By Mauricio Rubio

The 90 Feet From First To Second

Alex Rios is busting his ass to get to second base. Dayan Viciedo just hit an “uh-oh” groundball to Detroit Tigers “shortstop” Jhonny Peralta and a momentum killing double play is forming. Peralta, to Infante, to Fielder is almost imminent, and all Hawk can say is “Uh-oh.”

It’s more than just a play at this juncture in the season. The White Sox are trailing 4-3 to open the bottom of the fifth. They are sitting on a 2 game lead over these Tigers in the division and this one game can mean the difference between winning and losing the division. Up 1 with 16 games left is no guarantee of anything. Should the White Sox get this game and stretch the lead to three it makes it incredibly hard on the Tigers. Detroit’s schedule might be easier, but at that point the White Sox would have to give the division away.

The White Sox have had their troubles with the Tigers of late. They’ve been swept in 2 of the last 3 series with Detroit, and are looking at losing an extended 3 of 4 against them in this series. Sale vs. Verlander was postponed on Friday, now it’s Quintana vs. Fister. Quintana suffered through a 3-run third but survived into the fifth. It’s become his trademark of sorts; he’s Livan Hernandez lite in that way. He isn’t the Quintana from the first half, but he will hang around the game even if he goes through patches of early trouble.

The White Sox are battlers though, that much has been made clear this year. Despite injury, ineffectiveness from their position players, and just flat out bad play, the White Sox, through the classic combination of skill, smarts, and luck, are still in first place.

Yeoman’s Work

Doug Fister is having a solid follow-up year to his mini-breakout last year. He was left for dead in Seattle, being branded a failure thanks to a 3-12 record that was totally lying about Fister’s ability. There he is though, on the mound for the Tigers when the bottom of the fifth begins. He’s been doing yeoman’s work for most of the season.  The Tigers are clinging to a 4-3 lead. Fister has to get them through the 5th and into the 6th because the Detroit bullpen is full of question marks. A battle of the ‘pens favors the Sox.

Dunn hits a hot liner to center and Konerko follows with a ringing double to left. At this point Fister is toast and will give way to Al Alburquerque. Alburquerque walks Rios and AJ Pierzynski lines out hard to right. Dunn can’t score. The bases are loaded and Dayan Viciedo is stepping into the box, with the Sox down 4-3.

Defensive Issues

Peralta is the perfect representative for this Tigers team. Peralta was always valued more for his stick than his glove, but now even the hits aren’t coming like they used to. The combination of Peralta and Cabrera on the left side of the infield is a huge issue. Untold runs are scoring because of the lack of range over there. Cabrera is sure handed, but he can’t move like he used to. Add in the ouchy ankle and you have the makings of a bad defensive combo.

Omar Infante is a prodigal Tiger. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 by the Tigers and enjoyed 6 seasons in Detroit before being traded to the Cubs for Jacque Jones in 2007. Infante has a reputation as being a solid 2B. Some of his tools are in decline, as is to be expected, but he is still the best defensive infielder on the team, and that’s an issue. Infante is best used as a part-time player. The Tigers tried out Ramon Santiago at second, but he couldn’t hit. Ditto with Raburn, Worth, and anyone else they plugged into the keystone. Infante is the best option.

Prince Fielder tries. He’s a big man, and it’s difficult to make some plays. He’s remarkably athletic, and he is also competent at first, but he isn’t Gold Glove caliber. His bat is why he is on the team. Prince is about to encapsulate the Tigers in one picture.

The Interesting Case of Alex Rios

Alex Rios was a dog. He teased Toronto in 2007 with an OPS of .852, good defense and solid speed. Ever since then Rios has been best described as “enigmatic,” and “bad.” Rios looks the part. He’s 6’5, has an athletic body, and the swing is one of the prettiest right-handed swings in baseball. It’s not violent, it’s smooth. To compare, Bryce Harper’s swing looks like a Metallica guitar riff. Rios has a swing that looks like Asturias. It’s smooth and clean through the zone. That’s what made him so infuriating to watch. He had all the physical tools but it didn’t translate into results. Rios was waived by Toronto in 2009 and Kenny took a risk. The story goes that Kenny Williams claimed Rios to block him from going to the Tigers, thinking that Toronto would pull him back if the White Sox claimed him.

They didn’t.

The Sox were stuck with Rios and he was equally infuriating in Chicago as he was in Toronto. Rios was awful in 2011, one of the reasons the White Sox fell flat on their face that year. Heading into 2012 he was a major question mark. I thought that if he and Dunn produced the White Sox would come close to winning the division.

The distance between winning and losing the central might be the 90 feet it takes to get from first to second.

Textbook Execution

So with the bases loaded and one out, Dayan Viciedo hits a ground ball to Peralta that should mean 2 outs, the lead heading into the 6th, and the Tigers increasing their chances at winning the AL Central crown.
Alex Rios is charging ahead, busting his ass to break it up.
Peralta is stepping backwards to gather the ball.
Infante is streaking across from his defensive spot to cover second base.
Dunn is racing home to hopefully score.
Konerko is chugging into third.
Hawk is saying “Uh-oh.”
In a flash the Tigers chances of winning the Central have taken a huge hit. A pariah adds another piece to his image restoration project. A manager steps closer to a forced retirement, and the Tigers come up just short.

As I Argue With Myself About The White Sox

  • The Pessimist: It’s still only a three game lead. They might not even make the playoffs.
  • The Optimist: Yeah but it’s 3 with 16 to play. They’re in at least, and if Sale and Peavy go crazy they can make a lot of noise in the playoffs. They play good teams tough this year.
  • The Pessimist: The playoffs are different, and how do we know if Sale is going to hold up against the work load? It’s more innings than the guy has ever thrown in his career, his velocity is down and he’s fallen in love with his slider. Do you really want to pin your hopes on Sale and Peavy?
  • The Optimist: Why not, it’s worked almost all year. Peavy didn’t break down, Sale didn’t fall apart (yet), and the bullpen is solid. The middle of the lineup is annoying to other teams and I think they are among the best in all of baseball.
  • The Pessimist: It’s still a lineup that employs Beckham, Viciedo, and Ramirez. You can’t have three holes like that in your lineup and expect to make much noise. A 162 game season is one thing, where you can rest your starters, like the White Sox did all year. Do you really think Peavy or Sale can go in games 1-4-7 and live? Can you lean on those two guys that much? I don’t think so. The rest of that rotation is a huge question mark. Do you trust Gavin Floyd?
  • The Optimist: I don’t think starters 3-4 matter that much. If they can give you anything resembling a quality start, I think the White Sox will make a deep run into October. I just think the lineup will overcome the SP struggles. The defense is the best in baseball too, I think that can cover some mistakes by the pitching too. The lineup is solid enough, albeit slightly top-heavy. Peavy and Sale will survive and thrive in the postseason. The bullpen is going to get it done. I think they can go far. I think they can win.
  • The Pessimist: Wait, you mean the same bullpen that has Addison Reed as the closer in it? I don’t trust that kid, I don’t trust Thornton either. The only guys I trust in the ‘pen are the LOOGY Veal and the Wife Beating Brett Myers. The lineup is severely top-heavy and 3-4 starters do matter unless you think Sale and Peavy are RJ and Schilling reborn. And there’s no way you can think that, RIGHT!?!?!?
  • The Optimist: Uhhh…
  • The Pessimist: I FUCKING KNEW IT! You’re crazy bro. You’re crazy.

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