White Sox return home battered, challenged


Six innings of furious knuckling from the hands of R.A. Dickey and aspirations of the White Sox offense redeeming a hellish road trip with a series win and a third-straight half-decent effort were cast asunder. Weighing more heavily on the minds of White Sox fans than injuries suffered to two starters who combined all of 1.1 wins above replacement to the club last season is the  growing sense that this summer will feature a fussy, undisciplined and inconsistent offense.

“Too many home runs” might really be “Not enough baserunners to sustain rallies” but is reacting to the same problem, just as the “poor execution with runners in scoring position” camp (.177 batting average) has a lot in common with those who cite the lack of opportunities (dead last in baseball in plate appearances with runners in scoring position).

This road trip wasn’t close to the worst stretch of offense of all-time, 35 runs in 10 games might have been good enough for a 4-6 or 5-5 record with better defense, and the 2011 club certainly managed to pull off more grim horrors. But with the top of the order still non-functional and Adam Dunn’s late-career experimentation going as poorly as possible, the Sox offense has some concerns about their identity, or more specifically, who beyond Alex Rios and Paul Konerko are gong to score runs for this team?

That’s to some degree where Dayan Viciedo comes in, since he’s supposed to develop and step toward being a middle-of-the-order load-bearer this season. His oblique strain–which cause him to step out of the game with a 1-1 count and was causing him very visible pain in the dugout–is being downplayed as not worthy of a disabled list stint. Obviously, Viciedo has yet to fully turn things around, so while it’s not clear how long his oblique trouble–always tricky–will linger, it could give Jordan Danks something, who offers the possibility of being immediately better albeit almost entirely thanks to defense and Viciedo being dreadful to start the year.

Of course, Robin Ventura could always just play Dewayne Wise and ruin it all.

Not many complaints have been raised about Conor Gillaspie essentially replacing Gordon Beckham in the lineup, even after he went hitless in Toronto. Remaining concerned about how long a 25 year-old who never mastered Triple-A can keep the illusion going is worth the time, so his spending most of the road trip as one of the three-best hitters in the lineup seems especially batty. Gordon Beckham–perceived adjustments aside–is not a big offensive hurdle to clear, but trusting the burden entirely to Gillaspie and whatever help Tyler Greene can offer, leaves little chance of an upgrae.

One source of hope is Alexei Ramirez, whose early-season line of .327/.377/.473 has a bit less helium than the average pretty early-season line. Ramirez has upped his average mostly by upping his contact rate, and upped his contact rate by putting a bat on pretty much every single strike. Alexei is making contact on over 98% of pitches he swings at in the strike zone according to FanGraphs, which is 6-7% up from his career and recent rate. He’s at least worth moving up in the order while Vicideo sits.

In calling the 10-game slate they just completed a “road trip from hell,” Dunn seeks to compartmentalize the struggles, which should be easy to do at this stage of the year, where the immediate consequences of bad results are hard to see.

"“I’ve got some pitches to hit that I haven’t driven ‘em,” Dunn said. “Other than that, I feel like I’m ready to hit up there. I can only think of two at-bats that I’ve really went up and chased bad pitches. For the most part I haven’t really done that. You look at the numbers and they’re obviously horrible, but I don’t feel as bad as the numbers indicate.”"

With Don Cooper returning to the clubhouse and three-straight home series against teams with losing records thus far, it should be easy enough to push away the realities brought up over this past week and a half. It’s also pretty necessary.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan