Chicago White Sox: The Clash to Close and Battle for the Pen

Steven KersteinContributor IMarch 13, 2012

DENVER, CO - JUNE 29:  Relief pitcher Matt Thornton #37 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on June 29, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The White Sox defeated the Rockies 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I've got some big news, White Sox fans.

In light of the openings in the White Sox bullpen, I have decided to forgo my career in sports journalism to challenge the likes of Hector Santiago, Gregory Infante, Dylan Axelrod, Brian Bruney, Zach Stewart and Eric Stults in their quest to make the big club.

In all seriousness, the existence of these openings in the White Sox relief corps isn't necessarily reassuring for Sox fans. Keep in mind that Will Ohman already has his name penciled into the roster card.  Ouch.

Before I go on my usual rant, let me give some credit to Bruney for slimming down and looking exactly like from Frank on American Pickers (yeah, I watch the History Channel). His sleekness has proved to be successful in the early-going as the righty hasn't allowed a run while striking out three in two appearances so far.

Axelrod, a 30th-round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, has been a cute, little side-story for a team that needs a spark of optimism and good energy. (Exactly what I can provide.)

When Kenny Williams shipped Sergio Santos to Toronto, he set up the White Sox bullpen for disaster.

Now, the group consists of a collection of parts primarily unwanted by the rest of the league that is headlined by set-up men Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton.

But wait, who will Robin Ventura call on to close out the nail-biters?

To this point, it seems as though the closer's job is a three-horsed competition between Thornton, Crain and Addison Reed.

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 04: Addison Reed #43 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the fourth inning during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 4, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Thornton and Crain, league veterans, will undoubtedly be given the first crack at the opportunity because of their success in the league.  

Notice that I didn't allude to their successes at closing ball games. Neither Thornton or Crain have exactly lit the world on fire in this stressful role.

Thornton was named the closer at the beginning of last season and fell flat on his face, converting only three saves in seven opportunities. Yeah, he faced a little bit of a bad luck with atrocious fielding behind him, but you can't expect to blow four saves and still remain the closer of a team expecting to compete.

Crain, albeit masterful at times, has a propensity of serving up gopher-balls late in games. Although he did put together a great season (8-3, 2.62 ERA, 70 K in 67 G), he's a set-up man. Let's not try the Matt Thornton Experiment again.

Closing in the big leagues requires a certain type of mentality. Grit and mental toughness are absolute essentials towards success in the ninth inning. While I'm not questioning Crain's mental toughness, he's closed a mere four games in his MLB career. Let's not make orange juice out of lemons. (I love making up mantras on the spot.)

At just 23 years old, Reed can still be molded into a major league closer. He possesses a big fastball/nasty slider combination and a deceptive delivery that can make him an immediate asset to the big club. During garbage time last season, the San Diego State alumni struck out 12 guys in six appearances in September. If my math is correct, that's approximately two Ks an outing. 

Punch-outs aside, Reed is still young enough where he can develop the intensity and "Kenny-Powerness" to close out the nail-biting, leg-shaking White Sox victories. 

Apart from the the bullpen, the White Sox starting rotation and lineup seem to be pretty set in stone. 

The rotation boasts the likes of John "$65 million No. 4 starter" Danks, Gavin "The Phillies drafted me instead of Mark Teixeira" Floyd, Jake "I won a Cy Young before the recession" Peavy, Phil "I hope the magic that invaded my body last season doesn't wear off" Humber and Chris "Why am I included with this bunch of schmos" Sale.

Don't keep get me started on the starting lineup. Obvious highlights include Adam "If I strike out quickly on three pitches, maybe the fans won't notice" Dunn and Alex "I'm going to buy a $12 million diamond tiara with all the money I'm owed" Rios.

But, at least the team now features Kosuke Fukudome. Joking aside, his signing was one of Kenny's better moves. Finally, an outfielder who can actually read a fly ball. What a concept.

Dan Johnson, former "Moneyball" first basemen of the Oakland Athletics, will hopefully bring some good defense and OBP to a team that could use another lifetime .235 hitter.

The fact that I have to mention Dan Johnson in my column isn't necessarily an optimistic foreboding for the 2012 White Sox.  

Although the Pale Hose might not compete for the pennant, Sox fans should look on the bright side.

While 20 different pitchers might get their 15 minutes of fame in the White Sox bullpen, I won't be one of them.  


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