So what if White Sox can't hit?

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2008 - 7:50 AM

The White Sox have managed to score a lot of runs this season despite ranking last in batting average.

Center fielder Nick Swisher has been a nice acquisition for Chicago, giving the White Sox a spark from the leadoff spot.

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Batting average. Who needs it? ¶ The Chicago White Sox are a testament to the importance of on-base percentage, as they make their first 2008 visit to the Metrodome tonight. ¶ Chicago leads the American League in scoring at 5.2 runs per game despite ranking last in batting average. ¶ Nick Swisher, Orlando Cabrera and Carlos Quentin have given the lineup a new dimension. The White Sox are walking more and striking out less. Their pitching has been terrific.

Throw in slow starts by Detroit and Cleveland, and it's easier to see why the White Sox (14-10) are the surprising leaders in the AL Central.

Chicago's lineup is littered with players whose batting averages make it look like they are really struggling.

All except A.J. Pierzynski.

The former Twins catcher has dropped 18 pounds since last season and is batting .301.

His secret? "Try to eat less, basically," the 31-year-old Pierzynski told the Chicago Tribune. "Before I'd go back and have seconds. Now I try to have one serving and walk away, and I try not to eat late at night."

And the secret to Chicago's scoring success?

Well, the White Sox still love the long ball. They lead the American League with 34 home runs, hitting two more Monday against Baltimore.

But the real key has been their improvement in on-base percentage.

Last year, Chicago ranked last in the AL in batting average (.246), on-base percentage (.318) and runs scored (693).

This year, despite their .242 average, they rank seventh in OBP at .338. Consider these results:

• Swisher is batting .221 but ranks among the league leaders with 21 walks, leaving the leadoff hitter's OBP at .376.

• Cabrera, the No. 2 hitter, is batting .214, but his OBP is .306, helping him score 16 runs, or as many as Joe Mauer has scored to lead the Twins.

• Quentin leads the AL with a .454 OBP. It helps that he's been hit by a pitch six times.

Some of that helps explain why the White Sox keep scoring despite Paul Konerko batting .229 and Jim Thome .214. Jermaine Dye, who is batting .316, hasn't played since Thursday because of an injured groin.

"Our offense is not the one we think we can have," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters Sunday. "We've got a couple of guys still trying to fight their way out."

Meanwhile, the pitching staff has been surprisingly sound.

Last year, the bullpen ranked 12th in the AL with a 5.47 ERA. But Chicago added Scott Linebrink to help get the ball to All-Star closer Bobby Jenks, and the relief corps has a 3.60 ERA this season.

Then there's starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd.

Last year, Danks went 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA, Floyd 1-5 with a 5.27 ERA. This year, they have combined to go 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA.

In his fourth year with the White Sox, Pierzynski is helping nurture those young pitchers. Last August, the team gave him a two-year, $22 million contract extension, with a mutual option for 2010. He said the idea to trim down was all his own.

"Instead of having the fried chicken sandwich, have the grilled chicken sandwich -- little stuff like that makes a difference," Pierzynski told the Tribune. "Instead of Gatorade, drink water. Those things add up."

Yes, little things. The whole team is starting to swear by them.

Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

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