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Musick: Sox can’t afford their big-money bench

Caption
The White Sox’s Omar Vizquel (left) greets Carlos Quentin at home plate Tuesday after the pair scored on Quentin’s home run off Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez during the third inning at U.S. Cellular Field. The Sox won, 5-1, despite having highly paid regulars Adam Dunn and Alex Rios on the bench. (AP photo)

CHICAGO – In most of the country, a sturdy bench runs for anywhere from $100 to $200.

However, on Tuesday, the White Sox might have set a record for the world’s most valuable bench. It held more than $40 million in assets with Jake Peavy ($16 million in 2011), Adam Dunn ($12 million) and Alex Rios ($12 million) each grabbing a seat to watch their teammates play the Seattle Mariners.

Here’s the crazy thing: The Sox won anyway.

They beat Seattle, 5-1, behind home runs from Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin and a two-run triple by “Old Man” Omar Vizquel. Those hits came against reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez.

Hernandez was outdueled by Phil Humber, the most anonymous Sox pitcher since … anyone?

The Sox improved to 19-11 since May 7 and remained six games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. A month ago, the Sox were 11 games under .500 and 11 games out of first.

Imagine how good the Sox might look if their big-money players started to produce.

A midseason upswing has rescued what otherwise would have been a miserable baseball season on both sides of town. The Sox (30-33) have 99 games left on the schedule, which is plenty of time to climb back into contention in a wide-open division.

Yet if the Sox are serious about a playoff push, they’re going to need their highest-paid players to produce more than a pile of chewed up sunflower seeds on the dugout floor.

Dunn is the biggest target because, well, he’s the biggest person. He has hit .176 with 5 home runs and 23 RBIs in 54 games since signing a four-year, $56 million deal this winter.

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen benched Dunn on Tuesday to try to clear his mind. Dunn will stay on the bench for one more game today as he tries to overcome whatever’s wrong with him.

Maybe it’s physical. Maybe it’s mental.

Who knows?

Not Ozzie.

“The freaking guy is 7-2 and 700 pounds,” Guillen said. “Mentally, he’s got a brain bigger than my body. I don’t know what it is. To be honest with you, I don’t know what it is. …

“You ask me about Paul Konerko, you ask me about Carlos [Quentin], those guys that have been playing for me for a little while, A.J. [Pierzynski], I think maybe I have an answer.

“But him… maybe he’s never failed before.”

Then how to explain Rios?

The Sox outfielder has had plenty of experience with failure during a hot-and-cold career. He seemed to turn a corner last season, in which he hit .284 with 21 home runs and 34 stolen bases, but he entered Tuesday hitting .199 with four home runs and four steals in 58 games.

Guillen benched Rios for the third consecutive game and started mighty mite Brent Lillibridge in his place. Rios entered the game as a pinch runner in the seventh and likely will start today.

The same cannot be said for Peavy, who visits the disabled list so often that you would think it’s a summer retreat. For those who play Operation: Peavy, his latest injury is a strained right groin.

Despite a trio of high-priced question marks, the Sox remain relevant in part because of unsung heroes such as Humber and Lillibridge. The clubhouse feels as easy-going as a college apartment, and players insist that they’re not worried about any of the struggling stars.

“I know this isn’t the easiest city to come in and struggle,” Sox veteran Mark Teahen said. “I think it’s nice that we have the team that we do have, and if [Dunn] needs a night off, we can give that to him.”

A night off for Dunn, Rios or Peavy is fine.

Eventually, however, the most valuable bench in the world could cost the Sox.

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