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WHITESOXINTERACTIVE.COM. Totally Biased Coverage of the Chicago White Sox!

A Look Ahead 

By Mark Liptak 

Well it certainly was an interesting season wasn’t it? Picked by many to finish 3rd or even 4th, the White Sox surprised everyone by getting off the deck the final few days to advance to the playoffs for the second time in four years. To many, anything that they did in the postseason was gravy, win or lose, and considering the issues surrounding the team that seemed a reasonable approach. 

Remember how far they had come in a single season. The complete stench of 2007 was removed by a club that made a great deal of progress towards getting back to the World Series. 89 regular season wins, a 17 game improvement over 2007 is nothing to sneeze at. Again that must be noted and credit given for it to the players, the front office, the coaching staff. 

Anyone who says the Sox failure in the post season or their struggles at times, during the regular season was caused by one player, or one set of circumstances is taking a very simple look at things. Paul Konerko’s poor season for example, or Nick Swisher’s didn’t completely cause the Sox to not win the World Series. Remember Konerko and Swisher won some games for the team too during the year, which helped put them in a position to compete for a shot at a ring. A lack of speed or poor fundamentals helped contribute to what eventually happened but no one can claim a single cause for the end result. It’s all interrelated.  

However, in my mind, three serious flaws helped bring this team down in October, just as they did numerous times throughout this decade. We’ll examine each one of them. 

OFFENSIVE SHORTCOMINGS 

In 2008 the White Sox lost 15 games where the pitching staff held the opponent to three runs or less. Games that might have been won with a clutch hit at the right time or an executed fundamental, weren’t. Those games add up and it drains a staff mentally to pitch exceptional baseball only to come out with a loss. The majority of these games took place in April and May when the Sox offense was non existent many nights. Win some of those games and you might not be opening the postseason on the road. 

Again as we’ve seen every season but 2005, this club was a home run hitting team, that was very poor speed-wise and even worse trying to manufacture runs. They had one of the highest percentages in baseball in runs scored via home run. Their two out hitting was atrocious, among the worst in baseball and the batting averages of some of the starters were lower then normal, in some cases for the second straight season. Ozzie Guillen didn’t mince words. “It’s amazing how bad we are without home runs,” he said to David Just from White Sox.com. Ozzie also said this, “speed never goes into a slump.” 

It’s hard to have to rely basically on one way to win. The Sox would go a week where they looked like the 1927 Yankees or the 1975 Reds, then the very next week they’d look like they’d have trouble beating the Bad News Bears. That’s been their M.O. since 2000 and while we’ve grown accustomed to it, that didn’t make it any less painful to watch.  

Balance needs to be the key word this off season. It took Kenny Williams some time but he finally had enough of an under performing bullpen and corrected it. Reports are he may have reached that stage with his one dimensional offense, especially after the ‘Minnesota Meltdown’ that he personally witnessed. Mainstream media reports say speed will be addressed this off season and that Kenny is going to try, again, to give Ozzie Guillen greater flexibility in his roster. Flexibility hopefully doesn’t mean switching a 38 year old slugger for a 35 year old one.  

The names being mentioned highly are Chone Figgins and Orlando Hudson. Robinson Cano is reportedly also being considered. As Chris Rongey explained in his interview with White Sox Interactive, if those names are the ones the Sox have targeted, it means Kenny wants to give Ozzie guys with bat control, guys who can execute things like the hit and run, guys who can get on base and put runners into scoring position for the sluggers. 

Some fans say, but we have to hit home runs in U.S. Cellular Field to win and that’s completely true. However when you can’t or aren’t, hitting home runs, you better have some other way to score. The Sox record in games this season when they didn’t hit a home run was abysmal. And keep in mind, 81 games are played on the road… some in pitcher friendly locations like Seattle, Oakland and Detroit. A one dimensional offense that isn’t hitting three home runs a game in those locations is going to have trouble. 

If the Sox can get Figgins and Hudson (or players like them) you still have more then enough power in the lineup with as assortment of players like Quentin, Dye, Konerko, Swisher, Fields, Pierzynski, Thome, Ramirez and possibly Griffey. I mean how much power do you need? 

What you’ve done by having balance, is to increase your chances of winning a game on a night in April when it’s 40 degrees out, when you are playing in Oakland where the foul territory is almost as large as the playing field or when you’re facing an off speed pitcher and he’s giving the sluggers fits. A game here, a game there, could make all the difference in the world between playing the first week in October or making golf reservations. The Sox know that fact multiple times this decade. In 2005 the Sox had balance and we saw what happened. We've also seen what's happened every other year this decade. Hitting 200, 215, 230 home runs, but nothing else, got the Sox exactly that...nothing. 

IT’S THE PITCHING, STUPID! 

The first three months of the season the Sox pitching staff was the envy of baseball. The starters were consistent and the relief corps was putting up numbers that made fans of a certain generation remember the Sox bullpen’s of the 1960’s. Those were outfits, that if the Sox had a lead in the 7th inning or later, the game was over. Led by Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm and including All-Stars like Wilbur Wood and Eddie Fisher along with the exceptional talents of Bob Locker, Don Mossi and Don McMahon those bullpen’s won games, ate innings and ended threats. 

The second half of the season was a different story as pitchers like Boone Logan came back to reality and two injuries to Jose Contreras threw the starting staff into disarray. Scott Linebrink’s shoulder soreness was the injury that destroyed the rhythm and continuity of the bullpen. 

Pitching wins pennants, it is the single most important commodity in baseball and not only do you need it in quality, you need it in quantity

In today’s game with the way pitchers are “babied” for lack of a better word, the law of averages shows that the chances of a pitching staff making it through a season all healthy and all without having a bad year are slim or none. 

That means that you better have reliable insurance ready to go when these situations come up.  

For the White Sox that means you have six starters available, not five…the starter who pitches the worst in spring training goes into the bullpen as the long relief man (which is the way baseball did it for years) Because of Contreras’ probable career ending injury that means the Sox need two starting pitchers to achieve this. The question is, with the cost of pitching today in baseball, will the Sox go out and get it or take the chance again of having to use the Clayton Richard’s of the world, in the middle of a stretch drive, in a pennant race. As Steve Rosenbloom said on one of his blog entries, “Children shouldn’t play in September when September means something.” 

The Sox have a solid bullpen but the same insurance policy applies there too. You need protection from the almost inevitable injury or year long slump… another reliable arm for the bullpen would be a wise investment. The Sox appear to only be able to count on Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink (who should be over his tendonitis by next April). Given how often Ozzie Guillen uses his bullpen, that’s simply not enough. 

INJURIES

 Twice Joe Crede is knocked out of action because of his back, twice Jose Contreras is forced out and actually ruptures his Achilles tendon, twice Paul Konerko gets hurt, Scott Linebrink misses two months with a sore shoulder. Now add in the situations with Carlos Quentin and Dewayne Wise and injuries made a severe dent in the Sox ultimate hopes in 2008. 

Injuries are a part of the game but what the White Sox have to be wondering about is the fact that they have happened in two straight years. Does that mean something? Is this simply bad luck or a sign that this is an older club that may start being prone to breaking down? Is it time to reevaluate the Sox medical establishment? (as Kenny Williams did after the horrific 2000-2001 seasons) 

Numerically the Sox have been among the best in baseball this decade at avoiding injuries and keeping their players healthy. Yet even with those facts, the Sox have had four seasons in the last eight impacted by guys who weren’t able to play. (2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008). Certainly one can say that in 2001 and 2004 injuries probably cost the Sox a legitimate shot at the post season.  

For 2009 and in the near future after that, the Sox need to try to find out if something is going on that can be corrected and that has to start almost immediately since their players will be starting the off season conditioning programs.

The Sox need healthy players because the minor league system is still in flux, still trying to shake off the aftereffects of a desultory decade and still trying to reestablish itself under Buddy Bell. If injuries hit again in 2009, the minor league system probably won’t be of much help.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    

 Finally here are some factoids that may be of interest concerning the 2008 season:

* The White Sox had a "winning" season in 2008. Historically this is the 7th "winning" season this decade, to go along with 00, 01, 03, 04, 05 and 06.

* In addition to the 15 games the White Sox lost while allowing three runs or less, they were shut out 11 times. They scored one run in a game 16 times, two runs in a game 14 times. That’s a total of 41 games scoring two runs or less.

* For the 5th consecutive season, every year under Ozzie Guillen, the Sox failed to win more games in the last 81 games of the season then in the first 81 games. Despite Guillen resting players regularly and using his bench to help avoid injuries. In 2008 for the first 81 games, the Sox went 46-35 a .567 winning percentage. In the last 82 games (due to the one game playoff), they went 43-39 a .530

Here’s how they performed in previous seasons under Guillen: 

2004:   43-38 .530     /            40-41 .493

2005:   55-26 .679     /            44-37 .543

2006:   53-28 .654     /            37-44 .456

2007:   36-45 .444     /            36-45 .444

* For the first time since 1963 and 1964, the Sox were looking to have a winning month every month of the season, a 12-15 September though ended that possibility. Bad September’s cost the White Sox a playoff chance in 2003 (15-12 with the final three wins coming the last weekend after Minnesota had clinched.) and in 2006 (12-17). It almost cost them dearly again this season.

* Even with the injury issues to Linebrink and Contreras, overall the Sox pitching staff did a better job of holding on to leads late and winning games. In 2008 the Sox lost 12 games where they took a lead into the 7th inning or later and lost the game. In 2006 they lost 12 games, in 2007 they lost 19 games under the same parameters.

Here is the 2008 breakdown:

Lost lead in 7th inning / lost game:   5 times

Lost lead in 8th inning / lost game:   5 times

Lost lead in 9th inning / lost game:   2 times

The pitchers responsible were:  Jenks (2 1/2), Dotel (4), Buehrle (1), Thornton (1 1/2), Danks (1), Vazquez (1), Richard (1/2), MacDougal (1/2)

From April 29th to July 9th the Sox only lost one game where they took a lead into the 7th inning or later.

* The White Sox rallied to win a game when going into the 7th inning or later trailing, 13 times.

Here is the 2008 breakdown:

Rallied in 7th inning / won game:   6 times            

Rallied in 8th inning / won game:   4 times

Rallied in 9th inning / won game:   2 times 

Rallied in 10th inning / won game:   1 time

* The White Sox 2008 regular season record versus teams that finished the season with a “winning” record (at least 82 wins) was: 29-41 .414

* The White Sox 2008 regular season record versus teams that finished the season with a “losing” record (less then 80 wins) was: 49-26 .653

Like in 2006, key losses to bad teams really hurt their chances to clinch the division earlier and set up their playoff rotation. Immediately coming to mind was the stretch where they lost five of seven to Kansas City, dropped two of three at home to Colorado and was only able to go 5-4 against Baltimore.

* The White Sox 2008 regular season record versus teams that finished the season exactly at .500 (81 wins) was: 11-7 .611

* The White Sox 2008 record in one run games was: 22-17

* The White Sox 2008 record in extra inning games was: 7-4

* The White Sox 2008 regular season record on artificial turf was: 4-16

This year the Sox went 1-8 at the Metrodome (aka “The House of Horrors”). Of the eight losses, four came by one run and in three of those eight losses the Sox had at least a four run lead in the middle innings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    

If you have any questions, opinions, comments or criticisms of the following story, feel free to contact me at mliptak1@msn.com


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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