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White Sox Mon Jul 23 2012

Dreadful Week Costs Sox Their Division Lead

Over just seven days, the White Sox dream season has come crashing down. After Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Tigers, which finished off a Detroit sweep and a 1-6 mark over the past week, Chicago now stands 50-45. The Tigers, who disappointed the entire first half, are now in first place, one and a half games better than the Sox.

This means I was wrong in my column a week ago. The Sox will probably not cruise to a divisional title. But I was right on one thing: a 7-0 or 6-1 swing would be huge. Of course, the opponents went 6-1.

What happened? First, the bats went ice cold. Paul Konerko led the team in batting average over the last week, and he only hit .273. Kevin Youkilis has struck out eight times in the same time span. In their losses, the Sox only scored ten runs total. Three of those runs came as solo scores in the first inning.

The recent offensive ineptitude is understandable, though. It's a long season, and there will be hot streaks (like the stretch before the all-star break) and cold spells. We know that the Sox have a talented offense, so they will rebound soon enough.

The second reason why the Sox had a hell week - the big innings - is a greater cause for concern.

Here, I'll consider a "big inning" an inning where a team scored three runs or more. In the six White Sox losses, they had zero three-run innings, and their opponents had eight. A brief recap of how their opponents

1 - Monday night versus Boston, eighth inning. The first game of the seven-game road set against Boston and Detroit was a close one. Dylan Axelrod, in one of his last gasps before being demoted to Triple-A, went 6.2 innings and struck out eight, while only allowing one run. After 108 pitches, Robin Ventura turned it over to the bullpen with a 1-1 ball game.

Leyson Septimo came in, and promptly blew it. He walked Carl Crawford and David Ortiz easily (getting them into 3-0 and 2-0 counts, respectively). Adrian Gonzalez then came to the plate and crushed a out-and-up fastball over the Green Monster for a three-run homer. Septimo was taken out after his debacle of a relief appearance, yet Nate Jones also allowed a run in the inning. Boston scored four total in the eighth, and won the game 5-1.

2 & 3 - Wednesday night versus Boston, third and fourth innings. Each of these innings were fueled by Cody Ross, who connected on three-run shots twice off Pedro Hernandez, who made his MLB debut that night. I wrote about that night here.

4 - Thursday night versus Boston, ninth inning. The 2012 White Sox have two studs, Jake Peavy and Chris Sale, and they have been scrambling to fill out the rest of their rotation. Some guys haven't worked out too well, like Hernandez and Philip Humber. But Jose Quintana has been a pleasant surprise, and this evening he had another fine outing - eight innings, five hits and no walks, and zero runs allowed. With a 1-0 lead, Ventura told the bullpen to take us home.

This game is on the short list of the most crushing losses of the season for the Sox. Matt Thornton came in to close it out, particularly to face lefties Crawford and Gonzalez. After Crawford led off the inning with a single to right and Dustin Pedroia grounded into a fielders choice, Gonzalez moved Pedroia to second on a sharp single into right. Addison Reed relieved Thornton, and faced Cody Ross.

Reed elected to use his best pitch, his mid-90s fastball, to get Ross. With a 1-1 count, Ross got his pitch - a belt-high inside fastball (similar to a pitch he got from Hernandez the night before for a HR) - and hit a towering bomb that landed just over the wall down the line in left. Game over.

5 - Friday night versus Detroit, third inning. With Peavy facing reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander, runs were going to be hard to come by this night. The Sox got an unexpected surprise in their half of the third - Alejandro De Aza took the Detroit ace deep for a homer to right, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the same inning, Detroit manufactured three runs, all with two outs. After Peavy got a timely double play, Quentin Berry stepped to the plate with a man on third and two outs. With Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder due up next, Peavy was expected to go right after Berry and end the inning.

Peavy, though, came in on Berry with back-to-back fastballs, and the second heater grazes the hitter. Runners on the corners now. Peavy tries to work Cabrera away with fastballs and sliders, but left a cutter over the plate on a 3-2 pitch. Cabrera laced it into center field for an RBI single, and Berry moves to third. Peavy then tried to pitch around Fielder somewhat, but the lefty slugger was able to get ahold of a 3-2 slider and dribble it up the middle for another RBI single. The next batter, Delmon Young, slapped a double into left center to bring home another Tiger run.

The inning made the score 3-2, and Detroit added one more run in the eighth to win it 4-2.

6 - Saturday afternoon versus Detroit, sixth inning. The Sox have been slipping, but with Chris Sale taking the mound, they should win this regionally televised game on Fox, right? Rick Porcello had something to say about that, going eight innings strong and one yielding one run.

The Sox did have the lead, though. They led 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth, but Sale put a couple men on and Austin Jackson doubled two runs in. Sale still had the opportunity to keep the game close. The lefty started off the sixth inning by allowing a lead off single to Miguel Cabrera, but battled back and got two straight outs. With a chance to end the frame, Sale walked Jhonny Peralta. Brennan Boesch was up next.

Even with the favorable lefty-lefty matchup, Boesch got all of Sale's outside slider and put it in the right field seats for a home run. This was the first homer Sale allowed to a lefty batter all year. The Tigers moved the score to 5-1, and cruised to a victory from there.

7 & 8 - Sunday afternoon versus Detroit, first and third innings. The Tigers got all the runs they needed in these two innings. And forget small ball; Detroit flashed their offensive potential off Sox starter Humber. In the first, the Tigers went back-to-back with homers from Berry, who went the opposite way to left (Jordan Danks was playing shallow on Berry, showing how unexpected the home run was). Cabrera followed up with a solo blast to center.

In the third, Cabrera again went deep, sending a fastball way out to center field, and Boesch connected on a homer to right. Detroit won 6-4 after a minor Sox comeback fell short.

The big innings did the Sox in this week - Chicago allowed 26 runs in these aforementioned eight innings, compared to nine runs allowed in all other innings. The big innings not only are bad on the surface (giving up runs is bad, obviously), but they can serve as a psychological killer.

What was once a commanding lead is lessened greatly by allowing three-plus runs in a frame. That's what happened in the lone Sox win this week. Three-plus runs can turn a win into a loss (like Thursday night) and could shift a "Hey we're only down a run, we can do this" to "now we're down four, it's over." This is also not counting how big innings can make a shaky bullpen even shakier. If the Sox continue to allow these game-changing innings, Detroit will be the team that will easily run away with the division.

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