Spin Forward: Sox order must step up
Middle of Chicago lineup quiet during Game 1 loss to Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- The White Sox wouldn't be here without the play of their veterans. But they might not stick around very long unless the veterans in the heart of their batting order turn things around quickly against Tampa Bay in this American League Division Series.
There were a lot of contributing factors behind Chicago's 6-4 loss to the Rays on Thursday at Tropicana Field, especially the Evan Longoria Show and the superb outing by right-hander James Shields.
As much credit as the Rays deserve for winning their playoff debut, the noticeable lack of production from the middle of the White Sox lineup was glaring and must end if the Sox are going to advance past the first round.
Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr., Nos. 3 through 6 on your scorecard, were a combined 3-for-16 with one RBI. Konerko accounted for two of the hits, including a home run leading off the ninth with the Sox down by three runs. Konerko also had a single in the seventh and Dye contributed a double in the third.
The rest of the time, the quartet racked up four strikeouts and seven groundouts. Only two other balls made it out of the infield and both were caught.
That won't get it done most nights. If the middle isn't holding up its end, it will be easier for Tampa Bay's Game 2 starter, Scott Kazmir, to work around some of the other hot bats in the Chicago batting order, like Alexei Ramirez and Dewayne Wise.
They can be dangerous, but without the big bats backing them up consistently, this attack just isn't as formidable as the one that belted a Major League-leading 235 home runs this season. Shields demonstrated that on Thursday. The Sox can't afford to have Kazmir do it Friday night.
"Shields and their bullpen did their jobs," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "A couple of times I thought we were going to score some more, [but] they did their jobs and we came up short."
The Sox are confident that it was just one of those games where they ran into a hot pitcher. That seemed to be the consensus of a few of the Sox that were still hanging around a quiet visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field following the game.
"Shields pitched a great game and he shut us down," said Wise, who contributed a three-run home run. "We went up 3-1, but we knew that wasn't going to be enough. We came up short tonight, but we'll get back out there tomorrow. It's a best-of-five series. This game is over, now we have to look forward to tomorrow."
Chicago's offense was 7-for-32 on the night (.219), and 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. It left only four runners on base, but three were stranded in scoring position.
"[Shields] was very good, we had chances, we just didn't get it done," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who went 2-for-3 and scored a run. "We've had games like this before where we didn't score like we can, and we've bounced back."
Shields negated the Sox sluggers' power by continually inducing groundouts. He did so by mixing his pitches and seldom leaving anything up in the strike zone. Thome, who had hit a mammoth home run in the tiebreaker game, never hit the ball out the infield against Shields and reliever J.P. Howell.
Dye hit two balls hard in four trips, with one hit to show for it. Griffey, 0-for-4, fanned twice, grounded out and flied out to left field in his first postseason appearance since 1997.
At least they won't have to wait long for another crack at the Rays' pitchers.
"We have to win tomorrow," Guillen said. "You know what I mean? It's not a do-or-die thing, but I'd rather go home with one win than against the wall. But you know this ballclub was against the wall a lot of times and we pulled it out."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.