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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Scuffling Sox June

by
Guy Bacci 

Reality bites. And if you’re a Sox fan, reality has taken a big chunk out of your tail feathers the past couple weeks. 

After two months of dramatic comebacks and miracle victories, our beloved Pale Hose have looked flawed and borderline pitiful in the month of June. To make matters worse, the team’s best player underwent surgery, and a member of the starting rotation recently hit the DL. Every can’t-miss pitching prospect that has surfaced from the farm system has received a harsh spanking. As a result, the Sox carried a gruesome 9-13 June record into Sunday’s game against the Cubs.  

Ah yes, the Crosstown Classic—the series that has been guaranteed to either propel the Sox, dent the Cubs, or both. It seemed that this season might be an exception, with studs Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano toeing the rubber in the first two games at The Cell for the Northsiders. Sure enough, Friday’s affair was ugly for Sox fans, proving that Ross Gload is not an exceptional right fielder and Prior is nasty even when he’s having a bad day. Prior struggled to find the strike zone, yet the Sox struggled to score runs, losing a sloppy game 7-4. 

Then came Saturday, with the Cubs best pitcher to date, Zambrano, facing Sox rookie Felix Diaz (0-2 in his first two ML starts earlier this season). You couldn’t find a more lopsided pitching match-up if you tried. Zambrano entered the game with an 8-2 record and an ERA under 2.50. Diaz was making his third career start, after looking petrified in his first two. If you were forced to bet your next paycheck on one baseball game Saturday, you’d be considered wise to put it on the Cubs. Of course, you’d also be working for free the next two weeks. 

Odds never seem to matter when it comes to this series. After all, the Sox are the last team to beat Prior and Kerry Wood back-to-back. So it comes as no surprise that Diaz pitched six solid innings on Saturday, while Zambrano had his worst outing of the season. Sox win, 6-3, rubber game Sunday. 

But no matter what might happen in the third and rubber game, the Sox have already come out winners. Diaz earned big-game experience and survived with flying colors. With no trade on the horizon, and Scott Schoeneweis shelved for two weeks, the Sox need a confident Diaz more than they need a series win against the Cubs. 

There are holes the size of Texas in our Sox, and they need to be patched up quick. June has exposed some unattractive blemishes, magnified by series defeats against the last-place Mariners and Expos. The Sox reached a new low during an embarrassing 17-run outburst by the worst offense in baseball last weekend. Double-A pitcher Arnie Munoz conjured up nightmarish memories of Jim Parque and Jon Rauch, who served up batting practice to Seattle on May 2nd, 2002. The 15-4 drubbing at the hands of the Mariners in ’02 featured back-to-back homers by Bret Boone and Mike Cameron ... twice ... in the same inning. Cameron went on to hit four homers in the game. On the bright side, nobody from the Expos hit four homers last weekend, but Juan Rivera did blast two in the same inning, one being a grand-slam. At the end of it all, Munoz returned to Double-A with a nice, round 33.00 MLB ERA, and Sox fans got another dose of utter frustration.  

But the beauty is, the Sox breakdown is happening early instead of late. Billy Koch’s disaster in Seattle on June 6th led to the anointment of Mr. Zero as the closer—a move that should have been made long ago. The fifth-starter fiasco has undoubtedly prompted Kenny Williams to pursue a trade more aggressively. Jon Rauch finally broke the curse with a W on Thursday, but his pitches were all over the map. He had an effectively wild outing, reminiscent of a healthy Dan Wright. His release point was deceptive, allowing him to succeed despite his control problems. But who knows what Rauch’s results will be in his next start. There’s no doubt the Sox could still use a veteran starter. 

Reality check: The superiorly talented White Sox still trail the Minnesota Twins. Oddly enough, the Twins have allowed more runs than they have scored, while the Sox have the best runs scored/runs allowed ratio in the division. So how does history keep repeating itself? How do the Sox manage to remain behind Minnesota season after season? Partially, it’s because the Sox fail to aggressively address their problems. Last year’s glaring examples were Koch and manager Jerry Manuel. This time around, it appears Williams won’t be as tolerant.

Those who have expressed anger over Williams’ failure to acquire a starter are fools. It has been widely reported that Williams has been one of the most aggressive GMs in the league. Even if the deadline passes without a deal, I will firmly believe Williams tried as hard as he could to make something happen. There’s no reason to get robbed for a rent-a-player. Jeremy Reed should be untouchable, especially if Maggs is on his way out at season’s end.  

But just as foolish as the Williams haters are the Pollyanna-types who constantly like to remind us that we’re only two games out. Those people will beat that drum July 1, August 1, September 1, October 1 ... As long as we’re only two games out, there will always be plenty of time, except on October 3rd, at which point we’d be eliminated if we were two games out—and even then, they might continue to remind us that we’re only two games out. 

It’s time for this team to be eight games ahead instead of two games back. It’s time to pull away for change, instead of always digging out of a hole. Here’s hoping July is the antithesis of June. At the very least, the Sox should start the month on the right foot—they get to face their favorite opponent. We might see Diaz vs. Zambrano Part 2.  

My money’s on Diaz.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back.  He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player.  His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay).  Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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