Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Obstacle Course That Is, White Sox Baseball

Every team has ups and downs, bumps and bruises, and random setbacks throughout the season. This year, the White Sox seem to be having them all back-to-back.

The White Sox are known as one of the healthiest teams in baseball. Aside from starting pitchers who are brought in while recovering, the Sox have a great track record for avoiding injuries and a knack for quickly recouping whenever they arise. Herm Schneider takes award-winning care of his players, however this year, even Hermie can’t save them.

The team has been struggling to get up and running since the beginning of the season. Aside from the bullpen, and then offense falling apart when the other is seemingly having a good run, they’ve faced Dunn’s sudden hospitalization, Peavy’s slow, stuttered return from surgery, Castro’s broken hand, Pena’s leaving the bullpen, Konerko’s knee, Beckham’s eye, Danks taking a hit to the head and then the strained oblique, and Teahen’s strained oblique back in May before being traded, just to name a few. Even fan favorite, Dayan Viciedo, was lost briefly to a bruised thumb in the minors, and Ozzie Guillen joined the fun, getting a shiner from a foul ball.

Peavy is now almost back to looking like the pitcher we’d hoped for when the trade was made, and Danks seems to be doing just fine. Even Ozzie and Dayan are back to being impossible to understand and scoring runs, respectively. The rest are obstacles the team will have to adjust to and overcome if they plan to win the division, with even Paul Konerko’s knee being something that may plague him into the off-season.

While these problems are unfortunate, there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel. For others, the light is faint, if there at all, and for one, his initiation to the DL after an almost 14 yr career, may be what pushes the team over the edge and keeps them from the playoffs.
Adam Dunn can’t even be considered an obstacle for the team, as he’s more of a black hole, taking everything including the Sox hopes, dreams, and post-season chances into it to be lost forever. Since there’s no illness or injury to account for his abysmal season, there’s also no timetable for when it will end.
Alex Rios, who last year was a challenge for the offense, has apparently been traded this year, yet refuses to report to his new team. Instead he shows up as a mole, listed on the South Side roster, but clearly playing for the opponent to win. Both his batting skills and defense have been deplorable all year.

Another huge disappointment is Gordon Beckham, who shows signs of being amazing on defense at 2nd base at times, yet hasn’t caught on offensively since first joining the team for the partial ‘09 season.
With all of these things coming at the Sox like hurdle after hurdle, the last possible conundrum they planned to face was to lose A.J. Pierzynski. Since his debut in the league back in September of 1998, A.J. has never been a player who’s known for missing games. Not only had he never been on the DL until this week, he has 9 straight seasons of having caught at least 1000 innings. He’s a workhorse; strong, reliable, always ready to go and rarely showing signs of tiring or weakness.

 While his biggest fans may not be found on the Sox pitching staff, he has a very high baseball IQ, and is known to keep his head and think very quickly in sticky situations. His defense has slacked in the passing years, but his bat has not only helped, but at times carried the team, game after game. Since May 11th, A.J. has been a plus for the offense with a .323/.368/.467 and a .835 OPS, and had been on fire the first two weeks of August, with a line of .410/.429/.641 and a 1.070 OPS.

This is why the loss of A.J. is so crucial to the post-season? After he’d been hit on the left wrist by a pitch back on the 12th, his next moves were up in the air. On the 16th, the White Sox decided to put him on the 15 day DL and call up Donny Lucy (who’s technically a 4th stringer) with a line of a .158/.233/.256 and .489 OPS to replace him on the roster. As if this news wasn’t bad enough, the consensus on when A.J. would return is unclear. Some have said the end of August, others feel that realistically it won’t be until mid-September. There are even a few who feel that he may be done for the season, especially if the fracture doesn’t heal correctly and has to be reset and he’d still need to do a stint rehabbing it before he can return to the team.

The Sox need A.J.’s leadership and his fast reacting mind these last 40 or so games of the season. It will also greatly hurt to lose his .296 BA/.233 OBP/ .256 SLG/ .489 OPS with Dunn and Rios still doing so poorly. The whole team is now being led on the field by, not even the backup, but the backup’s backup catcher, in Tyler Flowers. This is no way to take a stand and fight to lead the division.

All we can do is hope for the best. Maybe A.J. can maneuver around this latest barrier and be back by the start of the Tigers’ series, September 2nd. While I’d like to hope he isn’t needed and things are falling into place for the South Siders, this is still the White Sox, and the only path they ever know to take is the most difficult.

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