04.06.12

Bona Fide On The South Side: The Argument For Encouragement

Posted in Baseball, Medical Science at 10:31 am by

(Above: Adam Dunn’s Appendix, 1979-2011)

After trading the Chicago Democratic Machine for the Miami Sound Machine, what’s been left behind in Ozzie’s wake? A GM fresh out of second chances. A farm system lacking a harvest. In the manager’s office, an untested former infielder struggles to figure out the phone system. A closer role mystery. A DH power outage. A 2012 White Sox team written off by baseball’s cognoscenti, the universal sentiment handing the Tigers the AL Central, some so confident as to predict double-digits.

Detroit’s formidable. But you don’t have to bleed black and silver to spot the flaws. Jim Leyland can only reach for Verlander six times a month. Fister and Porcello live for contact, relying on infield defense. That’s a real problem: Fielder and Cabrera at the corners will ensure, along with much sumo-wrestler-vs.-golf-ball hilarity, inflated ERAs for contact pitching. Delmon Young in left means similar RBI inflation for right handed pull hitters – short of giving a glove to 3B coach Gene Lamont, that baseline will be as blank as a Juggalo’s passport. Add in Detroit’s tendency to let runners on base score (finished 23rd in 2011 in defensive runs saved) and the Tabbies don’t look like a lock. Cap it off with the extra wild card courtesy of Bud Selig’s terminal case of playoff fever, and suddenly, things look very different.

On the Sox, much else looks radically altered in a positive direction. The two most important areas are in the pen and in the pop.

The Pen

With the dealing of Sergio Santos and his ridiculously nasty slider to Toronto for Nestor Molina, eyes turned first to Matt Thornton to step into the closer role he left behind. Then, those same eyes were hidden behind hands cradling faces in agony as unwelcome memories returned of the last time he was given that job.

There is absolutely room for optimism with Thornton. One year following an offseason where the usually reclusive hurler went out of his way to complain to the media about both Ozzie Guillen and his attention-starved middle son Oney’s classless public airing of the ongoing personal problems of fellow reliever Bobby Jenks, Thornton today looks like somebody unburdened from an ongoing distraction. A transformation in his poise this spring is apparent, moving toward a Billy Wagneresque mound presence and away from the Charlie Brownian shitshow that marked his disastrous stint as closer last Aril and May. He’s calmer, more focused and substantial, sits at 96, his cutter retains bite and he’s hasn’t left his slurve up this spring. If he gets the closer nod as I believe he will, sure, the South Side has every reason to worry, but his spring also gives every reason to forgive.

The Pop

A long-delayed order of lumber might finally arrive at 35th and Shields. Having openly copped to his early-season appendix surgery as the scapegoat for his dismal 2011, Adam Dunn has turned in a completely turned around Spring. A .263/.408/.596 line with 6 bombs, including a notable 2-HR day vs. Sox-killing lefty Bruce Chen, a restored look, radically improved plate discipline, a bending mobility around the waist and concomitant ease getting to balls outside all adds up to justified enthusiasm.

Add to this the mounting medical evidence that Dunn’s last year was a one-time-only outcome that couldn’t be repeated if he tried. Some evidence is of an inside nature; following the embattled slugger’s April 6 emergency operation to remove his inflamed appendix while on the road in Kansas City, Dunn’s liberated vestigal organ immediately took to Twitter:

 

In a classic case of middle management worrying more about the boss’s money than about the hired help, Ozzie decided to play the weakened DH two days following the surgery and every day after. Thus began Dunn’s agonizing, legendary limp to a season .159 average with 170+ Ks.

While this took many by surprise, at least one social media phenomenon walking the streets of Kansas City saw it all coming as early as April 20th. Before succumbing to an unknown fate (necrosis?, local barbecue pit?) Dunn’s Appendix tweeted:

 

Now we know why they say you should listen to your body.

The Prediction

White Sox: 86-76, snagging a wild card.

(Any further look into the future would clearly be irresponsible speculation.)

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