Thursday, July 08, 2004

Total Disaster Averted - But Trouble Is Brewing

"Watching" the game on ESPN.com today was excrutiating. I had to turn it "off" after the Sox were down 5-2 when Loaiza had given up 3 runs after 2 outs in the top of the 4th. Not only had I given up on the game - something that I wouldn't have done early in the season - but I was starting to worry that the Sox were falling apart in such a way that they would dig a hole for 2004 they couldn't get out of.

Lo and behold, when I checked the score again, they had tied the game up at 8 in the bottom of the 8th. And they did it against no one less than F-Rod. They also did it without a home run barrage - the only home run the Sox hit was Carlos Lee's 2-run shot in the first, well before the comeback began. The bullpen pitched well, too. Jackson and Cotts managed not to pour any gasoline on the fire, and only Loaiza was charged with any runs.

But there is a reason to be concerned even with the losing streak ending - Ozzie. Quite frankly, he seems like he's coming unhinged. He may be trying a little too hard to shake things up, such that he's actually hurting the club. He had already planned to chew out the players in a meeting after the game if they lost:
"They should thank God that they won this game," Guillen said. "Because they were going to have the biggest meeting they ever had in their career.

"We were going to be here for a little while and talk about baseball. We were going to send the wives home because it was going to be a long one."

A knock-down, drag-out kind of meeting, though, is probably not going to turn the Sox around. When did a team ever turn itself around after being yelled at? Especially if the team is in a hitting slump; pressing it is only likely to make it worse. Ozzie's focus earlier in the season was to loosen the team up, not tighten them up through a meeting.

There's more to Ozzie's erratic behavior. He got into a feud with Scott Schoeneweis in the media after Schoeneweis spoke up about being upset about possibly being taken out of the rotation. It's a little unusual for a manager to speak to a player through the media; managers generally talk directly to the players. I've never been a fan of issues being aired through the media - there simply isn't any advantage to talking to the media before talking to a player/manager. [Truth be told - I think that Schoeneweis had a point. You don't lose your spot because you've been injured, and he hadn't pitched any worse than Garland to that point)

Guillen also has put out some bizarre lineups during the last 6 games. He put Jamie Burke in the DH spot. Joe Crede moved up to the 5 hole. Timo Perez fills the lead-off spot. These lineups are a far cry from the solid lineup assembled earlier in the year. Ozzie's spot starts of Ross Gload and Timo Perez and Jamie Burke looked brilliant earlier in the year when those players were producing beyond any practical expectations. Now that they've come back down to Earth, Ozzie shouldn't fly off the handle and start calling meetings. After all, the lineup that got beat 12-0 on Tuesday does not have a lot of runs creation potential:

J. Uribe5.4
A. Rowand6.9
C. Lee5.8
P. Konerko7.3
J. Crede4.1
J. Valentin6.2
J. Burke5.0
T. Perez3.9
S. Alomar4.0

The total RC/27 outs is a little deceiving because Burke, Uribe and Perez haven't been productive lately. In fact, Uribe's RC/27 was 3.5 in June. Since their hot early Junes, Perez and Burke haven't done much either.

This is not the kind of lineup Ozzie can blame for not scoring. The blame lies more on the pitching staff- Loaiza has been subpar over his last four starts (game scores of 26, 38, 39 and 10), Schoeneweis was a disaster in his first start back, and Garcia has been less than spectacular in his two starts. Garland and Buerhle have been OK, but two starters cannot carry a rotation.

I had concerns about Ozzie before the season. He was inexperienced and I thought his style of play - avoiding the base on balls at all cost - would be a negative. He was a pleasant surprise with his upbeat attitude during the early part of the season. Let's hope he gets that positive attitude back and the Sox can turn it around after the All-Star Break.

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