Chicago White Sox: 6 Lessons to Take from August
The Chicago White Sox survived a topsy-turvy August, entering the final month of the season second in the division with a 68-66 record. To say that Ozzie Guillen can be at ease with his White Sox above water would be to overlook both the character of Guillen and the expectations set for the White Sox at the beginning of the season when some picked them to the win the division.
The White Sox looked like they were out of playoff contention at the beginning of the month. At the end of August, the White Sox again looked to be out of contention. The White Sox went on five-game winning streaks and sustained losing streaks. Additionally, Guillen saw his White Sox hit extraordinarily well for several games at a time only to lose their hitting stroke. In a similar vein, the White Sox had spells of strong pitching and spells of poor pitching.
Following is a look at some nuggets of wisdom to be gathered from the month of August.
The White Sox Are Inconsistent
At this point, the best word to describe the White Sox is inconsistent. For most of the first four months of the season, the White Sox could not muster enough winning drive to grab a winning record.
Once the White Sox had returned to the winning side of baseball, they struggled to stay there. After winning nine of 11 games to surge past the .500 mark, the White Sox lost five of seven to slip back below .500. Following those streaks, they won five straight games for the second time in August. For most teams, a five-game winning streak would put them on the right track. That has not been the case for the White Sox. Each time they make a push, they fall hard. That is no way to win a division title.
Many of those who have argued that the White Sox will win the division in the last month made their argument largely based on the rest of the division. Such an argument recognizes that the White Sox can't win the division on their own.
If the White Sox won the division, it would be comparable to the 2006 San Diego Padres, who won the division after teams leapfrogged each other in the standings only to slip away. The Padres won the division with winning streaks of five games and six games in September. They took advantage of a Los Angeles Dodgers team that went 6-11 from September 3 to 20.
Since the chances that the White Sox will be in the playoffs are slim to none, one shouldn't pin much hope on such a run. Besides, the White Sox might not have the fortitude to hold up such a rally.
Hitting in the First Part of the Month Was a Mirage
One of the prevailing issues of the White Sox is that they don't produce timely hitting to score runs. The White Sox had hit a bleak .249 and scored a middling 3.9 runs per game in the first four months of the season. That can't be improved drastically in the last two months of the season.
In the first part of August, the White Sox experienced an offensive anomaly. The White Sox hit .286 in the first 15 games of August while scoring 4.7 runs per game. This was a huge jump that would not be sustained. In the last 13 games of the month, the White Sox scored 2.9 runs per game while the team batting average tapered down 17 points to .269. This was a simple regression to the mean in the hitting department.
Jake Peavy Should Be Shut Down
Speaking of regression to the mean, Jake Peavy stands as another example for the White Sox. In the first half of the month, Peavy pitched especially well. In his first three starts of August, Peavy was 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA. He was strong and apparently healthy.
Opposing hitters lit up Peavy in two of his last three starts. He struggled to a 1-2 record with a 7.94 ERA. Peavy had more earned runs allowed in two of his last three starts than he did innings pitched, a wonderful indicator of bad pitching.
Following his last start of August, he pulled his old injury card. After the Minnesota Twins tagged Peavy for six runs in the first inning of a five-inning start, he complained that he was injured. Peavy described himself as "run-down." If he is injured, then Guillen should shut him down the rest of the season. Any plan for him to pitch next season—since he would not be able to help an unlikely White Sox September rally—would see him resting for the final month.
Often, good teams need some luck to get through the season. The 162-game regular season in baseball is a long journey, and a million things can go wrong during the course of the season. Teams that don't make the playoffs sometimes fall on hard luck.
The White Sox encountered very bad luck in the latter part of August, losing three key players to injuries. A.J. Pierzynski went down with a fractured left wrist. Then, Phil Humber was the victim of the occasional line drive in the face. Next, Carlos Quentin encountered an occupational hazard, spraining his shoulder while diving for a fly ball.
Humber was a tough loss. Zach Stewart wasn't able to pick up the slack in the rotation. Stewart allowed 13 runs in 13 1/3 innings during Humber's absence. Since the White Sox have little upon which to rely in the back end of their rotation, Humber's injury was the biggest loss out of the three.
In losing Quentin, the White Sox lost their second-biggest run producer. Without him, Guillen was hard-pressed to scrounge for more runs in the lineup. Also, Ozzlie Ball is hardly functional with one less big bopper. Juan Pierre had a great month, driving in 15 runs, but he is no offensive savior.
Losing Pierzynski meant losing a reliable bat. Fortunately, Tyler Flowers stepped up. Flowers had a .353 on-base percentage in August. Guillen expressed great pleasure with his play. "Flowers is great," Guillen remarked. "When A.J. gets back, we have to figure out how we play him. I don't want to say that A.J.'s not playing, but we really like—I really like—the way Tyler is behind the plate right now."
Sitting Adam Dunn Is a Great Move
Adam Dunn has been hitting at a historically low clip. Dunn had been able to skate by with low batting averages while producing nothing less than a satisfactory on-base percentage and impressive RBI totals. However, as the season has dragged on, the need to supplant Dunn has increased. Guillen heeded that call somewhat in August, sitting him more than in any previous month as Dunn played only 17 games. In those 17 games, however, he did the White Sox enough detriment in the designated hitter spot, hitting only .155 with two RBI.
In September, Guillen will have to make the most of his young talent while sitting Dunn more often. Playing Dunn more than 12 games in September while he plows away in the batting cage would be unnecessary.
Also, the antithesis to this remedy for the White Sox offense would be what Guillen did on Wednesday, pinch-hitting Dunn for Brett Lillibridge in the ninth inning against Twins closer Joe Nathan. Dunn was a quick out for Nathan.
The White Sox don't need more than a few of those quick outs from Dunn in the final month.
Too Late to Let the Prospects Begin to Shine
Brett Lillibridge has shown flashes of power and speed this year for the White Sox, hitting 13 home runs in 177 at bats and stealing 10 bases. Recently, he has earned more starts. That is a laudable move by Guillen, but it's too little too late.
Also, Dayan Viciedo showed his potential at the end of August, hitting .538 with four RBI. Similarly, his arrival in the lineup deserves applause, but Guillen made the move a little too late.
September is the month for the young players to shine. However, when a team is hanging on the last shred of playoff hope at the end of August, late adjustments cost extra. Supplementing the lineup with Lillibridge, Viciedo, and perhaps even Flowers in some capacity after Pierzynski returns, might boost the White Sox a bit, but a big September surge on their backs is unlikely. Guillen's decision to wait to move Lillibridge and Viciedo into the lineup might hurt in the end.