CHICAGO (AP) — No one is more surprised by the funk they’ve fallen into than the Chicago White Sox.
They’ve been waiting for nearly a month now to somehow shake it, put it behind them and look the like the team that was supposed to contend for a championship.
Instead, the bullpen has faltered with six blown saves and the defense has been shaky. But what really has this team with a $126 million payroll in last place and 10 1/2 games out of first place is an offense that has been inexplicably inept.
It’s gotten so bad that the White Sox were no-hit for the first time in 20 years – by struggling Twins’ lefty Francisco Liriano, who entered the game with a 9.13 ERA and a 1-4 record.
Manager Ozzie Guillen, who has made his own headlines by being suspended, isn’t sure what to do to get his team going. He has tried talking to his players and leaving them alone. He has shifted players around in the batting order, he has tried to be more aggressive with manufacturing runs and he has apparently turned the closer’s role over to Sergio Santos.
And he’s still left scratching his head.
“We tried everything, man,” he said.
And now the woeful White Sox go on a nine-game West Coast road swing, having lost 17 of their last 21 to fall into the cellar of the AL Central. It’s their second extended road trip of the young season.
“A win would bring a smile to your face, a couple would be better,” said 44-year-old veteran Omar Vizquel. “It’s a continuation. You can’t expect to turn things around in one or two games. You got to play a whole week of good baseball.”
The only time the White Sox have done that was in the early days of the season. They started 7-4 and scored 15 runs in the season opener against Cleveland, which has raced to the top of the division.
What really blew the White Sox off track early on was squandering three ninth-inning leads in a span of five days in April. They haven’t played well since those meltdowns, two of which included dropped fly balls by left fielder Juan Pierre.
Guillen’s frustration surfaced during a trip to Yankee Stadium last week. After he was ejected by umpire Todd Tichenoran, the manager went on Twitter and called his ejection pathetic. That got him a two-game suspension and fine, and it was the first time baseball has penalized a player, coach or manager for using the social networking site during a game.
“We built a ball club to win the division or at least compete in the division. I didn’t come here for .500,” said Guillen, whose contract option was picked up for 2012 back in January.
General manager Ken Williams has said Guillen and the coaching staff has his support. He’s been puzzled, as well, by the play of the team he put together in the offseason with so many performers underachieving at the same time.
Reserve Brent Lillibridge is the only player batting over .300, although Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin both got off to good starts and have eight and six home runs, respectively.
The middle of the order has been hurt by the slow start of major offseason acquisition Adam Dunn, who got a four-year $56 million contract. He was sidelined after an appendectomy and as he tries to adjust to both a new league and a new role as a hit-and-sit DH, he has batted only .153 with 33 strikeouts and three homers in 25 games.
Alex Rios had three hits Wednesday but is still hitting only .184. New starting third baseman Brent Morel is hitting .187 and second baseman Gordon Beckham just .208.
The White Sox have not made any roster changes, though bringing up young slugger Dayan Viciedo is one option.
“It’s not one of those things where a rah-rah speech is going to make it happen or anything,” said Konerko, the team captain who signed a three-year deal worth $37.5 million in the offseason. “Every guy has to know what he is doing up there and it’s a different answer for every guy. You have to go home and kind of hold court with yourself and know if you are going about it right and competing the right way.
“If you are and it’s just not happening, that’s baseball,” he added. “You just keep trying and keep playing and keep getting after it.”
The White Sox are buoyed to a certain extent by what happened last season. Trailing by 9 1/2 games on June 8 and nine games under .500, they took off, winning 25 of their next 30 before the All-Star break. It was a run as remarkable as this current slide seems to be.
“We saw this last year and kind of went through the same thing,” Konerko said.
“All you can hope is that it’s not quite as long, but believe me everybody is doing their best to not let it go any further,” he said. “It’s a contagious thing – when it gets going in either direction – and one of these days, it’s just going to turn.”
Right now, the White Sox would just like to climb back to .500.
Matt Thornton, who was to be the closer after the departure of Bobby Jenks, has four blown saves in as many chances. And Chris Sale, who was a first-round draft pick last June and then came up quickly and blew hitters away with his 100 mph fastball, has struggled with a 7.15 ERA in 11 appearances.
Starting pitching has been mostly decent, even with Jake Peavy still on the disabled list and rehabbing after surgery for a detached muscle behind his shoulder. John Danks, a 15-game winner a year ago, has pitched better than his 0-5 record.
But there’s pressure for any pitcher when his team can’t score. The White Sox are batting only .236 as a team and averaging about 3.8 runs per game.
Guillen said a good team always finds it way out of a slump. It’s still to be determined if the White Sox are one of those teams.
“A good team does it once and plays the rest of the season the right way,” Guillen said. “It can be in the middle, it came be in the end, it can be in the beginning. Everybody has to go through it. It’s the one who handles it the best. We’ll see how we are going to handle it.”
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