Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ozzie's Gambit

By Kyle Eliason

The following will appear in GameDay's Dugout Splinter this series.

Manager Ozzie Guillen shuffled the entire White Sox rotation in preparation for this, the biggest series of the season for both clubs. Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd all made their previous starts on just three days rest.

Chicago won just one of those three games despite using their three best starters, which will raise questions about Guillen’s decision should the White Sox falter in Minnesota. First, Vazquez got rocked by the Yankees, allowing seven runs and failing to get out of the fourth inning in last Thursday’s 9-2 loss. He struck out and walked four. Then would come Buehrle’s turn, and the only win that resulted from the first stage of Ozzie’s gambit. The southpaw allowed three runs in six innings of work last Friday, all coming in the bottom of the fourth from Royals’ third baseman Mark Teahen’s homerun. Floyd would then follow on Saturday, losing to the Royals as a result of allowing three homers, five runs and eight hits in six-and-a-third.

There is good news in that the Sox failed to widen their lead as much as the might have. The bad news is that their three best pitchers are all rested and ready for the Twins. Vazquez threw just 88 pitches last Thursday, Buehrle threw just 93 on Friday and Floyd just 93 on Saturday.

The Vazquez-Baker match up is an interesting opener to the series, as neither pitcher has lost to the other team this season, but neither has pitched particularly well, either. Vazquez is 2-0 with a 5.11 ERA against the Twins this season and Baker is 1-0 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts against the Sox.

The Buehrle-Blackburn match up is worrisome. The former looked good on just three days rest in his last start, the latter looked worn down by the long season despite pitching on regular rest and failed to make it out of the second inning in his last trip to the mound. Here’s hoping the extra rest resulting from getting bounced early helps Blackburn find what he needs to outduel a notorious Twins killer.

The Flyod-Slowey match up is perhaps the most interesting. The Twins do not have Floyd figured out yet, and he’s posted a 1.86 ERA in three starts against Minnesota. And Slowey threw a complete game shutout in his only start against the White Sox this season.

The White Sox’ offense is built around power. They lead the majors in homeruns and enter the series having outhomered Minnesota a whopping 223 to 108. Normally that would translate into one of the top offenses in baseball, but Chicago finds themselves in the second tier due to an average on-base percentage and middling batting average. And they also find themselves without their best hitter. Left fielder Carlos Quentin, who leads the club in runs (96), homeruns (36), runs batted in (100), on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.571), has been out since September 2nd with a wrist injury. His cast has come off and he’s working on strengthening his wrist, but he is unlikely to return before the postseason, if the White Sox are able to make it that far.

To compensate for the loss of Quentin, Guillen has moved the versatile Nick Swisher, who can man both first base and all three outfield slots, to left field full-time. The aged body of Ken Griffey Jr. patrols centerfield, and Jermaine Dye is handling right. Swisher, who was acquired from Oakland via trade before the season began, is finishing up a horrible season. Coming off two seasons in which he posted an OPS higher than .830, Swisher has seen that decline to a mark of .746, which doesn’t hack it at a corner position.

Prior to Quentin’s injury, Guillen had the option of mixing and matching the likes of Swisher (.746 OPS), Griffey (.761 OPS) and Dewayne Wise (a fluke .860 OPS in 104 at bats) in center, and Swisher and Paul Konerko (.773 OPS) at first base. That option is now gone. It’s too bad the Twins have three righties scheduled to pitch, as both Wise and Griffey bat left-handed and struggle with southpaws and Swisher is no longer a platoon option.

Second baseman Alexi Ramirez had been another right-handed option for Guillen’s outfield, but Joe Crede’s back has him sidelined, which meant shifting Juan Uribe to third base full time and planting Ramirez at second. Josh Fields is kind of an option at third, but he’s be terrible in very limited playing time at the Major League level this season, and now officially looks like a first round bust. Enter the likes of Chris Getz as reserve second baseman and Guillen is announcing to the media that his infield depth is now, “paper thin.”

The White Sox have not been the same club since Quentin went down. Dye, designated hitter Jim Thome and the aforementioned Ramirez are all still solid hitters relative to their position, but no one has really stepped up to replace the loss of their MVP candidate. Their rotation has been rested and reordered in anticipation of this series. Their manager has been quick to lay into his players for failing to pull away from a Twins club that hasn’t done much to try and steal the division. Their bullpen, like the Twins’, has its holes. As Tuesday’s first pitch draws near, it is striking just how similar these two teams look. Both have two or three dangerous hitters, solid but not dominant starters, and have been playing .500 or worse baseball for the past two weeks.

The beauty of late-season baseball is that something as trivial as the bench players available to two American League clubs might shape the outcome of the Central Division and possibly the playoffs. Here’s hoping our home town nine can get it done this week.

1 comment:

KEN said...

you know what would be nice? a bullpen.