Commentary

Are White Sox surging or sinking?

Loss of two key relievers latest bump in team's roller-coaster season

Updated: August 25, 2010, 1:03 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- If the White Sox are defined by their mouth-of-the-franchise manager, then this season is like one of Ozzie Guillen's monologues:

Interesting and thought-provoking, sometimes tough to understand, sometimes contradictory from one moment to the next, but in the end usually worth your time.

If you can correctly gauge what direction this team is heading, please report to my meager stock portfolio. The staring-at-a-crossroads White Sox won Tuesday night but lost two relievers -- one for a week, the other, who knows how long.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
AP Photo/Amy SancettaWhite Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has his hands full juggling an injury-depleted bullpen.

After a wild and unfulfilling 7-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles that cut the Minnesota Twins' lead in the AL Central to 3 games, Guillen told reporters J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton are headed to the disabled list hours after general manager Kenny Williams said it was Guillen and Don Cooper's decision not to add a bullpen arm in Kansas City, when Putz and Thornton were both unavailable.

While Guillen hasn't disputed Williams' assertions, made before the game and later to a newspaper columnist, it's a situation worth following this week if the beleaguered bullpen continues to struggle.

"Thornton's out, Putz is out, and we're going to add two guys," Guillen said Tuesday night. "Right now I need some guys who can go out there."

Before the game, Guillen said of Thornton, "If we can't use him for another week he should be on the DL."

I guess Guillen got his wish.

Putz, who was lights-out for much of the season, is the one to watch now. He lasted all of three pitches Tuesday before leaving with a bum right knee. An MRI on Monday came back negative, showing patella inflammation.

The White Sox said they will release the names of the relievers recalled on Wednesday.

After a 2-4 road trip, which followed a 2-4 homestand, only 26,263 fans showed up to watch this game, a disappointing number even in back-to-school season. But you can't blame the fans for not buying into this team right now. Psychology Today couldn't diagnose this bunch.

While the Cubs have shown great fortitude at being a lousy team from wire-to-wire, the South Siders have tempted and tortured their fan base all season. The bandwagon has room, but it also has easy exits.

Take this game. The Sox led 7-2 going into the ninth and had to use three relief pitchers to escape. Only Bobby Jenks came out unscathed.

[+] EnlargeBobby Jenks
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastGuillen didn't want to use Bobby Jenks on Tuesday, but the manager didn't have much of a choice.

Gavin Floyd had a nice start -- he gave up two runs in the fourth and pitched six shutout innings -- and rookie wonder Chris Sale threw a scoreless eighth. But Sergio Santos had a nightmare ninth, giving up one walk, three hits and two runs before leaving with no outs.

After Putz left, Jenks got a big double play, spearing a hot shot to the mound to start a 1-4-3 double play that scored a run. He got Luke Scott, who homered earlier, to fly out to end the game.

"It's hard to go there half-naked," Guillen said of his bullpen. "I've got a couple guys I can use. The last guy I want to use is Bobby. One day off between three innings and today, that's taking a risk. But you know, I don't have any choices."

Guillen wasn't pulling fire alarms, but he sure didn't sound like a guy who said he didn't need bullpen help.

"I'm not saying we're in trouble, but I think everyone in the bullpen has to pick it up a notch for at least the next seven days because we won't have Thornton," he said.

I'm not saying the Sox are in trouble either, but if I were a Sox fan, I'd keep my arms and legs inside the ride. (If I were a Sox reliever, I'd cover myself in bubble wrap.)

This season is a roller coaster built on a fault line, and it's OK if it makes you queasy. Just think how you'll feel if "Mannywood" moves here, as was the rumor Tuesday.

Heck, even Guillen needed a vacation from this team. He ripped his players Sunday in an expletive-laden rant to reporters before going to Florida to move his youngest son Ozney into college Monday.

Guillen said he regretted his comments, or at least the way they came out.

"I was in the plane and have a reflection of myself," he said. "I'm not going to say I apologize to the players. I think I was a little wrong and a little too hard on the players because that's the way I am."

Standing in front of reporters in the clubhouse Tuesday, Guillen was in a better mood, starting out by ripping a nettlesome reporter for "making Lou [Piniella] quit."

He stopped at the main table and started to read a newspaper column that painted his team in dire straits. His only complaint? The author said he carried Gucci luggage, when he only totes Louis Vuitton.

"You see a guy with a Gucci bag, that's not a guy," he said with a smile.

He wasn't smiling later.

Gucci, Louis Vuitton, hobo kit, whatever. If the Sox don't go on a tear soon, they'll be packing up their gear in a month for a long winter.

This win was a nice start, but if the Sox contradict themselves on the field Wednesday, what does it matter? This kicked off a six-game homestand, which predates a make-or-break 10-game trip to Cleveland, Boston and Detroit.

The road has been a deadly place lately. The last time the Sox played the Orioles, they dropped three of four in Charm City, leaving them Balti-mired in a slump that had them 4 games behind the Twins for the AL Central coming into this series.

"What are we, 4 games back?" Paul Konerko said before the game. "I think two months ago we would've said that's a great goal. If we could be three to five games out by the end of August, we'd have a crack at it. Here we are. Obviously it happened differently than I think everybody thought, but still, almost 40 games left, 4 games back. In 48 hours, this thing could get pretty tight, tighter than it already is."

It could. It probably will. It may not. Like their manager, the Sox will give an honest effort, but even they don't know what's coming next.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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