Slay this mythical beast! - A Royals preview of sorts

Slay this mythical beast! - A Royals preview of sorts
Jordan Danks, picking an uncouth time to settle a gambling debt // Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

In one of this season’s great peculiarities and sources of consternation, the White Sox have gone 4-8 against the Kansas City Royals.  They’re also 4-10 against the Tigers, but that makes sense to a degree, they’re actually a good team.  Unless you count the enigma that is the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City stands out as the only bad team Chicago has had extensive struggles with this season.

They’ve cleaned up on the Twins, punished the Indians plenty, and just as water flows downhill, they’ve mashed the Mariners into a fine paste.  And yet the Sox remain unable the figure out the Royals starting rotation, which owns a 5.15 ERA.

Personally, I prefer a team that dominates season series against the Yankees and Rangers while also taking time out to wave confusedly at #4 starters; it adds a layer of mystery that just isn’t there when your team is just making a living beating on the hapless citizens of the league, only to be mugged on the way home by the true bullies.

Unfortunately, the mystery can go on no longer.  The White Sox can ill-afford to go 2-4 in their remaining six games with the Royals.  But to right the ship, will need to face their unintimidating tormentors dead on.

  • Friday – Luis Mendoza – 4 starts vs. Sox, 2-2, 2.96 ERA, 27.1 IP, 21 K, 8 BB, 4 HR
  • Saturday  – Bruce Chen – 3 starts vs. Sox, 2-0, 5.19 ERA, 17.1 IP, 12 K, 5 BB, 5 HR
  • Sunday – Jeremy Guthrie – 2 starts vs. Sox, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 15.2 IP, 11 K, BB, 0 HR

The startling revelation in trying to find out why Mendoza and Chen had been so good against the White Sox this season was that they had not, in fact, been particularly good.  They have been on hand for good results for their team, obviously, but evidence of their dominance is fleeting.
Mendoza is typically a serviceable, but mediocre back-end starter.  Against the White Sox, he transforms into a serviceable, but mediocre back-end starter with a .254 BABIP.  His strikeout rate is higher than normal, but still comfortably below average, his control is unremarkable, his flirtation with home runs is troubling.
Bruce Chen has similar issues.  His ERA against the Sox is distended from getting firebombed for three home runs on July 13th, but that also came in Kaufman Stadium.  He comes now to U.S. Cellular Field having shown no ability to keep the ball on the ground all year, especially not against the Sox, and just gave up four home runs in his last outing.  The problems with Mendoza and Chen are about missed opportunities, not a lack of them.
Jeremy Guthrie however, has indeed, been good.  But Jeremy Guthrie is good, and before he spent a few months adapting poorly to the unmitigated hell of pitching in Colorado, it was pretty easy to get comfortable with this notion.  The man throws strikes and can hit the mid-90’s, so he has his share of effective nights.  One of his dominant outings against the Sox came with Konerko and Rios (statistically their two best hitters) sitting out, so he can’t be expected to again flirt with a no-hitter, but he’ll also be facing off against Hector Santiago Sunday (or worse).
These ropes are simply not strong enough to drag Jeremy Guthrie’s name through the mud with, and the Royals should probably be favored in this game.  Is it absurd for them to have one?
I find myself looking forward to the ‘Scout’s Takes’ tacked at the end of John Perroto’s weekly “On the Beat” articles on Baseball Prospectus.  They rarely, rarely have anything shocking or mind-blowing to say (“Alex Rios sure looks better this year!”), and are somewhat on par with the camera shots of NBA coaches during timeouts (“Guys!  We need to rebound!”) in how simple the statements can read.  But it’s coming from a scout, and the weight that mere notion carries is always intriguing.
This week, the comment on the White Sox was:

“They’re the biggest overachievers in baseball. I just love that team, and I’m pulling for them to get to the postseason. They deserve it with the type of energy and effort they put forth on a nightly basis.”

That’s nice but…somewhat backhanded sounding.  Since we’ve already mentioned the NBA for some reason, the comment is reminiscent of the praise heaped on the pre-Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls–an otherwise unremarkable club that regularly beat teams by treating mid-January games like the conference finals, but were outgunned when the stakes actually rose.
It’s an unkind comparison, but for all the praise heaped on the Sox this year for winning with a consistent approach, avoiding variances in their level of focus, overdoing their preparation, it fits a little too well.  Even from the hard statistical perspective, the Sox are quite notably scoring runs not due to pure offensive might but more of an ability to rise to the occasion.
Thus, I argue that just a bit more patience should be had with their not being able to simply blow the Royals out of the water with ease.  Such oversights are what the White Sox have made a living take advantage of, not making themselves.
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