Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Tumbling Towards Fourth

More ugliness from the White Sox in the form of a 7-0 blanking at the hands of the Detroit Tigers last night. Lowlights included Jose Contreras walking seven Tigers, fourteen Sox strikeouts, and nine men left on base. Promisingly, Joe Borchard only struck out once. Woo hoo!

The Sox are now 60-62, just 2 games in front of the fourth place Tigers - a team that won fewer than 50 games last year. There is some significance there that should not be lost upon the White Sox.

One, fourth place is a rare and strange position for the White Sox. They haven't finished worse than third since 1989, when an abysmal team finished last in the AL West by going 69-92. The White Sox have only had 3 seasons under .500 since.

There's nothing like a collapse of the existing team to shake the organization up. Since 1990, the Sox have essentially been in a series of adding players around a shifting core. It was Thomas-Ventura-Fernandez-McDowell in the early 1990's. Then it was Thomas-Ventura-Fernandez-Alvarez in the mid-1990's. Then came the phase of Thomas-Ordonez-Konerko-Lee, an essentially all-hitting-get-what-you-can-pitching-wise team. Now, a new phase might begin built around pitching. Kenny Williams has talked about acquiring a #1 starter in the offseason to complement the Buerhle/Garcia/Contreras trio that is signed through 2006. Ordonez and Valentin are likely to be gone, and next year is likely the last for Frank Thomas in a White Sox uniform (he's got a $10 million option in 2006, but the Sox can buy him out for $4 million or so, I believe). The Thomas-Ordonez-Konerko-Lee formula (with the exception of 2000) hasn't worked, so it probably is time to move on (and maybe it is also time to move the fences back at the Cell).

Two, the Detroit Tigers provide a nice example of how to rebuild a team quickly. They made some excellent veteran acquisitions in the offseason - Rondell White, Carlos Guillen, and Pudge Rodgriguez. Now, Guillen's season is somewhat unprecedented for him, but in Seattle he did put up a .359 OBP in 2003. Rondell White has always gotten on base, and Pudge Rodriguez has been an excellent hitter for some time. Guillen and Rodriguez are up-the-middle players, which affords them the luxury of carrying a first baseman like Carlos Pena. They also have developed their own young pitching, albeit with the luxury of playing in a park that forgives a lot of mistakes.

I hope the brush with fourth place gives the White Sox something to think about and forces them to regroup. Up the middle, they currently are weak. Rowand has played excellently in centerfield (beyond most reasonable expectations), but Jose Valentin has been an OBP hole at SS, Willie Harris has been famously inconsistent, Roberto Alomar is a satire of his former self and, a couple of good weeks from Ben Davis notwithstanding, the Sox haven't gotten a lot of offensive firepower from the catching position. It's time to upgrade the up-the-middle positions so that the Sox can succeed in the sorry AL Central.

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