Sports Illustrated's Joe Sheehan says he doesn't like to comment on the opening couple of games, because there's nothing to do but comment on but small samples.
That's a bit self-limiting, because it's also a point of the season where interest and fan investment might be the highest--if Chris Rongey fielding calls about Konerko not running out a pop-up is any indication--and comparisons to Sheehan aren't going to do me any favors anyway.
In dropping their opener 3-2 to the defending AL Champion Rangers, the Sox mixed in protracted displays of feebleness with still managing to stay competitive against a powerhouse team. If Brent Morel fields a double play ball cleanly, A.J. Pierzynski squares up a meaty high fastball in the 6th just a bit more, and hey, maybe things are different. Perhaps a lot different.
So what could be taken away from a close loss against a good team where the Sox struck out 13 times against a mediocre starter, but also held down a top-flight offense that was fully healthy?
"Adam Dunn homered on Opening Day last year", I mentioned to my sister as Dunn rounded the bases after his 6th inning blast, instantly ruining her day. The caveat that even Dunn can have a good day applies, but he also looked really, really good on Opening Day last year, as he did Friday.
The massive home run Dunn launched was off a pretty darn hittable 87 mph fastball, but at least it displayed plenty of raw power. Dunn never stopped being a strong dude, but his HR/fly ball rate cratered last season.
Dunn also walked and struck out, but his strikeout came on an instance of him playing protect in 2-strike count and missing on a slider that ran way in. It wasn't exciting, but it was a hell of a lot more forgivable than whiffing on a 92 mph heater right down the pipe...or staring at a 92 mph heater right down the pipe. One day in, and there's no red flags, but Saturday night against lefty fireballer Derek Holland should be more revealing of where he's at.
Colby Lewis and the Rangers certainly benefited from a Texas-sized strike zone, but there are going to be other umpires with wide zones throughout the year, and if the Sox strikeout 13 times every time there is, 'unmitigated disaster' is going to become a familiar term around these parts.
Certainly when you see Brent Morel and Alexei Ramirez striking out multiple times in a game, it rings of a unique situation where the Sox were just awful at picking Lewis' slider. This isn't an entirely dissimilar lineup to the one that tied for the third-lowest strikeout rate in baseball while Dunn and Beckham were cratering, so this shouldn't continue to such a grand scale.
Beckham was screwed over on the last out of the game, but was otherwise made foolish in his other two strikeouts, especially in trying to catch up to Alexi Ogando's fastball. A lot of guys are going to look bad against Ogando--indeed, he struck out the side--but concerns about Beckham will continue until further notice. If De Aza can be expected to return to having average power and average patience, he can't strikeout in 20% of his plate appearances and stick at the top of the order.
Danks is legit
"A couple more mistakes than you'd like from an Opening Day starter" both describes Danks' Friday outing and could be entered into his scouting report. While we'll continue to root for Ian Kinsler to leave for the NL in free agency for Danks' sake, Johnny was able to work his changeup as a strikeout pitch against a lineup that hammers them, and showed excellent control in walking no one over 6 innings. He allowed the go-ahead run in his last inning of work--which has been a problem--but at least he was at an efficient 78 pitches at the time.
More efforts like this one will produce better results than 6 IP, 3 ER; all the other average-strikeout, control-mavens on the staff should take note. In other words, everyone but Chris Sale.
Dreams of an optimized bullpen
It felt foolish to expect, or even hope that Ventura would do something as bold as reject the prototypical bullpen setup in his first year. Yet the trade of Santos left him without an entrenched closer, and while the alternative (Thornton) seemed obvious, Ventura dragged it out until this:
"I just don't feel the need to have to announce it. It's not going to be the same guy all the time. We're not necessarily thinking ahead of it as a committee bullpen, but as far the guy coming in the 9th, it going to be different at different points in the season."
"Yeah, matchups, how certain guys do against certain teams. If we had Mariano Rivera, I'd be able to tell guys that we have a closer."
The negative interpretation of this would be that Ventura doesn't feel that a single reliever has distinguished himself from the pack, which could be the implication of the River comment. Instead, let's choose to hope that this means Ventura wants the freedom to tab Matt Thornton to retire a killer set of lefties while nursing a 1-run lead in the 7th, or call upon Addison Reed's slider against a big righty masher in the 9th.
The flirtation with the extremely green Hector Santiago in the 9th inning was disconcerting, but all is forgiven if it was just Ventura hashing out what his rotation for high-leverage relief outings will be...and it will probably be unforgiven the first time Santiago is thrown into a huge situation and wilts like some guy promoted directly from AA.
This only becomes something to watch when the White Sox get a lead.
Alex Rios scored from 1st on a single by hustling when the outfielder failed to get the ball back in quickly, as opposed to the other way around
He was going with the pitch, but that's as clear of a sign that it's a new year as you're going to get.
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez, alexi ogando, baseball, Brent Morel, Chris Sale, colby lewis, derek holland, Gordon Beckham, hector santiago, John Danks, mariano rivera, Matt Thornton, Paul Konerko, Robin Ventura, Sergio Santos, Texas Rangers, White Sox