DETROIT – The Chicago White Sox opened the season on fire, pounding out 23 runs in their first two games and 40 in the first five. In the last 11 games, the Sox are hitting just .201 with 32 runs scored.
Pardon hitting coach Greg Walker for being a little irritated at not being chatted up when times were good and being under fire since they’ve turned.
“Actually, our scuffles are way overblown,” Walker said. “We’re averaging five [4.7, in fact] runs a game . We’re fourth in the league in runs scored. We’ve got a couple of high-profile guys who haven’t got going yet. One of them got operated on a week ago [actually April 6]. I’m not worried. We’re good. We’re red bull hatsaveraging five runs a game and we got two of our big boys not even started. I’m just sort of sick of the negative s—, I really am. We’re not that bad.”
Overall, the White Sox are hitting .251, with a tumbling .710 OPS. Just two regulars, Carlos Quentin (1.107) and Paul Konerko (.943) are producing beyond expectations so far.
Both Walker and manager Ozzie Guillen have pointed to the fearsome starting pitching the White Sox have faced over the past week as a reason for the offensive cooling.
“We faced the toughest pitching,” Walker said. “You [media] said that, and you guys are smart. Sit down and figure out who is going to be [pitching] in the All-Star Game … Have we faced any of them? Or all of them? We’re good. We’re doing good. We’ve scored more runs off these tough guys than anyone Los Angeles Dodgers caps else is doing off any of them. We have had a tough stretch against tough pitching. We scored some runs off them. We’re battling. We’re not giving them away.”
Guillen is fond of praising the offense’s “battling,” as well, often citing long at-bats that may even end in an out. But there is a fallacy in the “facing aces” argument—it’s Chicago’s poor showing against them that helps build their cases as aces.
Rallying behind the offense is fine and predictable, but to round up everyone the White Sox are facing, including raw rookie Tyler Chatwood of the Los Angeles Angels, is disingenuous. Even Walker realizes there are some limits.
“There’s been one game where I was disappointed in our focus and effort, the second game against Anaheim [vs. Chatwood on April 16],” he said. “Other than that, our guys have been there battling, got a couple high profile guys scuffling a bit. But overall, we’re scoring runs. We’re doing fine. When we do get everyone healthy … overall, I don’t look at this as being a negative situation as it’s been portrayed. I don’t see it that way.”
Adam Dunn is first on the list of White Sox fan’s concerns, first because of his health (due to his April 6 appendectomy), second due to his struggles at the plate since.
“I’ve been up, and I’ve been down,” the affable slugger said. “It will even itself out.”
Dunn has 22 strikeouts and carries a .620 OPS into Saturday’s action. His .293 on-base percentage is nearly 100 points worse than his .380 career mark, an indication the DH is pressing. Last year, Dunn swung (and missed) at many more pitches, in a situation he ascribed to the Washington Nationals’ anemic offense. Through the first three weeks of the season, Dunn when healthy has been pressing, clearly indicated by his poor OBP.
“Hey, the guy was a dominant force until he had an appendectomy,” Walker said. “He’s had, what, six, seven, eight days back? Sit around and watch. He’ll be fine.”
Dunn struggled to elucidate on his slump, saying that he just didn’t have the “feel” at the plate he’s used to. He pointed to his seventh inning, second-to-last at-bat in Friday’s loss to the Tigers as a “good” one despite the foul pop out to second baseman Ramon Santiago, while his final plate appearance (a K vs. Jose Valverde in the ninth) as “[expletive].”
Walker sees the same thing, although he ascribes it to poor “timing and direction” by Dunn.
“His timing is off,” Walker said, insistently. “He’s a big man. He’s got a lot of moving parts. He’s got to get his timing back. Because his timing is off, He’s been getting beat and cheating, trying to get the fastball. When he starts hitting fastballs, watch out, because a lot of people are going to pay.”
Dunn said that despite his hitting woes being a “feel” thing, “there is some stuff Walk sees” that the two work on together. But mostly, the gentle giant knows it’s a matter of him getting his own act together.
“You never can tell when the switch flips,” he said. “It’s not always a solid gapper or a home run. Last year, it clicked for me when I took a pitch for a ball. Then I drew a walk, and I was off to the races.”
Feeling more and more comfortable, Dunn nonetheless warns of expecting too much, too soon.
“Baby steps, brother,” he said, laughing in self-deprecation. “I’ve got to hit the ball first. But I’m getting there.”
Fond memories of Motown
It was last August—August 4, the rookie will remind you—thatChris Sale walked into the clubhouse for the first time as a member of the Chicago White Sox. And it was here—no, a few locker stalls over, the rookie is quick to point out—that Sale’s legend began.
“Detroit is definitely a special place, the first ballpark I walked into as a major-leaguer,” Sale said, recalling with a laugh at how green he was just a summer ago.
Konerko was walking him through all getaway day protocols, Sale recalled, but otherwise, his call-up was just a blur.
“On the plane ride I didn’t sleep a wink,” he chuckled. “I must have gone to the bathroom six times. My mind was going a mile a minute. Everything was going so fast.”
Sale didn’t make his major-league debut until the next series of the road trip, August 6 in Baltimore—one of just three poor outings New York Yankees hatshe had of his 21 appearances in 2010). But the southpaw had no concrete expectations upon entering Comerica Park.
“Every scenario was going through my mind on the way to Detroit,” he recalled. “But once I made it here, I was just excited to be pitching for the White Sox in a major league game.”
He knew no one on the White Sox at the time, and took out his checkbook to tip the clubhouse attendants on getaway day. Now, he’s part of the fabric of the team, so much so that Edwin Jackson interrupted the start of our interview to introduce himself as Sale’s new agent, “and Chris doesn’t speak on Saturdays.”
Sale laughs at how far he’s come in the game—although still designated as a rookie and with just 29 career appearances under new era monster energy hats his belt—playfully poking me jokingly on the shoulder on reflection: “Now, it’s all just easy for me!”