Bernstein: Sox Bullpen Off To Bad Start

By Dan Bernstein–

Ten games into a major-league season is no time to declare a crisis. There will be normalization of underperformance, just as there is in the other direction. In time, players will be who they are.

It adds to the stress of early struggles, however, when the players involved have not compiled enough innings in their current roles to give us the confidence to reference this kind of regression to the mean.

Simply, Matt Thornton’s three blown saves in three chances mean more than they otherwise would because he’s only fully proven as an All-Star setup guy. Chris Sale has blown a save, sports a 5.06 ERA, and has provided only the smallest evidence sample of his ability to close games.

We look to history for reassurance in these cases, and the history’s not there.

Ozzie Guillen pulled Mark Buehrle after 99 pitches last night, ostensibly, to save wear and tear on a guy they count on to give them 200 innings. “We have to take care of Buehrle,” Guillen said.

The other (main?) reason, if you know Ozzie, was to right the listing ship that is Thornton, and perhaps, the closer position itself. He wanted to see Thornton get a three-out save against a lesser offensive team, and he wanted Thornton to see himself get it.

Blame Juan Pierre’s gaffe if you want, but the rolling slider to Andy LaRoche on an 0-2 count was appropriately tagged for a double, and Coco Crisp’s shot to Paul Konerko was hit even harder.

Already, Guillen is dropping other names into the hopper for potential auditions as closer, mentioning both newly-acquired Jesse Crain and hard-throwing Sergio Santos. Crain didn’t help his cause with the 0-2 meatball he placed on a tee for Kurt Suzuki’s game-winning homer last night, and Santos – still developing after a rapid transition from playing shortstop in the minors — does little to depressurize the uncertainty.

It’s never a good sign when the manager says “I’m going to go with my gut feeling” regarding closing games, and we’re not even two full weeks into the season. And notice I have yet to mention veteran LOOGy Will Ohman, he of the 12.46 ERA, 10.18 FIP and 2.08 WHIP.

It’s a stumble out of the gate for a bullpen that appeared to be a strength of the team in spring training, and still should be, when the total number of pitches, innings and opportunities smooth out the bumps.


The good news, in kind of a twisted way, is that the Sox have led every game that they have played in 2011. With late-relief performances of merely league-average quality, they’d be 8-2 or 9-1. It’s a good bet that this group will attain at least that level, however Guillen sorts things out.

Blown saves feel worse than garden-variety, not-our-day losses because of what could have been. They sting. But don’t forget that they already have one on the other side of the ledger from the impossible string of hits against Joakim Soria last Wednesday in Kansas City.

Once again, as so often is the case in pro sports, what looked like an embarrassment of riches at a position has been quite the opposite so far. When you hear “We have a lot of guys who can do the job,” it can mean you have not one.

An attempt at an early re-boot of Thornton failed, due to bad pitches and defensive buffoonery in the outfield. The wheel spins. It will get better, yet we have no idea how soon, or to what degree.

Somewhere, Bobby Jenks is drinking, and eating. And laughing.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein:  Sox Bullpen Off To Bad Start

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Thornton to set-up, Sale to Close.

  • Mr. Pouty Pants

    I hate to be “that guy” but I have no idea who should close, all I know is that Thornton needs to go back to where he is best, the set up roll. I know it’s early and Pierre blew two of those games but it just doesn’t look like Thornton has whatever it is that sets a closer apart from the rest of the pen.

  • Jobby Benks

    Thornton just looks tense out there. Ozzie has tried with him, to a fault, and good closers overcome errors by defense (even if it is the same guy, just nights apart). I am upset, yes, these loss may come back to haunt them in September. Bobby Jenks may be eating, laughing, and drinking Irish fare in Beantown, but they have their struggles. Jenks was great while he was here, but he burned too many bridges and had to be let go. At least the gov’t didn’t shut down Friday, right?

  • General Soreness

    Love the Jenks comment, Bernstein!
    A trade for a top-tier closer would put this team over the top.
    Get workin’ Kenny!

  • General Soreness

    Sorry guys….but I hope that the Hawks get bounced in the 1st round of the playoffs so us sports radio listeners don’t have to hear any more boring hockey talk, like the good old days. The only thing that I hate more than hockey is college sports. I’d rather watch a Curling match.

    • Murphs Upper-Lip

      Fair enough, I feel you on college sports talk…. BUT, Curling ain’t no Kaner, can’t wait for tomorrow night.

  • Ed

    I know its no fun to say… but is Thornton the next… … … LaTroy Hawkins? Awesome set up man that just can’t handle the pressure? I hope not

  • 2nd Half Adjustments

    Bobby Jenks’ team is a complete joke, getting pantsed left and right. Why would he take any joy in how the White Sox are doing?

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      I agree. He’d be much more happy about a phrase including the terms “Oney Guillen”, “Down a flight of stairs”, and “got what he deserved”.

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    Re: North Side…

    Sam Fuld is apparently going to set a SportsCenter appearance record this season. Good lord, if he’s not making diving catches, he’s having games with double-digit total bases.

    I know, I know, the Cubs got Garza, and I’m okay with that… but why couldn’t Fuld be polite and do a Matt Murton or Felix Pie?

    • Likquid Swordz

      I think he will Chris. We’re only in week 2 of the season.

  • bronzo

    Great blog I couldn’t agree more. I’m suprised Danny Boy didn’t play the Juan Pierre angle up more…II like what Pierre does on the base paths and I know his WAR numbers are terrible ( please note that is the 1st time i have ever referenced sabremetrics in a favorable way ) but he is friggin brutal in left field.Every time Thorton comes in he just looks uncomfortable.

    There are problems in the bullpen…Boy does Bobby Jenks look good now!!

  • Denver Deadite

    Not following things closely, but is Byrd trying to be Milton Bradley-lite or what?

    • bronzo

      Not really Denver..again this coming from a Sox fan but to me it looked like and was later confrimed by Quade that he just missed a sign. He tried to steal 2nd late in the game with no outs down by 1 run and A Ramirez who had 3 previous doules at the plate. a reporter asked him about it and he got chippy and walked away.

      Not quite Bradley -like …yet

    • Spoon

      MIlton would have walked over mid game and threw a punch at his 3rd base coach, but other than that it was a good impersonation.

  • Larry

    At least Juan Podsednik didn’t get picked off 3d base last night.

    • bronzo

      I heard Mully and Hanley refer to him as Alfonso Pierre and Juan Soriano this morning.

      • Larry

        Missed that. I know its unfair to pick on Pierre after Thornton gave up a double, a hot shot that Paulie made a nice play on, and a warning tracker that would have left me uncomfortable even if Pierre caught it, and one more out needed, but that was hard to stomach.

  • Chris in Scottsdale
  • bronzo

    This a good article…some of you may not agree with it but I thoroughly enjoyed it


    Even though it ended in an ugly divorce in the offseason, I felt the White Sox would miss Bob Jenks more than they thought. Although Bobby hasn’t necessarily had many chances to setup for Jonathan Papelbon with the Red Sox off to a miserable start in Boston, he seemed to get the job done at the end of most White Sox games since winning it all in 2005. As far as Matt Thornton is concerned, the 3 blown saves so far have a lot to do with not only throwing a lot more pitches than he should, but Juan Pierre needs to catch that ball in left field in the 9th inning last night and prevent the A’s from tying the game. Is it time to end the Thornton experiment? Not a chance! Ozzie did the right thing, considering how specialized the game of baseball has become and that Mark Buehrle’s not getting any younger. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sox are in a similar position tonight and if Thornton can redeem himself with a chance to record his first of hopefully many saves this season. Matt’s confidence certainly needs a boost after the White Sox gave one away to Oakland in extra innings last night in front of a very sparse crowd. Watching the game on TV, there weren’t 20,057 in attendance…

  • Tree Hate Me

    I think Ozzie would be wise to giive Thornton a month in the closer’s spot before calling in the Sandman from the Apollo to sweep him away. Yes he’s off to a shaky start, but as others have said these blown saves aren’t all on him.

    Remember, the ’05 team started off with (cue the gong) Mr. Frisbee as the closer, then Dustin Hermanson before they eventually went with Jenks.

  • D.C.

    Hey Bernstein!! Da!. Write something a little more informing. Mr. Duke Boy!!


    How quickly we all forget! When the White Sox won it all in 2005, three different guys closed for that team. It started with Shingo Takashu, followed by Dustin Hermanson before back issues sidelined him and then Bob Jenks. It was very unusual for a World Series Champion to have that many closers, and I’m reasonably sure that won’t happen ever again.

    As for the here & now, Omar Vizquel plays second base for Gordon Beckham and Mark Teahen brings his awful glove to third base for Brent Morel tonight in the second of three with the A’s, not to mention Adam Dunn returns at DH after missing a week with that appendectomy after the Royals’ game a week ago in Kansas City. In my own opinion, it should be the other way around. Teahen is best suited for the right side of the field, specifically second base, first base or right field whenever Beckham, Paul Konerko & Carlos Quentin need breathers from the everyday lineup and Vizquel’s true value with the White Sox came at third base when Teahen got injured.

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