It seems my mind was playing tricks on me.
Last week, the White Sox's awful road trip (1-6 through Cleveland and Toronto) had me thinking the season was just about over. The injuries were mounting quickly, and the starting pitchers looked completely ineffective (unless Mark Buerhle took the mound every three days). And analysts were using the hated "home-run-or-nothing" label for the offense.
It felt like it was time to pack it in.
Even the sparks of hope were quickly extinguished. Last week, Jake Peavy was a sure bet to come to the South Side and the Sox looked great in winning two in a row from the Twins. But word came through: Peavy nixed the trade, and the Twins mopped up in the rubber game by the score of 20-1.
That's a bad score in Little League.
Now, as if that weren't enough, I caught the flu. (No guys, not the swine flu. We hope.) But since last week, the Sox have won eight of their last eleven.
Is it the team showing signs of life, or just an aberration? What's turned things around?
The hits, they keep on coming
It's been said over and over again by armchair analysts such as myself, but a key to the 2005 White Sox success was Scott Podsednik leading off. Now that Pods has returned to the South Side, it seems he has shaken whatever was keeping him off a major league roster.
Recently, Pods has been doing well at the plate, recording a hit in all but two of the last 11 games since the Sox ended that terrible road trip. Tonight was his eighth multihit game since returning to the White Sox uniform.
Alexei Ramirez has also found his stroke and rebounded from a bad start to the season. Three hits tonight raised his average to .261, almost 70 points higher than three weeks ago. He and Podsednik had four hits apiece when the Sox whipped the Angels 17-3 on Monday, and they picked up the go-ahead and insurance RBI in the ninth tonight.
With Carlos Quentin on the 15-day DL, it will be important for the top and bottom of the lineup to continue hitting at a solid pace.
Get 'em on, get 'em over, and get 'em in
I'm sure they would love for more home runs in San Diego (to be fair, they just want more wins.) But for White Sox fans, we crave one thing: the sacrifice fly. Tonight, when Jim Thome sent a deep fly to center field in the fourth inning, Sox fans probably breathed a collective sigh of relief: "Yes, a sac fly! He got the run in, and no homer."
Last year, Harold Reynolds (somewhat derisively) called the Sox "a softball team" during the playoffs. During a game at Progressive Field this year, one of the Indians announcers remarked, "Man, are they slow," as Jim Thome rounded third on an RBI single. The general view around the league is the Sox can't--and won't--run.
Now, things are changing. With the addition of Pods, plus the quick feet of Chris Getz, Brian Anderson, Ramirez, and Dewayne Wise when he's in the lineup, the Sox have some threats to steal. Plus, they become a much better team at going "first to third" on a single. Last night's six-run sixth inning was a prime example of this.
With more runners in scoring position and more offensive threats, the Sox will be able to get those singles or doubles to drive runners home and won't have to worry about the big home run. And that's great news for fans and Ozzie alike.
Strike first (then strike second and strike third)
A three-fold test awaits John Danks and the Sox tomorrow, when he faces the best pitcher in the American League, Zack Greinke.
One: Danks must pitch to his capability. After his third start, Johnny D was 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA. Since then, he's 2-3 and his ERA has ballooned to 4.59. More telling, he's only pitched seven innings in one start this year.
Danks gutted out a win last Monday at Anaheim, allowing only four hits and three runs in six innings while walking a season-high six. He was able to limit damage, but to beat Greinke, he must be sharp and have the pinpoint control we've seen him have in the past.
Two: win the third. In the last four series they've played, the Sox have won the first two and dropped the third. The last two were close losses versus the Angels and the Pirates, and tomorrow shouldn't be an exception. All the little things that have been working lately need to happen tomorrow: great defense, timely hits and a good effort from the SP.
Three: extinguish the legend of Greinke. Zack Greinke is no fluke, and don't let anyone outside of Bristol tell you so. He's had great stuff for years, and while he's bounced from the bullpen to the starting rotation, he's worked himself to this position.
And not only is he lights out this season, he's challenged the White Sox on multiple occasions. He's hit Sox players and in a game earlier this year, he threw behind Ramirez twice. He's the main reason the Royals have risen from their former post as doormat of the division.
It's hard to fight back in the batter's box, but the surest way to take a pitcher out of his game is to hit him and hit him hard. Greinke's ERA is 0.41, so knocking him around won't be an easy task. But a win over Greinke, combined with some well-placed trash talk, should send him a message.
To the future
I don't think it's an aberration. The White Sox are looking much more cohesive and polished in their play. My fellow writer and Sox fan JJ Stankevitz recently posted an article criticizing the Sox defense and limited infield range, but they have looked better in that area over the last few games. As an added bonus, they are turning more double plays (which Ed Farmer mentioned they were not doing earlier in the year.)
If the Sox can sweep the Royals tomorrow, they will have dispelled memories of their bad stretch at the beginning of the month. They will also have momentum going into June, and as I always say, June is when the Sox bats (and those Comiskey Park fireworks) start warming up.
Until next time, let the sock fly on.