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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Pitching Nightmare
by Hal Vickery

Last week when I heard the news that the North Side Lovable Losers had signed Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136-million deal, my first thought was quite likely that of any fan who knows the history of that organization. It’s just business as usual. You make a big splash, sell a bunch of tickets to the suckers, and maybe move up to fifth place in the only division in baseball with six teams.

My second thought was along similar lines. Their payroll might go up to the $125-130-million range, but it’s not your payroll that matters. It’s the players you spend it on. On one of the players they spent $73 million on over five years was Aramis Ramirez, a player who dogged it in his free agency year and then deigned to allow the Cubs to sign him to a home team discount, at least according to Ramirez and his agent Paul Kinzer.

My third thought is that the Cubs as currently constituted look a whole lot like they did when I was growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s: big bats, no pitching. Okay, they have some pitching. Carlos Zambrano can be very effective between temper tantrums. That’s about as far as it goes, though.

Mark Prior, Messiah number 37 in a series, had an abysmal year, going 1-6 with a hefty 7.61 ERA. Those are Neal Cotts numbers, except Prior’s a starter (and to make things more interesting, Cotts will now very likely be coming out of the pen to relieve Prior). Kerry Wood is apparently relegated to the bullpen. Beyond that, the Cubs have very little experience in their starting rotation.

So my final thought on the matter before I went to bed Monday night was, “That’s where our problems are so much easier to solve than the Cubs. We still have a very good starting rotation.”

A few hours later I awoke in a cold sweat. I had just had a terrible nightmare. In my nightmare the absolute worst that could happen to the Sox rotation did.

Mark Buehrle kept pitching like he did during the last half of 2006. In my nightmare he repeated his sub-.500 performance of 2006 and his ERA remained around 5.00. In my nightmare the league had figured him out, and he still had no command over his change-up.

Freddy Garcia still didn’t have a fastball, and the league had finally figured out how to hit the junk that he was throwing at them. Instead of going 17-9, my nightmare had him reversing that. Now the sweat pouring from him was from fear, and all the fans watching him in the stands were sweating even more profusely as base runners ran wild against him.

In my dream Javier Vazquez still couldn’t pitch beyond the fourth inning. Every game brought the same fifth-inning disaster: a walk, a double, a couple of home runs, and a Sox loss.

Jose Contreras? He pitched like he did the first half of 2005. In my nightmare Jay Mariotti revealed that Contreras was actually 56 years old, and he was pitching like it. Like Garcia, Contreras still couldn’t hold anybody on base. Part of the reason was because Contreras needed to hold himself up with a cane.

“Well, what about Jon Garland?” you ask. “After all, he was the staff ace, going 18-7 in 2006.” True, but in my nightmare, Kenny Williams had assumed his secret identity of Prof. Chaos and traded Garland and Juan Uribe for Omar Vizquel, who played shortstop like a forty year old, that is to say like Royce Clayton in his prime. My nightmare crowds would shout, “Olč!” whenever a groundball passed by him.

Garland’s place in my nightmare rotation was taken by Brandon McCarthy. Unfortunately the McCarthy who showed up as a starter wasn’t the one who showed flashes of brilliance. No, not in this dream! My nightmare McCarthy was the guy who often gave up multiple home runs his first inning on the mound.

In my nightmare the Sox weren’t battling it out with the Twins and Tigers for the AL Central crown. In my nightmare the Sox were battling it out with the Royals for fifth place.

Why am I telling you about this terrible dream? Am I saying that this is what I’m believe will happen to the Sox in 2007? Of course not!

However, there is one thing we all need to remember. Pitching is a very fragile commodity. There is a fine line between an 18-game winner and an 18-game loser. That line can be as fine as losing command of a single pitch. The Sox may look pitching rich at present, but look at what an increase of exactly one earned run per game did to the Sox in 2006. You never know what’s going to happen with your pitchers.

My nightmare only included the starting rotation. Right now the Sox really don’t have anyone, with the possible exception of Boone Logan, to replace Neal Cotts as a left-handed middle reliever.

There’s an old axiom in baseball that says, “You can never have enough pitching.” I subscribe to that axiom, and that’s why I like the Sox chances in 2007, despite my nightmare scenario.

As for the North Side Lovable Losers, let their fans brag about Ramirez and Soriano. Their pitching isn’t going to lead them anywhere…except perhaps to another year of wandering in the desert.

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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