Thursday, July 07, 2005

Jeff Brantley Owes an Apology and A Look Ahead to the Post-Season

Back on April 23rd, I took ESPN commentator, Jeff Brantley to task for his comment, "I don't care how hot of a start the Sox get off to, they will not make the playoffs." Well it looks like Brantley might want to revise that prediction. After 83 games, the White Sox are 57-26 and are 10.5 games in front of the Minnesota Twins. The Sox could go 39-41 the rest of the way and would still win 96 games, meaning barring some unforeseen collapse, the Sox will be in the playoffs. However, that probably will not stop Brantley from saying for the 1,345th time that Ozzie made a terrible move to not put Dustin Hermanson in when the Sox played the Angels on Memorial Day.

So with the Sox on their way to the playoffs, the question becomes is this team good enough to make it to the World Series? Sadly the answer is no. What will hold back this team from making it to the World Series is not their hitting even though they are currently 12th in the AL in batting average, 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and 6th in the AL in runs scored. In fact, offensively, this team is built to win in October with its ability to manufacture runs through walks, stolen bases and sacrifice flies and bunts. When a team, like the Sox, is near the bottom in hitting and on-base percentage, but middle of the pack in scoring runs, it means they do an exceptional job of taking advantage of the getting in the few baserunners they do put on. No, what will hold this team back in October is their starting pitching. This might seem surprising considering Freddy Garcia is 8-3, Mark Burehle is 10-2 and Jon Garland is 13-3 and all three of these pitchers have an ERA below 3.50. But consider this, of those three pitchers, only Freddy Garcia is playoff tested. Not to mention, Jon Garland has only shown inconsistency until this year. In addition, after Garcia, Burehle and Garland, the Sox's starting staff starts to get really iffy. Jose Contreras makes fans itchy with his inability to consistently throw strikes and who knows if Orlando Hernandez is going to be healthy when October comes around. Thus, the Sox must add a starting arm if they have dreams of playing deep into October.

So who might be available for the Sox? The most talked about name has been the Giants Jason Schmidt, but it appears that the Giants want quite a bit in return (at least 2 major league ready players plus a top prospect) and it does not appear that his pitching shoulder is 100% as he currently sports a 5.11 ERA. Another talked about name is Roger Clemens, who is having a phenomenal year for the Astros, but it appears unlikely the Astros will deal him even if they fall out of contention. One name that is certainly on the trading block, especially after his recent run-in with media is Kenny Rogers. While Rogers is on this year's AL All-Star team, I have serious doubts that his self-centered and volatile personality would fit in well with the team concept of the Sox.

One name that has not been discussed much in any trade rumors, but Kenny Williams may want to inquire about is Barry Zito. Zito may be a difficult one to pry away as he the last remaining member of Oakland's Big Three. Oakland GM Billy Beane will certainly ask a lot in return. However with the A's looking like a team that is a year or two away from contending, I believe Zito can be had. Zito has been one of the better left-handers in AL for the past five or so seasons and he has pitched effectively in the post-season (though no LCS or World Series experience). Kenny Williams should not be afraid to deal a prized prospect like Ryan Sweeney or Josh Fields in order to acquire Zito.

As we get closer to the July 31st trading deadline, more pitchers could become available as more teams fall out of contention. Kenny Williams is one of the most aggressive GMs around and cannot get tentative here and maintain the status quo. If Williams does not acquire another arm, I fear the Sox could have the same fate as the 2001 Mariners who won 116 games and did not make it out of the ALCS.