Sox Drawer: What rhymes with MVP? Paulie!

248899.jpg

Sox Drawer: What rhymes with MVP? Paulie!

Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010
6:33 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Somewhere in the state of Ohio lies a baseball tuckered out after traveling a far distance. It started the day buried anonymously in a sack with a dozen other balls, all set to be used, all with different fates.

Some would stay fair. Others would go foul. But this one had another destination in mind: Lake Erie.

Unfortunately, it didnt make it that far. A few fans got in the way. But if the man who tried to put it there keeps it up, the ball might end up representing something bigger.

The start of an MVP campaign.

For the last few weeks, Paul Konerkos name has casually been mentioned as a candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, up there with Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. But lets be honest, he was a country mile away from getting enough votes to actually win it.

Not anymore.

With the national media tuned in to watch Manny Ramirez make his White Sox debut on Wednesday, there was Konerko doing what hes done all season, blasting a massive three-run bomb in the eighth inning, giving the Sox a thrilling come-from-behind, 6-4 win over the Indians.

Its a captain whos been driving a car with his clutch stuck on clutch all season, and its time the rest of the country knew about it.

Youre excused if you happened to ignore Paulies red-hot April, when he quietly belted 11 home runs to lead the majors. At 34 years old, and in the twilight of his career, who actually thought he was on the verge of an MVP season?

I didnt.You didnt. Konerko probably didnt either.

But game-after-game, week-after-week, the prolonged slumps that have traditionally dogged Konerko in his career have yet to arrive. He just keeps raking, and considering hes in a contract year, hell soon be raking in something else. Tons and tons of dough. But thats a subject for another day.

This is about a mans quest for an MVP award, and here are some numbers to back it up.

Lets start with his home runs which are starting to reach Roy Hobbs Hollywood-type proportions. Of his 33 homers, which is currently second in the American League, 12 have been hit in the eighth inning or later. Three have tied the game. NINE have given the White Sox the lead. Konerko has also helped the Sox breathe a little easier, as four of his home runs have occurred with his team ahead by one.

But its not just when Konerko has been hitting, its who hes been hitting against. Here are the top teams on the White Sox schedule. Has Konerko been there for his team? You bet.

vs. the Twins .390 4 HRs 12 RBIs
vs. the Yankees .400 3 HRs 10 RBIs
vs. the Rangers .344 4 HRs 11 RBIs
vs. the Rays .308 1 HR 3 RBIs
vs. the Braves .417 1 HR 3 RBIs

Throw in the Crosstown Series against the Cubs, which is a playoff-type atmosphere no matter how bad one of the teams might be, Konerko batted .333 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs.

Have you heard about the dog days of August in baseball? Konerko hasnt this year. He just completed the month batting .387. Thats number-one in the major leagues.

And how did he start September? See the top of this very page.

A couple weeks ago, Konerkos season numbers paled in comparison to his toughest competitors, but hes quickly closing the gap:

Konerko .319 33 HR 98 RBI
Hamilton .361 31 HR 97 RBI
Cabrera .340 33 HR 107 RBI
Cano .325 26 HR 90 RBI

In the end, itll come down to those in contention at the end. So you can take Cabreras name off the list. The Tigers are going nowhere. Robinson Cano has had a great season with the Yankees, but lets see if someone from New York can build a case for him thats stronger than Konerkos. You can try, but you'll inevitably fail.

That leaves Hamilton, who has put the Texas Rangers on his back and has kept them in first for weeks. Hes currently in the lead. But if this was a golf tournament, he and Konerko still have a few holes to play. A lot can happen, and watching Paulie all season, you can bet that something will.

My job is a sportscaster. I write with my ABCs. Konerko plays baseball. He's my MVP.

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Swarzak held a high-leverage audition for a potential contender on Sunday long before the Kansas City Royals walked off the White Sox.

The nonroster invitee to big league camp continued a stellar campaign as he took over in a critical spot midgame and helped the White Sox escape with the lead. The White Sox bullpen ultimately relinquished the lead and Brandon Moss sent them to their ninth straight loss — Kansas City won 5-4 — with an RBI double in the ninth inning.

But Swarzak continues to thrive in the opportunities handed to him and could make for an interesting trade chip before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“He’s been excellent,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s become for us, with (Nate Jones) going down and (Jake Petricka) going down he’s actually become a fireman. He’s come in in some of the highest-leverage situations we could possibly get. And then we use him for multiple innings.”

A free agent after the season, Swarzak has 50 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings for the White Sox this season. He also has only allowed nine of 33 inherited runners to score (27.2 percent), including two on Sunday. The American League average for inherited runners scoring entering Sunday was 30 percent, according to baseball-reference.com.

All this has come in a season where Swarzak went to camp with the White Sox with no certainty of making the 25-man roster. The right-hander not only thrived in camp, he came out strong in April with 19 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Combined with early injuries to Jones and Zach Putnam, Swarzak’s performance helped him climb the totem pole in the White Sox bullpen from the outset. His stature has grown even more of late with the injury to Petricka as well as the trades of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.

“As far personal expectations, I’m right where I want to be,” Swarzak said. “More to accomplish for this year, absolutely. But I like what I’ve done so far and I like the opportunity that I have to accomplish even more.

“That’s the situation we all work so hard. That’s the situation we want and it’s why we all work so hard in the offseason in general is for situations like that.”

Swarzak took over for starter Derek Holland in the fifth inning with the White Sox ahead 4-3 and runners on the corners. He threw three straight sliders to Jorge Bonifacio and struck him out to strand the pair.

“It was huge, what he did coming in right there,” Holland said.

As significant as it was, it only held off the Royals for the time being. And as much as Swarzak has enjoyed things on a personal level, it isn’t making what the thinned-out White Sox roster is experiencing any easier to handle.

“Everything going on around here right now is pretty hard to swallow,” Swarzak said. “We’re going out there losing 8-0, 6-0, we’re up 6-0 and we end up losing. We lost a 1-0 game against the Dodgers and the next night we lose 10-1. We’re kind of losing all types of ways right now, which is really hard to swallow because as a bullpen guy we take pride in holding the lead and right now it seems like we’re not getting it done at all, any aspect of it, as a group.”

With eight more shopping days left before the deadline, chances are high that Swarzak may not be part of the current group much longer. He has already seen the departures of Robertson and Kahnle and knows his impending free agency could result in a trade elsewhere. But the veteran reliever is doing his best to keep his focus on the mound.

“It all comes back to quality pitches and getting guys out,” Swarzak said. “If you’re getting guys out, you’re going to get some attention from the league and if you’re not they’re going to close the book on you. It’s very straight forward for a pitcher, for a major league baseball player in general: Do better. Get it done and you’re going to play for a long time and you’re going to have the success that goes along with getting it done. That’s really all I’m worried about is continuing to make good pitches and hopefully get the results I’m looking for.”

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rick Renteria wants his players to be able to execute a bunt regardless of how much it drives White Sox fans crazy.

The White Sox manager wants to win now, but he’s also looking at the big picture.

Even though he knows how much a team’s chance of scoring decreases when an out is surrendered via the sacrifice bunt, Renteria is using the opportunity to see what abilities his players have. He wants to know what they can do.

Renteria is well aware that his calls for sacrifice bunts aren’t popular with fans (see: Twitter’s reaction to Yoan Moncada’s bunt tries on Saturday). But he also thinks there’s no better time to work on bunts than during a game. So as much fury as it brings, Renteria will continue to ask his players to work on a skill he’d like to see remain part of the game.

“Listen, (Moncada’s) a plus runner,” Renteria said. “He’s going to be able to use that as a part of his arsenal. I see a whole lot of home run hitters dropping bunts right now against shifts and things of that nature. I don’t think that art should disappear. We’re in the era of quote-unquote the long ball, but like I’ve said, sometimes you need to do certain things to kind of put your club in a better position.

"If you think that’s one of the things that’s available to you, you use it. I don’t think you’re necessarily giving it up in terms of an out, because when you’ve got guys who can run anything is possible. You end up loading the bases possibly. I know our guys are very cognizant of just playing the game. If they feel like they want to get two guys in scoring position on their own, they do it. It’s not something I want to take away from them. I think they read the defenses. Sometimes we talk about other ways of dealing with the defenses, but I think they’re understanding that we’re going to want that to be a part of all their abilities.”

As for the team’s execution, Renteria isn’t satisfied with the results. That means you can expect to see more bunts the rest of the way.

“It’s still a work-in-progress,” Renteria said. “I think that would be a falsehood to say we’re at the point where I go, I’m very, very happy with the way we lay down bunts. It’s still a work-in-progress, something that we’re going to continue to emphasize. Something we’re going to continue to work on. And then again, the only opportunities you get in real time are games, and that’s when you need ‘em.”