11:47 PM EDT, June 19, 2012
Are Mark Buehrle's old friends about to start missing him?
Sooner or later, it is bound to happen. You don't win 161 games for a franchise and leave at age 32, with a sturdy arm still capable of 200-plus innings, without your name coming up in a conversation or two.
The latest news on John Danks, coupled with the growing doubts about Philip Humber and Gavin Floyd, leaves a void that rarely existed when the White Sox rotation was built around Buehrle. He's a Miami Marlin now and was bounced around Tuesday night in Boston. He lasted only five innings but as always took his turn.
The Sox essentially had to pick between the two left-handers last fall and took the model with lower mileage, which seemed the safe choice. It would have been simpler had Danks not had the worst season of his career in 2011, but few questioned Ken Williams' wisdom.
"It came to a point where the question was, 'Are you going to pay me or Danks?' " Buehrle said. "I would have done the same thing if I was the GM. You've got a left-hander who's young, has a lot of experience and has outstanding, All-Star stuff. I'd do exactly what they did.''
Danks looked good on Opening Day in Buehrle's usual role, striking out six and walking none in a 3-2 loss to the two-time defending AL champion Rangers. But he was mostly disappointing in his next eight starts and now is parked on the disabled list with a 5.70 ERA and a strained shoulder — or, to be more precise, a Grade 1 tear of the subscapularis muscle.
No matter what you call it, he could be sidelined until August, maybe longer. And his teammates worry he would be playing with fire by trying to hurry back to help the Sox reach the playoffs.
"He's been out for a while now anyway,'' Paul Konerko said. "We've kind of adjusted and moved on. Now it's just going to be longer. ... I don't care if he misses the whole year, to be honest, if he gets better. The main thing is him being healthy. I hope he doesn't come back until he's right.''
With Buehrle as the staff anchor and trainer Herm Schneider staying on top of the pitchers' conditioning, the Sox have had the healthiest pitching staff in the majors over the last decade. They've averaged 3.4 pitchers per season who held up for 30-plus starts, with Buehrle doing it every season.
With him gone, they project to have only Jake Peavy and Floyd reach that level, just as Buehrle and Floyd were the only ones to do it last season. They will need more of what they've been getting from Peavy, who on Tuesday retired 16 straight Cubs in one stretch and deserved better than a 2-1 loss, and less of what they've gotten from Floyd and Humber.
You aren't required to have great pitching to win, of course. The 2000 White Sox won 95 games despite having only three starters (Mike Sirotka, Jim Parque and James Baldwin) make 20-plus starts, and Schneider sometimes ran low on ice trying to help guys such as Bill Simas and Sean Lowe recover from back-to-back-to-back outings out of the bullpen.
"That team was an exceptional offensive team,'' Konerko said. "We scored a ton of runs. That team could just throw up runs when we needed to … and look what happened in the playoffs.''
With no healthy starting pitchers, the Sox were swept by the Mariners. But at least they enjoyed the ride, even if for too many of those pitchers, it ended on a surgeon's table.
Peavy knows something about that himself. He helped the Sox build a 30-22 record with a strong comeback after 2010 surgery to reattach his lat. But since his start against the Mariners on June 1, the Sox have played more like most analysts had forecast they would.
They've lost 10 of the last 14, including two to the last-place Cubs, and lost the AL Central lead they took May 29.
"We're not playing terrible baseball,'' Peavy said. "We're just not doing what we'll have to do to get it done.''
Konerko called this stretch "one of those lulls in the season that are pretty much inevitable.'' Maybe Buehrle's departure was like that too.
Are season-long problems with the rotation now inevitable?