The Chicago White Sox are down 1-0 to the Cinderella Rays to begin the ALDS. The last time the Sox found themselves down a game was in the 2005 ALCS against the Anaheim Angels. This would be their only post season loss as they would go on to dispatch The Angels in five games on their way to a World Series sweep of the Astros.
It’s impossible to look at the team the White Sox have fielded in the 2008 post-season and not attempt to draw some comparison to the 11-1 team of 2005. But even with six of the core players remaining from that roster heading into October, the difference between the two squads is glaring.
In 2005 the White Sox played small ball on the shoulders of a historic pitching staff that fueled the Sox through the ALCS with a, nearly unprecedented, four consecutive complete games.
However, in 2008 Ozzie finds himself with a team dependent on power, slow on speed and a staff that would be lucky to go consecutive games past the fifth inning.
The bullpen isn’t just going to be needed this month. It may in fact be the difference between an early exit and the Sox going deep.
During the first three months of the 2008 season, the Sox pen compiled a league best 2.62 ERA. Lead by the mid-relief of Nick Masset, late inning set-up of Scott Linebrink and the gas of closer Bobby Jenks – the Sox starting staff had seemingly perfect protection.
But, a last minute trade and some untimely injuries to Jenks, Linebrink and starter, Jose Contreas put more pressure on the relievers and by September the pen ERA was a staggering 6.44.
Now as Ozzie looks to move forward with a three-man rotation and Javier Vasquez getting chewed up faster than a bag of sunflower seeds, an interesting picture is starting to take shape in the bullpen.
Guillen has moved the dependable starter Gavin Floyd into a mid-relief spot while looking to Buerhle, Danks and Vasquez to start.
Buerhle and Danks were simply brilliant going on short rest in the Sox’s final do-or-die games of the regular season. Ozzie has never been known to obsessively watch the pitch count, but with his guys short on rest he’s going to have to work his relievers in a more aggressive way.
And there are moves to make. In the midst of the September desperation - rookie, Clayton Richard emerged as a reliable left-hander and was brought in again in the fifth inning of Thursday’s game to lock down the Ray’s offense. He preformed perfectly, pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings and striking out five.
If Richard can continue his mid-inning dominance, Guillen and Don Cooper have some options in lefty, Matt Thorton (2.67), RHP, Linebrink (3.69), and of course RHP, Gavin Floyd (3.84 as a starter). Of course, all these guys lead up to the big boy Bobby Jenks (2.63) who has added a merciless curve ball to his closing arsenal since his breakout rookie year in 2005.
Thorton and Linebrink each saw their share of trouble in the last few games of the regular season. Both were beat up by lame-duck Cleveland just last weekend. There are also wild-cards in, inspired but inconsistent, RHP Octavio Dotel and rookie LHP Adam Russell. Dotel has great location, but when he misses he has a hard time finding the plate with anything but his fastball. Russell, though strong in his debut, is simply untested as a post-season guy.
Somewhere within the chaos is the answer. And the White Sox coaching staff has to find it fast.
The Sox offense is powerful, but streaky. When they hurt you, they hurt you fast – and sometimes only for one inning. If the boys from the south are looking to stretch this one out – they are going to have to trust the pen.
Look for Ozzie to make more frequent and aggressive moves to protect his starters. It’s uncharacteristic of him, but it may just save the season – and his pitchers.
Just ask Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.