Friday, September 30, 2011

The Season Leaves And So Does Ozzie

  79-83. 16 games behind Detroit and in third place. No White Sox fan anticipated that scenario. Were expectations too high? Were they overall an under performing team? It was a combination of both. Fans visioned the ultimate team or so called "Dream Team" that many organizations try to assemble. When someone pays $127 million for something they expect incredible results. If not they will promptly return whatever they purchased. With baseball that is simply something you can not do.
Going into the 2012 season the White Sox management will have to work with what they have and it will be very difficult because on paper what they have is a well rounded ball club, but when moved from the paper and onto the playing field they are a whole different team. It will be the job of Kenny Williams, Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the organization to figure out what key element was missing. That will play a major role in the compilation of a winning 2012 ball club. But right now I'm sure even more so then contemplating 2012, the Sox management is haunted by the 2011 season as the disappointment flows through the halls of the front office.
Under performance was the main reason for the downfall. Players such as Adam Dunn and Alex Rios did not pull their weight. Dunn had an unprecedented slump, that was very unpredictable and truly surprising considering his talent and years of consistency. Historically his numbers should have been on par if not better than Paul Konerko's 2011 season, which was very commendable, sporting a .300 Average, 31 home runs, and 105 RBIs. After coming out of the gates strong against Cleveland with a 14-0 lead in the 4th inning, the line-up looked even better then people had thought, with every player reaching base and making solid contact. Of course it had only been one game but it seemed as though the Sox were a serious team after that display. The bullpen showed major warning signs when they yielded 10 runs to Cleveland in just a handful of innings.
  After winning the second games of their first series the sox lost their first game and that became a pattern over the next week. The much debated closer spot was given to Matt Thornton, a natural set-up man. Even though the offense did their part, he blew consecutive saves and the White Sox's record suffered moving from what could have been a decent start to just mediocre. The early devastation really hurt the dynamic of the club and definitely affected confidence. After that it was very difficult for the White Sox to get into a hot streak. Adam Dunn had an appendectomy which no doubtingly affected his initial game and he was never able to get into a groove.
  The White Sox held the worst record in baseball after April and May and went into a minor winning period which at least put them back into the race going into July. Even though they were multiple games out the season was still alive. After the All-Star break the team seemed to have new life, beating Justin Verlander by a large margin their first game back. With some fair play in July they were able to get with-in striking distance and a 500 record. Fans were beginning to slide into U.S. Cellular seats again. But then they fell into an unbreakable pattern that displayed the same scenario over and over. 500 and with-in striking range was a popular place in July. Even having the opportunity to play against Detroit they were never able to capitalize on this. Fans were discouraged time after time and then a fire sale came into question near the non-waiver trade deadline. The White Sox continued their All In motto setting out for the playoffs. After falling below 500 they were hammered by the Yankees and much hope was lost.
  Then they went into another small hot streak and were back at 500 with games against Detroit approaching in September. By mid-August the division was wide-open and the White Sox were just 3.5 games back. Any team, Cleveland, Detroit, and the White Sox had the chance to take control and come away with the division. Detroit became that team and the White Sox progressively fell back in the standings. They had ample chances when they played Detroit in September but lost the majority of the games ending their playoff hopes. A bid for the wild card was out of the question and both Cleveland and the White Sox became small stories in the Central compared to Detroit's dominance that was very similar to what transpired between Minnesota and the Sox in 2010. Detroit simply took charge and that is what propels teams into the playoffs. Since early June, they had charisma and ate away at Cleveland's leas that seemed almost insurmountable.
  Many factors played a role in the White Sox's disappointing season but mainly it was a matter of being in sync. Aside from being very streaky the White Sox failed to have stellar pitching and hitting at the same time. At first pitching was the problem, then when their pitchers were excelling the negative focus switched over to their hitting aspect. This seemed to happen throughout the season and many teams find success when these two components match up in a positive way, it makes it easier to win ball games.
  Another season surprise was Ozzie Guillen's departure. He was known as a figure with a vibrant personality and gave the press a field day with his unexpected and outgoing quotes. He also earned a reputation as an arguing manager, and was famous for ejections. But in the minds of White Sox fans he remains the manager who led the Sox to their first world series in over eight decades and he will forever be thanked for his contribution to that title and the amazing season in general. He also led them to another division title in 2008 but was never able to add to his victory list. After rejecting his 2012 coaching option for what he described as strictly financial reasons, he like Lebron James "will be taking his talents to South Beach." White Sox fans and management wish him the best of luck with the Marlins. Pitching coach Don Cooper filled in as interim manager for the concluding games of the season and it is unclear who will fill Ozzie's spot. Many other questions loom, including the future of Mark Buehrle and what the entire team may look like in 2012. It should prove to be another interesting off season, testing Kenny Williams and the rest of the organization. And it is time to move on, because as far as the post season goes the White Sox are All Out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Williams should pocket the White Flag: Continue ALL IN motto

The days before the trade deadline always prove to be stressful times for both fans and players who are constantly wondering whether or not their team will be buyers or sellers. It is also a test. It forces general managers to make decisions that will solidify their popularity with the overall fan base as well as with the owners who are worried about, unlike the fans, not just winning but also financial stability. For example the miraculous Pirates this season have put the Pittsburg organization in a tough spot because they must decide whether or not to prove they are committed to the team by adding a key player. The overall struggle for a general manager to keep fans content while also taking financial concerns into consideration can be extremely difficult.
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams seems to be displaying some of this stress at the current moment. The term ALL IN has become a household term in the homes of avid White Sox fans. Sporting one of the highest payrolls in the major leagues the White Sox took a major chance this season. They hoped that attendance would pick up and they did what many people in America have done. They spent money with the intention to pay for their purchases in the future after earning more income. Almost like buying something with a credit card. They structured their pay timeline for specific players in order to compensate their high profile line-up. For example Adam Dunn is making the bulk of his 4-year deal salary at the end of his contract to allow other players to be paid first whose contracts expire before his. This payment plan is the reason the White Sox were able to have such a high payroll this season. The reason they were able to go all in.
  As the trade deadline approached I wondered what moves the White Sox would make. On paper the team is very talented and there aren't many areas that lack talent. The team is filled with players that excel at their position. The team that goes onto the field everyday should be winning a lot more often then it is. But they aren't winning and they are now one game below 500. ALL IN should not produce a 500 team. It should produce a serious contender. With an overall underperforming AL Central the White Sox are surprisingly still contending. This is why Kenny Williams is in such a difficult situation.
  Today the White Sox were involved in a three-team trade with St.Louis and Toronto. The White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to Toronto for reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zach Stewart also a pitcher. This was simply to drop payroll. Getting rid of Mark Teahen was a smart decision because he has been underperforming and is simply getting paid to mainly sit on the bench. However Edwin Jackson was a quality starter and although the White Sox have six starters he has performed very well and pitching is a major key to success in baseball. This move could possibly affect the rotation that has been in a consistent flow. It also would force a four player pitching staff if one of the other starters were to be injured. The addition to the bullpen helps but was unnecessary at the moment because the bullpen has been flawless. They have below a 1.00 combined ERA in the last few weeks. It may have been a better decision not to mess with that area of the team because it is working.
  Many analysts have been calling the trade a white flag trade. This term means that a team throws in the towel when the season isn't over. It is a surrendering trade. I disagree, I think it helped lower payroll without much damage to the team but it is the abundance of trade rumors that worry me. There is talk of Carlos Quentin being traded. He has hit a few home runs in the last week and nearly hit a grand slam today. With Adam Dunn in a major slump he is a source of production in the White Sox line-up. Eliminating him would be a major mistake. That would certainly be a white flag trade. Williams has announced that Gavin Floyd as well as John Danks can also be considered available going into the trade deadline. How can two of the White Sox's five quality starters be available? Matt Thornton, another vital reliever for the White Sox is also in danger of being traded.
  If the White Sox are worried about attendance then these trades would be major mistakes. During the last series versus Detroit the stadium was packed. The fans were electric. There was a post season feel in the air. It was because the White Sox were in contention playing the first place team. They were in striking distance and after winning today they still are. Rumors are rumors, but Kenny Williams seems to be losing patience. In the next few days the lineup could be considerably different. He might decide to clean house. Williams with today's trade also opened up a space on the 25 team roster and inserted minor leaguer De Aza into that spot.
  De Aza replaced center fielder Alex Rios who has had a very disapointing season. De Aza made a handful of decent catches and hit a two-run home run in his first at bat. When asked if the change was a message to Rios, Williams responded adamantely and boldly, "It's a message to everyone." Dressed in a fresh suit the message seemed eerie knowing that Williams could be taking that anger to the table.
  If the team was to be reshaped White Sox fans would most definitely not be compelled to spend money and attend games knowing that the organization has already given up. The White Sox would be contradicting their slogan ALL IN. If Williams continues to trade away the season, which is what the rumors predict he would be doing then the slogan should have been ALL IN until the trade deadline. It would make a lot more sense if they stuck with the same team throughout the whole season and made a few minor adjustments.
  Hopefully Williams understands that when playing poker going ALL IN is something that cannot be reversed. You can't simply pull back your chips if the outcome looks grim. In this case it actually doesn't look grim. A few key players have been in slumps. Even if this year does not work out due to that, next year could be different. If players perform with or above expectations then the team could reach major heights and possibly a deep playoff run. There is no reason to pull back the chips now, after a little over half a season. This team has great potential and it should be given a full season to prove it. Hopefully the team will resemble the current team after the deadline and will be able to win key games that will keep them in playoff contention.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Five Team Race


It is June 21st and the All-Star break is nearing. The second half of the season always proves to hold much more weight then the first and as history has shown, it is also a time when teams make dramatic playoff pushes. The Central American League Division is very unique, unlike the Eastern division, it is seldom predictable. Just look at this year for example. In the East, Boston and New York are battling for first with Tampa Bay close behind. Deja-vu anyone? Many analysts probably predicted those standings exact. 
  During the beginning of the 2011 season sports writers were calling the Central division flip-flopped, which accurately describes what it looked like a month or so ago. Kansas and Cleveland were on top and Minnesota and the Sox were on the bottom end, with Detroit in the cozy middle spot. That was the opposite of what many people anticipated and if you told someone that prediction before the start of the season they would have looked at you as though you had never seen a baseball. When the White Sox played Cleveland on Opening Day someone inquired about Cleveland, asking me if they were legitimate contenders, as I looked at the half-empty stadium and the score, which was a blow-out in favor of the Sox, I responded no. After losing their second game to the Sox, I was even more convinced that Cleveland wasn't a threat. 
 Early assumptions are never a good idea. After the series against the Sox Cleveland became hot, winning games in large clumps and cozily settling into the first place spot, dominating Major League Baseball. Kansas City, a team that chose to go young this last off-season, was also making a name for themselves. When I watched them play the White Sox I saw a great deal of potential. Minnesota I think was the largest surprise. The core of their team was dampened with injuries, including Joe Mauer who is a White Sox killer and the heart of the club. Unlike Cleveland they held one of the worst records in baseball. The White Sox were mediocre. They had a great chance during the early games to solidify a contending spot in the standings but as I mentioned in an earlier post some bumps in the bullpen became serious problems for a team who's offense began to struggle. Bad pitching isn't as devastating if it is countered by stellar hitting. But poor pitching, fielding, and hitting in combination sends teams into downward spirals that are hard to recover from. It looked like Cleveland was in and even more so Minnesota was out, but it is still somewhat early and recently the standings are starting to swing back into reality. 
   Minnesota caught fire in the recent weeks and currently have won seven straight and are sitting 7 1/2 games back, dangerously close to the White Sox, Detroit and even Cleveland. Detroit came out of nowhere, and at one point surpassed Cleveland on June 14th, when Minnesota was still in last place. So really just in the last week things have considerably shifted and Cleveland's record doesn't look as intimidating as it previously had. History has shown other pattens with-in the division. 
  From 2002-2004 it was always between Minnesota and the Sox, with Minnesota consistently being victorious. In 2005, Cleveland was the only a threat against the White Sox world champions. Since 2005 it has mainly been between the big three- The White Sox, Minnesota, and Detroit, with Minnesota shining the last two years but never performing in the play-offs. It was always close between those three teams, and Cleveland and Kansas were simply obsolete but this year that is not the case.
  Overall, if these first months of the season are any indication as to what the second half will bring then fans of teams in the AL Central should be holding onto September tickets as if they are gold because at this point no one can be counted out. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day: Sox Prove They Can Play

At 2:05 Chicago time, the White Sox entered the field in style and put on an amazing display. The season started with back to back hits by Juan Pierre and Gordon Beckham. The sox later would score two runs, one of them coming from veteran first baseman Paul Konerko's single. Mark Buehrle came prepared, he threw a shutout first inning and then continued that shutout streak until the sixth inning.                  
    While Buehrle was shutting down batters the Cleveland pitchers seemed to do the opposite. Hawk Harrelson had a chance to use his famous saying "put it on the board yes!" in the third inning when Adam Dunn, who struck out his first at bat killed a home run to right field. The left-handed power, Kenny Williams hoped for last season, came into effect on this years opening day, the Adam Dunn deal has already paid off. Later in the inning Carlos Quentin gave insight as to what hitter he plans to be this season by crushing a home run to left. With the homer the White Sox scored a total of four runs in the third. It was during the fourth when the White Sox really showed off their hitting ability. Quentin hit a bases loaded double, earning five RBIs all together, more runs then a few teams even scored total during their openers. Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez, and even rookie Brent Morel also had extra base hits during the inning. In all the Sox scored eight runs during the fourth, it was an incredible offensive explosion. By the fifth the Sox were up 14-0 and the Indian fans were silent, and maybe even a little depressed. 14-0 in the fifth! On Opening Day! I don't think anyone predicted that.
    Unfortunately, the game was a small version of the 2010 season. The Sox started somewhat slow, then got hot, and then had a downfall. Ozzie decided to give players such as Milleage, Lillibridge, Teahen, and Ramon Castro a shot. Once the starters left the game early the utility players combined to score only one run in the innings to follow the fourth.
    This isn't terrible, the real concern should be the relief pitching. After pitching phenomenally during the first five innings, the Indians put an end to Buehrle's consecutive ten outs by scoring four runs. With a ten run lead, Will Ohman, Chris Sale, and Jessie Crain cut it a little too close allowing six more runs to cross the plate. The sox finished with a five run lead and a final score of 15-10.
    Personally, I think this year's opening day rivals that of last year, when Buehrle made his remarkable play and the White Sox shut out the Indians. All in all the game showed just how powerful the White Sox's line up can be but it also draws some concerns for relief pitching. But no matter how many runs Sox pitchers give up, if the offense continues to be like it was today, they can't lose. Hello World Series? No, it is a little too soon, but if the Sox continue to excel they will definitely be in the running for the division. Chicago is smiling tonight, well at least on the South Side.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day Only One Day Away

Even though snow looms ahead for the Northeastern states baseball season officially began today. Mark Buehrle will begin the season for the White Sox by throwing the first pitch in the White sox's opener in Cleveland. Cameras will flash and fans will watch in awe as the offseason months finally come to an end. The offseason never goes as fast as expected for baseball fans. The slow winter lives on and on until pitchers and catchers report. Spring training is only a glimpse and even though it seems as though the season has started fans realize that it is only training and the players will truly be put to the ultimate test in months time. Tomorrow the White Sox will be put to that test along with high expectations surrounding the club. The White Sox really made it clear what their intentions were for the season. Every team's goal is to win it all but the White Sox really put themselves in a position to truly achieve that feat. With the 2005 team there was a great deal of restructuring and modifying from the 2004 team so this year a lot of fans are wondering what the team will look like when the players take the field. The answer is simple: The team will look stellar and talented. To get into more detail you have to turn your attention to the depth chart. The infield is full of young as well as veteran talent. Brent Morel, who really proved himself in the final month of the 2010 season, won over third base. Joe Crede did a fantastic job there during his time, especially during 2005, so it is hard for any player to fill in that spot. Mark Teahen was expected to be decent in that area last year but injuries dampened his season. Omar vizquel filled in instead and earned himself another year with the Sox because of it. This year though it will all fall on Brent Morel, a rookie. Alexei Ramirez will continue to stand between second and third base at short, hopefully continuing a long hot streak that began last season. He was stellar in defense and the streak even won him a silver sluggers award. Beckham, who is no longer a rookie, will also add some young talent at second.  He had a disappointing season last year, maybe high expectations were a factor in his downfall, but Greg Walker says he worked on Beckhams hitting and expects him to do great things in 2011. A.J. Piersynski will proudly crouch behind the plate as a returning 2005 player. He calls a great game and adds some experience versus having prospect Tyler Flowers in that position. Of course down the line from home plate Paul Konerko will reside as the golden aspect of the infield and of the whole team for that matter. His leadership talent and veteran experience will be a great ingredient toward success. On and off the field he can help the young players and lighten the mood. As for the outfield, the Sox have built up a pretty strong three. Juan Pierre will add speed to the team that he can use by stealing or chasing long fly balls. Alex Rios was great in the three spot last year hitting extra base hits and even a few longballs. To the right of Rios will be Carlos Quentin. No one knows for sure what type of year he will have, but hopefully his hot streak will last more then a month. With Quentin consistency is his biggest problem, he is either amazing or in a terrible slump. Hopefully this season he will be more balanced. Simply, if Quentin is hitting the Sox are winning. Overall, that is how the Sox will enter the field tomorrow, and most certainly with their mitts they will carry hopes and dreams of winning a World Series title.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can Chris Sale Sell Himself For Sox Closer Role?

  Chris Sale one year ago was in the minor leagues, not even on the spring training radar screen. The first I heard of him was when the Sox drafted him last year. The expectations were extremely high, that he would be a future White Sox pitching sensation. I checked up on Chris Sale throughout the season, but I didn't expect to see him. When Jake Peavy went down in July, I joked that maybe Chris Sale would step on a major league mound. It wasn't until a game versus Kansas City when I saw that happen. I saw him walk to the mound and strike out the first batter he pitched to. All three pitches 99 mph. I knew then he had a future.
  He earned a 1.93 ERA, thirty-two strike outs, and four saves during the few months he threw for the Sox. Then during the off season I heard rumors he would become a starter. I had thought that was a good idea when he first came to the club, but after seeing how exceptional he was in the bullpen I had second thoughts. Recently the White Sox announced that Chris Sale would be best suited in the bullpen for 2011. Now comes the question, should he be the closer?
  A majority of White Sox fans were upset that Bobby Jenks didn't come back. The closer threw intense heat and was a fan favorite among many. He threw the final pitch of the 2005 World Series, earning a save in game one during his rookie year. The White Sox were family to him, and he was family to the White Sox. Letting him go was a matter of too much talent in the bullpen, if that makes sense. It is possible the White Sox felt that with the addition of talented Jessie Crain, and current bullpen pitchers Matt Thornton and Chris Sale, there was simply no room for a high profile closer. Whatever the case Jenks had to pack his bags and move out to Boston, leaving an empty spot behind that would be hard to replace.
  Matt Thornton is the obvious choice for the job, he would be the most experienced and safe pick due to his success last season. The only thing is he was great in the set-up role last year and maybe it would be more beneficiary to leave him in his comfort zone. However, if he did become the closer, Jessie Crain was set-up man for Minnesota so he could surely replace Thornton in that spot. Tony Pena can work long innings and in some cases even start, so he could win over long reliever. Will Ohman will probably be more prone to pitching when needed. He is more of a situational pitcher, used in situations when he is known to succeed. For example pitching to a lefty or when a certain amount of men are on base. As far as Sergio Santos is concerned, he could be a third contender for closer but most likely will be another arm used to get through a late inning.
   Then there is Chris Sale. The young star. Only time will tell what place he will fit into best inside the pen, but at the moment he could definitely become the star closer. Sale would enjoy that role, it is just a matter of whether or not he can win it over Thornton. If not then he could thrive as a sixth to seventh inning reliever, setting down batters until Jessie Crain can set up Thornton. As Opening Day comes closer, it will become more clear what the bullpen will look like, but for now we can just speculate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A New Season Begins...After An Eventful Offseason

Today, February 17th, marks the beginning of a brand new baseball season. Outside there may still be snow and cold temperatures in Chicago but with a warm front coming into the area and with the White Sox reporting to Arizona it feels a little bit like spring, and spring feels like baseball.
  This was definitely an offseason to remember. As the stadium screens turned off, and Sox fans took a final look at the park there was uncertainly in the air. As Konerko and Piersynski trotted off the field, Sox fans took their possible final looks at the two ballplayers. Memories flashed by and minds began to wonder what the 2011 season would be like. Unlike the 2005 offseason, when Konerko's contract was under question, White Sox fans were a little less confident that he would return.
  I think the question on everyone's mind was whether or not Kenny Williams would propose the plan to go young. In my opinion going young is a term that means a season to rebuild. Not many people travel to a building that is being built, maybe every so often they will, but no one wants to go everyday to see the construction. People would much rather see the glorious final product. Of course it is true you can't get to that point without some building, but the White Sox already had a foundation.
  Alexei Ramirez and Gordan Beckham aren't rookies anymore but they are still young. Brent Morel and Chris sale proved in the late 2010 season that they could be great young components for 2011. So the young players were already present. A lot of teams were thrown in 2010 when a majority of the playoff teams were young, but veterans can not be undermined by fresh talent. Rebuilding years are never fun and I think Kenny Williams realized that he couldn't go in front of a microphone and say, "Well, um this year we are going to rebuild, we probably won't win a lot. Maybe next year it will be that way too, but maybe by 2013 we can beat the Twins for the division."
  I think attendance also played a large part in the moves made by the White Sox organization. According to Jerry Reinsdorf they went all in with the hope the attendance would pick up. Fans can pay for big name players by going to the games, that was the whole idea around the 2011 decisions. It was very unclear what path the Sox would take. The anticipation came down to a couple days before the winter meetings. I think the biggest surprise was when Adam Dunn signed a four year contract. At this point a lot of people thought that the Sox would still rebuild but Adam Dunn would replace Konerko.  
  My views on Konerko are like most of Chicagoens. I think Konerko makes the White Sox. He is a silent leader that brings the whole team together. In other words he is like the seams of a baseball, without the red yarn it could not stay together. 2005 players solidify the White Sox because they remind fans of that victorious year. When 2005 players became free agents this year, there was a possiblity that Mark Buehrle would be the only remaining reminder of that historic club.
  With Buehrle possibly leaving baseball after the 2011 season I thought it was appropiate for the White Sox to give Konerko, Buehrle, Piersynski, and Jenks one more shot at winning it all together one more time. The White Sox organization apparently thought the same way. With the exception of Jenks, they shocked the baseball world by signing those players again. Carlos Quentin, whose career has been dampened by injuries came back too, along with Omar Vizquel who is partly responsible for Alexei Ramirez's success in the 2010 season. Alex Rios and Juan Pierre will also be returning in the outfield for 2011. The pitching staff isn't really finalized yet because of Jake Peavy's career being still up for disscussion but the bullpen looks strong with the addition of Minnesota Twin's Jessie Crain and Will Ohman. I will go into more detail on the 2011 team and depth chart in my next post but for now it is very clear that the White Sox went ALL IN FOR 2011.