These Are Trying Times…and it’s only May 23!

Well, it’s been too long in between posts, that’s for sure.  I’ve been spending my days duking it out with the geniuses on the WhiteSox.com comment boards and need a rest I guess.  Actually, what I need is an unfiltered outlet, since I’ve been recently slowed down for content quantity with some sort of moderator limiting my number of words.  As someone with as much to say as I obviously have on the subject of Chicago White Sox baseball, that’s just not a good thing.  Where to begin?  Let’s start with an under-achieving team that has slogged its way to an 18-25 start, g ood for 7.5 games behind the darlings of the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins.  I knew that this team going into this 2010 season had a laundry list of “ifs” “maybes” and general question marks, so my prediction of 87 wins for the season was optimistic even by my rose-colored glasses standards.  Of course, it is still very early, and the season hasn’t been a complete debacle as of yet, but man are these guys trying the patience of its fans, myself included.

The only guarantee in baseball is basically that there are none.  Nobody can possibly be an expert on something so unpredictable, so when guys come out and make bold statements like: “This team is done, the 2010 season is over”…you just have to laugh out loud.  If the season were 50 games long, I might be inclined to take heed, but with a slate that will include more than 4 months and 119 (that’s one hundred and nineteen) more games…well, let’s just say that it’s still pretty early and a lot can and certainly will happen to decide the outcome.  Forget about injuries that always play a factor, let’s for now focus on what has and has not yet happened for the White Sox.

What has happened:  Paul Konerko has absolutely shown himself as still a potentially dominant offensive force.  In the last year of a 5-year contract, he decides to go out and set a franchise record for most home runs in April.  Even while slowing the pace in May (inevitably a white hot fire will cool off), he still remains tied for the MLB lead with 14 dingers.  Andruw Jones has shown flashes of brilliance, and reminds us of that All-Star/Gold Glover/MVP from days gone by in Atlanta.  The biggest head-scratching, under the radar signing of the off-season has looked to be a stroke of GM genius at times considering the bargain-basement price tag associated with “the risk”.  And although he too has cooled lately with the bat, a guy that has certainly been one of the biggest surprises in all of MLB this season, and will likely play an integral part of any future offensive success that this team might still experience.  Juan Pierre has slowly but surely emerged as exactly the player that he had been in past days with the Marlins, Cubs, and in a very solid stint replacing Manny Ramirez in LA during his 50-game suspension last season.  Brought in to replace the departed Scott Podsednik as the team’s new lead-off man, Pierre stumbled horribly out of the gate, and looked like the worst idea ever conceived by Kenny Williams.  Benched for a game, and dropped down briefly to 9th in the batting order seemed to re-invent his game, and has since been absolutely on fire with the bat taking his average from the depths of the mid .150’s to a respectable .260 in the span of about 4 weeks.  Stealing bases, and playing an inspired brand of left-field defense which has not been witnessed on the South Side of Chicago for more than a decade.  And let us not forget the story of Alex Rios.  Abandoned by the only team he had ever played for in the Toronto Blue Jays, claimed off of waivers in July of last season as a coveted 5-tool recent All-Star selection whose arrival with his new team absolutely coincided with the demise of both his feel for the game at the plate, and the inexplicable folding of the White Sox to close the season a dismal 79-83.  Rios was roundly booed, and left for dead by a fan base that was already proclaiming him the biggest bust of the Kenny Williams era, and labeled as the guy who would eventually cost that embattled GM his job.  Then, the off-season happened for the young man, and amidst reports from wildly unpopular hitting coach Greg Walker that he had proclaimed Rios’ swing “fixed” after witnessing only his first 5 swings, the fans in my neck of the woods couldn’t hold back the laughter and sarcasm.  So, for a guy that was already counted on for nothing, he has only gone out and paced the team in hitting through the first 43 games.  At one point his BA had ballooned to .333, before cooling just below .300, and then  re-surfacing with a hot, clutch bat driving in several runs with 2-out RBI hits over the most recent home stand.  In addition to a solid average, his unexpected claiming of the CF position and mastery of the outfield leather has been almost as impressive as his penchant to steal bases, making him by far the most complete current player on the team’s roster from a pure talent and performance standpoint.

Okay, now for what has not happened.  This could get lengthy, so I will be less descriptive to limit this to a short novella.  Starting pitching (with the exception of a very solid effort from John Danks) has been absolutely abysmal.  Jake Peavy (who was widely expected to claim the “staff ace” status) has been completely and unpredictably wild and ineffective.  The former NL Cy Young winner has been very hittable thus far.  Mark Buehrle has shown flashes of his dominant and efficient old self but overall has been a major disappointment.  Freddy Garcia had started slow to fuel the fire that he was the wrong choice to go with as the #5 starter with young gun Daniel Hudson annointed as the starter in waiting in AAA, then had rebounded to win 3 straight starts to become our most dependable starting option (which was a scary statement to make) until just today getting absolutely drummed by the Marlins to the tune of 7 runs in 3 innings (3 home runs allowed) to reclaim the ire of White Sox faithful.  And then there is the slow start of Gavin Floyd.  1-4 with a fat 7.00 ERA out of the gate to match a similar alarming beginning of the 2009 season, and laying claim to the pitching version of the Alexei Ramirez “can’t hit until it gets warmer” MO.  Added to the limping starting pitching (which was supposed to be this team’s strongest suit) has been an absolutely impotent offensive “attack”.  Mired in a last-place showing in team batting, the worst part of the problem has been an absolute inability to hit with runners in scoring position.  I’ve personally never witnessed a team that could put the ball in play, and be rewarded with so few hits than this team in 2010.  While strikeouts are way down, number of base runners has not been the issue, but a flat-out allergy to collecting clutch hits has derailed this team losing several games in April by 2 or fewer runs.  Shut-outs, and being dominated by opponents is one thing, but being in a position to win most games, and failing to seize opportunities is an altogether different prescription for fan insanity.  The worst culprits to date have been Gordon Beckham, AJ Pierzynski, Omar Vizquel, Carlos Quentin, Mark Kotsay and Mark Teahen.  I mention these 6 in particular since they represent the still-lowest of the batting averages, but you could add in slow starts from Juan Pierre, and Alexei Ramirez to contribute heavily to the team’s April struggles.  With basically three-quarters of your roster under-performing from a career offensive standpoint, it is nearly a miracle that this team has managed to win 18 games at all.

As expected, the lightening rod for controversy Manager Ozzie Guillen has been targeted by fans as the head that should roll for this uninspired beginning of the 2010 season.  Never one to hold back a thought or miss an opportunity to attempt to re-direct poor on-field play to himself, Guillen’s unpopularity seems to be at an all time high.  He has not cow-towed to fans, nor sugar-coated the results, and the simmering feud between he and GM Kenny Williams inevitably becomes the focus when answers are requested for the morass of questions that plague this team.  Better play resulting in more wins would conceivably solve all problems, but another passionless .500 (or worse) season will likely serve as the final chapter in the once Cinderella story that was the 2005 World Series Championship.  What will soon be 5 years removed from the pinnacle of baseball success, this organization is dangerously approaching a complete overhaul from top to bottom, and re-building was definitely not something that was on the team’s menu when this roster was re-constructed to supposedly be shaped in the image of its Manager.  This was billed as a return to “Ozzie Ball”, the exact kind of team that Ozzie had hoped for, and one that he claimed would challenge him to be a better Manager…the challenge is there, but has yet to be met by both players, and Manager alike.

Trying times, indeed.  It IS still early, and no white flag will be raised, nor will a fire-sale ensue…at least not that I can forsee.  But, baseball is an unpredictable game.  The most interesting part is certainly ahead.  Just HOW interesting of a story will unfold remains to be seen.  Will it be a gagging, dry-cough agonizing story, or will it be an epic turn-around for the ages?  The odds are decidedly for the former, and against the latter…but that is exactly why you have to “hide and watch”!

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