Friday, August 26, 2016

Todd Frazier comes through for White Sox against Seattle bullpen

Todd Frazier
Third baseman Todd Frazier leads the White Sox with 80 RBIs, although you'd never expect that if you looked at his statistics with runners in scoring position.

Frazier has been terrible in those situations this year, 19 for 110, which will pencil out to a .173/.302/.345 slash line.

Those numbers were even worse until Thursday night, when Frazier came through twice in the late innings to lift the Sox to a 7-6, come-from-behind win over the Seattle Mariners.

With the Sox trailing 6-4 in the seventh, Frazier tied the score with a two-out, two-run single off Seattle reliever Steve Cishek. The right-hander got too much of the plate with a 2-0 slider, and Frazier ripped it through the hole between shortstop and third base to plate both Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson.

The score remained tied until the bottom of the ninth. Eaton led off with a bloop single against Seattle reliever Nick Vincent (3-4). Anderson advanced the runner with a sacrifice bunt. The Mariners elected to walk Jose Abreu with first base open -- a wise decision, frankly, since Abreu has been tearing it up in August.

That strategy was foiled, however, when Frazier smacked a Vincent sinker down the left-field line that allowed Eaton to score easily from second base and end the ballgame.

The clutch hits had to be a relief for Frazier, who was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Seattle starter James Paxton. He looked terrible on each of those 3Ks, one of which came with runners at first and third and nobody out in the first inning.

But fortunes changed once the Mariner bullpen entered the game, and the rally got Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo off the hook. The right-hander was decent enough for five innings -- the score was tied at 3 headed to the sixth. However, Ranaudo gave up three runs in the sixth and only got one out before having to be removed. It didn't help than Dan Jennings allowed two of his inherited runners to score.

The Sox bullpen kept it close by keeping the Mariners off the board the last three innings, and closer David Robertson (4-2) ended up with the win after he pitched around a one-out walk to post a scoreless ninth inning.

The Sox are 4-2 on the homestand entering Friday's play, with three more to go against Seattle.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

James Shields gets a moral victory in loss to Philadelphia

James Shields
The Philadelphia Phillies entered Wednesday's game against the White Sox as the only team in baseball with a team on-base percentage (.299) below .300.

Sox right-hander James Shields entered Wednesday's game with a 7.62 ERA over his first 14 starts with Chicago.

Bad pitching vs. bad hitting. The movable object against the resistible force. Who would win this Battle of Titans?

As it turns out, bad hitting prevailed. The Phillies didn't exactly light up Shields the way the rest of the league has this season, but they did enough to beat the Sox, 5-3, and split the brief two-game series.

Shields (5-16) went six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. He struck out six and walked none, so his peripherals were better, although he once again gave up two home runs. They were both solo shots, one to Cesar Hernandez in the third, the other on a fat, hanging breaking ball to Tommy Joseph on an 0-2 count with two outs in the sixth. Shields also gave up three doubles, for a total of five extra-base hits, so there was no shortage of hard contact.

Still, this was a moral victory for Shields, who had given up six or more earned runs in each of his past four starts. For the first time since Shields beat the Cubs on July 26, he was not a complete disgrace. He was merely kinda bad.

When he walked off the mound for the final time after the top of the sixth inning, the Sox were still in the game, trailing 4-0.

They made in interesting when Dioner Navarro cut the Philadelphia lead in half with a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. The Phillies added a run in the eighth to go up 5-2, and held off a Sox rally in the ninth.

Philadelphia closer Jeanmar Gomez gave up an RBI single to Avisail Garcia with two outs in the ninth to make it 5-3. Navarro came to the plate with two men on and a chance to potentially tie the game with an extra-base hit, but this time he grounded out weakly to second to end the proceedings.

Hey, at least the game was watchable, right? Most of the time it is not when Shields takes the mound.

Jose Abreu, Carlos Rodon resurgent in August for White Sox

Jose Abreu
There's no sugarcoating it: Jose Abreu has not had a good season for the White Sox.

His struggles are one of the main reasons the Sox are languishing in fourth place with a 60-64 record -- and rank 14th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored.

Nobody saw it coming. After all, Abreu made history in 2015, becoming only the second player in major league history to total at least 30 home runs and at least 100 RBIs in each of his first two seasons. (Albert Pujols is the other).

However, the drop-off has been noticeable this year. Take a look at Abreu's numbers:

2014: .317/.383/.581, 36 HRs, 107 RBIs, .964 OPS
2015: .290/.347/.502, 30 HRs, 101 RBIs, .850 OPS
2016: .285/.341/.455, 17 HRs, 70 RBIs, .796 OPS

With 38 games to play, it's unlikely Abreu will hit that 30-and-100 plateau again. So, what do we make of this? Is Abreu in decline at age 29? Or is it just a bad year? Even good players have bad years. (See Frank Thomas in 2002 and Paul Konerko in 2003.)

I've heard some Sox fans say the team should unload Abreu this offseason because "he's done." I think that's an overly negative view. Quietly, while most people have stopped paying attention, Abreu has had a monster month of August.

Here are his numbers this month: .373/.427/.680, 6 HRs, 14 RBIs, 1.107 OPS in 19 games.

Pretty good, huh?

Abreu went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in Tuesday's 9-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He homered in his third straight game. For me, the most important thing about that home run was the pitch and pitch location. It was a middle-in fastball from Philadelphia starter Jake Thompson, and Abreu turned on it and ripped it into the left field seats.

For most of the season, Abreu has been helpless against middle-in fastballs. He's been jamming himself, popping up or swinging and missing against that pitch. The Abreu of the last two years hits that pitch hard to left field. That was the Abreu I saw last night, and it's been that way most of August. It's encouraging to see, and it's indicative that his skills are still there.

The Sox need Abreu to finish strong. They need him to show that he still can be the centerpiece of the lineup. If he follows up a good August with a good September, maybe we can dismiss the first four months of this season as a rare slump for a very good hitter.

Speaking of needing a strong finish, pitcher Carlos Rodon also is trying to erase a poor first half. Like Abreu, he also has had a resurgent August. The left-hander fired 6.2 innings of shutout ball in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia.

For the month, Rodon is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA with 20 strikeouts and only six walks in 24.2 innings, covering his last four starts. Philadelphia is not a good offensive team, so I can't put too much stock in Rodon shutting them down. However, he's also posted strong starts against two clubs that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today (Baltimore, Cleveland), plus another one against a team that is in the postseason hunt (Miami).

For the season, Rodon is 4-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts. The overall numbers impress nobody, but again, a strong finish from him would make the Sox feel better about their starting rotation looking forward to 2017.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

White Sox injury updates: Avisail Garcia, Alex Avila, Brett Lawrie

Avisail Garcia
The White Sox on Tuesday activated outfielder Avisail Garcia from the 15-day disabled list and optioned outfielder Jason Coats to Triple-A Charlotte.

Garcia, 25, last played in a game Aug. 7 and has been sidelined with a sprained right knee. He recently completed a three-game rehabilitation assignment in Charlotte. Two of those starts were in right field. He went 5 for 13 with a home run and four RBIs.

With the Sox, Garcia is hitting .240/.309/.378 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in 86 games this season. 

Coats is hitting .189/.318/.324 with one home run and three RBIs in 18 games over three separate stints with the Sox. He had a little more success during this recent two-week call-up. He is 5 for 15 at the big league level in August, and he hit his first major league home run on Aug. 13 against Miami. We'll probably see Coats again when rosters expand in September.

In other injury-related Sox news, catcher Alex Avila went 3 for 4 as the designated hitter Monday in his first game on a rehab assignment with the Knights. Avila has had two separate stints on the disabled list because of hamstring problems this year. Both times, he hurt himself running the bases. He was on base three times Monday night, and presumably, he survived.

The news is not so good for second baseman Brett Lawrie, who is back in Chicago to be re-evaluated after having a setback on his rehab assignment.

Lawrie went 5 for 12 over his first three games at Double-A Birmingham, but he was unable to complete a fourth game on Aug. 17. After two days off, he gave it a try again Aug. 20, but once again left the game after two at bats.

The second baseman originally had a hamstring strain, but then he landed on the DL when the injury was said to involve his knee. Now, a sore quad seems to be the problem in that same leg.

Lawrie had never played more than 125 games in a season until last year, and we can see why. He just keeps getting hurt. It's fair to assume he won't be of much help to the Sox the rest of the season.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chris Sale, Jose Quintana lift White Sox to series win vs. A's

Chris Sale
Perhaps a three-game set between two fourth-place teams in late August doesn't stir the emotions, but the White Sox finally won a series against an American League opponent over the weekend, taking two out of three from the Oakland Athletics.

The series went about as expected, with Sox pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana winning their respective starts, while James Shields turned in yet another clunker.

Let's review the weekend that was at U.S. Cellular Field:

Friday, Aug. 19
Athletics 9, White Sox 0: The Sox rank last in the American League with 493 runs scored. Oakland is not much better offensively -- the A's are tied with the Royals for 13th in the league with 495 runs. Nevertheless, Oakland hitters had no problems with Shields (5-15).

The Sox right-hander got knocked out in the fifth inning, after allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits. He struck out three, walked three and allowed three more home runs.

Shields has now allowed 20 home runs in 69.2 IP since joining the Sox. In fact, he leads the team in home runs allowed, despite spending the first two months of the season in San Diego. Shields is 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA in 14 starts with Chicago.

He has moved into the Jaime Navarro and Todd Ritchie Kingdom of Bad. If you're holding tickets for a game Shields is scheduled to start, I pity you.

The Sox did nothing offensively in this game. Oakland's Kendall Graveman (9-8) needed only 98 pitches to fire a two-hit shutout. He faced 28 batters, one more than the minimum.

It's hard to say whether Graveman was really that good, or if the Sox hitters just gave up after Shields put them in another insurmountable hole.

Saturday, Aug. 20
White Sox 6, Athletics 2: Sale hadn't won a game since July 2. He's had a couple bad outings since then, but he's mostly been the victim of bad relief pitching and lack of run support.

But the ace lefty had few problems in this game, as he fired eight innings of shutout ball to earn his 15th win against six losses. He allowed only three hits -- all singles -- while striking out eight and walking three. Sale allowed two singles in the first inning, but escaped trouble with a double play. He was never threatened again, as Oakland managed just one hit over the next seven innings.

The Sox offense was helpful for a change, touching up Oakland left-hander Ross Detwiler (1-2) for six runs on 10 hits over the first four innings. Jose Abreu's 15th home run of the season got the scoring started in the first inning, and the Sox tacked on with two in the second, two in the third and one in the fourth.

Naturally, the Sox couldn't make it easy in the ninth inning. Nate Jones was summoned to protect a six-run lead, but he struggled. He faced five batters with the following results: home run, popout, single, E-6, single. Suddenly, it was 6-2 with two on and only one out.

With the tying run in the on-deck circle, closer David Robertson was summoned. He collected his 31st save by recording a strikeout and a long flyout to center field.

Sunday, Aug. 21
White Sox 4, Athletics 2: The Sox followed a similar formula to the one they used Saturday night. They handed an early lead to one of their best pitchers, and stayed in front the rest of the afternoon.

The South Siders plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning off Oakland starter Zach Neal (2-3). Justin Morneau had an RBI double, and Todd Frazier added a two-run single as part of his three-hit day.

Abreu added his 16th home run of the season in the fourth inning.

That was enough for Quintana (10-9), who collected his career-high 10th victory. He went seven innings, allowing only a two-run homer to Khris Davis. He allowed eight hits, struck out six and walked one.

The lone walk was to Jake Smolinski leading off the eighth, and that was Quintana's last batter of the afternoon. This time, Jones entered and got the job done. He struck out Oakland's two most dangerous hitters -- Marcus Semien and Davis -- and preserved a 4-2 lead through eight innings.

Robertson gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but retired the next three hitters in succession -- including one strikeout -- to earn his 32nd save in 38 chances.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Two wins in Cleveland? Too much to ask of White Sox ...

Danny Salazar
Everything was set up nicely for the White Sox to steal a series win against the first-place Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.

The South Siders had Carlos Rodon going, and he's been pitching well lately. Meanwhile, the Indians were starting Danny Salazar, who had just come off the disabled list with an elbow problem and hadn't had the benefit of a rehab assignment.

Predictably, Salazar looked terrible. He lasted only one inning, during which he walked the bases loaded and gave up a three-run double to Sox designated hitter Justin Morneau.

Alas, the Sox couldn't make that 3-0 lead stick, and the Indians rallied to win 5-4 and take two out of three in the series.

It's disappointing because, with Salazar out early, the Sox had an opportunity to pile on against Cleveland's lesser relievers. But they let the opportunity slip, mustering only run on two hits in the next five innings against the combination of Kyle Crockett and Mike Clevinger. Both those two Indians pitchers have ERAs over 5, but you never would have known it Thursday night.

Still, the Sox got to the bottom of the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. Rodon once again did his job. He went six innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked nobody. It was his third straight quality outing -- all against contenders (Baltimore, Miami, Cleveland) -- and he probably deserved a win.

He didn't get one, because the bullpen couldn't hold on. Chris Beck gave up a run in the seventh to make it 4-3, and Nate Jones bailed him out with a strikeout to end the inning. Unfortunately, Jones was touched for a run in the eighth, ending Rodon's hopes for victory, and it was 4-4 going to the ninth.

The Sox had a chance to score against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller (7-1) when Jason Coats doubled with two outs in the ninth, but Dioner Navarro flied out to deep center and the score remained tied.

Jacob Turner (1-2) pitched the bottom of the ninth and quickly lost the game, with help from Navarro. Abraham Almonte doubled leading off, advanced to third on Navarro's passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Tyler Naquin.

Ballgame.

It's the same old, same old for the Sox against division opponents. They are 3-9 against the Indians this year, including 1-5 on the road. They are now a combined 11-27 against Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City.

This sounds like a broken record, I'm sure, but the narrative of the past several seasons has been the Sox's inability to hold their own against the AL Central teams they play all the time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

White Sox finally get a win vs. Cleveland

Adam Eaton
The Cleveland Indians were 62-0 when leading after eight innings entering Wednesday night's game against the White Sox.

However, the longer a streak goes, the more likely it is to end. The law of averages in baseball eventually catches up to you.

The Sox ended that 62-game streak -- and their own seven-game losing streak in head-to-head matchups with the Indians -- by scoring five runs in the top of the ninth inning off Cleveland closer Cody Allen.

Adam Eaton's first career grand slam capped the rally, which erased a 7-5 deficit and lifted the Sox to a 10-7 victory.

Allen struck out Justin Morneau to begin the ninth inning, but he would not retire another batter.

Todd Frazier and J.B. Shuck both reached on infield singles, and Tim Anderson drew a walk to load the bases. Kudos to Anderson, who overcame a bogus strike call on 3-1 to reach base. The full-count pitch was close, but also out of the zone, and that one was correctly ruled ball four. It would have been easy for a young hitter such as Anderson to get anxious after having a bad call go against him on the previous pitch, but he maintained his discipline and earned the walk.

Anderson has walked five times in his last 10 games, after drawing just two walks in his previous 47 games. The Sox can hope this means the 23-year-old is starting to get a better grasp of the strike zone.

Dioner Navarro's bloop single made it 7-6, and that set the stage for Eaton. The Sox's right fielder fell behind 0-2 in the count -- both pitches were curve balls --  and he looked foolish on a half-swing for strike two. But Allen went to the well one too many times, throwing Eaton a third straight curve. This time, Eaton waited back nicely and lined it into the right field seats for the go-ahead hit.

David Robertson allowed two base runners in the bottom of the ninth, a leadoff walk and a one-out single. But he struck out Rajai Davis and got a groundout from Brandon Guyer to preserve the lead and earn his 30th save in 36 opportunities.

Jacob Turner (1-1) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to pick up the win.