Words to describe the 2008 Chicago White Sox season: Frustrating, slow, dramatic and yet, very successful.
One of the most tumultuous seasons in recent Sox memory is finally over and it couldn’t have ended in more fitting fashion: the Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 with two solo home runs and about 75 pop ups.
No one can fault these guys for what they did this season. After an extremely dissappointing 70-92 season they somehow managed to survive enough games to win an awful AL Central Division title. It doesn’t really make sense, actually.
Was it the off-season additions that did the trick? Kind of. Nick Swisher was huge bust, batting only .219 on the year while eventually being demoted to a late-inning backup to a guy that only hit .240 (Paul Konerko). Orlando Cabrera had a down year while also becoming the clubhouse outcast after calling the press box early in the season to have his errors changed to hits and calling out his slumping teammates late in the season when they were running out of gas. But two aquisitions carried the White Sox for most of the season: Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez. Quentin had the A.L. MVP all but won when he injured himself in frustration in early September, and Ramirez would have been the AL Rookie of the Year any other season than this one (Evan Longoria is going to be one of the all time greats… Alexei could be too).
Was it the pitching? Kind of. The bullpen was outstanding for the first four months of the season and young starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd did everything that was asked of them and a lot more. But the pitching still wasn’t worthy of a division title. Veterans Mark Buerhle, Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras all looked like Cy Young at times, but they also looked like Todd Ritchie for just as long. Only Buerhle became a reliable stopgap, while Little Game Javy went hiding when it mattered most and Contreras suffered a season-ending foot injury in the midst of the worst stretches of his career.
Was it the hitting? Again, kind of. The White Sox hit a team-record 235 home runs, the biggest reason why they managed to win 89 games. But the long ball only came at key times in homer-friendly U.S. Cellular field, never on the road–a big reason why Chicago only won 35 road games. The White Sox only got consistency out of three of the nine spots in the order: Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye and Alexei Ramirez. Cabrera was a solid temporary solution at the top of the order, but flied out too much to be a true leadoff hitter. Pierzynski had a pretty good year, but his average took a divebomb in September (finished .281 after hovering around .300 for most of the year). The struggles of Jim Thome and Paul Konerko were well documented all year. The combo of Swisher and Ken Griffey Jr. in the lineup produced nothing but home runs, walks and outs (mostly outs). And Joe Crede and Juan Uribe did their usual decent, but inconsistent jobs at the bottom of the order. Both hit a decent amount of home runs, but neither got on base enough to justify their abundant strikeouts.
But all-in-all, it added up to their third division title of the decade. No doubt the surprising weakness of the division helped, but the Sox truely grinded out enough wins to overcome an many shortcomings. At first glance, it might appear that the White Sox are doomed. This team was old and slow, while the minor league system is among baseball’s worse. But in reality, this team took a tremendous step forward and with a few tweaks, the Sox could be back in the playoffs next season.
As Jim Thome grounded out into the shift to leadoff the last inning of the ’08 season, thousands of White Sox were screaming the same thing, “WE NEED BASERUNNERS. THEY ARE GIVING YOU THE ENTIRE LEFT SIDE OF THE FIELD!!” It really is simple math. Why hit the ball to where four infielders are playing when you could hit the ball to where zero infielders are playing? But Thome would tell you what he has always said: “My job is to drive in runs.” Well, when you are leading off the inning that means you are only trying to hit a home run–and with the scoreboard reading “Rays 6, Sox 2” a solo home run doesn’t do much. But this was the identity of the ’08 White Sox. It was clear in July that it was never going to change–and it never did.
But now it must change, and GM Ken Williams has already made it clear that he will balance out the lineup. Cabrera must go and a true leadoff hitter must replace him. This should be a second baseman, not a centerfielder like many are suggesting. Brian Anderson has made great strides since he prematurely inherited the starting centerfielder job in 2006. Defensively, he is among the league’s job outfielders. He also has speed. So what if he only hits .250 or .260. How many players from this year’s division winning team struggled to hit .250? Put Anderson in center and find a solid second baseman who can lead off. Hmm, Brian Roberts ring a bell? Just a thought. Griffey is out and between Dye, Thome, Konerko and Swisher, one probably has to go too. You will get the most for Dye, but has there been a more consistent player for the Sox for the last four seasons? Thome might not be the same player anymore, but as far as designated hitters go, he might only be second to David Ortiz. So Konerko or Swisher? Swish is younger and has more range at first, but a healthy Konerko will likely drive in more runs and hit more home runs. But average-wise, Konerko is in a steady career decline and he will likely yield more of a return in a trade for that key leadoff guy the Sox need.
And what happens at third base? Crede is likely gone, but Uribe wasn’t that bad in his place. I have a feeling Uribe will be back, but he might be playing second. Williams has always coveted Angels’ 3B Chone Figgins. He could nab Figgins to lead off and play third, while putting Uribe back at second base. This seems more likely than getting Roberts from the Orioles. If you are saying, “What about Josh Fields?” The Sox clearly aren’t high on him anymore and quite frankly he is just another slow, strikeout prone home run bopper who lacks defensive skills.
If all this happens, the Sox will have a much faster team with a better outfield and a solid defensive infield. With Figgins/Roberts leading off, Ramirez could bat second and you still have the run production in the middle with Quentin, Dye, Thome and Swisher. Pierzynski would bat seventh and the bottom of the order is then considerably faster with Anderson and Uribe. You will always have four left handed hitters against right-handed pitchers and with Dewayne Wise back on the bench you can put him in center for Anderson to add another lefty bat. Use Jerry Owens and Chris Getz off the bench and you have two solid late-inning pinch run options that can also play defense.
But of course this new, balanced lineup doesn’t mean much without pitching. Williams will likely once again revamp a bullpen that fell apart late in the season, but don’t be surprised if he stands pat with his rotation. Floyd and Danks both have bright futures ahead of them and Buerhle is one of those guys who could pitch into his forties. Contreras and Vazquez are both expendable because Clayton Richard show tremendous signs of being a capable fifth starter next season.
This will be a very interesting offseason, but I can’t see the White Sox being worse next season. The problem is that they HAVE to improve. The Twins will be scary and the Indians were probably the best team in the AL during the second half. They will be healthy again. The Royals are on the rise and Detroit still has talent. The awful 2008 Central will be much better in 2009. Can the White Sox win it? Stay tuned.
I’ve been reading The Best Chicago Sports Arguments by John Mullin off and on for a while now. It’s one of those books for the bathroom. Pick it up, read one of the 100 arguments in the book, do your business and put the book down.
The other day I cheated and skipped ahead to the last argument: “And Tomorrow? The Ones to Remember” and I have to call Moon out on this one. He writes: “A handful of athletes performing in Chicago now will be remembered with the greats of other eras.”
So who does he have as his future Bears Hall of Famer? Cedric Benson. He gone. Who does he have as his future White Sox Hall of Famer? Brandon McCarthy. He gone. Who does he have as his future Cubs Hall of Famer? Michael Barrett. He gone.
It’s actually pretty funny to read. I feel bad because we all make predictions and most of the time we are wrong. But this isn’t just wrong. It’s beyond wrong.
Moon on Benson: “Before (his career) finishes, Benson will threaten all of the records, including some of Walter’s … He is in a Bears offense that wants him to be a load-bearing wall. If he can approach Payton’s longevity of 13 seasons, he will leave the game as the number three back in Chicago behind only Walter and Gale.”
Haha, before he was cut this week, Benson might have been the number three back on this team behind a second-round rookie and Garrett Wolfe. Walter and Gale? Even if he didn’t have all the baggage Benson was never going to be one of Chicago’s greats.
I spent much of the morning listening to callers call into The Score and complain about how Hawk and Ed Farmer each handled Gavin Floyd’s no-no bid last night.
“Hawk jinxed it,” one caller said. “‘Call your friends! Call your family! Gavin Floyd is 3 outs away from a no hitter!’ Are you kidding me? How can you jinx it so badly?”
“I was listening on the radio,” another caller said. “And I didn’t even know Floyd was going for a no hitter because Farmer wouldn’t even saying anything about it!”
Okay, only one of these two callers is right and it’s not the first one. I sincerly doubt that Hawk was the reason why Joe Mauer hit a double in the gap. As for Farmer, I wasn’t listening on the radio, but if he really didn’t mention the no hitter because he was afraid to jinx it, then he wasn’t doing his job. I’ve been broadcasting basketball, hockey and football games on the radio for two years now and our job is to describe in detail what is going on in the game. That’s sad if Farmer did not do that. But again, I wasn’t listening on the radio.
Hawks and Bulls jumble broadcast teams
The return of Pat Foley to the Blackhawks’ booth was the best news of the week in my mind. Foley never should have been forced out in the first place, but this is just another genius idea from John McDonough who continues to amaze me with his moves to generate interest in Hawks. I know I’m looking forward to next season.
As for the Bulls’ moves, I guess I don’t really understand them. If it ain’t broke then why fix it? Wayne Larivee is one of the best in the business and Tom Dore was holding his own with sub-par analysts. Meanwhile, Neil Funk and Bill Wennington were great on the radio so why break them up by moving Funk to television? Basically they went from having to three good play-by-play broadcasters to having only one.
On the flip side, I couldn’t be happier to see Johnny Red Kerr move to the studio.
This one kind of sums it all up (franksbigdog on Reifert’s blog):
“Don’t need to wait for the end of today’s game to post. Jim Thome needs to go. Is anybody else as sick of watching this guy strikeout as I am. Yeah, ok once in a great while he hits one out but he is without a doubt, the WORST clutch hitter on the SOX, and he is without doubt way, and I mean way, past his prime. (BTW, Thome just struck out again for the third time today, after three yesterday). What is wrong with bringing Josh Fields up to DH and fill in once in a while ?
While I’m at it whatever happened to Jenks fastball ? In 05 he was routinely hitting 97-100. Now he routinely hits 92-93. He is very hittable these days. Like to see the SOX get a REAL closer because he is average at best. AND he should never, repeat never, be brought in to face the orioles.
Come on folks, this ain’t rocket science.”
I have to say that I almost agree with his view on Thome. Jim’s not doing much and even when he is, there are still signs that he is on a gradual decline. In my opinion, his years are numbered. I’m not sure there is a whole lot the Sox could get for him right now and it’s not like we need to dump his salary because aren’t the Phillies still paying a portion of his contract? (I could be wrong on that)
But I think the bigger issue here is that there are a number of players with low batting averages right now. In fact, the Sox are last in the league in BA despite leading the league in runs. It was only a matter of time before the clutch hits disappeared and in the last four games the Sox are 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position, including a 1-for-11 performance Monday.
Right now I keep seeing all these young studs around the majors that are hitting so well and I’m wondering why the Sox don’t have a guy like that. And then I remember, they do. His name is Josh Fields and he’s in the minors even though he hit 20 HRs last year. And while Fields is in the minors, Brian Anderson is failing miserably in his 109th chance in the big leagues and is hitting so poorly that they ask him to bunt on a squeeze play and he can’t even do that.
I don’t know if getting rid of Thome is an option, but why not use Fields in a platoon role where he DH’s, plays 1st or plays 3rd in a rotation where Konerko and Crede can get half-days off by DH’ing?
Right now Thome is batting .222 with 6 HRs and 18 RBI. And he’s struck out an astounding 25 times.
I don’t know if Fields would have 6 home runs yet, but I think he would have 18 RBIs and he definitely would be batting higher than .222. I should mention, however, that Fields has been prone to strikeouts as well. Also, replacing Thome with Fields also means one less left-handed bat.
I doubt the Sox would get rid of Thome and I’m not even sure I want them to, but I saw that comment and it got be thinking that a lineup with Fields could be better than the current one with Thome in it (and it certainly wouldn’t be worse).
Why pull Vazquez?
The other half of the above comment had to do with Jenks and his declining fastball. I will say that I have noticed it, but to call Bobby Jenks “average at best” is just plain wrong. His fastball has lost some velocity but he has still been dominate in all but two games this year. And entering the season, his 87 percent save conversion rate was comparable to Mariano Rivera’s 88 percent and Trevor Hoffman’s 89 percent. If he stays on this pace, he’s a Hall-of-Fame closer.
With that said, he should not have been in the game today. With closers, everything is mental. Fortunately for the White Sox, Jenks’ only “sike-out” is pitching against the Orioles. Five of his 14 career blown saves are against Baltimore.
Still, like Ozzie told the Chicago Tribune after the game, “I have one of the best closers in the game for the past three years,” Guillen said. “That’s his job. He didn’t do what he always does.”
He’s right and I would still put Jenks in against the Orioles the next time he has a save opportunity, with only one exception: IF THE STARTING PITCHER IS ONLY AT 100 PITCHES AND HE CRUISED THROUGH EIGHT INNINGS OF WORK.
Vazquez should have had the opportunity for the complete game today whether his closer was Bobby Jenks, Mariano Rivera or Billy Koch.
It would have been nice to see Ozzie actually takethe blame for that one. Instead, this game is still going.
Hoping this trip to Minnesota is not like last season’s
I think we all have a better feeling about this team right now than we did about last year’s team at this point. This team obviously has better team chemistry and they are more fun to watch.
But can we also keep in mind that the current 14-10 record is not that much better than last year’s 12-11 record at this point?
Also, the team is still dead last in batting average in the American League, a very worrysome stat for a team that is now in a two-year slump.
To me the “beginning of the end” for last year’s team came in Minnesota during a 3-game set May 8-10. Ironically, the Sox actually took 2 of 3 from the Twins, but Minnesota wasn’t that good and the wins were ugly. I was there for all three games and I saw first hand that something was just off about this team.
I guess I’m worried right now because the offensive woes have continued this season, but at the same time, I don’t have that feeling that something is off with this team. In fact, I think a lot of things are going right (Carlos Quentin, Joe Crede’s back, the starting pitching).
But we go to Minnesota tomorrow and I can’t help but think back to that series a year ago and compare that kind of play to how the Sox looked today against Baltimore. Hopefully they go into the dome and give a better effort.
Hopefully it’s the beginning of a good summer.
Hawk always says it: “Well, D.J. You’re gonna win 60 and lose 60. It’s what you do with the other 42 that determines your season.”
It’s also those 42 that determine whether or not I’m going to be the worst person in the world to be around or the happiest.
Today’s post-game blog post had the potential to be similar to this one from 2005.
I was on the phone with my father in the bottom of the 10th when Joe Crede flied out to right and moved Carlos Quentin to 3rd base with one out.
“I really thought we had a chance with Crede right there,” I said. “Sorry, I gotta go watch Brian Anderson find a new way to do the absolute worst thing possible for the team. Talk to you in a bit.”
Trust me it was probably the first time I have ever been mad at a player for sacrificing the potential game-winning run to 3rd base with no outs.
Of course just moments later Anderson failed to get the bunt down on the squeeze, once again inventing a new way to screw up. I’m pretty sure I am going to write a book about the different ways this guy has been unproductive at the plate. This chapter would be called: “The Bunt I Somehow Managed to Foul Back into the Catcher’s Glove with the Winning Run on its Way Home Even Though the Pitch was Right Down the Middle.”
Of course he struck out for the 187th time this month on the next pitch.
This was the text I sent to my father: “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Brian Anderson comes up to bat…”
That’s because this is clearly one of those 42 games and the reason why those 42 games get put under the microscope is because they become the defining games of the season. When you leave 12 guys on base, blow a save and fail on a squeeze bunt in extra innings it hurts even if you end up winning the game.
Of course the Orioles got a lead-off home run to start the next inning. Please, kick me while I’m down.
Luckily for the Sox, Juan Uribe did the one thing that he could do to stay on this team by hitting a home run to tie it in the bottom of the 11th.
My Dad’s text to me after that happened? “He swings hard at every pitch. Sometimes that works.”
Touche. Juan Uribe is the walking example of the “Swing Hard in Case You Hit it” theory.
Now the game is suspended because they found Hawk trying to fish in the infield. At this point I couldn’t be happier because I don’t think I could have taken this torture for much longer.
If you are wondering when they will make it up, it has to be June 23 because it’s an off-day for both the Orioles and the White Sox and Baltimore starts a 3-game set at Wrigley on the 24th while the Sox finish up a 3-game set at Wrigley June 22.
Baltimore does not come to Comiskey Park again this season.
I’m starting to realize why I’m not a morning person. His name is Skip Bayless.
Tuesday morning, I was eating my breakfast as Sage Steele and Bayless exchanged this conversation:
“Welcome to ‘1st and 10,'” Steele said. “Today we are S-cubed, as Scoop Jackson joins us.”
(Yes, it’s another lame welcoming joke on “First Take.”)
“Actually Sage, there’s three of us today,” Bayless said.
Really, Skip? Cubed means three. Sage, Skip and Scoop. Three Ss. In record time, Skip Bayless set me off with his first sentence of the day. Usually it takes at least 30 seconds.
This got me thinking about how many personalities on ESPN actually bother me. Then there are those I love to watch. Some of these guys are worth listening to, and a lot of them aren’t. But we don’t really have a choice. They are going to be on our televisions no matter what. So let’s look at the best and the worst:
Bottom 3 ESPN personalities
1. Skip Bayless (“1st and 10” on “ESPN First Take”): I’m pretty sure I could write an entire novel about the ******* things this guy says on a daily basis. He’s your typical “I’ll say the most outrageous stuff just to get noticed” guy. Hey, I’ll give you credit Skip. You’ve been noticed–as a moron.
He’s got a vendetta against LeBron James that has turned into the most embarrassing, stubborn argument in the history of sports broadcasting. How can you consistently say that LeBron is overrated? And the sad thing is that it spills over to other arguments, including one made Tuesday morning when he argued that Brendan Haywood’s foul on LeBron in game two of the Wizards-Cavs series was not a flagrant foul. If Haywood had done that to any other player in the league, Bayless would have been calling for his head. The former columnist in Dallas, Chicago and San Jose is simply the most biased personality in sports.
2. Jim Rome (“Rome is Burning”): Un-in-tell-i-gent. A-nnoy-ing. Please-shut-up. If you’ve seen the show, you understand.
3. Jay Mariotti (“Around the Horn”): Any reporter that can rip a guy apart and not face the players in the locker room the next day is a coward. This is Mariotti’s reputation in Chicago and it makes it hard to take the guy seriously.
Honorable mentions: Doug Gottlieb (“The Pulse”) and Woody Paige (“Around the Horn”).
Top 3 ESPN personalities
1. Mike Greenberg/Mike Golic (“Mike and Mike in the Morning”): I group these two together because they are truly one being on their hit morning radio show that also airs live on ESPN2. Their chemistry is unmatched across sports radio. It’s so fluid and entertaining I almost take it for granted.
It’s like the MVP argument–take one of them off the show and you realize how valuable they both are. The only times that the show succeeds without one of them is when Erik Kuselias fills in, which brings me to No. 2 …
2. Erik Kuselias (“The Erik Kuselias Show”): Not many people know Kuselias, who is starting to get more recognition, filling in frequently on “Mike and Mike in the Morning” and “ESPN First Take.” He hosts a weekend show on ESPN Radio, but he’s got to be a candidate to move up soon. Kuselias is an extremely smart guy, having attended Brown, Michigan Law School and Columbia. It shows when he constantly makes Bayless look like the idiot he is on “1st and 10.”
3. Scott Van Pelt (“The Mike Tirico Show”): Like Mike Greenberg, Van Pelt is a “SportsCenter” guy that also does radio. Unlike Greenberg, Van Pelt doesn’t have his own show yet. I thought there was a good chance he would take over in the spot vacated when Dan Patrick left ESPN Radio, but instead the time slot went to Mike Tirico, and Van Pelt went on as his sidekick. It’s too bad, because I personally think Van Pelt is better on that show than Tirico is.
Honorable mentions: Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser (“Pardon the Interruption”).
I’m watching tonight’s game on the Slingbox on my computer. Here are some of the things I’ve written down so far.
Crede a franchise player
At this point I have to make the argument that Joe Crede is the definition of a franchise player that you HAVE TO lock up. He’s proven that his back is healthy, he’s arguably the best defensive third baseman in baseball and there isn’t a more clutch player on the White Sox–and it’s been like that for years now.
I’m sick of hearing people say he is injury prone. He had a chronic back problem and played through it for two seasons before having to correct the problem in a season that was going downhill for the Sox anyway. While playing through the back problems he averaged 26 home runs and 78 RBIs while saving countless amounts of runs with his glove.
Now healthy, Crede is showing that he is developing into a consistent 30 HR, 90 RBI player. If the Sox don’t re-sign him, someone will be getting a bargain and a franchise player.
Note: Those three paragraphs were inspired by a difficult, yet routine charging play (for Crede) in the third inning. That’s all it takes for me to get started on Joe’s value.
J.D. Only Has Four RBIs?
I still can’t believe a guy who is fourth in the American League in batting can only have eight RBIs when he is batting in the fifth spot of the White Sox order. Unfortunately for Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko have not been getting on base.
With that said, Thome and Pauly seem to be turning the corner and the RBIs should come as a result.
Dotel Blows It
Note: When Ozzie called for Octavio Dotel I turned the game off. When I checked the score a few minutes later I was surprised the Sox were only down 6-3.
I guess that’s all I have to say about that.
Why is this washed up reliever on our team?!?
A-Rod has a Baby, Joins Chilltown
I want to congratulate Alex Rodriguez on the birth of his baby daughter and I also hope he gets back soon because he is now a proud new member of Chicago Chilltown in the Newmanium Fantasy Baseball League.
Some guy offered me A-Rod, H. Matsui, Raul Ibanez and Ricky Weeks for Garrett Atkins, Alex Rios, Carlos Beltran and Robinson Cano. (Yeah I know, it would have been nice if Dotel could have just walked Abreu and given up the grand slam to Matsui.)
Obviously I gave up a lot (I really didn’t want to lose Atkins and Rios), but you have to give up some to get some and I got Alex Rodriguez. As long as his groin is okay, I’m okay with the trade.