Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field is always one of my favorite days of the year.  The long, cold winter is over. A new season has begun, and it's a chance to celebrate that renewal with good friends and take in a ballgame. (See photos)

Too bad the White Sox missed the memo that this was supposed to be a happy occasion. I've been to the Sox home opener every year since 2010, and this is the first year I've seen them lose. Until Friday's 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Sox had won their home opener every year since 2007.

I guess it was inevitable that they'd drop one eventually, but this loss was pretty galling. The festive, sellout crowd that was present at the start of the game had thinned out to just us diehards by the time the game ended. The Sox looked terrible, and the loss dropped them to 0-4 -- the first time they've started a season with four consecutive losses since 1995.

Even though the Sox have been struggling, I did not expect their bats to be silenced by Minnesota left-hander Tommy Milone, a soft-tosser who reminded me a little bit of Bruce Chen. Milone worked 7.2 shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- a bunt single by Micah Johnson in the third and two-out double to Tyler Flowers in the eighth. The Sox did not have a runner reach third base until the ninth inning.

The Sox have scored one run or fewer in three of their first four games, and obviously, that doesn't lend itself to success. Look at some of these bad starts from hitters you expect to perform:

Adam Eaton: 2 for 16
Melky Cabrera: 2 for 16
Jose Abreu: 3 for 14
Avisail Garcia: 3 for 11 with all three hits coming in the same game
Adam LaRoche: 1 for 14 with 8 strikeouts
Alexei Ramirez: 1 for 12

These are all guys with a track record, but none of them are swinging the bat well right now. You just have to cross your fingers and hope they start hitting the way they have in the past.

But perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've seen from the Sox is their terrible baserunning. I know they want to be aggressive, but they've crossed the line to criminal stupidity. After Johnson's bunt single Friday, he was picked off second base -- the second time he's been picked off already this year. The final out of the game, somewhat fittingly, came on a bad baserunning play by Eaton. He tried to score from third on a shallow pop to left off Abreu's bat. He was tagged out while getting tangled up at the plate with Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki, and for what? Even if he's safe, it's 6-1. Why risk injury by making a reckless play like that in 6-0 game in the ninth?

It's time for the Sox to pull in the reins on their new "aggressive" baserunning strategy. So far, it's resulted in no stolen bases, and by my count, six gift outs for the opposition, including the two today. When you're not swinging the bats well, the problem is compounded when you waste outs on the basepaths.

And, oh, by the way, starting pitcher Hector Noesi stunk Friday. He walked six, threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in just 4.2 innings pitched. It's a miracle the Twins only scored two runs off him after they loaded the bases three times in the first five innings. Against a better hitting team, I believe Noesi would have been shelled today. Throughout the offseason, Sox brass was bullish on Noesi and insisted he would be improved for this season. Count me among the skeptics.

Reliever Zach Putnam also allowed three runs in the ninth inning Friday, increasing my suspicion that he was a one-year wonder in 2014.

It's too bad the play on the field had to be so bad for Opening Day. After that, you wonder how many of the 38,000-some in attendance on Friday will want to return. I'm going back to the ballpark tomorrow, but perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.

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