White Sox blow golden chance
South Siders head east on brutal road trip
CHICAGO -- If the White Sox broke camp with real major leaguers like Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham, Mark Kotsay, and Scott Podsednik, manager Ozzie Guillen mused before Sunday's game, they would have a five-game lead in the AL Central.
But even with those players the Sox lost two of three, at home, to the last place Baltimore Orioles this weekend. Find the logic in that. Baltimore won the series with a 5-4 victory Sunday against a Sox offense that couldn't solve Jason Berken, who came into the game with a 2-11 record and a 6.72 ERA.
The White Sox blew a chance to take two more games from a bottom-feeding team at home in a weekend series. They couldn't have had more of an advantage if Hawk Harrelson was broadcasting from the Orioles dugout, dadgummit.
With the Sox this week starting a back-breaking, 11-game trip to Boston, New York, the Sox's own house of horrors (the Metrodome in Minneapolis) and "beautiful Wrigley Field," and with just two games separating the Sox from first-place Detroit, the series with Baltimore was a wasted opportunity in every sense.
"I always say you beat the crap out of below .500 teams and try to compete against the good teams," Guillen said. "We don't do that. We do the opposite."
Luckily, the Tigers can't seem to gain any ground in the division. Oakland beat Detroit 9-4 on Sunday, and the Sox remain just two games out of the division lead. Of course, if they swept the Orioles, going east would be a little easier.
The Sox went just 3-3 on this short homestand against the Royals and Orioles, and have lost two of their past three series at home. That's no way for a would-be divisional contender to play in late August, and Guillen is getting frustrated.
"I don't want people to take this the wrong way about the pitcher," Guillen said. "I don't even know his name. With the offense we have we should be better than this."
If you can't beat the Man with No Name and his 51-73 Orioles, why should anyone take you seriously as a championship contender? The Sox scored three runs (two earned) off of Berken, who gave up five hits in 5 2/3 innings. Jeremy Guthrie (8-12, 5.45 ERA) shut them down Friday.
Facing an Orioles staff with a 5.05 ERA, the Sox hit .219 (21-for-96) in the series.
"Whatever we're doing is not working," Guillen said, directing his words at players who will probably never read them. "Whatever we're doing, we need to do the opposite. If you're working too hard, back it up. If you're not working hard enough, work harder."
Time is ticking away for the White Sox, just 63-61, and incapable of making a tight division race easier on themselves. Mark Buehrle had another dud outing, making it five bad ones out of six since his perfect game. Buehrle is 0-4 with a 6.21 ERA since that game, and has lost his past three at home. Hardly the kind of effort you want from your ace.
Maybe it's time for Guillen to give Jake Peavy's ankle a little Santeria attention, and get the pitcher up here quicker.
"Peavy is a real bulldog," Guillen said before the game. "There are a lot of fake bulldogs out there, but Peavy's a real one."
Buehrle graded himself harshly.
"I pitched like [expletive] again," he said. "Every team is capable of putting up runs early and often against me. I'm just in one of those funks."
The Sox go to Boston to start a four-game series Monday, before heading to New York and then Minnesota. They return to Chicago for a makeup game at Wrigley before hosting Boston again.
The White Sox haven't faced Boston this season, but they might see some familiarity. The Red Sox, currently leading in the AL wild-card race, have multiple-team disorder, as well, but at 70-52 going into Sunday's game against the Yankees, the Red Sox are still a force to be reckoned with. The White Sox aren't taking this road trip lightly, nor should they. The Yankees are the best team in the AL and the Twins are streaking, to no one's surprise.
"I think this is a make-or-break [trip]," Buehrle said. "When the schedule came out in the offseason, we looked at this as a big trip. We've got Boston, New York and Minnesota, where we don't play good. Hopefully we can go .500 on it. If we go under .500, we're going to have to dig ourselves out of a serious hole."
Finishing 5-5 against those three teams is a modest and achievable goal, but these are bordering on desperate times.
"It's probably more break than make," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "Even if we do well, we still have a lot of work to do. But our biggest game is tomorrow's game. That's how we have to look at it."
Guillen said he's comfortable starting Freddy Garcia for the second time this season in Boston on Tuesday. Garcia is 3-1 with a 4.54 ERA lifetime in Fenway Park, not bad numbers for a visiting pitcher.
"Freddy likes big games, big names, big cities, he likes that," Guillen said. "Check his record. Freddy is really bad against Kansas City. Terrible. Look at the records against the big boys. Freddy always steps it up."
Maybe the Sox will emulate Big Game Freddy. If they want to play in October, they have to.
"We're going to face the big boys [starting Monday]," Guillen said. "Good luck."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.