The new season is a couple of weeks old. There have been plenty of things to like, and plenty of things to make you scratch your head. Here are my five favorite (and least favorite) things about White Sox baseball 2012. Lets start with the positives.
1. The Catching
A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers have both been fabulous in the early part of the season. Pierzynski has started out remarkably strong at the plate. He's hitting .368/.405/.763 with 4 dingers and 13 RBI's. That is half of his 2011 home run total in just 2 weeks of the season! He also has gunned down 2 of the 3 attempted base stealers against him. He did have a bad game behind the plate last Sunday, but other than that one outing he has been very strong. Flowers, although not getting it done with the bat (1-9, at least the hit was a homer), has looked like a defensive marvel behind the plate. Flowers has blocked every pitch in sight and has thrown out all four runners who've tried to move up on him. I thought at the beginning of the season this was going to be a tough situation for Robin Ventura to handle, but the way these guys have started it's been pretty simple.
2. Jake Peavy
The Bulldog is 3-3 in quality starts this season. His first outing in Texas was the worst of the three, but he kept the Sox in the game giving up 3 runs over 6 innings. Against that team, it was a pretty gutsy start. In the next two outings, he completely shut down the Tigers for the home opener, giving up two runs over 6 2/3 for the home opener. Then on Wednesday night he looked even better, giving up 4 hits and a run against the Orioles in our only win of the series. Peavy has struck out 21 batters and walked 2 on the season, while putting up a WHIP of 0.814. If he keeps this up, we'll either be in the thick of the pennant race or at the very least have a strong trading chip at the deadline.
3. Chris Sale
While Sale hasn't been as dominating as Peavy has, it has been a joy to watch his move into the rotation. The 23 year old is 2-1 on the season and has beaten the teams he should beat. In his first career start, he went 6 2/3 innings and gave up one run in a 4-2 victory against the Indians. His next outing was a little shaky against the Tigers, as his pitch count rose quickly (102 in 5 innings of work), but he still managed to allow only 3 runs to one of the best offenses in the game all while suffering from a less than stellar defensive outing from his teammates. Last night, he worked his way out of trouble most of the night, giving up 3 runs over 6 1/3 innings while striking out 11 hitters. He has 21 strikeouts in 18 innings, an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.22. It's been a smooth transition so far for the lefty.
4. Opposite Field Hitting
When the Sox offense is rolling this season, there is a good chance they are taking the pitches the other way. Paul Konerko has been wonderful in this aspect. There have been plenty of times where he has taken an outside pitch and lined it into right. The Sox have been following the Captain's lead. Adam Dunn has come up with big doubles down the left field line in two of the last 3 games. Alex Rios has been going the other way pretty consistently, and unlike Spring Training, it has been hard contact. The new approach has him hitting .289/.356/.421. Last evening, Gordon Beckham doubled into right center and Brent Morel drove him in with a hit to right. It has been nice to watch them take what is given to them, and it all starts with Konerko.
5. Focus on Baseball
I know this may seem a little bit silly considering we are talking about a baseball team and all... but it has been wonderful to see the focus on baseball instead of the drama and ego trips of the previous regime. It seems like the attention to detail has really been paying off for the Sox. The extra attention given to stopping the oppositions running game has resulted in one steal against us in 13 games. In previous years, it seemed like there was one steal against us every other inning. Robin Ventura has done a great job putting the focus on the club and the task at hand, instead of the other guy who used to manage. This should have happened years ago.
Like all roller coaster rides though, there have been some low points this season as well. Here are my five down:
1. Second in the Batting Order
It has been painful to watch whoever is coming up 2nd in the order. Brent Morel has been the biggest culprit, but Brent Lillibridge is also 0-7 with 5 strikeouts in that spot. Gordon Beckham got one start there and put up the best fight going 1-3 with a walk. In total, the 2 spot in the order (including pinch hitting appearances by Kosuke Fukudome and A.J. Pierzynski) is 6-49, with 24 K's, 6 BB's and 3 RBI's. With Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez hitting pretty well, I'm not sure how Robin can keep putting Morel in that spot but that is exactly what has happened. He had his best game of the season last night, hopefully he starts trending upwards because you can't go much lower.
It is a pretty scary thing when the best thing I remember Viciedo doing this year is making a great play in left field, but that is exactly what has happened. He's only had one multi-hit game on the year (April 9 in Cleveland) and only has 2 doubles, 2 homers and 2 RBI's so far. This is the guy who many were hoping to be a big part of the offense. He is 0 for his last 12 and he hasn't gotten a hit since the bottom of the 7th on Monday's opener vs. the Orioles. Thursday afternoon he was 0-4 with 3 strikeouts looking and a double play. I would have whacked myself if I ever had a line like that. Hopefully he can turn it around soon and become the line drive machine we all remember from 2010.
3. John Danks
I am probably being a little hard on Danks, but he is supposed to be the ace of the staff so he deserves to be judged harshly. On opening day, the Sox came back and tied the game at 2 in the top of the 6th, and in the bottom of the inning he gave up the go ahead (and winning) run. In his next start, the Sox spotted him 4 runs in the first inning, and instead of cruising the way Sale has done when the Sox have given him early offense, he could only make it through 5 2/3 innings and gave all four of the runs back. Fortunately, the Sox kept the scoring coming and Danks got credited with the victory, but he let the Indians back into the game and that is not something I want from the ace. In his last start against the Orioles, he threw 5 great innings. Unfortunately, trouble struck again in the 6th as he gave up back to back homers to Nolan Reimold and J.J. Hardy and the Sox could only score 2 runs in the loss. He has walked 7 batters, struck out 14, has an ERA of 4.82 and a WHIP of 1.34. I expect more out of him.
4. Gavin Floyd
Floyd is another guy who has been disappointing. He was awesome in his start against the Tigers, but has given up 5 runs in his other two starts (Texas and Baltimore). He's walked 8 batters in 17 2/3 innings, and has been touched by the long ball with 4 homers. The one to Adam Jones really hurt Thursday afternoon, as Nick Johnson (who was 0-the season) was on deck and with a 3-2 count and first base open, Floyd hung a curve that most every hitter in the league would hit hard. That ended up being the deciding factor in the game.
5. Too Many Long Balls
The Sox have given up 18 homers in 13 games. Floyd and Danks have accounted for 8 of them, but 7 have come from the bullpen. Hector Santiago has been taken deep three times, Jesse Crain twice and Zach Stewart and Will Ohman once apiece. It is 4th most in the league. Hopefully this number drops some, because the Sox don't exactly have the instant offense to make up for too many bombs being hit against the pitchers. The long ball has already burned us on a couple of occasions. It will always be there since we play in US Cellular Field, but hopefully Danks, Floyd and Santiago do a better job in limiting it.
Other things were considered like Gordon Beckham's offensive struggles, the poor home attendance last week and Steve Stone, who from the 5th inning until the starter gets pulled, tells you how many pitches the pitcher has on every other pitch, but in the end I decided to leave those off.
What have been your favorite and least favorite things to watch so far in 2012?