Monday, May 24, 2004

Five Reasons The White Sox Shouldn't Get Excited

They must really be patting themselves on the back in White Sox land today after their strong weekend showing against the Twins. Let's be honest, it wasn't merely strong showing, it was a thumping not seen 'round these parts since the 2001 NFC title game. All a fan can do is tip their cap to the Sox. They won this round but they still have a mountain to climb to win the division.

1. It is still very early - Games in May are important but the baseball season is a marathon. Are the White Sox capable of winning the big game? What about against their division rival, in September, when they need it? They will need to overcome past demons to do so.

2. Most of the Twins starters did not play in this series - That's right; no Koskie, Mientkiewicz, Stewart, Mauer or Rivas. The White Sox bullied a battered team that until recently had dealt fairly well with its rash of injuries. Now they seem to be in a transition where too many guys are out and they are figuring how the pieces fit.

3. The Twins defense is never that bad - Jose Offerman at second base? This is an indirect effect of the injuries. When the right guys return other teams will have to work more to score runs. Defense improves every facet of the game. The pitches are more confident, the hitters have less of a hole to come back from and the other team scores less.

4. Twins pitching will improve - It is not a stretch to believe this is going to happen. Johan Santana had no command of his pitches this weekend and as a result got shelled. Seth Greisinger will give way to a more viable option if he continues to lay an egg. Kyle Lohse did not get a chance to pitch in this series but just ask Paul Konerko what he thinks of facing him. The jury is still out on Carlos Silva. He has followed a great start to the season with two very lousy outings. Chances are his overall performance will fall somewhere in between. The bullpen was up and down all weekend. They were strung out and not used in anything close to ideal situations. When they are set up properly they have looked very good this year. It all starts with improved starting pitching.

5. The White Sox wanted this series more then the Twins - They are the ones with something to prove. The Twins don't worry, they are trying to work some things out right now. Of course there are concerns but the Twins have shown in the past they are more then capable of getting through problems. The White Sox have yet to have problems this year but in the past have crumbled. Maybe with Ozzie Guillen things will be different this year. They would have to start by upgrading their pitching. Outside of Buerhle, their starters are not good. Loiza was great last year and has done alright thus far but has not shown the same stuff. The Twins hit Jon Garland hard on Sunday and with any kind of a pitching performance would have won the game. The White Sox bullpen is one big roller coaster ride. The White Sox don't play defense like they should and some of their hitters are streaky. Add it all together and you have got one very large team slump somewhere on the horizon.

Add it all up again and what you get is another great race for the summer and Twins division championship in the fall. This weekend the White Sox came into our house and took 3 out of 4. That is baseball. The manner in which it occurred was disturbing but that happens sometimes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the White Sox don't deserve the Twins respect until they've earned it. Earning it can only come from going to the playoffs. They are a better team than last year but the Twins are still above them. The Twins took the Sox’ best punch this weekend and they are still standing.


What a difference four days makes. The last time I wrote, May 19, the Twins were riding a wave of momentum. Matthew LeCroy had just put an exclamation point on what had been a very impressive nine game stretch for the team with his ninth inning game-winning grand slam against the Blue Jays. From May 11-19, the Twins went 7-2 overall, including a sweep of the Mariners at home and winning series in both Chicago and Toronto. Despite the omnipresent injuries, things were falling into place nicely.

Fast forward to May 23. The Twins had just lost in embarrasing fashion to division rival Chicago by a score of 17-7. This finished off what was an ugly weekend of baseball for Twins fans (execpt of course for Saturday's 9-1 win). The Twins finished the first 7 of their 19 games with the ChiSox 3-4. As the Strib noted today, the totals in those four losses have been extremely one-sided:

Category: Twins-White Sox
Batting Avg: .264-.398
Runs: 12-45
Hits: 37-66
Doubles: 4-13
Home Runs: 3-10
ERA: 10.03-3.00

I don't care what school of baseball thought you subscribe to; there is absolutely no way in to put a positive spin on any of those numbers.

I was one of the unfortunate 22,859 people in attendence at today's game. I was really looking forward to the game beforehand. It was Shannon Stewart bat giveaway day (I'm a sucker for promotions) and Saturday's win had me thinking that the Twins were poised to salvage a split in the series and head to Tampa alone in first place. Plus, it has been raining here for like 5 days nonstop and I was looking forward to catching some live indoor baseball (note: this is the ONLY circumstance in which the Dome is a positive).

I'm sure most of you caught at least some of the game (or watched the "highlights") and to make a long story short, it was the epitomy of an ugly loss. I knew we were in for a long day when Johan had some unfortunate circumstances (bloop hit, bunt single, outfield misplay) cost him 3 early runs. But when the Twins took a 6-3 lead in the 3rd, I thought the Twins had a good shot to pull out the "W". Then came "The Neverending Story" also known as the top of the 4th inning. Oh, the horror. That is something I would rather not relive. Needless to say, people started exiting the Dome by the 5th. Even yours truly commited this terrible sin and left after the 7th (with the score 17-6). Hopefully, the baseball gods will forgive me. After this past weekend, I'm sure most Twins fans are wondering when the wrath of the baseball gods will subside and we can get back to the good ol' days: last Wednesday.

Interesting note from Jimmy Souhan over at the Strib sports section: "Top pitching prospect Jesse Crain, who has been hitting 98 miles per hour on the radar gun, was the Twins' minor league player of the week after pitching three perfect innings at Rochester. He's 2-2 with a 2.38 ERA and nine saves."

Anyone think this weekend's pitching implosion may hasten the call-up of the game's top relief prospect?