In this instant-reaction world full of judgmental blogs like this one, teams are often thought of as being no better than their most recent dull thud against an average-ish sinker-baller. Sunday's effort against Rick Porcello and defensive betrayal of Chris Sale certainly left a lot to be desired, but far from undid the work of the 4 games that preceded it.
The White Sox swept the two games that they actually were able to play in snowbound Cleveland, and won a series against presumed divisional demagogue, the Detroit Tigers. Run prevention was the name of the game, as the Sox held opponents to 16 runs in 5 games (3.2 average) for the week.
Their most entertaining and fulfilling outing of the season might have been the Friday home opener, which combined a surprisingly taut outing from Jake Peavy (6.2 IP, 8 K, 2 ER), heroic play from defensive cornerstone Alexei Ramirez, and defensive cause for concern Dayan Viciedo, and aggressive baserunning from Paul Konerko of all people.
A 5-3 record is a decent sitting place after a difficult slate, especially with a promising 10-game stretch against the Orioles, Mariners, and Oakland coming. The Mariners and A's series are on the West Coast, which is a significant adjustment, but the step down in opponent difficulty is undeniable. If you're looking for further encouragement, look no further than Tigers manager Jim "Cap'n Sunshine" Leyland:
“If [prognosticators] think the Chicago White Sox aren’t going to be in the thick of this, they’re crazy.”
That's all anyone was really asking for this year, right?
Of course, it's been 8 games, and to say that there are still some things to figure out about the White Sox going forward is being several shades too kind. There's a ton of storylines that will be getting worked out as the sample sizes get steadily larger.
Dunn and Rios reclamation projects
A two-double day dragged Adam Dunn's OPS back into respectable ~.750 territory, and he displayed some shortened up swings, which it's nice to see him pull off every now and then. His strikeout rate remains at a grisly 38% after a week that saw him whiff 10 times in 5 games. It reminds that even an improved Dunn isn't necessarily a player that is magically going to return to previous heights. At least he's diagnosed the problem.
"I'm still striking out too much, even for me," said Dunn.
Alex Rios on the other hand, added his first hit to right field on the season, which was the undoubted highlight of a week that offered little of note. He sat for two of the week's games, and the .190 batting average probably isn't inspiring Robin Ventura to stagger out Rios' offdays more. Moving to right field has seemed to rejuvenate his defense a bit, but then he dropped a routine fly ball this week for...pretty much no reason.
Brent Morel, or anyone at the top of the order
Rather than continue to be the masher that he was in September, or revert back to the high-average/low-power hitter he was in the minors, after being placed in the #2 spot of the batting order, Morel took the unbeaten path of completely falling apart as a hitter. He's struckout feebly in 11 of 28 plate appearances, and has 3 hits (1 for extra-bases) on the year.
To his credit, Morel's looking a lot better than he did on his ghastly Opening Day. In his big opportunity on Sunday with runners on in the 8th, Morel gamely worked back from an 0-2 count to run it full, before waving at a slider away in the 8th pitch in his at-bat. It was small progress, and hardly enough to justify a spot near the top of the order.
Fellow potential #2 hitter A.J. Pierzynski is hitting well, and with power, to start the season, but the fact that his on-base percentage is lower than his batting average right now tells you all you need to know about the downfalls of his offense.
Gordon Beckham's bat remains locked in a humidor, and Alex Rios' lack of promise is well-documented, so unless Ventura is still of the strategy of throwing one of his struggling hitters at the top of the order with the hopes that it will rejuvenate them (he totally would be), Alexei Ramirez seems like the favorite to rise. He went 4 for 11 in the Detroit series with a HR and a stolen base. The ball beat him by half a second on that stolen base and he was only safe because Jhonny Peralta missed the tag for no real reason, but hey, success!! Ramirez has hit .287/.337/.423 in the #2 spot for his career, and has taken more plate appearances there than anywhere else.
Anyone who could post a .337 OBP on this team not only deserves to sit in the top of the order, but probably a $500K raise. Alejandro De Aza only has a .294 OBP and has still looked better than half the lineup, especially since his strikeouts have fallen to a reasonable level.
Dayan Viciedo is essentially the 2010 version of himself right now. He drives the ball with tons of authority, posts a respectable average, and doesn't walk or get on base nearly enough. He has a .908 OPS, but .600 of that is slugging. On the bright side, his strikeout rate is down to the status of "too high", where previously it was "disastrous". If he can re-establish last year's approach, having him batting 8th is going to look pretty stupid soon. Heck, if things hold as they are now with everyone throughout the lineup, having him batting 8th is going to look pretty stupid soon.
Pierzynski will probably remained an entrenched starter until he commits a violent crime, but his standing has to be a little bit less than it was with the previous administration. The contrast between Flowers and Pierzynski's pitch-blocking performance Saturday and Sunday was night and day. Tyler playing the game of his life Saturday--home run and a stolen base(!)--is probably skewing any proper assessment of him, but superlative efforts like that will inevitably lead to more playing time.
A child leading them
Hector Santiago is 3-for-3 on save opportunities for the young year, and only gave up a worrisome home run to a horrible player in one of those appearances. Concerns about his over-reliance on his fastball will persist until he allays them, but the reasoning on why the Sox are sticking with the super-green reliever are rock solid:
"We were all on the same page initially with wanting Crain and Thornton to be available for the eighth inning, maybe the seventh inning sometimes because I think we all know in a game, that ninth inning doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have the toughest hitters up," Kenny Williams explained prior to Friday's home opener. "The situation to win the game might be in the seventh or the eighth. So to have those guys available and interchangeable for that -- it fit everything together."
The idea of an optimized bullpen that focused on the leverage of the situation over the inning didn't depart with Ozzie. After devoting about 500 posts to perceived weaknesses of the White Sox organizational approach this off-season, I feel obligated to note that they're absolutely whip smart about developing and managing their pitching once it's in-house.
The rotation that's carrying the team
Speaking of pitching, Chris Sale was the only member of the rotation to get multiple outings, and for the most part has looked like a really talented guy who's starting for the first time. He overcame early control issues to overpower a weakened Cleveland lineup, then wowed Detroit with velocity that touched 97 mph on Sunday, until control issues coupled with defensive miscues and umpire fallibility doomed him to an inefficient day.
Jake Peavy flashed more upper-level potential than expected in the home opener, but tired down the stretch, and coupled with 6 innings or shorter outings from Danks and Floyd, it appears that quantity could become an issue with this rotation, even if the quality is commendable. Save for the useless-if-not-stricly-used Will Ohman, the bullpen has been fine, and even Nate Jones showed some mettle Sunday by pitching out of a bases loaded jam with minimal damage. Yet, the large smattering of rookies in the group makes a larger workload a worrisome prospect.
A four game set against the Orioles starts Monday. The Sox will miss anti-Verlander Brian Matusz, and face starters Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, and Jason Hammel. Of that foursome of starters who are all off to decent starts but holding meager track records, only Arrieta is a former member of the once-heralded crop of Baltimore pitching prospects
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Baltimore Orioles, baseball, Brent Morel, brian matusz, Chris Sale, Cleveland Indians, Dayan Viciedo, Detroit Tigers, Gordon Beckham, hector santiago, jake arrieta, Jake Peavy, jason hammel, jesse crain, John Danks, Justin Verlander, Kenny Williams, Matt Thornton, nate jones, Oakland A's, Rick Porcello, Seattle Mariners, Tyler Flowers, White Sox