The following appears in this weekend's Dugout Splinters, part of the Gameday publication.
Even for a team that's now the American League Central's bottom-dweller, there are positives to lean on in this series. Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Rob Mackowiak, Alex Cintron and Juan Uribe have all had success against Minnesota this year, and just because the offense has been horrendous it doesn't mean they can't get the job done. There's a lot of talent in Chicago, which makes them dangerous. They simply have the same issue as the Twins: they aren't a complete club.
Jermaine Dye, an MVP candidate last summer, had been one of the year's biggest chokers until August. That month he finally woke up, hitting .300/.381/.580. This month he's belting a .293/.370/.463 line. It's too late to completely resurrect his miserable start at the dish, but he's hitting now, and that bodes well for the Sox in the closing days of the year. Thome has been remarkably consistent over the last three months, hitting 20 home runs (including his 500th) since July 2. Young Josh Fields, who may make Joe Crede replaceable, has been playing better defense, has developed a power stroke, and has nine hits in his last five games. On the mound, Javier Vasquez is having his best and most complete season since 2003. He's recorded 15 quality starts since June 1. Mark Buehrle is himself again after a disappointing '06, and is ready to cross the 200-inning plateau for the seventh consecutive year.
The Sox have five players with 20 homers or more. They have two pitchers starting the first two games of this series who are having very, very good seasons. It seems like it never matters whether one team is good, one team is bad, or if both teams have just been disappointing, when the Twins and White Sox get together it always seems like it's a great baseball series. What is they say? Familiarity breeds ... something.
What's Not Working
Chicago is on pace for their worst record since 1989, when they finished 69-92. They've just split a series with the Kansas City Royals, leaving them in the same place they were when the series started: last place. In spite of having talent on the offensive side of the ball, they're the worst hitting team in all the major leagues. In spite of having talent on the pitching staff, the starting pitching has been up and down (mostly down) and the bullpen (outside of Bobby Jenks) has been atrocious.
They have the home runs, but they don't have much else. Players like Scott Podsednik, Darin Erstad and Uribe have specific skill sets that make them attractive, but as overall players they also have deficiencies which neutralize the positives they could bring to an everyday lineup. Just like the Twins, the White Sox have a bench that's been forced into a lot of plate appearances. In Thursday's starting lineup, Chicago had two players with an on-base percentage higher than .320 (team OBP is .318). Four players have 100+ strikeouts (Konerko is nearly there to make it five) and only two who have walked more than 45 times. Outside of Konerko and Thome it's impossible to construct a batting order without glaring weaknesses.
Chicago was relying on their minor league system to help them bridge the gap in '07 from Ryan Sweeney, Fields, Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson, and perhaps even Jason Bourgeois. In the end, Bourgeois never made it to The Show, Sweeney was in Guillen's doghouse and only posted 49 plate appearances and Owens is hitting .254/.318/.301 in 85 games. Fields, the only one who's been of any help, has belted 20 bombs, but still is batting .241/.296/.465 with 116 strikeouts.
Other vets who may have been able to pick up some slack, like A.J. Pierzynski or Uribe, have been decent but unable to balance out what the youth and inexperience has done to the lineup. Toss in Dye's slow start, Crede's injury, and ineffective plate appearances from Erstad and Podsednik, and Chicago's offense just tanked over the course of the summer. A pitching staff whose starters were unreliable gave no support to the hitters, and even more frustrating was the bullpen, which has had a penchant for giving away a few of the Sox's precious leads.
It's not like Chicago is a horrible team. When you think of Detroit and Minnesota in the mid and late 90's, or the Royals for the last 10 years - those were bad teams. The White Sox are just incomplete, and have had a bad season. Just like the Twins. Next year will be different, and is right around the corner.
In the midst of a season where the talent didn't live up to the expectations, the White Sox organization signed their manager to an extension that runs through 2012. Through it all, Ozzie Guillen made us laugh, made us laugh harder, but in the end has become the identity of the South Siders. His unorthodox management style and quotable nature have made him a target of a lot of criticism, but the Sox believe he's their on-field leader, and have put their money where their mouth is. Pun intended.
Guillen hasn't shied away from criticizing his players in public, but he also has been willing to shoulder the brunt of the blame for the team's inability to compete and for the team's apparent affinity for apathy. He loves the game, he's definitely passionate about it, and as long as his players perform, he'll be there.
ON THE HILL
Friday: Mark Buehrle (9-9, 3.55 ERA)
- 2007: 195 IP, 112 K, 199 H, 42 BB, 22 HR
- 2006: 4.99 ERA, 204 IP, 98 K, 247 H, 12-13
- Buehrle was one of the hottest pitching commodities on the market at the deadline, but ended up signing an extension with the Sox. Considering his past, it was a good move for Chicago.
- Fastball around 90, cutter in the mid 80's, and a changeup in the high 70's. Still mixes in a curve on occasion.
- With a .257 opponent average against right-handers, and a .302 mark versus lefties, the Twins could have a good day against Buehrle...provided they can get around their soft-tossing southpaw stigma.
Saturday: Javier Vasquez (13-8, 3.83 ERA)
- 2007: 202 IP, 193 K, 185 H, 47 BB, 28 HR
- 2006: 4.84 ERA, 202.2 IP, 184 K, 206 H, 11-12
- Standard arsenal: Fastball, curve, slider, change. The fastball clocks in the mid 90's, and depending on who you talk to the slider is "devastating" or "can't be thrown for strikes". It could be both. The curveball is nice, and the changeup makes the fastball more effective against left-handers.
- Vasquez is having a good year in a career that has teeter-tottered between "average" and "good". Confidence has a lot to do with how explosive his stuff is, and he's been throwing with much more swagger this year.
- If that curve or change isn't working for him, watch hitters sit on his fastball.
Sunday: Gavin Floyd (1-4, 5.65 ERA)
- 2007: 57.1 IP, 40 K, 72 H, 16 BB, 15 HR
- 2006: 7.29 ERA, 54.1 IP, 34 K, 70 H, 32 BB, 4-3
- Once a major prospect in Philadelphia, Floyd's struggled. A career 6.51 ERA in parts of four seasons, his minor league career 3.69 ERA and 1.29 WHIP are a distant memory. Still, he has stuff, and at just 24 years old he has plenty of time to put it all together.
- Good low-to-mid 90's fastball, a very average changeup and a killer curve, if he gets it to work. He's still a work in progress.