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Chicago White Sox Week in Review: Searching for a Storybook Ending

There’s many stories that have been set up this way.

A team fights through adversity and injury to make a run to the top of their league, only to fall prey to a crushing blow. Yet, when it seems all hope has been lost, some short moment of glory inspires the team to victory, earning the adoration of their previously dormant fans and the respect of their formerly prickly adversaries.

Think “Remember the Titans.” Think “Bad News Bears.” Think “Angels in the Outfield.”

Shoot, how about “Little Giants?” That’s a good story, watching Rick Moranis’ team of misfit football players triumph over bullying brother Ed O’Neill.

Sadly, none of these movies represent the season of the Chicago White Sox. Not yet, at least.

No, this season is more reminiscent of “Coach Carter,” without the padlock and chain on the U.S. Cellular Field doors. Moreso the part where Richmond High School loses to St. Francis at the final buzzer.

With the Twins holding a six-game lead in the AL Central going into tomorrow’s series, the end of this season might not even hold nearly as much suspense.


“And I think to myself, ‘How did I get here?'”

A good question for the Sox, and not necessarily one that is easily answered. The White Sox have a respectable 79-64 record at the moment. If they win 11 of the final 20 games, they will finish with 90 wins for the first time since 2006.

All the ingredients for a successful season…for the Oakland A’s, perhaps. The White Sox and their fans, however, hunger for the playoffs. Kenny Williams thirsts for the playoffs every single season and has been quoted numerous times as engineering his team to win the division and go for the crown every single season.

The White Sox don’t play for second place.

However, they dug themselves a hole at the start of the season that might be too deep to emerge from:

The Sox are 30-33 versus the AL Central.

This is absolutely unacceptable. The unbalanced schedule means any team that wants to win must stay on top of their divisional foes, and the Sox have not done so. The only team they have a winning slate against is Kansas City and Sunday’s win put them at 10-8 versus the Royals.

The most needling statistic? The Sox started the season 7-2 against Detroit, but have lost five of six to the Tigers since then.

(Why so needling? Because the Sox have dominated Detroit since ’05, but mostly because I really hate the Tigers.)

The Impossible Dream

The Sox went 2-4 last week, and with the Twins recording a 9-1 homestand, Chicago’s playoff hopes took a big hit. The Tragic Number stands at 14 with 19 games to be played.

In those 19 games, the Twins play three teams with sub-.500 records.

The White Sox play three teams with losing records as well. However, they have a six-game Western swing staring them in the face, as well as four games at home with Boston in the penultimate series of the season.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Sox must win every game of this next series with Minnesota. As a matter of fact, a 6-0 homestand might be required for a playoff berth.


Puffballs or Pitfalls?

In 1964 and 1967, the White Sox held late season leads only to see them disappear in the final weeks of the season. In ’67, the Sox were swept out of the playoff race by young Catfish Hunter and the then-Kansas City Athletics.

It would only be fitting that Minnesota, forever the thorn in Chicago’s side, run into some trouble in Kansas City.

The Twins’ final road trip of the season leads through Detroit and KC, and with both of those teams well out of the race, the chance to play spoiler against a division rival is almost irresistible.

Also, in one of the apocalyptic events of the century, Bruce Chen is pitching some of the best ball in his career.

Yes. Bruce Chen. Don’t refresh the page.

It’s true: The Sox will need some help to win. But baseball is a game of inches and luck.

Perhaps this tale will have a happy ending. Ozzie Guillen is a bit more Herman Boone than Ken Carter, after all.

As always, keep waving the Pennant.

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Chicago White Sox Week in Review: Fighting To Live, Living To Fight

A funny thing happened to the Chicago White Sox on their way to a disappointing offseason.

They decided to get off the mat and play baseball.

Two weeks ago, it had been 19 days since they had won a series. In that span their record was 5-11. Eight of the 11 losses were by two runs or fewer.

The bullpen was faltering and fighting through injury. Key cogs of the offense were struggling, and it seemed the starting rotation was finally tiring.

Flash back to early June, when the Sox sat 9.5 games out of first place. The offense was nonexistent. The bullpen was inconsistent (save for Sergio Santos). The starters? Less than persistent.

Then the Sox started to streak. They ran off a disgusting 25-5 record from June 9 to the All-Star Break and finished the first half in first place.

Just as they did then, the Sox have come alive right when everyone counted them out, and with the rival Twins pulling out close games, the stage is set for an exciting finish to the season in the AL Central.

“We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

The fabled “dog days of August” looked as if they had stopped the Fighting Sox in their tracks as they limped back into Chicago.

They had just dropped 2 of 3 games to the Royals in exhausting fashion: all three games went to extra innings and rain forced a Saturday night doubleheader that started at 6:10 pm and ended well after 2 in the morning.

Yet, after that dreadful week of play, the White Sox were only 4.5 back of Minnesota. Five games might have spelled the end of the season, certainly a much harder mountain to climb. But 4.5 games were manageable.

The Sox had a chance to make a move, to put some pressure on the Twinkies. And they have.

A perfect 7-0 week and a 10-3 record since August 23 has the White Sox not only 3.5 games out of first, but six games out of the AL Wild Card lead.

Suddenly, Sox fans are doing something they hardly ever do.


The Final Foes

As the MLB season winds into the final 25 games, the Sox and Twins once again find themselves vying for the AL Central crown.

Both squads have been beset by injuries to key players–Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel have gone down for the Twins, while Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz have seen time on the disabled list for the White Sox.

As of late, both teams have been able to get the timely hit while receiving some welcome luck. Case in point: Michael Young’s “phantom clap” that gave Minnesota a 6-5 victory over Texas on Sunday, along with Brandon Inge’s overturned home run yesterday that allowed the South Siders to outlast Detroit 5-4 in 10 innings.

Needless to say, the three-game series in Chicago next week will be huge. However, there are three other sets to watch for White Sox fans:

Sep. 20-22 at Oakland

The final road trip of the season starts at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which has not been kind to the Sox in years past. The A’s are well out of the AL West race, but boast a pesky lineup and a young pitching staff on the cusp of stardom. A letdown could be possible after facing Minnesota and Detroit at home, so the ChiSox need to stay alert.

Sep. 27-30 vs. Boston

The BoSox suffered a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Pale Hose this weekend and may have folded up the tent for the season. It remains to see if they have a run at the Wild Card left in them, but they remain a quality team with great pitching. A rematch with Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz will test the White Sox’s mettle.

Sep. 17-19 vs. Detroit

On July 10, the Tigers were 11 games over .500 and in first place. Now, they’re in third and all but out of contention after a post-All-Star break swoon. Rick Porcello has had a sub-par season and rookie Brennan Boesch has come to earth after a torrid start to the season. Still, the (Paper) Tigers will come to play at U.S. Cellular following the Twins series, especially if the Sox win the next three at Comerica Park.

Winning Time

With the acquisition of Manny Ramirez, Kenny Williams officially made the decree that the White Sox were in it to not only win the division, but make noise in the playoffs. Manny has done his part, going 7 for 16 since joining the Sox.

Of course, Chicago has to make the playoffs first. As a Tampa Bay collapse is unlikely, the AL Central is the viable prize. That means beating the Twins (and Tigers) in Chicago next week.

As Magic Johnson once said about the Chicago Bulls, it’s winning time. Those Bulls had Michael Jordan to step up and be the hero.

One wonders if this year’s Windy City savior will have significantly more hair.

Until next time, keep waving the Pennant.

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Chicago White Sox Week in Review: The End of the Beginning?

“I saw his life slippin’. “This is a minor setback; still in all, we livin’, just dream about the getback.” That made him smile, though his eyes said ‘Pray for me.’ I’ll do you one better and slay these brothers faithfully.” – Jay-Z, “Dead Presidents II”

If you’ve watched any spaghetti Western, film noir or crime drama, then you know the role of the tragic hero. He’s usually a shifty-eyed guy, always sweating, nervously smoking a cigarette and looking as if he hasn’t slept in days.

He’s always running from something: the police, the mob, the hired guns, somebody. But in the end, it turns out he’s running from himself. Namely, his conscience.

He just can’t bring himself to be a good guy until the very end—and by then, it’s usually too late to save himself.

This is the allegory of the 2010 Chicago White Sox.

On the inside, there is good, fighting to get out, but their bad side usually gets the upper hand. By the time the good wins, it might be too late.

Slipping into darkness

After another subpar week of play, the White Sox find themselves an overwhelming 4.5 games back of first.

Yes, that was sarcastic.

After losing the lead in five of the six games they played (and blowing a late lead in four of them), the Sox finished their Central Division road trip at 2-4. Yet amazingly, they are below the “danger zone” mark of five games behind Minnesota, thanks to a stalwart performance by Rich “The Tin Man” Harden and the Texas Rangers.

(continued tomorrow)

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White Sox Week in Review: What You Gonna Do When They Come For You?

For most Chicago White Sox fans, the 2010 season was over a long time ago. Eleven months ago, in fact.

To be perfectly precise, the 2010 MLB season ended for many Chicago White Sox fans October 11, 2009—the day the Minnesota Twins played their final game in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

I talked it over with many a Sox supporter during the offseason: the artificial turf would be gone, which meant all those ground balls the Twins hit for singles would be outs.

The horrendous baggie in right field would be a thing of the past, as would the portable football seats beyond the outfield fence. Best of all, the Twins would be playing outside. Outside. The way the game was meant to be played.

With all those factors working against them, those lousy Twinkies would surely collapse in the first month of the season and cease to haunt the dreams of Sox fans everywhere.

It couldn’t possibly go any other way.

Then in March, the dream of the Twins finally being what everyone thought they were—mediocre—flashed into an inconceivable, irrefutable reality.

Joe Nathan, the stalwart Minnesota closer, was having arm surgery and would be out for the season.

The entire season.

In June, the deal was settled when Justin Morneau suffered a concussion in a game against Toronto and went on the disabled list. Without Morneau complementing an already powered-down Joe Mauer, it was time to fold up the tents and start thinking about whether Brett Favre was returning to the Vikings.

The Twins were done.

It was all a dream

Yet, here we are in mid-August, and the Twins are leading the division by three games. They’re pitching well, hitting when they need to, and getting the wins. Meanwhile, the White Sox are stumbling in the clutch, dropping key games to the Twins and Tigers in a dreadful 2-5 week of play.

That dream of the Twins not mattering? Yeah, it was only a dream.

Veteran ballplayers will never say the word “panic” to a reporter. To the media, the word not only suggests a sense of urgency, it suggests outright fear. A club that’s panicked is a lost cause. And rightfully so.

Still, the White Sox have to be in panic mode at this point and if not, the very ends of desperation.

-In his last five starts (discounting yesterday’s start vs. Detroit), Freddy Garcia is 1-2 with an ERA of 7.25.

-The bullpen, which had been stellar all season, seems to be tiring. Through August 15, the bullpen is 1-4 with a 3.86 ERA, nine holds, and three saves. Unfortunately, two of those saves were to Bobby Jenks’ credit and he is due for the disabled list.

Carlos Quentin has already struck out 11 times in 47 August at-bats. In 347 AB this season, he has 62 walks against 38 strikeouts. Compare that with last year’s totals of 31 walks and 52 strikeouts in 351 AB.

-Since the end of April, Andruw Jones is batting .182. So far this month, he has four hits in fourteen trips to the plate.

Ozzie Time

The Sox tore up the league from the beginning of June to the All-Star Break to get themselves into first place. It’s a wonder they’re even in this position, considering how they started the season. It’s a great credit to Ozzie Guillen and his staff, as well as the players, for making the right moves.

Now, with the strain of a long season starting to set in, the pressure is really on Ozzie. The new guys have shown they can make it, with Edwin Jackson, Sergio Santos, and the first-year rookie Chris Sale all showing flashes of brilliance. But with the offense stalling, the Wiz and Don Cooper will have to make sure every pitcher is healthy and focused.

It’s also on Ozzie to prepare the rest of the team for the upcoming road trip. Three games with Minnesota at Target Field are of paramount importance, but a weekend series in Kansas City could be even more tantalizing to watch.

Two of three in Minnesota is less than likely the way the Sox have played the Twins this season, but a sweep in KC could put the Sox back into fight mode. And with the Twins facing the Angels at home, followed by a talented Rangers team in Texas, luck could be on their side.

It’s true: the dream that the Twins were finished before the season started disappeared long ago.

The dream of another White Sox division crown, though, is alive and well.

Until next time, keep waving the Pennant.

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Chicago White Sox Week in Review: The Moment of Truth

The Chicago White Sox might as well be in second place already.

They’ve dropped two of three to the lowly (but resurgent) Orioles and are one loss away from heading home in second.

The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, toughed out a split with the Rays in Tampa Bay and have taken care of Cleveland.

The Sox have issues with their closer, Bobby Jenks, who has lost the faith of the fans and might soon lose the faith of his manager. Their star sluggers are slowing and a couple of untimely injuries to everyday players have popped up at precisely the wrong time.

On the other side, the Twins have done just fine without Justin Morneau and jave found some insurance for first-year closer Jon Rauch.

Yes, the pennant race is as good as wrapped up. The Twins will find someway to win the majority of their remaining games with the Sox, who will scuffle down the stretch with key games against New York and Boston.

It’s over.

Well, not exactly. However, baseball is a game of inches, and four inches the wrong way could cost the Sox their chance at the playoffs this week.


The best-laid plans…

Things were rosy at the start of the week, to be sure.

The Sox left Chicago with a series win over Oakland and won the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Tigers in convincing fashion. Aside of Carlos Torres’ first two innings that night, the Sox outplayed Detroit in every step of the game, and with them buried, the division race would be down to two teams.

All the Sox had to do to make sure of that was go into Baltimore and win three of four. Even though the Orioles had found a bit of a swagger under new manager Buck Showalter, the task seemed easy.

Not so.

The O’s have played smart and hard, matching the Sox in all facets of the game. Save for their bullpen in yesterday’s game, the Orioles have had all the luck on their side, which was evident in the frustration on the faces of White Sox players in the last three innings of today’s loss.


The magic number(s)

Both the Twins and Sox have said it’s too early to watch the scoreboard. It is only early August and any lead under five games is still tenuous. But those numbers don’t matter until the end of September.

The numbers that matter now:

-Bobby Jenks has 10.80 ERA versus Minnesota this season. If the games are close, look for J.J. Putz or Matt Thornton to get the ball in the ninth inning.

-In his last ten games, Carlos Quentin is batting .210 with a double and 3 HRs. In that span, he has only one multi-hit game (July 29 against Seattle), one walk and 9 strikeouts.

-Paul Konerko should have a big day against left-hander Brian Matusz; this season, PK is hitting .353 against lefties with an otherworldly 1.133 OPS.

-Bench production was key in Detroit, and must stay that way if the Sox want to beat the Twins. Ramon Castro’s ninth-inning homer gives him five on the season and 13 RBI in only 68 at-bats. Brent Lillibridge has 14 hits in 37 at-bats, with seven of those going for extra bases (.676 slugging percentage).


“Oh, for a long one right here”

Harry Caray asked for it often in 1977, and often that year the South Side Hitmen would deliver.

Heading into a steamy August series at home against Minnesota, the White Sox might have to live by the long ball. Their 127 home runs is good for sixth in the league—and the only offensive category in which the White Sox are better than 10th. If the Sox can get men on base, a few timely long balls could halt the Twins in their tracks.

First things first, Edwin Jackson has to prove he is as tough as his first start indicated. A 5-2 week is nothing if they can’t keep it going, and Jackson must shut down the Orioles to give the Sox some momentum heading into this division clash.

The end of the season is in sight, and the race starts now. Either the Sox start fighting hard, or my prediction at the beginning of this article will become an unsavory reality.

Until next week, keep waving the Pennant.


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