Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Step Up Or Step Out Of The Way

This is not the original plan. The White Sox are not built for home runs. It just turned out that way.

The White Sox are primarily built for pitching and defense. The Sox picked up clubhouse guys like Nick Swisher to keep the atmosphere light and fun. They picked up Gold Glove winners like Orlando Cabrera to ensure nothing gets out of the infield. They took gambles on unknown commodities like Alexei Ramirez, who has adjusted quickly to the game.

If you look up and down the lineup, there are only two actual sluggers. Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. Jermaine Dye is in more of the Frank Thomas mode. He'll get his home runs, but he's more of a line drive hitter. Sometimes those line drives get enough height and distance. He was picked up for his defense, first and foremost.

Say whatever you will about Pierzynski. I've heard it all before and he's heard it all before. Why is he the most hated player in baseball? He makes things happen and he gets in your head. If A.J. can get into a player's head, it's that player's fault for letting it get to him. That player must not have the concentration level to achieve success in Major League baseball. The fact that he knows what buttons to push, within reason, just shows how much homework he does off the field.

Carlos Quentin was a nice surprise. He was picked up for his defense and his potential at the plate. No one could have predicted how he would respond this year. Ken Griffey Jr. was picked up more for his veteran presence than anything else. Griffey has declined from a home run hitter into a line drive hitter. He can handle the pressure and has shown that by being clutch with 2 outs.

What happens when the pitching goes south? The hitting tends to gravitate toward launching home runs for offense. A few key injuries to the bullpen, and chaos broke out. Everyone was out of their own comfort zone, so the pitching suffered. The offense then responds by trying to get as many runs as they can. This leads players like Nick Swisher to try for the fences. This gets them out of their game. This is why you see a lot of home runs. Everyone is trying to hit them because it's in their mindset to do so with the pitching suspect.

2008 is a prime example of what happens with a few key injuries to a team. It's a testament to the team that they are in a position to contend this late in September. Can you imagine what would've happened if the bullpen problems didn't happen this year? The White Sox would already be in Tampa right now.

The necessity of scoring runs has made this team into the "all or nothing" home run hitting hitting machine that it has become. With that "all or nothing" approach, you lose a lot of ballgames waiting for the home run. You lose confidence on the basepaths. You tend not to try to steal a base. You become afraid of running yourself out of an inning.

The more strain that's put on a club, the more they are going to lose in stupid ways. This is where you get the costly throwing errors. This is where you get caught in between bases. This is when you try for the home run and pop it up to the shortstop.

A team that is relaxed and confident will rarely make these mistakes. They will capitalize on the other team's mistakes and make them pay for it. I saw this in yesterday's game with Detroit. This was the first time I have seen this all year with the White Sox. I have also seen this type of behavior with the Twins. In fact, I have seen this type of play with every team that's already in the playoffs. No team is immune to this.

When things go south, two things can happen. You either step up or step out of the way. When Joe Crede's back issues sidelined him indefinitely, Josh Fields stepped out of the way. Juan Uribe stepped up. When Carlos Quentin broke his wrist, Jerry Owens stepped out of the way. DeWayne Wise stepped up. When Nick Swisher's bat developed a hole the size of Cleveland, Brian Anderson stepped up.

The reason the Sox have stayed in this so long is because they were built that way. Whether that's through trade, signings, pick ups, or the farm system, the Sox have been built to withstand these injuries. Granted, the last few years have been a real test of that ability. This year, despite the bullpen implosion and despite the offense swoon, the Sox have stuck around long enough to force a 163rd game.

Some team's fans may bitch about their owner's stinginess when it comes to payroll. Some may bitch about this and bitch about that. If everything worked out the way it should on paper, the Detroit Tigers would be in the playoffs instead of the cellar. It doesn't matter what you have. It matters how you use it. I applaud the Twins for staying in the race every year with a management that would rather spend a penny and save 99 cents out of each dollar. Imagine where they would be with more money. Then again, if they had more money to work with, they might lose the edge that keeps them in the hunt every single year.

It's all a matter of perspective. If the Sox should lose this year, it won't be because the pitching injuries forced the offense to swing for the fences. It will be because they lost game 163 to the Twins or lost somewhere in the playoffs. If the Twins should lose this year, it won't be because they were in second place the majority of the year. It will be because they either lost the last game to the White Sox or to someone else in the playoffs.

Put the focus on the game, where it should be. Everything else is just a distraction.


Thorzul said...

I'm pulling for your Sox all the way.

Jim Thome just hit his HR.

White Sox Cards said...

Just like Cal Ripken Jr. predicted.

Congrats on the Brewers BTW!

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