By Andy Rohr
If it hadn't already, a red flag certainly went up during the White Sox's 12-11 defeat to the Rangers on Saturday.
No, not Paul Konerko's 0-for-6 performance, hidden amongst a 22-hit offensive output by the Pale Hose, but the continuing lack of anything positive coming out of the right arm of Jose Contreras.
After a win over the Royals on June 5, Contreras had a sensational ERA of 2.76. Since then, the big man has turned into a mess on the mound, serving up an ERA of 8.60 in his last seven starts and no doubt reminding Sox fans of his 2007 meltdown.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, Contreras' rotation buddy, Javier Vazquez. Vazquez has posted a 6.80 ERA in his last seven starts.
The good news for Sox fans is that Contreras and Vazquez are delivering these poor performances in June and July, rather than in the stretch run when fans and Sox GM Kenny Williams could do nothing but wring their hands.
With the trade deadline approaching, Williams needs to at least survey the market and have a good heart-to-heart with owner Jerry Reinsdorf about potentially expanding the budget for another White Sox playoff run.
I'm not calling for a move here yet. Williams should be applauded for the work he did in the offseason and the trio of Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd has certainly stabilized the rotation and given the Sox one of the better front-ends in the AL. But what happens if Contreras or Vazquez or even both continue to struggle? Can Danks and Floyd continue to pick up the slack with the rotation vets crumbling in the second half? Can the young guns handle the additional pressure that would come with it?
Contreras, who has one more year left on the extension he signed in 2006 for $10 million/year, could still come out of his slump but unlike Vazquez it's hard to imagine him posting quality starts with much regularity. Vazquez posted a solid 3.74 ERA a year ago and unlike Contreras has age - and probably "stuff" - on his side.
With the Indians already closing up shop and the Tigers seemingly undecided on whether or not they feel like competing this season, the AL Central is ripe for the taking. A game and a half out at the break, the Twins continue to be the irritant that they have always been to the Sox this decade, while often beating out the more talented Sox for the division crown in the process. And while I've said it before about the Twinkies, this team seems destined to decline. Why am I confident? No Santana. No Hunter. Smoke and mirrors. Lots of smoke, lots of mirrors. Please, just take a look at this starting pitching staff. They've also only scored 16 more runs than they've allowed, while the South Siders have outscored their opponents by 83 runs.
But they're still the "piranhas" and because of that, I hope Williams will take the GM Yellow Pages out of the filing cabinet.