Robin Ventura and Brent Lillibridge: Problems, solutions or neither?
While Bobby Valentine's failings get all the attention, no one seems to be asking how Robin Ventura is doing in Chicago. Sure, great things were expected of the Red Sox this year, while the White Sox were a popular pick to do nothing in particular. Still, regardless of whether the team is going win 100 games, 81 or 62, we should expect a certain basic competence of the manager.
As you probably know by now, the impact of one batting order over another is pretty minimal, but when an idea just isn't working, it's not unreasonable to expect a change. Case in point: Ventura's choice of No. 2 hitters. The average American League No. 2 hitter is averaging .238/.304/.389. That's not good, and maybe all managers should be indicted for their choices for the spot. More than any other team, though, the Pale Hose are dragging down the group.
White Sox No. 2 two hitters, primarily Brent Morel, had hit .119/.196/.167 with 21 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances heading into Thursday's game against the Orioles. Morel himself was hitting .103/.146/.128. On Thursday, Ventura sat Morel and put his other Brent, Lillibridge, in the lineup—yes, at third base and batting second. That's what third basemen are meant to do in Ventura's cosmology. Naturally, Lillibridge went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the game.
Given that batting second and third base are indivisible for the White Sox, it won't surprise you that their aggregate production at the position is well below the rest of the league. Morel is a fine fielder who had a very good September (.224/.340/.553 with 15 walks and eight home runs), but he seems to have left whatever magic he found last fall in his other suit.
Given how well Lillibridge played last year (.258/.340/.505), he should be getting more time than he has thus far (just six PAs heading into Thursday). I hasten to point out that saying that Lillibridge should get more time doesn't mean there should be any expectation of his hitting that well again. In an ideal world, he would be selectively used, spotted mostly against left-handed pitching. It is only in comparison to Morel that he deserves more of a shot. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Ventura has another decision to reconsider soon. Rookie closer Hector Santiago has allowed three home runs in four innings pitched. That wouldn't work for any pitcher, but it's particularly frightening in a closer.
At least the Sox have other options in the 'pen. They don't have too many choices at the hot corner; their farm system is largely prospect-free. That's why, though they have pitched relatively well to this point, they might be better off dealing off some of their starters for prospects than trying to hold on. This was the avowed plan for last winter, but somehow it didn't happen.
Now, Chicago's AL team resembles the Neil Young song, "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere." Nothing symbolizes that more than the way Morel is dragging down the offense, and the Sox have no choice but to live with it.