We start a series with the, suddenly hot, Chicago White Sox. They are 9-3 over their last 12 games. They are 45-37, sitting in 1st in the AL Central.
I sent off some questions to Jim Margalus, from South Side Sox, who I used to like, but, after reading about his fondness for Ugly, I have to rethink that.
What do you think of your new manager, Robin Ventura?
He's shown himself to be a quick learner. He ended up in a mini-crisis early on by nearly putting Chris Sale back in the bullpen, but he changed his mind with no ill effects. He's eased off the bunting as the season has gone on, lets his starters work deep into games (and get out of their own trouble)... he appears to be a pretty hands-off manager, which is working to their advantage, because the Sox have nine set starters and nobody making a case for themselves on the bench.
You are now the proud owners of my least favorite player. How's Youkilis fitting in?
You're gonna love me for saying this: He is a godsend. Before he arrived, White Sox third basemen were hitting .167/.243/.224 as a group. It was the worst position in baseball. Over his first 10 games with the White Sox, Youkilis is hitting .308/.357/.487. Plus, he had a helluva first homestand -- he homered in his first at-bat, hit a walk-off single in his second game, hit the decisive homer in the third game, and made a handful of nice plays on defense throughout. As a result, the Sox swept the Rangers.
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we'll likely see?
Friday: Jake Peavy. Not quite the pitcher he was in San Diego -- he spends more time at 91 than he does at 94. But he still has lots of movement, and his slider is great. He's finally the pitcher the White Sox traded for three years ago. Unfortunately, his offense seems to hate him (two runs over his last four starts combined).
Saturday: Gavin Floyd is erratic as ever, and the most frustrating pitcher the White Sox have. Fluctuates wildly from start to start.
Sunday: They're skipping Chris Sale to give him rest, so it could be a bullpen game featuring a heavy use of Deunte Heath, who was just called up (fastball-slider guy). Or Dylan Axelrod might be the starter -- he's the classic sinker-slider-can-barely-touch-90. Doesn't have much in the way of stuff, but knows how to pitch and does what he can with it.
What do White Sox fans think of Alex Rios?
Last year, they hated him. This year, they love him. It's a night-and-day difference at the plate. He had this very awkward stance, like he was trying to play a piano while standing. Never looked comfortable, and he pulled a lot of balls into the ground, and popped up a lot of pitches to the right side. Lots and lots of weak contact, his defense deteriorated in center. It was a miserable year for everybody involved.
This year, he's back in right field, where his reads are a lot more reliable. And he has a more natural-looking upright stance, and he's back to using the whole field, which gives him chances to use his legs, too. Alejandro De Aza has taken his place in center, and everybody's happy with the arrangements.
Who is your closer? Are you confident in the back end of your bullpen?
Addison Reed. He blazed through all levels of the minors in a year, and he's off to a good start. He's got a big fastball and a crossfire delivery that adds life to it, and his slider is coming around to match it.
With Jesse Crain on the DL, it's a little shakier than I'd like -- out of the 12 pitches on the White Sox staff, eight are rookies, which is kind of nuts. Matt Thornton looks like his old self, but with Crain out, Nate Jones steps into the right-handed setup role. He's a rookie who can hit 100, but his command isn't pinpoint, so he can get into trouble.
Overall, the bullpen is holding together better than six rookies and Thornton should, but it will be nice when Crain comes back.
Who is your favorite White Sox to watch?
From a hitting perspective, Paul Konerko. His knowledge of the strike zone keeps improving, and he seems to have a half-dozen swings that he can use depending on location, speed, situation, etc.
But it's really hard to watch him run. So from an all-around perspective, I'll go with De Aza. After years of Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre leading off, it's nice to have a guy who can rack up extra-base hits. Plus, his patience at the plate is better than his minor-league track record would suggest. He's a tough out, he runs the bases well, he can steal a base, and he plays a good center field.
However, if Youkilis keeps it up...
Thanks Jim. With A.J. Pierzynski and Ugly on the team, you only have to pick up Bret Myers to have the trifecta of my least favorite active players.