1. Let's start easy: Who has been the biggest reason for the White Sox's enormous offensive turnaround? Do you think Ozzie's rant had anything to do with it?
Patrick Nolan: No. Very no. It was only a matter of time before guys started regressing to the mean.
Thomas Barbee: While Ozzie's rant isn't the main reason, you have to figure it's part of the equation. Not only were guys not hitting, but they were playing with a total lack of energy. For better or worse, when Ozzie went off, the guys have been playing with a fire under their rear end—something that hadn't been seen since the beginning of the year. I'd say that Joe Crede, who seems to have stolen Carlos Quentin's mojo, is the heart of the lineup right now—and the resurgence of Alexei Ramirez has also contributed to the offensive turnaround.
Chris Pennant: Not everything is based on mathematical stats. Motivation is continually ignored in professional sports due to the fact that millions of dollars should be enough of a motivating factor for anyone. However, athletes are people like us, and sometimes they need a kick in the pants. Ozzie aired out the team, the Sox came home, the Chicago weather was hot, and voila—the Sox opened up the throttle. I believe that it was a matter of time, but I would say that everyone has had a part in it. Alexei Ramirez began to get hot after starting a few games, and the offense has almost risen as one to pick up the slack as Carlos Quentin's production has dropped.
Dieter Kurtenbach: The biggest reason for the White Sox offensive turnaround has been the awakening of the bats of Paul Konerko, and Nick Swisher. I look at this lineup for the past seven games and most of the other players have been doing what they have done this entire season. Jermaine is straight scolding the ball, OC is streaky with his hits and gets them in bunches. Sexei Alexei is hitting the ball like he was in March. Thome is doing what he does, striking out in bunches and hitting meaningless home runs, Crede found his power bat from April and his average bat from May and has formed an unholy super bat from the lot. Frankly, in three of the Twins games, five runs would have done just fine. The pitching has done that well. Seeing this offense doesn't make me think that we'll dry up all our runs, rather, I think when the White Sox are struggling, they can scrap five runs together and win.
And yes, Ozzie's rant did have something to do with it. The Sox had a horrendous series and Ozzie found it unacceptable, as did I. They needed to have a fire lit under their asses and the slumping sluggers who are smart enough to comprehend what is going on (i.e. everyone but Thome), they realized that Ozzie isn't the biggest fan of the long ball, and if this method fails, he'll bring in some speedsters and run the bejesus out of the field. It lit a fire under the ass of Greg Walker, who seemed to just sit on his ass from his awesome season tickets in the dugout. When he realized that his seat was in jeopardy, he decided to write up some scouting reports, point out some problems in Crede and Swisher's swing and save his job.
The national media has decided that Ozzie Guillen is on the brink of being fired. I find this to be farthest from the truth. If anyone in the national media had watched the Rays series, from Ozzie Guillen's perspective, they would have thrown a new born infant 'under the bus.' Give me a break.
JJ Stankevitz: Guillen's rant likely had a little bit to do with it, but the poor pitching the Sox faced had more. I thought the Sox were going to score their fair share of runs on this seven-game homestand, but 61? I never would have expected that. The only explanation I can offer is that it was a combination of the Sox coming home to Chicago, facing poor pitching, and Ozzie's rant that could have lit a fire under this team.
2. With seven wins and 61 runs behind us, what do you expect out of the offense for the rest of the year? Can Alexei Ramirez keep hitting like this? Will Cabrera, Swisher, and Konerko continue to improve? Will Thome ever start to raise his batting average? Add in any other additional comments you have about the offense, too.
Patrick Nolan: Cabrera, Swisher, and Konerko can certainly continue to improve. They had a rough start to the season, and eventually they're going to trend back towards their career norms. Thome will probably start to raise his batting average, but it wouldn't be a shock to me if it stayed low, with a season total in the .240 range. The wild card is Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez is being challenged a lot by pitchers, but with some power developing, he'll be seeing more and more pitches out of the strike zone as time goes on. As he only has 5 walks on the season, it'll be interesting to see if he has the discipline to avoid chasing pitcher's pitches as he sees more of them.
Thomas Barbee: Ramirez will continue to hit well so long as he is able to stay on top of the breaking stuff. Cabrera, Swisher and Konerko are bigger question marks. I'm still not sold that Cabrera is committed here, and if it weren't for his impending free agency, I think he'd be a bit more vocal about it. Paulie still seems to be suffering from his hand injury, but it seems that the Sox believe that a 65% healthy Konerko is better than a 100% Fields—I just hope it doesn't get worse. With the way things are though, I'd look for Konerko to put up decent numbers, but not up to his usual stuff. Lastly, Swisher seems to have found his swing for right now, but he's shown to be a very streaky hitter (which he's always been), so his production will largely depend on the overall momentum of the offense.
Chris Pennant: I watched Alexei Ramirez foul off five pitches in a row, take a ball, foul off a couple and then hit a seeing-eye RBI single in Thursday night's game. He's a young Vladimir Guerrero right now, but as Patrick said, pitchers are going to start throwing way out of the zone to him soon. I think he'll slump a bit, but the way he's improved his average after seeing a lot more of major league pitching is a testament to his ability.
The other guys will all continue to improve. The Sox always heat up in the summer. OC has been hitting for a while; Kid Swish is looking better at the plate and Paul Konerko is starting to go to right field on away pitches, which is a good sign. Jim Thome, I'm not sure about. He might get on one or two hot streaks this season, but I can't see a place for him next year. I just don't know if he'll get on track.
Dieter Kurtenbach: The offense the rest of the year is a nice five run a game group. That should bode well for the White Sox considering the lack of runs the other team is scoring. Sexei Alexei reminds me a lot of Vlad Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano. Take away Soriano's strikeouts, and take away Vlad's prolific power. The man hits everything. People are complaining right now that he doens't walk. To that I say, you can't walk out off the island of Cuba. You hit your way off of it. Alexei's OBP will be just above his batting average, and that's fine by me. I have never been more excited about a player than I have about Alexei. I definitely thought he should have spent time in the minors seeing everyday pitching here in America, but thanks to Juan Uribe, Alexei had to bypass the minors all out. The quickness in which Alexei has adapted to full-fledged major league pitchers is startling. His defense is spectacular at times, and it is always solid. He's far more than a year ahead of schedule, and the rate at which he develops, the possibilities are endless. I figure by the end of the year, Alexei will be just shy of .300 with 25 home runs. OC is a solid glove, and his average will jump up gradually over the year, he'll get to .270 this year. Konerko will not be able to dig himself entirely out of his statistical hole, but it appears that his thumb has felt well, as of late. Taking into consideration, the fact that on Friday, his average was .199, to have your average jump up 17 points in the span of three days is pretty remarkable. I don't think that Konerko will have a year as bad as 2003, but I think that Konerko is good for a season just shy as 2007. Swisher, I don't know what to make of the Dirty 30. I called him dirt early this year because that 's how he was playing, like dirt. Here's the nitty gritty of it. He's going to hit .250. That's just the way it is. He'll be on base .100 points higher than his batting average. he'll slug .100 points higher than that. Perhaps he'll break his statistical barriers, but I know that he's an average glove, a dangerous late in the lineup bat and a great clubhouse presence. His statistics remind me very much of another center fielder that wore a White Sox uniform. Aaron Rowand. He'll never be as statistically strong, but when Swisher plays well, the White Sox play well. And while I don't expect Swish to be torrential for much longer, I do foresee him keeping his bat viable.
Sorry for the language for all the kids reading B/R, but f*** Jim Thome. (Cue the rant music). That worthless piece of s*** has f***ed over the White Sox for too long. We won the World Series without that worthless piece of s*** and that dumbass has done nothing but be a detriment to this team. I would rather have Ross Gload at DH than Jim 'I hit baseball over fence, or I sit down' Thome. Perhaps he wouldn't have been traded or apathetically unsigned from everywhere he's been if his one sole goal in life is to "Hit Ball Over Wall!1!" He's such a bag of rotten s*** right now that I would love to trade him to the f***ing Red Sox. I am so confident that Jim Thome will still be gagging on the end of his bat come the end of the year, that Kenny's best move is to drop the lineup cancer on some other AL contender so they can lug his dumbass with them from ballpark to ballpark, strikeout after strikeout. I am so f***ing sick of Jim Thome I think that someone should hire Greg Walker to kill him. F*** Jim Thome. (Rant music off)
JJ Stankevitz: Nobody should be expecting six, seven, eight runs every game out of this offense—that's completely unreasonable. But if they can score around four runs per game, that should be enough with the way the pitching staff has been.
I think Cabrera keeps this up and winds up hitting around .270-.280. Swisher will settle around .240, .250 with a solid OBP, and Konerko hopefully can hit 25-30 home runs and get his batting average to around .250-.260, but I wouldn't be too shocked if he hit .240.
I'm not so sure what it'll take for Thome to really break out of his slump. He may have a week or ten days where he blasts six-eight home runs, but the next week he'll regress back to 10-14 strikeouts and just as many left on base. In a perfect world, the Sox could move Jermaine Dye to DH, Swisher to right, and start Brian Anderson in center, but since Thome is entrenched in this lineup, that won't happen.
That being said, if Thome can hit .240 and hit 30+ home runs, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. However, he's going to have to start coming up with men on base in tight situations if he wants to really be a productive hitter in this lineup.
3. Are the Sox in first place because they're playing well or because the division is so bad? Or is it a combination of both? Do you see Cleveland/Detroit/Minnesota posing a serious threat to the Sox down the road?
Patrick Nolan: I want to say that the Sox are in first place because they're playing well and nothing more. After all, everything that needed to happen for the Sox to contend has happened. Jerry Owens got hurt. Carlos Quentin broke out. John Danks is having a nice season. Jose Contreras regained his 2005 form. Gavin Floyd isn't awful. The bullpen is holding up. There were so many question marks on this team coming into the season, and nearly every one of them has turned into a positive. However, there's another disturbing stat that bears watching. Against the AL Central, the White Sox are 21-8. Against everyone else, they are 16-18. There's no question that the division floundering is contributing heavily to the success of these White Sox.
Thomas Barbee: It's a little bit of both, but truth be told, even with Detroit and Cleveland healthy, I think they'd still be in second and third place. The Sox just seem to have something extra going for them this year. The only real threat to me down the road is Detroit, because they're getting Zumaya and Rodney back. As they start to get healthy and win a couple games, watch out—we all saw how quickly the Sox got hot.
Chris Pennant: A combination of both, but more of the first. While Cubs (and other) fans will point to the weakness of the AL Central as the main key to the Sox' success, baseball is like college basketball: the division/conference always plays tough. The Twins are no joke. They came into town over .500; they always play the Sox tough; they have a good lineup with Carlos Gomez and the M&M Kids (Mauer and Morneau). Besides, everyone yells about how bad Detroit is, but the Sox have only played the Tigers six times. The Cubs, on the other hand, have played the lousy Pirates 12 times. So it does help if your division is bad, but they will always play you tough. To that end, I don't see the Indians or Detroit coming back, but the Twins always find a way to win. They'll make a run.
Dieter Kurtenbach: The White Sox are the class of the division. They play who is on the schedule and they have won significantly more games than anyone else in their division. Some will say that the White Sox are beating up on bad competition, I say, who cares. Has anyone ever turned that one around to say that the White Sox are putting a lasting whoopin' on the Twins, Tigers and Indians that screws them up long after the series is over? And while I don't think that is the case, I do know that the White Sox are winning their division by the widest margin in the Major Leagues. They also have a winning percentage in the top six in the MLB. To say that the White Sox are not a viable playoff team merely because their division, for a long while the best in all of baseball, is pretty bad this year is just fine by me. While the Cubs anoint themselves World Champs in June, the Red Sox make bad trades to make up for, in the grand scheme of things, minor injuries, and the Angels become the coll hip pick to win it all, the White Sox are ever lurking. Waiting. And continuing a sweet trend, winning. The saying should go, don't talk and swing a mean stick. And that's what the Southsiders are doing well right now. This team is built for the playoffs if they can produce runs without the home run, which they have shown they can do lately. The bullpen stands to be well rested and hopefully unnecessary come late in the year. With the rest of the teams giving up hope 40% through the season, the White Sox can push it to a ten game lead at the all-star break, put it on cruise control, while keeping an eye in the rear view mirror for Indians, who have always been a second half team, and the Tigers, who might find a way to but it together late. If the White Sox can put pitch in a shovel to help dig those teams bigger holes early, this team should have no troubles come September.
JJ Stankevitz: Yes, the Sox have struggled against teams out of the division, but they've taken care of business within the significantly weakened AL Central. This isn't college football. Strength of schedule doesn't matter—the only thing that does is the number of wins and losses a team has.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried that the team is under .500 against teams out of their division. But it's still very early in the season, so I'm not going to put a whole lot of stock into it yet. If they're still under .500 against those teams come late July, then I'll be a bit more concerned.
Again, though, all that matters are wins and losses. If you make the playoffs, you have a chance. Right now, the Sox are on pace to make the playoffs, so therefore, they have a chance.
4. Assess the White Sox draft—picks you like, dislike, players you wished the Sox had picked, etc.
Patrick Nolan: I was happy that they took a shortstop first, but sadly, I don't know enough about the guys they drafted to make judgment on them. I sure hope that the "Family picks" (Danks, Williams Jr.) were made primarily on merit and not by name.
Thomas Barbee: For once, I'm really happy with our draft. The Sox were fortunate to have Gordon Beckham drop into their laps, and they picked some solid players later on. Beckham should move through the Sox farm pretty quickly and help the team out within the next three years. Other notable picks include Jordan Danks (SP John Danks' brother) and Kenny Williams Jr., both of which are high-ceiling outfielders. I was also happy we picked up some decent catchers later on to add to our depth. One particularly interesting pick that I was happy about was their selection of Kyle Long. He's the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of No. 2 NFL draft pick Chris Long, Kyle opted for baseball over football and could develop nicely once he settles on a position. He can throw very well, but also has (unsurprisingly) a good amount of power, so it will be interesting to see how he fits in the organization.
Chris Pennant: I have no comment; I don't watch any drafts. I've heard very good things about Gordon Beckham, though; with the attitude of Orlando Cabrera suggesting that he won't be around long, I wonder if he won't have an accelerated track to the big club.
Dieter Kurtenbach: Gordon Beckham is a good pick. The White Sox need middle infielders in the minors and he has progressively gotten better each year he has played. He possesses a great bat to hit second in a major league lineup, and his glove at shortstop, from what I have seen, has the propensity to be wicked. We'll see if he's a fast mover through the system, as I never trust a prospect until I see them performing well in AAA, but Beckham seems to have all the tools to be a second basemen in the mold of Dan Uggla and Chase Utley. The rest of the draft was pedestrian, until Kenny Williams decided to draft his own son. I don't know what the hell that was all about. I don't have any problems taking him in the much later rounds. Some say he would have been taken in the 10th round, if at all. All I can hope for is that no one becomes a good player drafted in a similar vicinity of one Kenny Williams Jr, the academically ineligible, non starting, mostly pinch running, son of a major league general manager, Wichita State Wheat Shocker.
JJ Stankevitz: I loved the Beckham and Danks picks. I've heard comparisons to Michael Young and Derek Jeter—which seems to be just the kind of player this organization needs. There's a good chance he gets bumped to second if Alexei Ramirez is the starting shortstop on this team for the next few years, but either way, he seems like he could be an excellent No. 2 or 3 hitter in this lineup in a few years.
This is the second time the Sox have picked Danks—back in 2005, they selected him in the 19th round, but he decided to enroll at the University of Texas to play in one of the nation's top baseball programs. Now, three years later, Danks was taken in the seventh round by the Sox, but recently dumped agent Scott Boras. The Sox and Boras have never dealt well together, so this is a good sign that they'll get him signed. If they do, the Sox got a real steal in the seventh round.
The Kyle Long pick was a low-risk, high-reward pick, as it was late in the draft but it's unlikely he'll be signed unless the Sox throw first or second-round bonus money at him.
Taking Ken Williams, Jr., seems to be nepotism at it's finest, as Williams was not on the draft board of most MLB teams. He has good speed but will have to carve a wonderbat out of a tree struck by lightning to move up in the Sox organization
5. Finally, a fun little bonus: The Sox beat Kansas City 6-4 in 15 innings on Thursday. What's the longest game you ever have attended?
Patrick Nolan: I actually can't remember for sure. I know I did the 14th inning stretch at some point, so it had to be at least 14 innings.
Thomas Barbee: The longest game I remember was a Sox-Twins game a few years ago (2005 I believe). The game went 16 innings, and we only lost because we had no more pitchers so Ozzie had to put Jon freakin' Adkins in the game. The final score was 9-4.
Chris Pennant: In '01, I won tickets to the Sox-Mariners game. I knew the Sox were bad (7-15) at that point, but somehow I didn't know the M's were so good (20-4 on their way to 116 wins). Anyway, the Sox won 2-1 in 14 innings, but my mom drove us home at the end of the 13th. She's not one to stick around for long baseball games—naturally, Mark Buehrle's her favorite pitcher.
Dieter Kurtenbach: Tadahito in 19 innings. (linkage:
JJ Stankevitz: I was at that 19 inning game, too. Papelbon gave that game up on a two-out, ninth inning solo home run to Jermaine Dye that tied the game and sent it into extras. Trot Nixon had one spectacular day at the plate, too. I've also been to an 18-inning A's/Twins game at the Metrodome, which was one of the most depressing experiences of my life because I watched 18 innings of baseball being played indoors under a giant bag.