<
>

Sox taking the bad with the good

CHICAGO -- Since we're here on the South Side, the home of unvarnished opinions and unironic mustaches, you have to lead with the bad.

So here's the bad: Gordon Beckham needs a treasure map to get to first base. He struck out three times on Friday and now has nine K's in 20 at-bats. The new Adam Dunn racked up the Camo Sombrero: Which you get credit for working really hard in a four-strikeout game. Even the grounds crew had a bad day. Miguel Cabrera won an argument that the batter's box was improperly placed and the Sox had to call in a new one from the bullpen. The coffee maker is already out of order in the pressbox and the scoreboard misspelled "struck out" as "stuck out." That is ironic because it'll be using that phrase A LOT this season.

But forget all that noise. The White Sox beat the Tigers 5-2 in their home opener and, for a day, you could forget the carryover problems from 2011's train wreck and just "appreciate the game," as the Sox's marketing department has opined.

So, here's the good: No. 8 hitter Dayan Viciedo homered and made a diving catch that caused a blip on the Richter scale; A.J. Pierzynski hit an RBI triple that scored the lumbering Paul Konerko from first base ("That'd be the first, except on a home run," Pierzynski said); Beckham helped turn a game-saving double play in the eighth; "mystery closer" Hector Santiago got another save and, most importantly, Jake Peavy threw a sharp 6 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and striking out eight. The second hit was a two-run homer by Delmon Young that ended Peavy's day. He threw 94 pitches, probably a few too many. But for most of the game, Peavy showed his chops, mixing breaking balls and fastballs, and hitting the low 90s.

"I can't promise anything because I don't know," Peavy said. "After the last few years I don't know. I'm as healthy as I have been. I'm excited and I'm going to compete, and I should do well if I'm healthy. Like you said, you are going to give up runs and hits, but I'm going to compete and give you everything I got. I believe that numbers will be there at the end of the year. The ultimate thing for me is getting wins."

(Hear that, baseball nerds? Wins are awesome!)

Peavy's story could be a great one but, like he said, we don't know how it ends. That's the trouble with judging anything the first week of the season.

I hate writing a hackneyed joy-of-baseball home opener/opening day column, but really, a dash of optimism never killed anyone. I think the Sox's new "Angioplasty Menu" has a chance to do that -- the Irish Nacho Helmet especially -- but maybe the on-field changes made at the Cell will have a healthy effect.

After last season's debacle, which saw interest and atmosphere decline, it can't get any worse at the Cell. It can only get better, even if that means Dunn hits .225.

The White Sox were a sinking ship the Past three years and if they want to keep seeing crowds of more than 30,000, instead of the 24,000 they drew on average last year, winning is paramount.

"I don't think anything I say matters," White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said in his inspiring home opener dugout chat. "I think the only thing that matters to White Sox fans is what's on that field."

That's true. That could be a problem. While Williams said he likes "the fight" and the "grind-it-out mentality" of his hitters, they're still striking out way too much. Forty-two coming in and 15 more against the Tigers. That's 9.5 a game. (Dunn gets a half just walking to the plate, like a reverse handicap in golf.)

Everyone still figures Dunn will hit his weight this year -- they wish! -- but Beckham, with three hits and two walks in 20 at-bats, is a crisis in waiting.

Last season, Williams got into it with his former punching bag/hitting coach, Greg Walker, over Beckham's swing. Now Williams said he's keeping his mouth shut. For now, at least.

"I'm not analyzing or dissecting Gordon Beckham five games into the season," Williams said. "I'm not doing it. I just want him to grind away. I'm not getting into anything mechanical. I want to see nothing [from Beckham] but fight. However you want to do it. If you want to swing that thing through your legs, just fight through your at-bat."

Beckham might want to try those acrobatics. The still-young second baseman got major national TV time Thursday night when he sat by the Chicago Bulls' bench. He hit like Tom Thibodeau was still gesticulating in his face.

"Does it look like I'm feeling comfortable," Beckham said with a slight edge, when I asked him about it. "I just had a bad day."

At least he doesn't take it into the field. But even this early, every strikeout becomes a harbinger of more failure to come. Failure begets failure. It's a vicious cycle every baseball player is familiar with. Those can deal with failure will thrive. Those who can't don't get floor seats to Bulls games.

"It's still early in the season," Sox manager Robin Ventura said after his first home win. "Everyone likes making a good first impression, but sometimes you go over the top and do too much. He'll settle in. I'm not worried about him, no."

Beckham is in a situation that perfectly mirrors the White Sox, because everything he does now, even if it's minor, will be compared to his struggles last season. He can't escape the criticism, none worse than that in his own head, until he escapes it. Dunn too. While their start is slow, the White Sox are 4-2, and after losing a series to a strong team in Texas, it felt good to get the first game from Detroit.

"I think we've obviously got to win the series here, that's the goal," Konerko said. "The Texas series, Detroit, those are the elite teams in the league because of what they've done in the previous year so I think it's good for us to get on the field with them and compete and play the game hard and show ourselves that we belong on the field with them. It's not always going to be easy to get wins."

And for now, that's all that matters. The most important part of the start of a season is finding ways to win and setting a positive tone to carry for a week, a month, or maybe longer. Perhaps if the White Sox can find ways to win two out of three, Beckham and Dunn and whomever else struggle, can relax a little, and those good vibes can multiply.