When the White Sox took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Wednesday, I had a working theme in my head. See, had Matt Thornton and/or Addison Reed done their jobs, the Sox would have been 4-3 despite being outscored 24-35 through two series of their road trip of tooth and nail (prose!).
Instead, Cody Ross happened, and the Sox haven't won since. They stagger back to Chicago outscored 55-31 over the road trip, hoping to beat up on their old nemesis Minnesota to regain momentum.
The good news? It's pretty easy to diagnose the root cause, which is...
The Sox averaged 3.1 runs per game over the 10 games, which is bad. The Sox averaged 2.4 runs over their last nine games, which is really worse.
Look up and down the lineup, and you'll see what the problem is: Everybody had problems.
|CF||Alejandro De Aza||44||2||10||3||1||1||5||3||9||.227||.277||.409||.686|
Among the notable points:
*Adam Dunn did most of his damage in the Kansas City series. Against Boston and Detroit, Dunn managed just two hits over 26 at-bats. On the other hand, he did have his first two games with zero true outcomes over that stretch, and he's gone five straight games without multiple strikeouts.
*Kevin Youkilis is 5-for-37 with zero walks and 16 strikeouts against the Detroit Tigers this year when including his Boston numbers.
*Gordon Beckham is hitting .186/.255/.286 over 140 at-bats in the ninth spot. He's hitting .269/.316/.420 over 193 at-bats anywhere else. Which brings to mind this tweet after Youkilis knocked him out of the second spot.
Beckham said he's fine with hitting 9th, tho he said [smiling] it 'brings back bad memories'— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) June 25, 2012
This phenomenon seems worth exploring a little with the lineup card. He's spent the majority of the season batting behind what the French call the out machine du jour -- Dayan Viciedo at the start, followed by Brent Morel, then Alexei Ramirez, then Orlando Hudson. On Sunday, Tyler Flowers, with two hits in his previous 30 at-bats, hit two spots in front of Beckham.
On paper, it makes sense for Beckham to hit ninth -- he hasn't proven he can hit anywhere else consistently, and he's got the speed/baserunning combo to make him the guy who can turn over a lineup, as baseball people like to say. But I wonder if he sees hitting ninth as a sentence, or maybe batting behind guys who do nothing drags him down.
Alternatively, maybe there's nothing that can make him a good hitter beyond the occasional solid month, and the ninth spot happens to be a random void in his numbers this season. But he is hitting .272 with runners in scoring position, whatever that's worth.
Despite the problems, the Sox somehow managed to score first in every game, which does lead to one particular bone to pick with the...
White Sox starters squandered seven of those 10 first leads within the next half-inning. I'm not sure how much that matters, but it's a staple of every analyst to tout the importance of posting a zero after the offense makes a dent. So in this light, maybe the starters conspired to dishearten the offense before the offense could disappoint them.
Otherwise, it's hard to get too worked up about the pitching. The lack of runs rendered most of Robin Ventura's pitching maneuvering a moot point. Pedro Hernandez proved woefully underequipped to start a major-league game. Jose Quintana threw eight shutout innings. Chris Sale turned in a relative dud. The result was the same. Phil Humber's start on Sunday was the only one that really put his team in a bind when a win could have been achieved otherwise.
Likewise, there's little to carry over from any bullpen missteps, because with Jesse Crain and Brett Myers now at the ready, Ventura is far better equipped for the late innings. Addison Reed is really the only guy to watch coming out of the road trip. While Matt Thornton's all-fastballs disaster was an aberration in terms of pitch selection, Reed has survived on a fastball all year, which could mean more Ross-like homers on the way.
The recent lack of second pitches makes Donnie Veal's demotion a little confusing. Veal did all he could do in his two outings, retiring five all batters he faced, and three by strikeout. He threw more breaking balls than fastballs, and his sweeper made Alex Avila visibly uncomfortable both times he faced him (two strikeouts).
Of course, Leyson Septimo also enjoyed immediate success, beginning his career with 3 1/3 perfect innings over two outings against the Yankees. And then he went on to retire only four of the next 11 batters he faced, including a pants-wetting command meltdown in Boston that led to his first major-league loss. To his credit, Septimo did rebound with a 1-2-3 inning against Boston two days later.
Considering both pitchers have rich history of command problems in the minors, figuring out which guy would have a better next week is a toss-up. But I did like seeing a guy come out of the bullpen significantly featuring a breaking ball. Maybe with Crain and Myers in the fold, that's less of a priority.