What are the White Sox doing?
If you have still been watching, the White Sox have been playing some good baseball of recently. They have won 10 of their last 13 games and legitimately rank as on of the hottest teams in the league. As Mark Primiano wrote up a while back, the difference between individual draft slots in baseball is actually pretty important, but as someone who has made this choice to watch and write about this team’s games on a daily basis, I’m not one to complain about watching my favorite team win.
Better yet, the Sox have been succeeding while their offense has averaged a decent 4.53 runs per game and scratched out a passable–though power deficient–.282/.328/.404 batting line. The starting staff was always a joy to watch, even when they were being consistently betrayed. John Danks is probably the least intriguing guy to watch among the starting five, and he’s allowed two runs over the last 14 innings. Avisail Garcia‘s hitting a promising, though again, power-starved .310/.355/.397. Things are good.
But perhaps…they’re trying a little too hard?
There are limitations to how much a manager can be expected to just embrace the downward spiral and suffer with the struggling younglings. Robin Ventura has to watch all of Dayan Viciedo‘s plate appearances up close, after all. But some elements of the management over this winning stretch are the sort of things you accept only when there is something worth sacrificing for.
Over the last 13 games:
—Nate Jones, 8 G, 9.1 IP
—Matt Lindstrom, 7 G, 7.1 IP
—Donnie Veal, 6 G, 3.1 IP
—Addison Reed, 8 G, 9 IP
—David Purcey, 2 G, 1 IP
—Dylan Axelrod, 1 G, 1.1 IP
—Jake Petricka (on the roster for the last eight games), 1 G, 0.2 IP
Although it makes you wonder why they are even here, it’s understandable why a manager might bury Purcey, who is a below-average LOOGY and Axelrod, who has been listless as a reliever. The only one that immediately triggers the gag reflex is Petricka, a 25 year-old with as much potential as any of the Sox bullpen prospects. He replaced Ramon Troncoso, an ineffective 30 year-old right hander who was used liberally, yet was only played when 12 innings of play forced Ventura’s hand.
Ventura has established his pattern of saving his best guns for when he has a lead and flushing out the detritus of the pen whenever he faces a deficit, but he’s running a last-place team that has the AL leader in appearances (Lindstrom), the AL leader in innings among closers AL (Reed) and Nate Jones, who has thrown more innings (68.1) than either of these two, and the third-most of any pitcher in the AL who has not made a start.
If the White Sox actually had something to play for, this strategy would work quite well, since the untrusted Petricka could help Reed open cabinets and brush his teeth when his arm was too fatigued to live over his head.
Joining Petricka in wondering what he’s doing here is Leury Garcia, who was called up Thursday to add an extraneous utility infielder after hitting a very poor .267/.313/.300 in Charlotte. Since then, he’s had one pinch-hit at-bat in four games. The need for there to be a permanent opening before Avisail Garcia was called up was a prominent talking point, yet the other Garcia is marching around with no place to go.
Leury lacks much of chance to be more than a utilityman regardless, but the Sox have called him up to a roster that had little use for such defensive support of their up-the-middle positions in the first place and seem to have limited interest in him exploring his dream future of ‘plus-fielding shortstop with a .650 OPS’ either.
The cost of taking away a week and a half of Triple-A at-bats from Garcia is probably nothing, since his benchwarming reality is likely his future. The cost of slowly dragging Petricka along is probably minimal, especially if a series against the Astros finally gives Ventura the push to start using him. Hopefully riding Jones and Reed aggressively doesn’t mean anything for an organization that maintains its pitchers pretty well.
Collectively, perhaps all it amounts to is the twinge of concern in the back of my mind as the White Sox string together a watchable finish to the year, as I wonder what’s being spent for the sake of this momentary pleasure.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan