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updated: 9/15/2012 6:44 PM

With too many relievers, Ventura making too many changes

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  • White Sox manager Robin Ventura, left, has been busy in September, using an average of five pitchers a game compared to three per contest through August.

      White Sox manager Robin Ventura, left, has been busy in September, using an average of five pitchers a game compared to three per contest through August.
    Associated Press

 
 

The dangers of too many options:

It's been a rough month for Robin Ventura.

He's had a terrific first season as White Sox manager, especially in the parts of that job which are difficult to quantify. His calm demeanor transformed, and then maintained, what was once a fractured and tense clubhouse. The resiliency of his ballclub is a credit to the man -- and a confirmation of excellence on GM Kenny Williams' informed hunch.

But when MLB's late-season call-ups enabled what is now 18 pitchers on a 35-man roster, Ventura began over-managing with a vengeance. The White Sox used an average of fewer than three pitchers per game in August, but have averaged nearly five in September. There was a six-game stretch in which 36 pitchers saw action. The 6-0 team shutout over the Twins started by Chris Sale on Friday night was the first game this month to feature three or fewer pitchers.

The starting rotation's ineffectiveness and exhaustion have led to plenty of that, but there have been many specific situations for couch-bound first-guessing in the middle innings. If you've read this space at all, you know my bullpen feelings. The more guys you use, the higher the risk that one of them will simply be awful on a given night. And considering the importance of certain roles, games are decided by no better than your eighth- or ninth-best arm on the staff.

Many of the rookies and call-ups are not good. Too often this month, huge pennant-race moments have been left in the hands of mediocre minor-leaguers.

The delights of being wrong:

Going into this Cubs season, I was a loud Jeff Samardzija doubter. I did not believe he had the depth of stuff to be a starting pitcher, incapable of getting through a lineup two, three or four times. I thought he'd be better off simply rearing back and firing as hard as he could in the seventh or eighth inning.

Seeing another March filled with supposed hope gave me what I called "Samardzija Fatigue." With each excellent start, that became "Samardzija Drowsiness" -- and eventually full-on "Samardzija Alertness."

I'm wide awake, and he had an excellent year. Armed with a new spit-fingered fastball, he completely changed his previous patterns as a starter and found consistency. He leaned on the off-speed stuff early and later pummeled people with that high 90's fastball. Once that was established, he was in control and adjusted well most of the season.

Forget the win-loss record on a bad team. A 3.81 ERA (27th in the NL), 180 strikeouts (Top 10, for now), just 56 walks and a WHIP of 1.22 (No. 22) are all numbers upon which he can build. Perhaps most impressively, he went at least 7 innings 14 times, including nine of his last 13 starts.

With his stuff and the new approach, Samardzija looks like a guy who could be a third or second starter on a good team -- and maybe the ace of the 2013 Cubs.

Who do you want in your playoffs?

They're ours, those precious October and November television hours, so let's fill them with intriguing teams.

I have no desire for the Cardinals to win that second NL wild card. I've seen them enough in previous years, and I don't believe they're good enough to truly win the tournament. Of course, I didn't think they were last year either.

Give me the strange, expensive, fearsome lineup of the Dodgers. I'd also like Clayton Kershaw in my living room as often as possible.

Or perhaps the hard-charging Phillies, impossibly still in the race. If the Phillies get in -- and survive Bud Selig's one game forced drama -- they might be the NL favorite.

The MLB gods may not bow to our desires, but they should.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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