Sunday, July 10, 2011
At midpoint, Sox's glass half-empty
By Jon Greenberg ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO -- Ozzie Guillen unwittingly gave the epitaph of this year's Chicago White Sox team before another Lazy Sunday on the South Side.
"We got a horse[bleep] team, but we got good people that play as hard they as can," the White Sox manager said before the team's 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
After the game, Guillen channeled good friend Carlos Zambrano with a more pithy summation of his team.
"We sucks," Guillen said to a couple of reporters, flashing a gallows grin as he finished up his news conference.
Now that "All In" has been ultimately disproved, here's a new tagline for marketing guru Brooks Boyer's crew: "Nice Guys Finish Third. Maybe Fourth."
It's one thing after another with this band of misfit toys. Forget "Go Go White Sox," the theme song for the first half seems to be one long note from a sad trombone.
At 44-48, the third-place Sox are 70 games away from a merciful ending and another change in philosophy for an organization that can't make up its mind on how it wants to ultimately disappoint its fan base.
How do the Sox feel about the first half? About how you'd expect.
"It's over," A.J. Pierzynski said. "That's about it. It wasn't what we expected, it wasn't what we wanted to happen, but we're still alive and we're still alive with 70 or so games left."
Alex Rios hit .212 in a disappointing first half for him and the White Sox.
The first half ended as scripted at 35th and Acquiesce: Jake Peavy let down "the boys," who in turn failed to support him with any kind of run support, not to mention a miracle comeback.
"We played very lousy," Guillen said. "We finished the first half of the season the way we started. Very ugly game, kind of weird. Peavy walks two guys with two outs, causes two runs, couple of jammed shots here and there. That's the way they play."
While the Twins jammed their way to another win. For most of the game, the Sox looked like they packed their bats for the All-Star break. Now the Twins are just 1½ games back of the White Sox in the worst division in baseball. The Sox are lucky to be five games behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central.
"We have to start thinking about what's happening next, not what's happened in the past," Guillen said. "The past is over with, we've got to go the best we can, the hardest we can for next 2½ months or whatever we got left."
Hey, you can't blame the Sox for losing Sunday. I mean, when Anthony Swarzak is dealing, collateral damage is expected.
Swarzak joins luminaries like Rodrigo Lopez, Felipe Paulino and Bruce Chen as recent Sox killers. When Hawk Harrelson yells "mercy" nowadays, he really means it.
It's another summer of bad baseball in Chicago, and while we expected that of the "We stinks" Cubs, there's no excuse for the Sox players. And while everyone is focused on the soap-opera aspects -- Guillen's contract, and his fractured relationship with general manager Kenny Williams -- it's on the players to perform as they're paid.
"Every single one of us has to step our game up a little bit," Alex Rios said before a 1-for-3 day that gave him a .212 average. "Obviously, myself, I have to try to pick it up a lot. I've had a pretty bad first half, but I have a good attitude toward second half. Hopefully I can get something together and start doing better."
Guillen said he won't rip his players for their continued regression toward the bottom, but this has been a baffling first half for him and his coaches.
"Well, you know what, it's very disappointing," Guillen said before the loss. "I don't want to blame anybody. I'm not going to point fingers at anyone. I think with all of our comments at spring training, we thought our ballclub was going to kick some butt and that no happen yet.
"I expected this ballclub to go out and have some fun. Unfortunately we're not doing it right now. I've been disappointed for everyone, not just for me. The players will agree with me about this."
Guillen, however, didn't shy away from tweaking Adam Dunn when a reporter asked if he's considered using newly called-up catcher Tyler Flowers as a designated hitter.
"Our DH is that bad?" Guillen said with a smile. "He is bad. Come on. Just be realistic."
Guillen later said he doesn't feel sorry for Dunn, who racked up strikeouts 116 and 117 in the loss. He goes into the break hitting .160.
"I wish I was 0-for-4 making $56 million," Guillen said. "I'm 0-for-4 every day of my life and I only make $1 [million]."
Earlier in the week, Dunn said he and Rios talked about putting the team on their backs for the second half. Based on their combined first-half struggles, that sounds unlikely.
In the first seven games of a 19-game streak against divisional opponents, the Sox are 2-5. After the break, the Sox play three straight series on the road. Detroit, with Justin Verlander tapped to start, awaits them first.
"This is an important stretch for us," Guillen said. "I don't know what our players think. We're going to face our division. For us, it's very important to start good in the second half."
Will the All-Star break help the Sox refocus and turn the season around? That's always the question with disappointing teams. Maybe a vacation from themselves will do some good. Or maybe it won't make a damn bit of difference.
"I don't know," Guillen said. "It can go either way. It will help me, but it depends on how you prepare yourself for the second part of the season. Hopefully better. I know the second part after the All-Star break will be tougher and tougher, not because of where we are. It's just because it's normal when you are in a pennant race, every game is harder and harder. They have to be aware about that."
They are aware. If recent history is a guide, the Sox will continue to work hard, play nice and play bad. Whether they'll start winning is up to the guys wearing jock straps, not Williams or Guillen or hitting coach Greg Walker.
"We don't talk about it," Rios said. "We don't have to talk about it. We know we have to step it up and start doing something."
Sounds like something we've heard for 3½ months. Rios is a nice guy who, by virtue of his play, seems content to finish third, maybe fourth. Guess he was a good fit after all.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.