut above the Twins now; their August showdowns have surely showed that. While that's very satisfying, it's in the sense that while the struggles this season have been horrid, Chicago has averted a disaster that Minnesota has not.
From the squad they started with, the Twins have gotten disappointing, or simply no returns from:
C Joe Mauer - Hurt all season and predictably diminished as a result
1B Justin Morneau - A shell of himself, then hurt long-term
DH Jim Thome - Hurt, returned to hit his 600th, then waived because the season didn't mean anything anymore
2B/SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka - Terrible beyond what league-adjustment can explain
SS Alexi Casilla - Not great, then hurt
LF Delmon Young - Terrible, then hurt, then waived when season became meaningless
CF Denard Span - Hurt in worrisome fashion
SP Francisco Liriano - Terrible and hurt, and inexplicably the possessor of a no-hitter (0h wait, the White Sox can't hit. It's actually totally explicable)
Given their state of affairs, a big sigh of relief could be let out once Mark Buehrle got through Jason Kubel every time through the order (and given the lefty-lefty matchup, and the way Kubel's been lately, really Cuddyer was the only threat). The 'Twins do everything right!' moniker was always apocryphal, but it was beaten to hell Monday night.
All the aforementioned absences have forced Trevor Plouffe (one of the few Twins subs offering some pop) into left field, where he compounded the mistake of misreading an Alejandro De Aza fliner by letting it boot off his glove for a double that eventually scored. Surprisingly up to the task of topping that was Nishioka.
He never thought to retrieve the ball after 3B Danny Valencia failed to barehand a Dayan Viciedo dribbler. Alexei Ramirez recognized this sudden interruption in competent Major League play by rounding 2nd and scoring.
It's one thing for the Twins to play poor defense--it seemed like a weakness coming in--but I would simply never suspect to see a Major League team bumble away a run while the ball sat in the infield, ever in life. It's such an absurd mistake that it can't really be be conducive to anything. Just mind-blowing. On a night where Minnesota reeked of vulnerability, it was the exclamation point.
For the second-straight game, the White Sox won almost entirely with selections from the Charlotte Knights' July lineup. They drove in all three of the game's runs in fact.
Viciedo (Now, the target of lame, sarcastic Chuck Norris jokes!) and De Aza both had defense-assisted hits, but their singles were both well-struck, and Dayan keeps drawing walks somehow. Maybe he'll find that if he keeps flinging pitches out to dead center, pitchers are going to nibble with him a bit more. Tyler Flowers unfortunately maintained his approximately 1/3 strikeout rate, but his predilection for driving the ball through the air (only around a 25% GB rate right now) produced a sac fly and an RBI double to the wall.
They all looked like capable major-leaguers at least. Especially De Aza, who is simply too competent in all areas to ever not be of use.
The White Sox farm system is fairly terrible, so it's not very trusted by the organization. Debates about how much one led to the other aside, this is a team that dug a massive hole while playing sub-replacement veterans for the bulk of the season.
It appears now that they did so while the upper crust of their Triple-A squad was capable of at least masquerading as Major League regulars. They were largely ignored--and Lillibridge's surge has been vetted for veracity--despite the fact that the organization has been stockpiling AAAA types for a while now.
Of all the lessons of the 2011 season, remembering to not view the last 2-3 spots of the roster as set in stone, hopefully won't be overlooked.
Tags: Alejandro De Aza, alexi casilla, baseball, danny valencia, Dayan Viciedo, Delmon Young, denard span, jason kubel, Joe Mauer, justin morneau, kevin slowey, Mark Buehrle, michael cuddyer, Minnesota Twins, tsuyoshi nishioka, Tyler Flowers, White Sox