Possible May Flowers Wilt Away

After the first month of a baseball season, teams ought to have their kinks worked out enough to put forth a good final product. One month should be enough time for teams to gel at the beginning of the season. By the month of May, mistakes begin to be put under a microscope, and fans grow more impatient and doubting of their teams if they cannot properly gel.

Would the month of May provide the Chicago White Sox and White Sox fans with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, or would April's showers have been too harsh that any hopes for a pleasant arrangement of flowers would be ruined?

Glancing at the month that was, all things can be summed up in four words: the Sox lack fundamentals. They had major problems getting timely hits, could not manufacture runs if their lives depended on it, and did not show the most desirable efforts on the defensive side collectively. Any offense the Sox were able to muster would quite often be erased - the Sox have a league-leading 50-plus GIDP. The Sox are on pace to ground into about 160 double plays for the season, a stat which obviously needs attention if they're ever going to score any runs.

Such lack of offense has also marred any good pitching performances, and there have been a few. Furthermore, whenever the Sox did put forth a good nine innings and we fans believed they were about to turn the corner, the Sox promptly limped back to square one with a horrendous outing. Such was the case more than a few times in the month of May.

The month started off well, as the Sox were able to complete a series against Oakland with a win. After that, the Mariners came to Chicago for a weekend series during which the Sox were completely lifeless. On the subsequent road trips to Oakland and Seattle, the Sox were able to muster only one victory in each three-game series. The Sox were able, however, to break their 10-game losing streak in Oakland – that little statistical nugget was the only positive element of the entire road trip. When the Sox came back home to Chicago, Baltimore was waiting for them. Fortunately, the Sox were able to sweep the Orioles in the midweek series, giving the Sox the 4-2 season series edge.

Just when we thought the Sox were about to get hot, the Sox proceed to get swept at the Metrodome in Minnesota. Once again, the Sox teased us with a 2-1 series victory in Chicago over Toronto before falling flat on their faces at home against Detroit, losing the series 2-1. After losing the first two games in Toronto, the Sox then answered back with two victories to split the four-game series in the Skydome. At this point, some of our more optimistic Sox fans got a bit eager since easy competition was ahead to build on; however, the Sox continued to disappoint with a colossal thud of a performance in Cleveland, losing the first game of a four-game series. It is fitting that the final scheduled game of the month was rained out, as the Sox seem determined to quench any hopes that they are serious about contending for the division.

The month of May presented various highlights, lowlights and question marks:

1. Esteban Loaiza: Before training camp, the Sox didn't know exactly how productive Esteban Loaiza would be for them. They expected nothing more than Loaiza giving them the amount of innings typical for a fourth starter; however, Loaiza has been more the club's ace than anything else. Currently boasting an 8-2 record, Loaiza continues to mow down his competition, sporting a top-of-the-league 1.96 ERA. Loaiza appears to be taking on the form that Cal Eldred did in 2000, when Eldred went 10-2 in the first half of the season. If the Sox are going anywhere this season, they are going to need Loaiza to continue on this pace.

2. Carlos Lee: It appears as if Carlos Lee is improving on his defense. Though he still does have his blunders, he has made some good highlight-reel catches. Currently the team's main offensive producer, Lee has more RBIs (34) than any other Sox player. He ended the month with a .271 batting average and a .328 on-base percentage. Lee is tied for the team lead in stolen bases, and is second in runs scored with 26. Lee is the closest thing to clutch that the Sox have right now.

3. Magglio Ordonez: Magglio Ordonez is up there with Lee in RBIs, with 33 at the end of May. He also has scored more runs than any other Sox player with 27, and is tied with Lee in stolen bases (four) and home runs (nine). If Ordonez can stop hitting into double plays, he will be an even more lethal hitter.

4. D'Angelo Jimenez: If you're a leadoff hitter, leading your team in batting average is a definite plus. The main job for such a hitter is to get on base for the power hitters in the lineup. D'Angelo Jimenez is doing just that, leading the team with a .289 batting average. If he'd just be a little smarter on the base paths, he could become an unstoppably formidable leadoff hitter.

5. Positive Roster Move: During the month of May, the White Sox sent CF Aaron Rowand down to AAA Charlotte in favor of Joe Borchard. At the time, Rowand was hitting about .131. With this roster move, Borchard is going to get some good major league experience, which should give him the confidence he needs to be successful in years to come if handled properly.

1. Rick White: Rick White has been as erratic as they come! Not only is he consistently allowing inherited runners to score, but also he is giving up runs of his own. His 9.31 ERA is completely unacceptable. It's little wonder why White hasn't been seeing much time on the mound. Unfortunately, White does not have any trade value at this time. If he can get back to the form that made him successful in St. Louis, he can begin to chip away at his ERA; however, it is going to take a long time before he can gain Jerry Manuel's trust to be used regularly.

2. Paul Konerko: Paul Konerko is looking totally lost out there. He has only hit 3 home runs and has collected a paltry 15 RBIs. Those are poor numbers for someone who was an All Star last season! Konerko has grounded into more double plays than anyone else on the team, and he has frozen up in situations when there are less than two outs and runners in scoring position. If Konerko does not get out of his head and work on his hitting, he is going to have a long last four months of the season.

3. Billy Koch: At the end of the first third of the season, Billy Koch has recorded a meager six saves (three in May and April alike). Every time Koch takes the mound, many Sox fans feel very uneasy – like watching a Hitchcock film, we sit in nail-biting suspense and wonder just how many runs he'll give up this time. Koch is currently on pace to save 18 games, which is completely unacceptable for a team's main closer. Here's hoping that at some point over the summer, the real Billy Koch will appear on the mound in a cameo role as himself.

Question Marks:
1. Mark Buehrle: Supposedly the team's ace, Mark Buehrle has been anything but that with an awful 2-8 record and 5.01 ERA. Two confounding variables in these statistics are that Buehrle gets among the league's lowest run supports, as well as a poor defense behind him allowing what would be routine outs on base and all around to score. Hopefully the team will finally rally around him before he's completely spent and his season is irreparable.

2. Tom Gordon: During the first half of the month, Tom Gordon had some major control problems. As a result, his playing time decreased. During the past couple weeks, however, Gordon has displayed some of the "flash" that got him his nickname. Will the real "flash" stand up? Let's hope that he will continue with the arm he has been showing lately.

3. Frank Thomas: Frank Thomas does lead the team with 10 home runs; however, he hasn't gotten the job done in some key situations. Thomas seems to be a little within himself, which is effecting his chances of being a good team leader and mentor to the younger players. If the "Big Hurt" continues on this pace, he will not be considered for the Hall of Fame. Sox fans are crossing their fingers in hopes that Thomas will revert to his hitting ways of the mid-90s.

From a White Sox fan's standpoint, May was nothing to write home about. We witnessed a highly unacceptable month in which our team went 11-16 and displayed little desire to win games. The showers that summed up the month of April drowned out any chance of seeing pretty Mayflowers. Sitting in third place at the end of May is nowhere close to where the Sox should be. Let us all hope for a reverse "June swoon," which can bring us back to respectability, or else this team will wilt further into obscurity.

Heather Marsala is now a senior at Illinois State University studying to become a high school mathematics teacher. She avidly supports her Blackhawks, Bears, White Sox, and Bulls. Heather writes monthly columns apprising the month that was at www.soxnet.net. Look for her column around this time next month. If you wish to contact her with any questions regarding this column or Chicago White Sox baseball, you may email her at hawksbearssoxbulls@hotmail.com.

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