Sox weakness exposed in Game 4
Offense unable to adapt on fly; conservative approach costly
CHICAGO -- Andy Sonnanstine probably would be considered the fourth starter among the Rays' talented quintet of arms, meaning the White Sox felt good about their chances going into Monday's Game 4 of the American League Division Series at U.S. Cellular Field.
With Gavin Floyd and his 17 wins opposing Sonnanstine, the South Siders fostered an extra level of confidence.
But it was the White Sox offense that ultimately let down their chances for postseason advancement, with partial credit going to Sonnanstine's specific pitching approach. The White Sox scored on solo home runs from Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, but otherwise managed just a leadoff single from Konerko in the second and a two-out single from Alexei Ramirez in the seventh.
Two walks were mixed in, but the White Sox did not get a runner to second base other than the drives that cleared the fence. Hitting coach Greg Walker believed his charges were too passive after Tampa Bay grabbed a 2-0 in the third inning on two home runs from B.J. Upton.
"Once they got those runs early, our guys became too conservative," Walker said. "I thought we were taking first-pitch strikes every time, and [Sonnanstine] wasn't going to walk anyone."
Walker admitted Monday's lackluster results stood as the symptom of the overall cause, which deals with the White Sox not being a good team on offense in September. The South Siders hit .241 with 36 home runs and 111 RBIs in September, not to mention posting a .301 on-base percentage.
All of these statistics represent a significant drop off across the board, but that sort of funk only stands to reason. There was no Carlos Quentin in the lineup, breaking a bone in his wrist on Sept. 1, and no Joe Crede, who had back problems that basically cost him the final month.
Some of the credit on Monday, though, goes to Sonnanstine, as well as relievers J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour.
"The only thing about Sonnanstine was his style was one of our weaknesses," Walker said. "He throws a lot of breaking balls and pitches backwards. That's not our strength.
"He got the lead and threw strikes with breaking balls any time he wanted. Then, [Tampa Bay manager] Joe [Maddon] brought in [relievers J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour], who are both having career years. Both are having years where they are doing nothing wrong."
If Walker had Monday to do over again, he would have been "screaming at the players early on in the dugout" to be more aggressive at the plate. Call it what you want, but Tampa Bay's pitching effort stood out as what made this team successful.
"He really made two mistakes," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Sonnanstine, referring to the solo home runs allowed to Konerko and Dye. "He pitched a good game."
"They won 97 in the toughest division in baseball," said Walker of the Rays. "When you do that, you can pitch."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.