8:24 PM CDT, September 17, 2012
Who are the piranhas now?
Ozzie Guillen used to say the Twins were like those flesh-eating fish, chewing up opponents. But now it's the White Sox, their front office and pro scouts especially, who are feeding off of others.
After Monday's 5-4 win over the Tigers — a game in which the key play might have been Alex Rios taking out Omar Infante at second base — it looks like the Sox are going to win the American League Central.
The White Sox aren't counting on anything at this point, even if they are three games up with 16 to go. But barring a case of rapid rewind, there's going to be playoff baseball in Chicago this October, most likely against the Yankees or the Orioles.
That raises a question: Can the White Sox players vote a playoff share to Brian Cashman? And how about Bobby Valentine, while they're at it?
Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, failed to realize how productive Dewayne Wise was and how potentially effective Jose Quintana could be. Those two guys played a major role Monday, along with pitching castoffs Donnie Veal (Pirates) and Brett Myers (Astros).
Kevin Youkilis, whom the White Sox acquired from the Red Sox for a song after Valentine dissed him in a radio interview, sprawled in the dirt to take a single away from Miguel Cabrera in the first inning. That was the start of this workmanlike victory, just as the June 24 trade with the Red Sox signaled that the Sox believed they could steal the division from the heavily favored Tigers.
While the White Sox's success has a lot to do with season-long contributions from Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy, all of whom were Nowhere Men this time a year ago, it also has been about Williams, Rick Hahn, Buddy Bell and Dan Fabian finding ways to continually add depth without spending heavily or dealing from the organization's limited supply of 25-and-under prospects.
Williams likes to point to the rookies on the roster to argue that Baseball America and other publications and websites focused on the minor leagues have gotten it wrong in saying the Sox's farm system is one of the weakest — and at times the weakest — in baseball. He has to feel really good about Nate Jones' 8-0 record and Addison Reed's 27 saves, along with the contributions from homegrown guys like Beckham and Chris Sale, but it has been the guys from outside the organization that are getting this team over the top.
Alejandro De Aza, claimed on waivers from the Marlins as a 25-year-old before the 2010 season, was a first-half sparkplug but hasn't been the same since going on the disabled list with bruised ribs in mid-August. Enter the 34-year-old Wise, who was cut loose by the Yankees when they traded for Ichiro Suzuki.
Wise had a double and two singles Monday, including one that tied the score 3-3 in the fourth inning. He cost the Sox a run by getting tagged out at third a split-second before Beckham crossed the plate on what should have been an Adam Dunn sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, but his .298 average since joining the White Sox buys forgiveness.
Wise is a better hitter than he was when he was with the Sox in 2008 and '09, but the Yankees deemed him expendable when the Mariners offered them Suzuki.
"I was surprised,'' he said. "I've been around this game a long time, learned how it works. When you're the 25th man on a team, you're the one who has to go when someone wants to make a change.''
Quintana, who lasted only four innings after beating the Tigers last week, has made 20 starts for the White Sox after the Yankees declined to add him to their 40-man roster last winter. The Pirates likewise could have had Veal in their 2012 bullpen but declined to add him to the big-league roster. The White Sox, who were specifically searching for left-handed pitching, quickly closed deals with Veal and Quintana by giving them big-league contracts.
Veal has become the kind of left-handed neutralizer who can make a big difference in a close game. Since he arrived for good Aug. 15, the White Sox are 6-2 in one-run games; the Tigers, who allowed their majors-worst 68th unearned run when Prince Fielder couldn't scoop Infante's throw after being crushed by Rios, have lost their last 10 one-run games.
The White Sox are putting away the Central, one bite at a time.
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