Considering the White Sox lost five of their first six games of their 10-game road trip, they could be in far worse shape than 7-9 and 2½ games out. Their pitching and overall play began to sharpen until a knuckleballer threw everything we could realistically assess out of whack.
So before the White Sox begin a 10-game homestand, let's take a look at what went right, and what contains potassium benzoate.
That's bad: Adam Dunn
Dunn went 1-for-33 over the road trip. The lone hit was a double, and he was about a foot of distance away from a three-run homer, so there's that. But he drew just two walks while striking out 11 times, giving him a final line of .030/.111/.061 for the road trip, and .105/.164/.228 through 15 games overall.
In a strange twist, he did not DH over this road trip once. He played left in Washington, then seven straight games at first. It was one game too many, as he made a key error with the infield drawn in for an unearned run.
While the numbers are comparable to 2011, Dunn says he's in vastly better physical shape:
"When I'm getting a pitch to hit, I'm swinging at it and not missing it," Dunn said. 'I'm putting it in play. I'm up there to hit, not walk. I've gotten into some good hitting counts and rolled over and popped it up. I feel good, though. I don't feel bad."
The problem is that his recent history is too marred by death spirals to take comfort in small sample size. The first half of his 2012 season has all the makings of a classic dead-cat bounce when you see what's happened before and after, and the burden of proof is on him. I'm not inclined to blame the shift an inordinate amount, because the quality of contact isn't there. Watching him at the plate leads me to ask the question, "What kind of pitch can he hit?"
I'd hoped the promotion of Jordan Danks would allow Dayan Viciedo to slide over to DH and give the lefty bench outfielders some reps instead, but the Tank's oblique strain changes that. Viciedo says that he doesn't think he'll need a stint on the DL, but that's what non-critically injured ballplayers always say -- including Dunn after his appendectomy, for that matter.
That's good: Alex Rios
Still handsome. Rios led the Sox in hits (13) and doubles (four) over the road trip, and he even drew three walks. He's now walked six times so far this month, which is on the high end for him, because he only had one month with more than five walks last year (May, with seven).
His OBP is never going to be sky-high, unless he wants to keep hitting .344, an idea I personally endorse. However, if Dunn is down for long, they're going to need to wring a lot of extra patience out of everybody else to compensate. So far, Rios is really making pitchers work to get him out, and that's just the tops.
That's bad: Jeff Keppinger
Keppinger, on the other hand, hasn't drawn a single walk yet, and that's just one of the problems he's dealing with in his first month as a White Sox. He's hitting .172/.169/.188, and striking out in 11 percent of his plate appearances (he's never cleared 10 in any season). But part of that is the result of bad luck, because he's had more at-'em balls than anybody. On top of that, he's playing his weaker defensive position thanks to Gordon Beckham's injury.
So, count it up -- his main skill (contact) is starting at an all-time low, his line drives aren't finding holes, and his defense might hurt the team for the next five weeks or so. His value is being attacked on three fronts.
That's good: Alexei Ramirez
Not only did Ramirez make a couple of excellent plays in the Toronto series, but he's been giving the Sox suprisingly tough at-bats, especially considering it's April. He emerges from the road trip hitting .327/.377/.473, and he should be credited with two hits in his last at-bat, because he singled to right after the third-base umpire missed his grounder going over the bag for a likely double.
Conor Gillaspie is coming back down to Earth by going hitless in his last six at-bats, but it's not for a lack of competence, and his hands at third base are better than advertised. If somebody told you that it was April and Keppinger's OPS was under .400, would you expect the left side of the infield to be effective? Weird season.
That's bad: Chris Sale in Cleveland
Average fastball: 91.38 mph.
That's good: Chris Sale in Toronto
Average fastball: 94.05 mph.
That's bad: Don Cooper
Cooper was hospitalized as the Washington series was about to start due to diverticulitis. He's in better shape now after "five days of pain," and is ready to rejoin the Sox as the Minnesota series starts tonight. Gavin Floyd could have used him.
That's good: The bullpen
Even after starting with a poor performance at Washington on April 9 (and one pitching change too many by Ventura), the White Sox bullpen combined for this line:
27 IP, 17 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 20 K, 1.67 ERA
Jesse Crain was on the mound for a walk-off loss against Cleveland, but he didn't do himself in with mistakes. Thanks to Hector Santiago and Sale's seven innings, it returns to Chicago rested. Hopefully the bats will heed Hawk Harrelson's corollary between the offense and bullpen, because the relief corps is an early strength.