White Sox notes: Close games becoming the norm

White Sox notes: Close games becoming the norm
April 25, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

In recent weeks, it seems like the White Sox are playing nailbiters on a daily basis.

If it seems that way, it’s likely because it’s true. Eight of the last nine games the team has played have been decided by two runs or fewer. The combination of an exceptional pitching staff and a struggling offense will do that.

The Tampa Bay Rays, a team with a similar formula, is now in town to play the Sox for four at U.S. Cellular Field this weekend, and the Sox are ready for another string of close ones.

“They’re obviously one of if not the best pitching staff in not just the American League but all of baseball top to bottom,” Adam Dunn said. “When we do have opportunities to drive in some runs or get a big hit, we need to do that. I’m definitely not anticipating us or them scoring a ton of runs. I would imagine the series is going to be pretty close just like pretty much every game we’ve played so far.”

Dunn’s assessment isn’t far off. The Sox have played 20 games this season, and 18 of them have been decided by three runs or fewer, with 11 of those being one-run affairs.

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Even with the offense slow to get going in 2013, the Sox pitching staff is a big reason the games are staying close. Chicago starters boast a 3.85 ERA on the year, good for seventh in the AL, while the bullpen has been fantastic, leading the AL with a 2.11 bullpen ERA.

“Definitely no chance to kick back and relax,” reliever Matt Thornton said of the tight ballgames. “Every day you prepare yourself and you see the game evolving and going along, and you know it’s going to be a tight one again. You’ve got to go out there and make some good pitches and keep it where it’s at. In our situation, the starters have to go out and do a great job and wait for our offense to give them enough. We’re used to it, and it’s becoming kind of a routine for us. It’d be nice to get one 6-0, 7-0 win in there somehow.”

Dunn acknowledged the offense needs to do its part to slow the barrage of one- and two-run affairs.

“It’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on our pitching staff. They’ve done an excellent job. Offensively, we just haven’t got it cranking yet,” Dunn said. “The pitching’s doing their job, we’ve got to start doing ours.”

Keppinger riding mini-streak into series against former team

The Sox added Jeff Keppinger this past offseason following his great season a year ago with the Rays. With his old mates are in town this weekend for a four-game set with the Sox, Keppinger was asked to reflect on just what makes the Rays a winning team.

“I guess I’d go with the consensus and say that they’ve had a good pitching staff for quite a while,” Keppinger said. “In this game, I’ll go along with what everyone else says, which is good pitching is going to beat good hitting most of the time. They pride themselves on pitching and defense, and hopefully they can scratch a few runs across to edge it out at the end.”

Keppinger posted a .325 batting average in his lone season in Tampa Bay, but he’s off to a rough start with the Sox, batting just .188 through his first 19 games of the year. But he’s picked up four hits over his past two games, and three of his five RBIs on the season have come in the last three games. He talked about what the difference has been in the last few days.

“I’ve been talking with [hitting coach] Jeff Manto. It was more not going into the ball, which would be my norm,” Keppinger said. “I utilize right field and the right side of the field more often. But it just seemed like I was pulling off balls, trying to pull them more.

“I was able to stay in front of balls and try to utilize that, go up the middle, go the other way.”

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Keppinger went on to discuss his time with Rays, talking about Joe Maddon’s managerial style and his tendency to not set an orthodox batting order. The Sox second baseman was then asked if he’s felt he needs to perform like a stereotypical No. 2 hitter with the Sox.

“There’s times in certain games when you get in those situations,” Keppinger said. “I would have to say it probably doesn’t matter where you are in the batting order, you know it’s just that time in the game where that one run is important. You don’t need more than one. Other teams, I’ve had it where they wanted me doing those things in the first inning. I don’t feel that way here. They want me to hit.”

Dunn thinks three-walk game could break slow start

Adam Dunn has been off to a well-documented slow start, but a trio of walks taken in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland might be the game he needs to get things going.

Reaching base via the walk has always been a big part of Dunn’s game. Twice, including last season, Dunn led baseball in walks. He’s picked up more than 100 walks in a season eight times in his career, and his career on-base percentage of .368 ranks 24th among active players.

The Sox All Star believes his three-walk game Wednesday is the kind of thing that could jumpstart his season.

“For the most part, all year, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’m just waiting for this thing to turn,” Dunn said. “I was able to lay off some pitches that I was swinging at, for the most part, all year, and I was able to draw some walks.”