On Wednesday afternoon, the White Sox completed the final game of a three-game set with the A’s in what is rapidly becoming “the typical fashion.” That is to say, Chicago takes a lead late into games and the bullpen, often beset by horrid bullpen lapses, squanders it.
Matt Thornton, who shot up the fantasy ranks upon being named the team’s closer, has blown each of his four save opportunities. Yes, everyone points to the miserable defense played in the outfield, and Juan Pierre’s dropped flyball from earlier in the series will head any list of lowlights compiled for 2011. Thornton has left the ball up in the zone and his secondary pitches have shown zero movement. He’s allowed 10 runs, four earned, on 11 hits and four walks.
It’s the perfect storm in Chicago. Thornton’s failed to make a pitch (all “Hawk” Harrelson cries of “It’s all good” aside), his defense has betrayed him on several occasions (the White Sox lead all of Major League Baseball with 13 errors) and Ozzie Guillen’s frustration has led to some dubious management of the pen. Given his struggles to open the year, Thornton’s entrance with the bases loaded just felt like a disaster waiting to happen.
White Sox fans who have followed this series over the past decade know this story all too well. The A’s have long found a way to torment the Chicago bullpen.
My immediate thought on Wednesday afternoon, echoed by the litany of text messages that I received shortly after the game ended, was that Thornton should have been called in for a clean ninth inning. Thornton entered the game with the bases loaded. I was curious why Sergio Santos, who had his number called once in the three-game set (two innings on Tuesday), didn’t get the nod. He’d pitched once in the previous three days and has yet to surrender a run while completing 7 2/3 scoreless frames.
Where does Guillen turn?
Thornton hasn’t been demoted altogether, but the door has been opened for several other members of the pen, including the aforementioned Santos.
Chris Sale has alternated good and terrible outings and has yet to live up to the preseason hype (nine strikeouts in 7 1/3 IP with a 7.36 ERA and 1.64 WHIP). Jesse Crain has historically operated in middle relief (four seasons with at least 10 holds, including a career-high 21 for Minnesota in 2010), but has been the most effective reliever next to Santos.
It’s certainly a quandary that is vexing Ozzie Guillen. Each member of the rotation has pitched to an ERA of 4.26 or better, including three at 3.15 or better. The offense has scored 73 runs, second behind Cincinnati by one run coming into Thursday’s games.
Thornton posted three consecutive dominant seasons prior to this April’s meltdown. I have to believe that he starts to get proper movement on his secondary pitches and that better days lay ahead.
“April showers bring May …”