Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The World Series Game 1 hero is ... Roberto Perez?

There are three players in Cleveland Indians franchise history to have a multi-homer game during the playoffs: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and, of course, Roberto Perez.

Cue Cookie Monster and his famous song, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Things":

Indeed, Thome has 612 career home runs. Ramirez has 555 career home runs. Perez has, well, 11 career home runs. But the career .220-hitting catcher managed to go deep twice Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series, becoming the unlikely hero in Cleveland's 6-0 victory over the Cubs.

Perez also became the first player in World Series history to have a multi-homer game while batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. Not bad for a guy who is "Plan C" for the Indians behind the plate. Perez is only playing because Yan Gomes has been a combination of injured and bad all season, and because Jonathan Lucroy rejected a trade to Cleveland at the deadline and went to play for Texas instead.

In the biggest game of his life so far, Perez clubbed a solo home run off Cubs ace Jon Lester in the fourth inning to increase Cleveland's lead to 3-0. The home run had an exit velocity of 112.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off Lester all season, according to Statcast.

Perez capped his night by hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on a hanging slider from Cubs reliever Hector Rondon. That made the score 6-0 and took all the drama out of the ninth inning.

Cleveland pitching was good again in this game, with Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining to strike out 15 Cubs hitters. Kluber had eight strikeouts through three innings and finished with nine Ks in six innings. Miller pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the seventh, striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to close the inning. He also struck out Kyle Schwarber with two on and two out to end the eighth and snuff out the Cubs' last legitimate chance to get back in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday night, and the start time has been moved up an hour to try to avoid a weather delay. Rain is in the forecast for Cleveland. The Cubs will try to even the series behind right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Indians will counter with right-hander Trevor Bauer.

The best news for the Cubs right now is the fact that Kluber won't pitch in Game 2. And, Miller might be limited, as well, after throwing 46 pitches over two innings of work in Game 1.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Memo to the national media: The World Series was played in Chicago 11 years ago -- and Chicago won (for real)

Sox fans line up outside ESPN's headquarters.
With the Cubs capturing their first NL pennant in 71 years, I've heard several comments criticizing White Sox fans for being "salty" about the North Siders' success.

As a matter of fact, some Cubs fans seem to be getting "salty"about Sox fans refusing to join their bandwagon, and it is true that a majority of Sox fans have declared their support for the AL Central rival Cleveland Indians in the upcoming World Series -- a declaration that would have been previously unthinkable until this week.

I know from experience a Sox fan can never win a public relations war with the Cubs and their fans. They are the majority party around here, and that's just how it is. But it's always been somewhat baffling to me that nobody other than Sox fans understands why we don't cheer for the Cubs. It's really plainly obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

The reason is this: When the Cubs are successful, people go out of their way to chastise White Sox fans and denigrate or willfully ignore the history of the White Sox organization and its accomplishments. They also make sure Sox fans are positioned as "other." Turn on the local news, and you'll see alleged "journalists" dressed in Cubs jerseys and Cubs hats. They'll refer to "our Cubbies" or call the Cubs "we."

What they fail to understand is that about 43 percent of the baseball-consuming public in Chicago is made up of Sox fans, and for us, the Cubs are not a "we" but a "them." Cubs fans will complain and moan to the all ends of the earth about Ken Harrelson referring to the Sox as "we," but they don't even notice the folks in town who refer to the Cubs as "we." Somewhat hysterically, Ken Williams' wife, Zoraida Sambolin of NBC 5, is among the media members who have been guilty of this. Not sure what to make of that. 

And it's not only the local press. It's the national media too. This awesome article from SBNation scolds the national press for its willful ignorance of the White Sox. On Monday, three different national media outlets -- ESPN, CBS This Morning and The Washington Post -- somehow managed to gloss over the Sox's 2005 World Series victory over the Houston Astros. 

CBS This Morning claimed this year's World Series will be the first in Chicago in 71 years, which, of course, is false. Sox fans assailed them on Twitter, forcing them to tweet a correction, which also was incorrect. They failed to note the White Sox made the World Series in 1959, as well. 

This national baseball writer from The Washington Post foolishly tweeted that the 2004 Boston Red Sox would be the only group of people to know what the Cubs or Indians will mean to their city. Sox fans responded by tweeting pictures of our World Series parade (intentional use of the word "our") in 2005. Hey, why don't you read a book for a change? The White Sox broke a championship drought that was two years longer than Boston's.

And then, there was this from ESPN, a graphic comparing sports championships of Chicago to those of Cleveland since 1965. The graphic includes the six Bulls championships from the 1990s, the three recent Blackhawks Stanley Cups, and the 1985 Bears. Noticeably absent? Oh, yeah, the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. That was after 1965, right?

I guess the guys at ESPN are still pissed off about the White Sox destroying their beloved Red Sox in three straight games in the 2005 ALDS. ESPN thinks its the worldwide leader in sports? LOL.

Salty? Yeah, I'm salty. And I'll make no apology for it. I'm tired of being told that a sports team that I love dearly and a 2005 World Series championship that meant everything to me, my family and my friends is irrelevant and meaningless. And I'm certainly not going to cheer for a team whose fans seem to delight in telling me how irrelevant and meaningless they think it is. 

Some might be interested to know that I'm already well aware that the 2005 World Series meant nothing to Cubs fans. And that's fine. I never expected it to mean anything to them. Likewise, if the Cubs win this year, it will mean nothing to me. White Sox-Cubs is a rivarly. The two sides don't like each other. They don't cheer for each other. I don't know why this is so hard to figure out.

Friday, October 21, 2016

White Sox name Chris Getz director of player development

What was rumored is now official: The White Sox on Friday named former second baseman Chris Getz director of player development.

Getz, 33, has spent the past two seasons as a baseball operations assistant with the Kansas City Royals. He replaces Nick Capra, who was recently named the Sox's new third-base coach.

Getz appeared in 117 games for the Sox in 2008-09. He played for the Royals from 2010-13 and finished his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. He posted a .250/.309/.307 slash line with three home runs in 459 career games. He did steal 89 bases, so there is that.

“We are pleased to add Chris’ intellect, background and energy to our front office,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “He is extremely well-regarded throughout the game, and we believe he is going to have a positive impact on the quality of play from rookie ball through Chicago.”

We can only hope that Getz is a better director of player development than he was a second baseman, and hey, he might be. We'll give him a chance to prove himself, although on the surface this looks like yet another example of the Sox giving a job to former player.

With that cynicism in mind, we might as well play our traditional, derisive "Welcome Back" song for Getz.

"Who'd have thought they'd lead ya
(Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Back here where we need ya
(Back here where we need ya)"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?


Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his finger shut

Trevor Bauer
Here's something crazy: According to a FOX Sports report, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his grotesquely injured pinkie finger shut.

“I even had a soldering iron in my hotel room,” Bauer said in the report. “Instead of going to the ER, I probably should’ve sealed it closed myself.”

Bauer has always been a different kind of guy. Among other idiosyncrasies, he has this long-toss warmup routine that few other pitchers would ever try. He clearly has some diverse interests, given that he managed to tear his finger open fixing one of his drones just days before he was scheduled to make the biggest start of his life in the ALCS.

And, if he was willing to whip out a soldering iron to deal with the injury, then I guess we shouldn't be surprised he tried to pitch Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night with six stitches in his finger.

That didn't work so well. He lasted only 21 pitches and two-thirds of an inning before his finger, his uniform and the mound in Toronto were covered with his blood.

The thing that's so incredible about this is the Indians won the damn game anyway, 4-2. They now have a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS going into Tuesday's Game 4, because relievers Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller combined to throw 8.1 innings of two-run ball.

Shaw, Allen and Miller gave up nothing over the final 4.2 innings, and combined to strike out seven batters.

With the Cleveland starter leaving in the first inning, you would think the Blue Jays would have things going their way, especially playing at home. Denied.

Otero had only pitched once since Sept. 30. Manship hadn't pitched in 16 days. McAllister had a 19-day layoff. Didn't seem to matter much. Otero and McAllister each gave up a run, but none of these guys looked rusty or ineffective.

The Indians are not making any excuses for injuries, and they are finding ways to get things done. Even though they are a rival of the White Sox, I find myself rooting for them to win the whole thing.

If Cleveland makes the World Series -- and it is just one win away -- it would represent the fourth time in five years the AL Central has produced a pennant winner. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2012. The Kansas City Royals advanced that far in 2014 and 2015, and they won it last year.

The AL Central is a stronger division than many think, and the Indians' success provides additional supporting evidence. As Sox fans, we can take this information to SoxFest and point out to team brass that it is long past time to step up.

You're not going to build an 85-win-caliber team and luck your way into the playoffs by managing 88 wins in this division any longer. The AL Central is now producing 90-plus-win juggernauts that win in the postseason. Adjust your expectations accordingly moving forward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Blue Jays better start scoring some runs against the Indians' starting pitchers

Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista believes "circumstances" are favoring the Cleveland Indians thus far in the ALCS.

The Indians have taken each of the first two games, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, and the Toronto hitters apparently are getting frustrated.

“All you gotta do is look at the video and count how many times (Cleveland pitchers) throw pitches over the heart of the plate,” Bautista said Sunday, as reported by Mike Vorkunov. “They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances -- that I’m not trying to talk about because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do, but you guys don’t really want to talk about that either.”

It sounds as if Bautista believes the umpiring is going against Toronto, and perhaps he's trying to get some calls to go his way and his teammates' way in Monday night's Game 3. Some have suggested the Blue Jays believe the series is "rigged" in favor of the Indians. That's a reach.

I personally don't think MLB rigs games, and I don't buy into the notion of curses or conspiracies. What motivation would MLB have to tell umpires to make calls favoring the Indians? Cleveland is a small-market team, and it isn't like the league stands to get a big ratings bump if the Indians advance.

All of this is foolishness, and the only circumstance working against the Blue Jays right now is their inability to hit the quality pitching being run out there by the Indians. Toronto is a dead fastball hitting team, and Cleveland has a bunch of pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- who can make quality pitches with their breaking balls.

The Indians' bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular. As a group, they've allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 IP this postseason, and they've been facing good offenses, too -- Boston and now Toronto. That will pencil out to a 1.10 ERA. And, oh, Cleveland relievers have struck out 27 men in those 16-plus innings.

Left-hander Andrew Miller, of course, has been the main reason for that. He's struck out 17 and is unscored upon in 7.2 postseason innings this season. He's formed an unhittable bridge between the Cleveland starters and closer Cody Allen, who has pitched four scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Manager Terry Francona has shown he's not afraid to go to Miller as early as the fifth or sixth inning. He can do that because he has another dominant option in Allen, and two other pretty good middle relief options in Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero. Cleveland has the deepest bullpen of the remaining four teams, for sure.

As we've mentioned before, the Indians' shortcoming is the injuries to their starting pitchers. Corey Kluber is the ace, and he's been tremendous: He's allowed nothing in the postseason. But with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco sidelined, Cleveland is forced to rely more upon Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer than it would like.

But Tomlin was really good in Game 2, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings. He's a breaking ball pitcher, and he used that pitch effectively against the Toronto hitters. He's not overpowering, and he sure as heck wasn't going to give Toronto too many fastballs to hit. Smart pitching.

The Blue Jays will face Bauer in Game 3, and I'd recommend they think less about the umpiring and figure out a way to score early -- before Miller, Shaw and Allen, et al., become involved in the game. Wouldn't hurt, either, if someone from that lineup could do some damage against a curve ball or a slider. The Indians are going to keep throwing them until the Blue Jays show they can hit them.