Over the White Sox's sad three-game set at Comerica Park, they only tried bunting once on Miguel Cabrera and his bad ankle. It was successful, it led to a run, and they never tried it again.
I was a little bit fixated on this development for the last two ballgames on Twitter, and even thinking about it today, I'm still unsure how that was allowed to happen.
Here's what I get: The White Sox aren't good at bunting. In a completely normal bunting situation, there's only a handful of important players who should be counted on to lay down a decent one -- Alejandro De Aza, Gordon Beckham, Dewayne Wise and Alexei Ramirez (who can drag bunt, not push bunt). We haven't seen most of the other guys try to bunt, and I doubt we would really want to. It would probably be pretty ugly, too.
But here's what I don't get: The White Sox weren't good at swinging, either.
There were a lot of sad efforts against Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander over the weekend, with some guys shaking their heads before they even finished their follow-through. A.J. Pierzynski summed it up:
"Scherzer and Verlander the last couple of days, were as good as I’ve ever seen either both of them," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "It’s tough when you’re facing these guys and you have to try and string hits together and get it done. [...]
"You could throw the ’27 Yankees out there and they’re going to get them out."
The White Sox scored seven runs over three games. They did not post a crooked number in any of the 27 innings. They struck out 21 times over the last two nights. Even with these conditions, Ventura was more willing to try a two-strike hit-and-run with Orlando Hudson at the plate and Tyler Flowers running than one measly bunt. That turned into a double play.
Moreover, in the game where they exploded for four runs, they only scored one by their own accord (A.J. Pierzynski's solo homer). For the others -- Jhonny Peralta couldn't field a Paul Konerko double-play ball cleanly for an RBI fielder's "choice," Doug Fister hit Dewayne Wise with the bases loaded, and Wise circled the bases without a hit (walk, stolen base, wild pitch and sac fly).
And in the middle of it, one big reason Wise's HBP drove in a run is because Gordon Beckham bunted at Miguel Cabrera. It was not a good bunt, and if he pops it up like that at every third baseman, it's one out, and maybe a double play. But Cabrera isn't a good third baseman when he's in good shape. When he has one bad ankle, he can't move.
For some reason, Beckham's floating bunt E5 would be the only bunt the Sox sent in Cabrera's direction. They never gave it much of a thought. Wise and Pierzynski showed bunt once after, and De Aza bunted a Verlander curve foul. Token efforts, and they never followed up.
And those guys are left-handed! In other words, the only guys who showed bunt after Beckham's successful venture were the guys you'd most want swinging the bat against Scherzer and Verlander.
The righties never tried to bunt. Worse, they couldn't pull the ball against two of the league's hardest-throwing starters. As a result, Cabrera only saw one grounder head his way over the final two games of the series, and it was hit right at him.
Over the Sox's 81 outs this series, the Sox never found out whether Cabrera could field a bunt. Over the last 54 outs of the series, they only made him spontaneously and strenuously move once. That came with two outs in the ninth inning, when Alexei Ramirez lined one over his head on a single to left. Cabrera leaped for it unsuccessfully, and after he landed, ESPN's cameras showed him wincing and grabbing his hip.
With Cabrera's poor condition so obvious and Detroit's starters so tough, you'd think they would try something different in order to knock Scherzer or Verlander off his respective game. Instead, they just kept ramming their heads into the wall. When they weren't swinging over breaking balls, they were making contact late enough to hit it to the biggest part of the park and the Tigers' best defenders, Austin Jackson and Omar Infante.
Ventura actually said that Comerica Park's dimensions were getting in the heads of White Sox hitters (warning -- Phil Rogers Sulia link) ... so why didn't he try to take the size of the park out of the equation a few times?
None of it makes any sense, and it left us scrambling for answers.
In the Twitter discussion trying to figure out why the Sox weren't bunting until it was proven they couldn't, various fans kept coming back to two possibilities.
Was it an unwritten rule? If so, it's a recent development for our grand old game. You might remember June 8, 2001, when David Wells and his bad back and groin took the mound against the Cubs. Here's how the game started, per Chris De Luca of the Sun-Times:
Stretching and squatting between almost every pitch to work out kinks in his back Friday, Wells was in obvious pain after the Cubs tested his tender left groin with a leadoff bunt by Eric Young. Wells raced to the ball, turned toward first base and fired a throw in the dirt that skipped past Paul Konerko.
With Young on second base, No. 2 hitter Miguel Cairo dropped another bunt . Wells raced to it, turned to first and fired another throw in the dirt past Konerko.
Wells would last three more batters before calling it a day. The game was equally memorable for how it ended, with a Carlos Lee grand slam off Courtney Duncan.
Reading the various accounts, there's nothing suggesting the Cubs engaged in uncouth, underhanded strategy by making Wells come off the mound and make a play. No, they were merely exploiting an opportunity made available to them when the Sox started him. It was all part of the opportunity cost -- they could start Wells, hope he can last long enough for a good start and make the Red Sox and Yankees engage in a bidding war for his services. On the other hand, his poor health could become readily apparent and kill his stock. The latter happened.
Likewise, Jim Leyland started Cabrera at third because the Tigers have bad defenders abound, and he's the one guy who can hit well enough to offset it. But he risks having other teams run Cabrera ragged ... unless they don't take the Tigers up on the opportunity. The Sox deferred, and so they essentially let Leyland field two designated hitters at no cost.
It seems like there's nothing dictating that bunting is in poor taste, which leaves the other crackpot theory that Ventura was sympathetic as a third baseman, especially one who had suffered a horrific ankle injury. I threw that one out there myself tongue-in-cheek, but at this point, the outrageous, unprovable assertions are the only ones left that can't be dismantled.
After all of this, the only things we know is that 1) Ventura was aware enough of Cabrera's conditioning to "joke" about bunting him ragged (another Sulia/Rogers link) and 2) when I asked Dan Hayes and Scott Merkin if he'd said anything else, Hayes responded:
— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesCSN) September 3, 2012
@southsidesoxi was told they stressed the bunt to players all series. Aside from Wise though, not many good bunters on this roster.
And we're back to the lack of good bunters.
OK, one more thing -- Flowers was in Sunday's lineup. Flowers is not considered a good bunter. There was a game last September where Ozzie Guillen called for Flowers to bunt two runners over. He jabbed at the ball twice, and then struck out. It was the classic example of making a guy who doesn't bunt try to bunt, and everybody witnessing it dies a little inside.
You may also remember a game from nine days ago. With Alex Rios on second and nobody out, Flowers failed to get a bunt down twice. With two strikes, the bunt sign was still on, and Flowers rolled it all the way to the third base bag for his sixth infield single of the year. Rios came around to score, and that insurance run turned out to be necessary in a 5-4 victory over Seattle.
Oddly enough, Ventura wasn't managing when that happened. He had been ejected by Lance Barrett for arguing about the strike zone and A.J. Pierzynski's ejection. Mark Parent made that call.
So maybe Ventura just doesn't like bunting that much. Over the course of the season, that will be a net positive. In this case, it definitely didn't help. The Sox entered this series at a disadvantage due to the pitching matchups and the park, but the Tigers have been hamstrung by a flimsy defense all season. I still can't really wrap my head around why the Sox failed to exploit that vulnerability, because the lack of proven bunters seems to be canceled out by a lack of a proven infielder.
The Sox failed last season in large part because of a mindset that dictated, "It might not work, so let's not try." The Sox have spent the whole season being proactive about problems, and with 29 games remaining and a roster held together by Big League Chew, it's a weird time to start putting some stops back in.