1. It was put to me by another Sox fan, the other day, that the offense is a "ticking time bomb." They've scored one or fewer runs in 12 games this year and have been the reason the Sox have lost a number of games, including Sunday's 4-3 loss in extra innings.
So, a simple, straightforward question: can the Sox make the playoffs with the lineup they have right now?
Yes. Don't expect anything super special from Konerko, but he isn't this bad. It's very possible for Swisher to have a strong second half. If Alexei Ramirez proves that he can provide offense that is above replacement level, other teams are going to have to watch out.
Not right now.
It's on me at this point: it's June 2nd and for the month of June, the Sox stand at 0-1. They've shown that they can play with the good teams pitching-wise, but the offense has to stand up.
To clarify, I believe that the Sox will start hitting. It's not the time to play "Let's Make a Deal," no matter what Ozzie says (he was angry and we say things when we're angry.)
But if the Sox are still only a few games above .500 and can break even at the end of the month, then I'll have to reverse my previous statements. June is the month to watch; either the Sox will rise or they will fall.
No, and it's pretty clear that Ozzie feels the same way. There might be a few guys in the lineup that are struggling that will in fact turn things around, but to expect that everyone will suddenly surge in the second half is just plain wishful thinking.
They can make the playoffs with the lineup that they have because of the great pitching they're getting. Without that, they don't have a shot.
No, they do not have a table-setter. They are struggling to get on base and don't have a man who will do it at the top of the lineup.
You and I threw around a couple names (Crisp, Lofton, Freel), and I am going to add some more (Juan Pierre—LAD, Fred Lewis—SF, Frank Catalanatto—TEX, Reggie Willits—LAA).
This is very much a fastball hitting team, with men on base, everyone, from the red hot Carlos Quentin to the struggling veteran Jim Thome, would be seeing many more good pitches to hit.
It would also allow Orlando Cabrera to move down to the two-hole and do what he does best, sacrificing and hitting behind the runner.
When I read that evaluation, I thought it was over-the-top and far too negative.
Has the offense been bad so far?
Yes, yes it has.
As I wrote in another article, the Sox have scored one or fewer runs 12 times this year, dropping all of those games.
But it's only early June here—there's a lot of time for this offense to get it together. If just one of the three who haven't been hitting—Thome, Konerko, and Swisher—really get their act together, this offense will be good enough to carry the Sox to the postseason.
2. In the loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, Ozzie Guillen pinch-hit Jim Thome for Alexei Ramirez in the seventh inning, despite Ramirez's recent hot streak and Thome's year-long slump. Thome proceeded to strike out in the at-bat. Do you think that Guillen is sometimes too loyal to his established players, especially in cases like these?
There isn't anything wrong with Jim Thome. He's on pace for 90-something walks and 28 or 29 home runs. The low BABIP is probably going to correct itself over time.
Alexei Ramirez has a .255 OBP, hot streak or not. If you are trying to win baseball games, Jim Thome is your hitter. Had Jim Thome hit a weak single through a hole, no one would have even questioned the move. Hindsight is 20/20.
Nonsense, man. You've got to roll the dice and play the averages sometimes, and even though Thome struck out in the seventh, he came up aces in the 10th, legging out a leadoff double.
Sitting Thome for a long period won't help him get his batting rhythm, and I think he's coming around. As for being too loyal to his established players, look at 2007 for that: the established players were gone by early June if I'm correct.
Yes, Ozzie has been notorious of relying on veterans anyway, and this year it's biting him in the rear. When Guillen said he's "not protecting anybody anymore," I was wondering if he was talking about guys like Thome, whom he has continued to stick up for much of the season despite Thome's horrific season.
Perhaps it is a sign that Ozzie is going to continue to stick with the hot bats and put egos aside.
At times yes, but at other times I've seen him go with the player that's doing the job, as evidenced by Ramirez playing still even though Uribe is off the DL and healthy.
He has gotten away from the style of managing that won him a World Series in '05. He never "played the odds" (pinch hitting a lefty against a righty pitcher, etc). I think it simply comes down to Ozzie over-thinking himself.
He should have continued to play the hot hand (Ramirez), rather than try for the win via the long ball (Thome, Konerko, etc).
While I appreciate Ozzie trying to catch lightning in a bottle, doing it with Thome against J.P. Howell, a soft-tossing lefty, was a poor decision.
Yes, Thome leads the team in home-runs vs. left-handed pitchers, but three of those came off the hard-throwing (and struggling) CC Sabathia.
Howell features a good changeup and breaking ball—essentially, a deadly combination for Thome.
With the way Ramirez has been hitting lately, I would have much rather had Guillen kept him in.
I think it speaks to how loyal Ozzie is to Thome, though, because Thome was on deck when Howell was brought in—he had yet to be announced as a pinch-hitter. He easily could have been called back for Ramirez, but Ozzie balked at that and Thome, of course, struck out.
3. Despite the three straight losses to the Rays, the Sox still find themselves one game ahead of the Twins for first place in the AL Central heading into a stretch where 26 of their next 32 games are played in the city of Chicago. Could this be a defining stretch for the Sox (either good or bad)?
The month of June is the perfect opportunity for the Sox to establish themselves as favorites in the AL Central. With so many tough road opponents behind them, this is a nice month for the White Sox to do well. A .667 winning percentage or so would be a good goal for the rest of June.
This is the big test.
The Sox have played the division well so far, but I said it a few articles ago: you have to win at home. The Cubs have played a bunch of games at home and have shown they can win; now, they'll have to show they can win on the road.
The Sox have the opposite task: they played well enough on the road to get to first. Now they have to win at home. If you win at home, you gain the fan support, which I believe is very important for a team's psyche. If you lose at home, especially on the South Side, it's going to be a long summer.
I wouldn't say a defining stretch, but they have to continue to play good ball, obviously. Should the pitching continue to hold, I'd look for Ozzie to really be aggressive in his offensive strategy—increasing the hit and runs, steals, and bunts called. Hopefully that combination will equate to continued success.
I think it could be a defining stretch either way.
They have played well at home and will need to continue to do so to maintain their lead. They've done well so far playing the fewest home games of any MLB team, and here's hoping that some home cookin' will keep the Sox on top of the division.
With the way the weather has been heating up, it will certainly be defining.
Everyone with a baseball head on their shoulders knows that US Cellular Field becomes a launching pad. It could swing either way. Sox bats could heat up and keep clubbing the home runs, or they could stay quiet and hope that the pitching staff keeps the league low in home runs.
I think this could be a defining stretch—in a good sense. With so many home games and so many games against less-than-quality opponents, the Sox offense really could start clicking come the Crosstown Series.
I actually have the Sox pegged to go 18-9 in the month and I don't think that's too wild of a prediction considering the Sox play 12 games against Kansas City, Colorado, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.
4. Finally, do you think the pitching can continue to do what they've been doing (starters and relievers) into the summer?
Vazquez - Yes. He's a stud, and there's not really much else to say about him.
Buehrle - I think we can look for Buehrle to improve modestly going forward, though his K/BB is a cut below his career mark.
Floyd - No. I wrote an article about him some time back. His peripherals have improved a little since then, but they're still bad, and he still holds the league low in BABIP at .196 (which is far below the typical league-low at the end of the year).
If Gavin the Magician has this success the entire year without actual improvement to his pitching, he would become, without qualification, the luckiest pitcher of this era.
Contreras - Yes. I've definitely come around on Jose. The strikeouts aren't back, but he's got a newfound ability to induce ground balls. The nasty forkball is really working for him. It wouldn't be a stretch to predict him to maintain this level of performance.
Danks - Yes. Danks was once a highly regarded prospect, and all he's doing this year is delivering the performance that most experts expected was a few years away for him. Perhaps his greatest improvement is cutting down on the gopher balls that plagued him last year.
As for the bullpen, bullpens are fickle. I like the chances of this bullpen being a quality one for the rest of the year, simply because several guys are getting the job done well right now, and if one or two goes south, it won't be the end of the world.
When Comiskey Park heats up, we'll see what the hurlers are made of. I hope they'll last, but my better judgment says they'll slump.
The starters might fall off a bit, but not much; Gavin Floyd and John Danks are used to the aches and pains of a full season after last year, and the other three starters are vets.
The bullpen is an enigma, but there are enough good arms. Linebrink and Dotel are solid, with Masset, Logan, and Jenks rounding out the top relievers. If the pitching falls off the wagon, it'll be after the All-Star Break, towards late July.
One has to figure that the offense, in one way or another, has to come around and as such the pitching staff will finally get to relax a bit. They haven't been overworked, which is good, and Ozzie has been able to rely on just about everyone coming out of the bullpen and that's been the key this year as opposed to last year.
Yes they can.
The starters were outstanding and this year's bullpen is vastly better than last year's edition. And we still have Bobby Jenks at the back end to lock it down in the ninth.
Danks and Floyd have shown great progress since last year, in everything from the movement of their pitches, to their composure on the mound.
Contreras is not the same pitcher as '05/early '06, but he has found something that works, and is using it.
Vazquez is the same as he was.
Buehrle is the only question "Mark." He needs to keep getting ahead of hitters, working quickly, and locating. He does those things, he'll return to form.
As for the Bullpen, Jenks and Linebrink have shown no signs of slowing. Logan and Thornton have shown great maturity over the past couple years. Wassermann and Masset are the only two questions.
I think Floyd will drop off a bit, but that'll be balanced out by an improvement by Danks. He hasn't been sharp in his last few outings, but once he gets his pitch counts back down, he'll really start to take off just when the Sox need it.
I don't think Buehrle will be this bad for the entire year—if he can start hitting his spots, he'll be back to his usual self.
Vazquez and Contreras both should stay about where they are and lead this staff through the summer. This is an experienced bullpen, which I think will go a long way towards not folding come July or August.