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May 28, 2010

On the Beat

Friday Update

by John Perrotto

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Ozzie Guillen has learned over the first two months of this season not too get too optimistic about his White Sox. Every time the charismatic manager allows himself to get excited, he always winds up feeling let down. Such was the case again Thursday night when the White Sox lost 5-1 to the Rays in the opener of a four-game series at Tropicana Field. The loss came on the heels of the White Sox winning back-to-back series for the first time all season, taking two of three from the Marlins at US Cellular Field last weekend and two of three from the Indians at Progressive Field earlier this week.

The season is nearly two months old and the White Sox have not won more than three games in a row, and they've done that only once. So a team that many scouts who covered the Cactus League this spring thought was ready to give the defending champion Twins a strong run in the American League Central finds itself with 20-27 record and seven games off Minnesota's pace. It is shades of 2009 all over again from the White Sox as they sputtered to a 79-83 finish a year after beating the Twins in a one-game playoff for the division title.

"We play good for two days then we play bad for three or four days," Guillen said. "We've been inconsistent all year. Until we start playing better for more than just a couple of days in a row, it's hard for me to have a good feeling about this team. We play with no consistency."

As terminally pessimistic catcher A.J. Pierzynski so aptly put it, "We've been saying all year that things are starting to get better, that we're putting it all together, it starts to feel that way for a day or two then it never happens."

The White Sox have been below average across the board. They are ninth in the AL in runs allowed (4.74 a game) and 10th in the runs scored (4.17) and defensive efficiency (.686).

"Basically, we played pretty horse (manure)," said Guillen, who used another word, but we've taken the editorial liberty to clean it up for a family-friendly web site. "We were really horse (manure) in April. At least we've played better in May. We've still been horse (manure), but not quite so often."

The White Sox were 9-12 in April, but just slightly better in May with an 11-13 record.

Being seven games under .500 is both baffling and disappointing to everyone associated with the White Sox. They had hopes of winning the division coming into the season, though they did not make any major changes in the offseason, with the most significant additions being the trades for third baseman Mark Teahen and left fielder Juan Pierre. Neither has made much of an impact, as Teahen has a .247 TAv and Pierre has a .239 mark.

The White Sox were hoping to get a bounce from having Jake Peavy at the top of their starting rotation for the entire season. They acquired him from the Padres in a deadline trade last July 31, but he started only three games, all in September, because of an ankle injury.

Peavy, though, has pitched at replacement level with 0.0 SNLVAR in a rotation in which John Danks is the only one pitcher over 0.6 with a 2.0 mark. Left-hander Mark Buehrle, who was the ace until Peavy arrived, has just 0.6 SNLVAR.

"You know Peavy and Buehrle are going to wind up pitching a lot better at the top of the rotation," Danks said. "When they do, we'll get on a roll and you'll see us start playing the way we expected to play all season."

Perhaps, but the White Sox have already put themselves in a hole at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. The White Sox, though, aren't in panic mode yet, and Peavy firmly believes they will be in the thick of the pennant race come September.

"We still believe in this team, and I'm happy to be in a situation where from the owner to the general manager, they're going to try to win," Peavy said. "Am I frustrated by the way the team's playing, the way it started for me? Absolutely. But that can happen anywhere. There are a lot of teams that thought they had a good team going in that aren't playing worth a darn right now—Atlanta, you look at the Mets, just to throw some teams off the top of my head that had high expectations and just haven't played well. This thing can turn around. We're not far enough out of it to make a run."

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Charlie Manuel hates team meetings. In fact, the Phillies manager will only call them as a last-resort measure. Manuel felt his team had reached that point Wednesday night after being shut out by the Mets for the second straight night and getting blanked for the third time in four games.

"He just asked us to play with intensity," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "It's not about losing and winning, it's about losing the right way, conducting ourselves the right way. That was the brunt of the conversation. There was no reaming or yelling at anybody. It was just an understanding that if we're going to lose, lose the right way."

The meeting didn't have an immediate effect. The Phillies were shut out again Thursday night and their lead in the National League East is down to 1 ½ games over the Braves. It marked the first time they had been shut out in three straight games in 27 years. The Phillies have scored just 15 runs in their last nine games. While teams always looking dead when they are not getting runners on base, Manuel senses the Phillies' problems are deeper and the result of a lack of energy and effort.

"How we play baseball, the energy we have, who we have, that's why 45,000 people come to Citizens Bank Park every night to see us play—who we got and how we go about it," Manuel said. "If anything changes and if the energy and effort and how we go about the game changes and we slack off and lose games, that crowd is not going to be there. That's what draws people to the ballpark, because we win, because they like the way we play and how we go about it. We've been playing baseball the right way for three or four years now, and we want to keep that."

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Ken Macha does not excite easily, and that trait has caused the manager to come under criticism from Brewers fans, who are also unhappy with their favorite team's 19-28 record. However, Macha is getting quite irritated with the constant speculation that his job is in jeopardy. When asked about getting a vote of confidence, albeit tacit, from owner Mark Attanasio last weekend, Macha got testy.

"I go about my job the same way all the time, and that's what I'm going to continue to do," Macha said. "I've had a lot of success doing it this way (in Oakland). If you run a business, and you run your business successfully, and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a downturn, what do you do? Panic and change everything you're doing, or continue the course? That's what we're doing. We come out here every day and get these players ready to play."

Macha believes things are starting to turn for the Brewers. He liked how they bounced back last Sunday to beat the Twins and avoid being swept in a three-game series after losing 15-3 in the opener and in 12 innings the next day. The Brewers then took two of three from the Astros this week.

"We should be on a high and be positive and ready to turn this thing around," Macha said. "To continue the negative thoughts and negativism, it's not going to come around. So, all the Brewers fans should be positive. I know my staff, myself, we're positive."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Dodgers have asked about Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee and Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt in trade talks but, considering how cash-strapped the franchise is because of the McCourts' impending divorce, it is doubtful the defending NL West champions can afford either pitcher. The Nationals are serious about trying to acquire Oswalt, but it is doubtful he will waive his no-trade clause to go to Washington. … The Twins have historically shied away from making big in-season trades, but there is an increasing thought in baseball circles that they will aggressively pursue Lee and Oswalt as the July 31 non-waiver trading nears in an all-out attempt to get to the World Series for the first time since 1991. … Left-hander Matt Harrison will not rejoin the rotation when the Rangers activate him from disabled list, which is likely to happen this weekend, but instead work in long and middle relief. … Those close to the Orioles insist that chances are better than 50-50 that manager Dave Trembley makes it through the season. … The Cubs are hoping to use left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny as a trade chip to land a reliable set-up man for closer Carlos Marmol, as Carlos Zambrano is expected to move back into the rotation next week. … White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel is leaning toward retiring at the end of this season

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Scouts' takes on various MLB players:

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks: "I've come to the conclusion that he's never going to be as good as everyone thought he was going to be coming out of college. He just isn't a big-league second baseman. He's like (B.J.) Upton. He'd be better off in center field."

Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre: "Signing with the Red Sox is the best thing he could have done. His swing is made for Fenway Park and now that he's in a deep lineup, he's getting a lot more fastballs to hit. It's the perfect fit."

Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum: "For the first time in his career, he looks unsure of himself on the mound. It's pretty disconcerting because the kid has always been full of confidence."

Royals right-hander Luke Hochevar: "He's really taken a big step forward lately. He's working fast, attacking hitters, and getting ahead in the count. You can finally see why the Royals used the first overall pick in the draft (in 2006) on him."

White Sox closer Bobby Jenks: "His stuff just isn't as crisp as it has been in the past, especially his breaking pitches, and that's making it hard for him to finish hitters off."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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