Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Time Has Come For White Sox Fans To Panic

The White Sox lost 10-3 to the Rangers last night, and it's time for Sox fans to worry.

Pitcher Mark Buehrle gave up 5 runs in 7 innings, making this his fourth poor start in a row, and two of those four were not merely poor, but atrocious. I don't recall his ever having such a streak. When a pitcher's performance deteriorates so much, so quickly, it often precedes the announcement of an injury. Losing Buehrle, or even simply an ineffective Buehrle, means giving up about 8 wins over the rest of the season, unless opposing pitchers oblige the White Sox ambitions and toss a dozen or so hanging curveballs towards Thome, Kenerko, and Crede.

Last night White Sox hitters were no more effective than the pitching staff: they scored three runs but left 15 on base. Manager Ozzie Guillen believes the team has become too reliant on home runs; the players have been taking extra bunting practice and have otherwise been told to focus on small ball fundamentals. I don't know that small ball will work if the pitching staff can't hold the opposition to four runs or less.

Tonight, Freddy Garcia starts for the White Sox. He has 10 wins but an ERA over 5.00, and has not had a good start since the break. If he loses as spectacularly as Buehrle did, then three of the five White Sox starters -- Buehrle, Garcia, and Javier Vasquez -- can be officially called a liability to the team's chances, pitchers who need their offense to help them win the game, rather than pitchers who will win despite an anemic offense. This is devastating for the White Sox chances of reaching the post-season, and dismaying for a staff considered to be the best staff in the league at the start of the season.

One of the only reliable axioms in baseball, however, is that as soon as a trend appears permanent, a great change is about to occur. That's what White Sox fans need to hope for, because every trend for the White Sox now is down.

UPDATE: The good news is that Freddy Garcia pitched 7 strong innings and only gave up one run -- the best start he's had in a while: 6 H, 1 R , 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 K. The bad news is the Sox hitters managed only four hits through 8 innings. Though they also drew 6 walks, they only got one run across, and that was on a solo homer by Paul Konerko.

The wheels came off not because of what the starter did, but because closer Bobby Jenks gave up two runs in the top of the ninth. Jenks has been struggling this month, but he really hasn't had the luxury of coming in during save situations. He's been used, as tonight, to hold a tie or prevent the opposition from expanding their lead. Until tonight, he hadn't had a loss in his last few appearances, but he hasn't had a save either, and he hasn't exactly shut down the other team. This is his third appearance in his last four in which he gave up two earned runs.

The Sox had a chance in the ninth. Ross Gload, a pinch hitter, singled, then with two outs, Tadahito Iguchi walked. That brought up Rob Mackowiack, who had entered as a pinch runner for Jim Thome, but on the first pitch Mackowiak grounded out to second to end the game. Sox lose 3-1.

Sox pitchers gave up 6 hits and 8 walks overall; journeyman CF and Chicago Cubs castoff Gary Matthews, Jr. had four of those walks, in five at bats.


The baseball gods must be angry.

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