This is a long one, but it's compartmentalized, so it's easy to read in sections
Three weeks ago, after the White Sox did a split for the week, it was plainly obvious that they were still firmly entrenched in the AL Central hunt and showed flashes of a higher level of play. Being an ornery cuss, I fretted that they had used up a week of play, and failed to advance on the Tigers at all. Other than for the obvious reasons (life, love, laughter, cheese), that week may as well have not happened!
Again, that was when the Sox were 4 games back, at the end of August. Now it's three weeks later, and they've lost a game in that time.
The White Sox began the week nicely enough. They outlasted Cleveland in a 14-inning marathon on a walkoff Juan Pierre single. I was there. It was great. That annoying 11-year old Indians fan in front of me was soooooo disappointed. (Thinks back to that night. Smiles wistfully.)
Then again, the Sox blew one of their better offensive efforts that night, sent the game to extras on a defensive gaffe, and everyone who pitched before the 9th inning was terrible. The three game losing streak that followed should not have been the biggest surprise.
With two games left in the week against the playoff-bound Rangers, playoff hopes weren't dead, but they were certainly riding in a car, handcuffed to their seat, which a bunch of strange dudes driving them out to the desert.
All things aside, the double Alex Rios slammed down the left field line to score Brent Lillibridge--the eventual winning run--in the bottom of the 8th Saturday night will be one of the coolest moments of the entire season. It was a moment that made you grateful to have a speedster like Lillibridge on call, and Rios' abominable year makes it more fun when he actually has a big moment. He even clapped three times and pointed to the dugout afterward.
To understand what an explosion of emotion that is for Rios, that's the equivalent of A.J. Pierzynski celebrating a big hit by ripping his teeth out and throwing them into the crowd.
Rios followed it up with 2 hits (including a dinger. Dingers!) in Sunday's 10-0 laugher, alongside some spirited defense. The last time I believed in him, he followed it up by reaching base 4 times in his next 33 PAs. Ozzie doesn't seem to be able to stomach doing anything worse than platooning him with De Aza, so he'll continue to play, especially since...
Carlos Quentin has been healthy all year. He's avoided punching things made of wood, he's appeased the God Plantar and avoided his Fasciitis pestilence, and there's been a grace to all the times he's fallen on his ass in 2011 that was absent in previous years.
When he flashed his now familiar dive-and-roll in right field on Saturday, I didn't even wince.
At least, not until he staggered up in obvious pain and had Herm Schneider poke and prod him for 10 minutes until he left the field.
Initially, it seemed like the inevitable horrific Quentin injury that we all should have been more paranoid about, but an MRI has revealed it to be a joint sprain. That puts Quentin out until at least the weekend, but the possibility that he could avoid the DL seems like quite the rush of good fortune.
The 10-run Sunday outburst aside, Quentin is one of only two solidly above-average hitters on the team...and the other can't run. As much fun as it would be to see Viciedo to finally come up and tank around, Quentin is far too great of a cost.
*Herm always comes out and oddly cradles the players' body parts, wears those goofy power balance bracelets, and gives some odd interviews...and the White Sox always finished last in the league in DL time. In other words, I'm getting me one of them bracelets
Dunn platooned, like, officially?
According to Ozzie, Konerko is "farther (away) to play first base than A.J. is to catch." As such, any starts for Adam Dunn entail more of his pretty awful first base defense alongside his bat, which is all the more reason to temper his use. This week he started four times, and sat against both of Texas' left-handed starters in favor of Lillibridge. He had 5 hits in his 4 games, all of which were singles (including two weak slaps away from the shift), and dropped the 2nd out of the 9th inning on Saturday night.
Lillibridge meanwhile, reached base 4 times in 8 plate appearances, homered, and still played some pretty crummy 1st place defense. Seriously? Of all the stupid problems to have? 1st base defense??! To hell with you, 2011.
Short of Dayan Viciedo (who homered twice on Sunday, mind you), the Sox have a collection of flawed prospects, serviceable non-prospects, and guys like Leyson Septimo.
So imagine the surprise that is both serviceable non-prospect Alejandro De Aza and flawed prospect Tyler Flowers thriving.
De Aza's ability to get on-base is pretty much wholly dependent on his batting average and he doesn't bathe in home runs. Yet, he's hitting .302 presently, and that combined with reliable defense and speed on the basepaths makes Alejandro look like someone who should start.
Tyler Flowers in 2011 reads like the player Sox fans have dreamed about since the Javier Vazquez trade. He takes tons of walks (15.6 BB%!!!) ropes extra-base hits (.210 ISO!!!) and adds things like speed and a competent throwing arm, that it almost feels weird for a catcher to have at this point. Friday night's 4 strikeout game showed a glimpse of disaster that his awful swinging strike rate has been hinting at all along, and he's riding a BABIP over .400 at the moment. It's unlikely he'll still be a .950 OPS hitter when Pierzynski returns, but this has been impressive.
This goes along with Lillibridge, who has not only staved off being DFA'd all year, but has a slugging percentage over .500 after 159 plate appearances. These guys have all had a bigger impact than they probably should have. Whatever, call-ups are working! Maybe there should be more of them! Even if it's just one more.
Initially I read this quote from on who Ozzie Guillen wanted to get the call in September when rosters expand: "Guillen said he would like one more catcher, an infielder and at least one more pitcher."
That was, upsetting.
Then it was revealed that Dayan Viciedo's promotion was assumed, and these were simply extra positional needs. Dayan does not fill a positional need, he fills a Dayan need.
It's hard to even focus on the pitching staff most of the time. So much of the White Sox success is based off getting the faintest specter of a pulse from the offense that it's just kind of assumed that the team is blowing above-average pitching efforts whenever they lose. But until the young guns (Floyd and Danks) of the Sox staff saved the weekend, the staff had 4.83 ERA for the week. Buehrle's magical run of sub-3 run starts expired, and Peavy was obliterated by Mitch Moreland.
The bullpen is very solid overall, and Buehrle is Buehrle, so besides Peavy (who's just always a concern) and the young Zach Stewart filling in for Humber, there's no real reason for concern. Still, not a great week.
Detroit is five games up, and really looks to be improved by their cadre of small and disciplined moves (even Delmon Young is working out for them!). As such, making up 5 games on the Tigers in 5 weeks seems pretty much impossible without dealing some serious damage in head-to-head match-ups. The Tigers have no other heavy-lifting from here on out.
This week offers multiple, multiple, off days as the White Sox voyage out west to face the Angels for two games, and the badly slumping Mariners for three. The Angels will give just about their best shot, sending Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver against Mark Buehrle and Zach Stewart. If the horror of the Weaver-Stewart mismatch overwhelms you, focus on all the silly hair.
Seattle will offer Charlie Furbush, a struggling of late Michael Pineda, and a struggling of late Jason Vargas. And no Felix. Facing the Mariners is a good thing.
Go ahead and assume that from here on out the White Sox need to win all of these games. It'll make every night exciting!
As reminder, my Twitter account was hacked on Sunday. It sent out a Direct Message to a lot of my followers. If you received one, ignore. If you opened it, change your password immediately. Like I did!
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, AL Central, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, baseball, Brent Lillibridge, Carlos Quentin, charlie furbush, Cleveland Indians, Dayan Viciedo, Delmon Young, Detroit Tigers, ervin santana, Jake Peavy, jason vargas, jered weaver, Juan Pierre, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mark Buehrle, michael pineda, mitch moreland, Ozzie Guillen, Paul Konerko, phil humber, Seattle Mariners, Tyler Flowers, White Sox, zach stewart