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White Sox aren't as bad as they look
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CLEVELANDIf the 4-9 Red Sox are the most disappointing team in baseball, then the 4-9 White Sox are the most perplexing.
Ozzie Guillen’s guys were a popular pick to win the American League Central. Now they are off to their worst start in 13 years. The pundits who tabbed them as a playoff team (including yours truly) are about to ask for an April mulligan.
How bad is it now? Well, the South Siders were just swept by the work-in-progress Cleveland Indians. They have lost four in a row overall.
Next up: three games against the hottest team in baseball -- the first-place Tampa Bay Rays -- followed by series with the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees.
In other words, a slow start is about to intersect with a difficult stretch. Not good. And based on what we’ve seen so far, this would be a lousy year to fall far behind the Minnesota Twins.
I actually think the Windy City Stockings have a better chance at a rapid turnaround than their Boston brethren. (More on that later.) But when a team’s batting average and rotation ERA are both next-to-last in the American League, as was the case for Chicago entering Tuesday, it’s hard to engender much confidence.
“We’re finding a different way to lose each day,” Paul Konerko said. “We’ve got to try to reverse that.”
Said Gordon Beckham: “We want to win. We’re not winning. It’s not much fun.”
“@#$%,” Guillen declared.
OK, maybe that’s not a direct quote from the Chicago skipper. But you get the idea.
Ozzie is again showing his media savvy by playing offense when it comes to criticism. (We expect nothing less from the ’09 MLB on FOX postseason analyst.) On Saturday, he launched into a strong defense of his coaching staff -- particularly hitting coach Greg Walker.
The White Sox have a .222 batting average, making Walker a natural scapegoat. Guillen obliquely blamed Walker for the team’s hitting woes following a particularly heinous showing less than two years ago. But not now. When the manager was asked about the subject on Saturday, he was ready with a response.
“That’s their fault,” Guillen said, in reference to the slumping hitters. “It’s not Greg Walker’s fault.”
A few PG-13 sentences later, Guillen adjusted his stance. Slightly. He wanted to add one more culpable party.
“I take the blame,” he said. “I don’t want Walker to take the blame. I don’t want (pitching coach Don Cooper) to take the blame. I don’t want Joey (Cora, the bench coach) to take the blame. All these things, blame Ozzie. Don’t blame anybody else. Don’t put anybody in the middle. My name’s out there.”
If Guillen is the man responsible, then what exactly is he doing about it?
For one thing, he’s tweaking the lineup a lot. Almost every day, actually. He has used the same batting order in back-to-back games only twice this season.
Oz deserves credit for trying. But if you simply put the same slumping hitters in a different order, how much good can it do?
Mark Teahen, a new arrival from Kansas City, acknowledged in an interview that he had a “terrible first week.” And yet his OPS of .903 is the best among the everyday players.
A.J. Pierzynski has one RBI. That’s unacceptable for someone who has batted sixth on several occasions this year.
Carlos Quentin looked like a bounce-back candidate, but he’s hitting .200. Guillen decided it was necessary to rest him on Sunday -- “mentally more than physically.”
Juan Pierre has a .283 on-base percentage. Until the leadoff man starts utilizing his speed, No. 2 hitter Gordon Beckham won’t see many fastballs, and, consequently, the lineup will remain stagnant.
“Just not getting it done right now,” Pierre said.
Yet, there is hope. Despite their awful record, the White Sox have been outscored by only two runs -- an indication that rotten luck is partially to blame. (The Red Sox, by comparison, have a minus-19 run differential; yes, they have been that bad.)
Further evidence of Ozzie’s misfortune: According to Fangraphs.com, Chicago’s .228 batting average on balls in play is the worst in the majors.
And my scorecard from Sunday’s game is dotted with Ls -- as in lineouts. I counted six hard-hit outs.
Pierzynski had two of them. After Jhonny Peralta robbed him of a double in the eighth, the catcher sauntered toward the dugout, bat twirling in his hand.
When I asked what was going through his mind at that moment, he replied, “A lot of stuff that you can’t print.”
“Believe it or not, there’s a lot of good signs out there,” said Konerko, currently checking in at .214. “What’s happening now is we’re stringing together bad at-bats and not getting anything out of it. Then when we do string together good at-bats, we’re not getting probably as much as we should on those.
“In the end, it’s like one pile of horse (manure).”
The White Sox are a veteran-laden team, so those expecting to see overt signs of panic are going to be disappointed. Center fielder Alex Rios said he’s not frustrated -- yet. Pierzynski reprised the most familiar refrain for teams that are underwater at this time of year.
“Because it’s early in the season, because so much was expected, it’s overplayed, I think,” he said. “I still like this team. I still think this team has a great chance to win. We’ve just got to get it going.”
And they can. The bullpen has been terrific. Jake Peavy pitched well in his most recent start, in contrast to, say, Boston’s John Lackey and Jon Lester. I’ll be surprised if the White Sox are still under .500 at the end of May.
But if they are, well, that will be a shame. I hate it when Ozzie goes through all his good material before Memorial Day.
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