Repeating Ain’t Easy, is it?
The Chicago White Sox are finding out that as hard as it was to break their extended World Series drought last season, the prospect of repeating can prove even more difficult.
It’s not as if the Chisox have gone into the tank this year. In fact, in some respects — offensively at least — they are as if not more talented than the group that won it all last fall.
No, the problem has been the sudden and intense competition this club faces. While many expected the Indians to give Chicago its biggest challenges this year (after all, Cleveland almost competely wiped out the White Sox’s 15-game lead last season before bowing out late), it has been Detroit and, more recently Minnesota that have been the bane of Chicago’s existence in 2006.
Quick, raise your hands if you expected: (a) Detroit to be the best team in baseball; and (b) the Twins to have separate runs of 21-2 and 12-1? Well, the White Sox never saw that coming, either. Of course, a 2-10 skid by Chicago to start the second half really didn’t help matters.
Now Chicago faces its make or break point of the season — a stretch of 10 consecutive games against Minnesota and Detroit, the first seven of which (starting with last night’s loss at the Metrodome) are on the road. In a week and change, we will know for certain whether the White Sox have any realistic chance of catching the Tigers for the AL Central title or will have to be content to battle it out with the Twins and Red Sox/Yankees for the Wild Card.
Chicago is now six and a half back of the Tigers, but the immediate threat is Minnesota, which has a chance to tie the White Sox atop the AL Wild Card standings with a win tonight. Not only have the Twins beaten Chicago four straight times, but they are the best home team in baseball. Chicago may be on the outside of the playoff picture within two days.
What’s gone wrong in the Windy City?
Well, it sure isn’t the offense. No team has more than the 684 runs amassed by Chicago. The club’s fearsome foursome (Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede) have been supplemented by those two guys with really long and hard to spell names beginning with the letter P. Thome’s first half has him in the MVP chat, and Dye has picked it up since the break, tying a career high with his 33rd long ball last night, to get into that race as well.
On the pitching front, what was expected to be a huge strength — the five-man rotation of Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia — has been inconsistent at best. After completely dominanting opposing hitters in last season’s playoffs, this fivesome has looked very beatable this year.
Contreras was untouchable in the first half, but since that streak of 17 straight wins was laid to rest, he’s just 2-5. Vazquez has looked brilliant at times, but his ERA of over 5.00 illustrates how inconsistent he’s been. Buehrle, who have having problems tipping his pitches, earlier this week won for the first time since June. Garcia has never been less dominant and Garland, who struggled immensely in the first half, has been much better of late, as evidenced by a recent eight-game winning streak.
Why the team didn’t make a deal to open a rotation slot for Brandon McCarthy is beyond me, however.
Bobby Jenks has gotten the job done at closer, with 34 saves and 65 Ks in 56.1 IP.
Obviously the White Sox starting rotation will need to get on a serious roll if this club has aspirations of repeating. Ozzie Guillen’s incessant homophobic and/or demoralizing spewings will only take this team so far. At some point, the pitching staff needs to flash something even remotely close to what we saw last fall if Chicago wants to be playing come October.