Monday, April 29, 2013

Happy anniversary, Lee Elia!

30 years later, you still have to love the Lee Elia meltdown.

Best sports tirade ever.

Do The Wave, go to jail

As many of you already know, I write game recaps for White Sox Interactive in my spare time. Sometimes, it can be a therapeutic exercise.

Sunday, I was as angry as I've been all season at this lousy team during the top of the eighth inning of the Sox' 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

This was a half-inning that featured everything that is wrong with the Sox this year. Walks, errors, curious management decisions, and yes, idiotic conduct from an increasingly apathetic fan base.

As Sox fans, we like to say we "know more about baseball" than the folks who cheer for the team on the other side of town. But can we really claim that when we've got morons doing The Wave during the eighth inning of a 3-3 game? C'mon. That's embarrassing. What other fan base does that? I know the Sox stink right now, but nothing, and I mean nothing, should provoke fans to do The Wave at a baseball game. What the hell is this? 1986?

For me, the only real question is who deserved boos more. The team on the field or the idiots in the stands? It's a tough call. Anyone who starts The Wave should be escorted directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $250. Just get lost.

Just for the fun of it, here's a repost of my WSI recap from yesterday:

I feel like I've been more than patient with the White Sox this April. Sure this team has stuggled, but it's early, right? There's plenty of time for it to turn around. At least that's what I've been telling myself the first four weeks of the season.

But, every man has his breaking point, and I reached mine in the top of the eighth inning of Sunday's 8-3 loss. With the scored tied 3-3, the Sox gift-wrapped three runs for the Rays. This was a half-inning that featured nothing but Looney Tune crap – on the mound, in the field, in the stands and in the dugout. It was enough to make me lose my lunch, which would have been unfortunate since the hotdogs I consumed before the game were one of the few highlights of my afternoon at the ballpark.

Nate Jones (0-2) had pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He came out to start the eighth and gave up a bloop hit to Sean Rodriguez. He retired Desmond Jennings on a routine pop to shortstop. In my mind, Jones' afternoon should have been done at that point. Left-handed hitter Matt Joyce was due up, and the Sox had Matt Thornton ready in the bullpen. For some reason, Robin Ventura didn't make the move.

Jones uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Rodriguez to reach second. Then he walked Joyce. Um, Robin, Thornton is ready. Still no pitching change. Jones stayed in and gave up an RBI single to Ben Zobrist. 4-3 Rays. Um, Robin, Thornton is ready. Still no pitching change. Jones stayed in and walked Evan Longoria. Bases loaded. Earth to Robin, come in Robin!

Finally, a pitching change. Wouldn't you know, Thornton retired James Loney on a shallow fly to center. None of the runners advanced. Two outs. Just maybe, just maybe, we'll get out of this inning with minimal damage.

Or not. This is the 2013 White Sox after all. Jesse Crain relieved Thornton and ran the count full to Ryan Roberts. After a couple foul balls, Roberts lofted a shallow fly to right field. Alex Rios got a late break, but he still got to the ball in time to make the catch. Alas, he dropped it. Two runs scored. 6-3 Rays. For all intents and purposes, ballgame over.

Oh, and I forgot to mention our moron fans were doing The Wave with the outcome hanging in the balance the whole inning. How about we watch the game, you idiots?

Deunte Heath walked two guys in the ninth and both scored, accounting for the 8-3 margin. It was a fitting end to a lousy 3-5 homestand for the Sox.

You can't blame starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod for the loss. He went six innings, allowing three runs. Being a fifth starter, what more can you ask from Axelrod – especially considering his mound opponent was former AL Cy Young Award winner David Price?

You can't blame Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn either. Dunn had a two-out RBI single off Price in the first inning. Konerko continued his mastery of Price (10-for-20 lifetime) with a long two-run homer in the third. The Sox were in position to win this game going into the late innings. Instead, they blew it with utter stupidity. So typical for this team through the first 24 games.

Mercifully, Monday is an off day, which means the Sox can't lose. They'll start an eight-game road trip Tuesday in Texas. Left-hander Jose Quintana (2-0, 2.78 ERA) will be on the mound for the South Siders. He'll be opposed by Rangers ace Yu Darvish (4-1, 1.65 ERA). Game time is 7:05 and you can watch on Comcast SportsNet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

'We win one tomorrow, that's called a winning streak...'

So, the White Sox defeated Cleveland 3-2 Wednesday afternoon. Then, they beat Tampa Bay 5-2 Thursday night. I'm not a math major, but I think that's two in a row. The Sox (9-12) haven't won three in a row at any point yet this season.

Can you imagine Robin Ventura giving his ballclub a speech like this?


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday This and That

All the statheads say wins and losses aren't a good measure of a pitcher's effectiveness. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment 100 percent of the time, but here's a case where it's true:

Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija (right) is tied for the National League lead in losses with four, even though he has posted a quality start in three of his first five outings and has a respectable ERA of 3.03. Samardzija has just one victory.

Teammate Travis Wood also has just one win. It isn't his fault. He's gone at least six innings and given up two runs or less in each of his first four starts of the season. He has a 2.08 ERA. Unfortunately for him, the Cubs stink, so his record is just 1-1.

Carlos Villaneuva is in the same boat. His ERA is 1.53. He's gone seven innings or more in each of his first four starts, giving up two runs or less in each outing. His record? 1-0.

So, Samardzija, Wood and Villaneuva have a combined 2.25 ERA in 13 starts, 11 of which have been quality. Alas, their combined record is 3-5. None of them has more than one win.

You know who does lead the Cubs' pitching staff in wins? Well, that would be Carlos Marmol, the guy who is blowing all the games for these starting pitchers. Marmol has a bloated 4.82 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. But hey,  he's 2-1!

Where's the justice in that?

Detroit goes back to Valverde

After his legendary playoff meltdown last year, Jose Valverde is back with the Tigers. He made his 2013 debut Wednesday and earned the save in Detroit's 7-5 win over Kansas City. Believe it or not, he retired the side 1-2-3 in the ninth. Of course, two of the three outs were warning track fly balls, but an out is an out, right?

I still think the bullpen is the Achilles heel for the Tigers. They only resigned Valverde because they weren't happy with Phil Coke or any of their other options in the closer's role. Only time will tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if Valverde is washed up. He's fortunate Detroit is a pretty big ballpark. Some of those long flies he gives up will die on the warning track there.

Mr. Solo Home Run

White Sox fans love to complain about their team hitting nothing but solo home runs, but the South Siders have nothing on Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton.

Upton has been red-hot out of the gate this year, connecting for 11 home runs in his first 21 games. Thing is, he has only 16 RBIs.

Upton is just the second player since 1921 to hit 11 home runs and have fewer than 17 RBIs to show for it. The other is Gary Sheffield from the 1996 Florida Marlins.

Isn't anyone getting on base for Upton?  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

White Sox starting pitchers should stage a walkout

Following Monday night's preposterous 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox find themselves in last place in the American League Central with a 7-12 record. They have lost 10 of their last 13 games.

However, you can't blame the starting pitchers for this tailspin. The rotation of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Jose Quintana (pictured) and Dylan Axelrod has been holding up its end of the bargain.

Here is a rundown of how Sox starting pitchers have performed over the last 10 games:

April 12 at Cleveland:
Quintana: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, ND in a 1-0 loss.

April 13 at Cleveland (only really bad start in the bunch):
Sale: 4.1 IP,  8 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 3Ks, L in a 9-4 loss.

April 14 at Cleveland:
Peavy: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 Ks, W in a 3-1 win.

April 15 at Toronto:
Floyd: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6Ks, L in a 4-3 loss.

April 16 at Toronto:
Axelrod: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4Ks, ND in a 4-3 win.

April 17 at Toronto:
Quintana: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7Ks, W in a 7-0 win.

April 18 at Toronto:
Sale: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6Ks, L in a 3-1 loss.

April 20 vs. Minnesota:
Peavy: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 9Ks, ND in a 2-1 loss

April 21 vs. Minnesota:
Floyd: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6Ks, ND in a 5-3 loss

April 22 vs. Cleveland:
Axelrod: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4Ks, ND in a 3-2 loss.

Notice that Sox starting pitchers have gone at least six innings and given up two runs or less in each of the last six games. Isn't that exactly what you want from your rotation? Yet the team is just 2-4 in that same stretch. Sox starters have given up just one single run in each of the last three games. The team has lost them all.

Here are the pitching totals for Sox starters over the last 10 games:
61.1 IP, 51 H, 20 ER, 18 BB, 63 Ks.

That will pencil out to a 2.93 ERA. If you take out Sale's bad outing on April 13, that combined ERA lowers to 1.89.

This is the kind of starting pitching that normally allows teams to get off to a good start. At worst, AT WORST, the Sox should be 6-4 in these 10 games. They probably should be 7-3 or 8-2. Instead, they are 3-7 because the position players have been so terrible, both at the plate and in the field.

I don't think anyone would blame the Sox starters if they walked into the clubhouse and gave all their teammates the silent treatment.  It makes you sick to your stomach to see all this good pitching go to waste.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Phil Humber .... one year later

The date was April 21, 2012 -- one year ago today. Phil Humber was at the bottom of this dog pile after tossing the 21st perfect game in MLB history, a 4-0 whitewashing of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

It was a cool story at the time. Humber had pitched in parts of seven major league seasons with four different organizations, yet the perfect game was just the 12th win of his career.

He was a former first-round draft pick who had been a bust. He had been traded and released multiple times. He was about the last guy you'd ever expect to throw a perfect game. He was an underdog, and that was part of what made it so much fun to see him succeed.

Unfortunately for Humber, success has been hard to come by ever since that day in Seattle. He won only four more times for the White Sox after the perfect game. He pitched himself out of the rotation, and ultimately, out of Chicago. He finished 2012 with a 5-5 record and an inflated 6.44 ERA.

The Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball last year and quite possibly the worst again this year, picked Humber up and gave him another shot. The results have not been good. Humber has lost his first four starts of the season. Once again, the ERA is up there at 6.63 ERA.

Humber got the start for Houston against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, almost one year to the day since his perfect game. He didn't even make it out of the first inning. He faced 10 batters and retired only one. He gave up eight runs on eight hits as the Indians rolled to a 19-6 victory.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Worst contract: Alfonso Soriano or Adam Dunn?

It only took 14 games. For those of you who had April 18 in the betting pool on when Alfonso Soriano would collect his first RBI of the season, congratulations, you win.

Soriano's home run off Texas right-hander Alexi Ogando in the bottom of the third inning of Thursday's 6-2 Cubs win was the first contribution the erstwhile left fielder has made to the North Siders' cause this year.

But don't worry. I'm sure Soriano will heat up once the Cubs are 15 or 20 games out of first place. He'll get his numbers in garbage time. He always does. For his minimal contributions to the team, he will be paid a handsome salary of $18 million this year. He'll be paid that same amount next year as well.

For all you Cub fans out there, you've only got another 310 games to put up with Soriano's crap. By then, you will have done your penance.

As much as I love making fun of Soriano and his absurd contract, I can't say that contract is any worse than the one the White Sox gave Adam Dunn.

Dunn is off to yet another terrible start here in 2013. He's batting .105 with two home runs and five RBIs through the first 16 games of the season. Anyone actually think he'll get above the Mendoza Line this year? My guess is no.

The Sox just completed a miserable 3-7 road trip through Washington, Cleveland and Toronto. During those 10 games, Dunn went 1-for-33 with two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored. When you think about it, it's a miracle he managed to muster up the two RBIs and two runs scored. I was surprised to learn he struck out only 11 times in 35 plate appearances on the trip. Just watching him, it felt like more than that.

In two years plus 16 games as a member of the Sox, Dunn is batting .180 with a .683 OPS. For his career, he's batting .239 with an .865 OPS. It's pretty clear something happened to this guy as soon as he put on a Sox uniform. He has sucked ever since. I can't put my finger on it, but I do know the South Siders would be better off if Dunn were playing somewhere else.

For his horrendous play, Dunn will be paid $15 million this year. He's making $15 million next year, too, which means there is no chance Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf will allow Dunn to be released. Uncle Jerry always wants to try to get a return on his investment. That's just the way he is. 

So, my fellow Sox fans, that means we've got another 308 games of Adam Dunn before we are relieved of watching this mess. Man, I'm excited.

All I can really tell you about these two players is this: Soriano looks like a frog. Dunn looks like a donkey. And neither of these players can be traded unless their respective clubs are willing to eat all or most of those salaries.

Which contract is worse? I suspect we could have a pretty healthy debate on that topic.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tigers, Mariners challenge MLB single-game strikeout record

As I was driving home from work in a torrential rainstorm Wednesday night, I was able to catch the final innings of an epic game between the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners on the radio.

The Tigers prevailed 2-1 in 14 innings. Detroit scratched across a run in the top of the 14 and held on, literally, in the bottom half of the inning. The final out of the game was recorded at home plate, with Detroit catcher Brayan Pena holding on to a relay throw and making a tag as Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak knocked him over.

I was hoping the game would be tied again -- not just because it would have helped the White Sox if Detroit had lost. The two teams were getting close to setting a new record for most combined strikeouts in a single game. Had the game continued, it would have been a chance to see (or hear) a little bit of history.

The two starting pitchers, Seattle's Felix Hernandez (pictured) and Detroit's Max Scherzer, had remarkably similar pitching lines. Both men went eight innings, allowing one run. Both struck out 12. Scherzer threw 105 pitches, 75 for strikes. Hernandez totaled 106 pitches, 76 for strikes.

When all was said and done, the two teams combined for 40 strikeouts -- 21 by Detroit batters and 19 for Seattle. That 21 figure tied team records for both teams -- most strikeouts for Tiger hitters in a single game and most strikeouts for Mariner pitchers in a single game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, forty combined strikeouts in one game ties for the second most in the Live Ball Era -- which began in 1920. For those wondering, the record is 43, set during a 20-inning game between the Oakland A's and California Angels on July 9, 1971.

Too bad this Detroit-Seattle contest didn't go to a 15th inning. There's a good chance that record would have fallen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A problem White Sox pitchers must fix

Dayan Viciedo's go-ahead double in the top of the ninth inning highlighted a two-run rally that lifted the White Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night.

Even with the win, the Sox are only 2-6 on their current 10-game road trip. That record is indicative of their play. It hasn't been good, and much of the focus has been on the team's offensive woes. The Sox are hitting .160 with runners in scoring position through 14 games.

We'll save that topic for another time because I want to talk about something else: The tendency of the Sox pitching staff to allow runs immediately after the offense scores. If you look at the six losses on the road trip, in five of those games Sox pitchers have received run support, only to hand it right back to the opposition:

April 9 at Washington:  With the Sox trailing 6-2 in the seventh inning, Paul Konerko belts a three-run home run to get the South Siders right back in the game. A glimmer of  hope? Nah. Donnie Veal's errant pickoff throw gives the Nationals a gift run in the bottom half of the inning, and Washington goes on to win 8-7.

April 10 at Washington: The Sox score a run in the top of the sixth to pull with a run of Washington at 3-2. Can Gavin Floyd (pictured) get his team back in the batters box quickly? Of course not. Floyd coughs up two more runs and gets knocked out of the game as the Sox lose 5-2.

April 11 at Washington: A two-run outburst in the top of the fourth inning pulls the Sox even at 3-3, but much like Floyd before him, Dylan Axelrod cannot stand prosperity. The right-hander immediately surrenders three runs and does not survive the bottom half of the inning. The Nationals prevail 7-4.

April 13 at Cleveland: The Sox get off to a good start with two runs in the top of the first inning. Heck, Chris Sale even retires the first two batters in the bottom half of the frame. Then, he issues a two-out walk to Ryan "The Bambino" Rayburn and gives up a two-run jack to the obnoxious Nick Swisher. That lead didn't last long. Sale gets shelled and the Sox lose 9-4.

April 15 at Toronto:  You gotta love Floyd, and trust me, I say that tongue planted firmly in cheek. The Sox jumped on their old friend Mark Buehrle for two runs in the top of the first inning. It took Floyd exactly three batters to blow that lead. Buehrle and the Jays eventually walked away with a 4-3 win.

Whenever a team goes on a losing streak, there are always multiple things you can point to as the cause of the problem. Right now, it's like pulling teeth for the Sox to score runs. When they do dent home plate, it's damn deflating when the other team gets those runs right back. It's happened again and again over the last week. Given that, it isn't surprising the results haven't been there for the Sox on this trip.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jake Peavy acts as stopper for White Sox

Ever since Jake Peavy was acquired by the White Sox in 2009, I've never felt he's gotten a fair shake from the fans.

He was injured at the time the San Diego Padres traded him to Chicago. He wasn't able to pitch, and therefore he wasn't earning the hefty contract that followed him to the White Sox.

So, the fans got pissed at him. He made 17 mostly mediocre starts in 2010 before suffering a detached lat. He underwent a surgery no pitcher had undergone before. He returned to make another 19 mostly mediocre starts in 2011, finishing 7-7 with a 4.92 ERA.

Where was the Peavy that won the Cy Young Award as a member of the Padres in 2007? Well, that was a career year for Peavy, one he will probably never duplicate. However, that doesn't mean the guy can't pitch anymore.

In 2011, expectations for Peavy were simply too high. He was coming off a never-been-tried before surgery, and it's always been my belief that pitchers never regain their form the year after they've gone under the knife. It's usually the second year back when a pitcher finds his stuff.

That was the case for Peavy in 2012. His record was only 11-12 because he got lousy run support, but his peripheral numbers were right where you would want them to be: a 3.37 ERA, a staff-high 219 innings pitched, a 1.096 WHIP, 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

You look at the numbers and you'll see that Peavy was right in line with his career norms in 2012. He had an excellent season. He earned his money. The Sox rewarded him with a two-year contract and rightfully so.

Yet you still heard Sox fans saying, "Peavy needs to shut up and pitch." Yes, Peavy talks a big game in the media. So what? He's a confident guy. He can say what he wants, and contrary to popular belief, throughout last season he was backing up his talk. His production met expectations and maybe even exceeded them.

Peavy is off to a decent start again here in 2013. He has won two of his first three starts, including Sunday's 3-1 victory in Cleveland. He gave up a home run to Michael Bourn on his first pitch of the game, but after that, the Indians had little chance to score. Peavy found his command in the second inning and never lost it. He struck out 11 men over seven innings and was the key factor in the Sox ending a five-game losing streak.

Among the Sox starters, Peavy is the guy I'm most confident in at this point in time. I feel there's a lot of predictability in what he's going to give the Sox. Hopefully I'm not jinxing him by saying that. The injury bug is always a threat, but it's a threat for every pitcher in professional baseball.

I don't know that Sox fans will ever embrace Peavy because he got off to such a rocky start his first couple years in Chicago. But over the last year plus three starts, he's been as reliable as any player on the South Side roster. I give him full credit for that.

Welcome back, Kevin Gregg!

The Cubs are having some problems when it comes to closing out games. First, Carlos Marmol imploded and got demoted. Kyuji Fujikawa was then named closer. That lasted about three or four days until Fujikawa developed tightness in his forearm and went on the disabled list.

On Sunday, the Cubs summoned Shawn Camp to protect a 7-6 lead in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants. Camp recorded the first two outs and was one strike away from earning the save. Alas, he gave up a game-tying solo home run to Hunter Pence. Later, he balked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. The Giants went on to secure a 10-7 victory.

The Cubs have gotten so desperate for bullpen help that they signed the erstwhile Kevin Gregg to a minor-league contract over the weekend. You may recall Gregg was with the Cubs once before, recording 23 saves in 2009. He also had an inflated 4.72 ERA and contributed to the team's long history of spectacular late-inning meltdowns, much like the one Camp had Sunday afternoon. Along with Mel Rojas, Gregg is a member of the fraternity of crappy Cubs closers.

Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not welcome Gregg back to the Cubs organization:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Blame that goat!'

A goat's head was delivered to Wrigley Field on Wednesday addressed to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.


The Cubs are in the middle of a terse negotiation with the city and neighborhood regarding ballpark renovations. The team wants to install a Jumbotron scoreboard, among other changes, and wants to increase the number of night games at Wrigley Field from 30 per season to about 40.

I've heard speculation than angry Wrigley Field neighbors might be behind this whole "goat head" incident. Certainly possible, but here's my question: Is it really that easy to find a goat head hanging around Wrigleyville? It's a city environment and there probably aren't too many dead goats available.

Someone who lives in the neighborhood would have had to go to great lengths to pull this one off. Not that I'd put it by them.

Regardless of the source of the goat head, this is a great opportunity to put Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley on this blog for the first time. "I blame that goat!"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

For those wondering why I didn't pick the Angels to win the AL West...

If you looked at all the preseason predictions, you probably noticed the overwhelming majority of the experts picked the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the American League West this year.

Not me. I went with the Texas Rangers. I could be right; I could be wrong, but let me tell you why I did not select the Angels: I wasn't comfortable with their lack of depth in the starting rotation.

I think most people looked at Anaheim's roster, saw Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton all on the same team and figured this club was a slam dunk for the playoffs.

I'm not so sure. When I looked at their projected rotation, I saw the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton.

Hmmm ... OK. Weaver is pretty tough, a legitimate All-Star. Wilson is a little erratic with his control, but he has good stuff. That's a respectable 1-2 punch at the top. But Vargas, Hanson and Blanton? If I'm an opposing hitter, I'm not uncomfortable facing any of those three. I felt the Angels would be relying on Weaver and Wilson an awful lot this year -- not only for wins, but to eat up innings as well.

Well, guess what? Now Weaver is injured. The Angels placed him in the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a fractured elbow on his non-throwing arm. He will miss 4-6 weeks.

The team recalled right-hander Dane De La Rosa to take Weaver's spot on the roster.

What do we know about De La Rosa? Well, not much. He's 30 years old and has a career 10.95 ERA in 12 appearances spread out over the last two years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay is the best organization in baseball when it comes to scouting and developing pitchers. The Rays had a team ERA of 3.19 during the 2012 season, the lowest in the American League in the last 22 years. I figure when Tampa Bay dumps a pitcher, it does it with good reason. So, I question whether De La Rosa will contribute anything to the Angels' cause.

Coming into the year, the Angels were a "Weaver and Wilson and pray for rain" kind of rotation. Now, it's Wilson and pray for rain. And it doesn't rain much in Southern California. We'll see if the Angels can hit enough to outslug their questionable starting rotation. They'll have to if they want to win the rugged AL West.

Of course, anytime we mention Jered Weaver we would be remiss to not include this video. "Are you ready, Weaver?!"

Cubs fans boo Carlos Marmol on Opening Day

The Cubs didn't look too good in their home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. But then again, what do you expect? This is a Cubs team that lost 101 games a year ago, and it would be a huge surprise if they don't lose about 95 games this season.

Starter Edwin Jackson came out walking people, which is the last thing a pitcher wants to do on a windy day at Wrigley. Jackson issued two free passes in the first inning, one with the bases loaded, and coughed up four runs before the Cubs ever got an opportunity to bat. Milwaukee led from start to finish in its 7-4 victory.

But, the real story with the Cubs right now is erstwhile "closer" Carlos Marmol. Manager Dale Sveum has already made a change in the closer's role after Marmol imploded in the ninth inning in a loss at Atlanta Saturday night. Marmol gave up runs in each of his first three appearances of the season and entered Monday's action with a 27.00 ERA.

The Wrigley faithful let him have it, booing him in player introductions before the game and again when Marmol entered to pitch the eighth inning with the Cubs trailing 7-2. Believe it or not, Marmol did not give up any runs. He worked his way out of a first-and-third, one-out jam and lowered his ERA to 16.88.

Marmol's teammates were not happy with the boos. 

"You lose some respect for the fans," pitcher James Russell said. "It's your home park, they should be behind you no matter what. It's not like he's going out there trying to give up games. He's out there busting his butt every day. Personally, it gets under my skin because that's my teammate. I have his back no matter what. It kind of bugs you whenever you hear that. There's no room for it."

Well, actually, James, there's plenty of room for it. Marmol has been given plenty of chances, but all he's done is continue to solidify himself as one of the more overpaid players in the game. Right now, Marmol is being paid a salary of $9.8 million to pitch the eighth inning in a 7-2 game. I can't blame Cubs fans for being pissed about that guy not earning his money.

The situation is a tough one for Sveum to handle. Marmol is in the last year of his deal, and there's no question he will be playing somewhere else in 2014. Ideally for the Cubs, he'll be playing somewhere else by July of this year.

Thing is, in order to rebuild Marmol's trade value, Sveum needs to use him in high-leverage situations. But, if Marmol is going to continue to fail in those spots, you can't justify giving him opportunities. It's not fair to the other 24 men on the roster. It may be another rebuilding year on the North Side, but it's still Major League Baseball. A manager has an obligation to try to win the games that are there to be won.

Right now, Carlos Marmol is probably the last guy the Cubs would want on the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. At some point, the Cubs might be better off releasing Marmol, eating what's left of his contract and giving that roster spot to somebody else.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Yu Darvish loses perfect game with two outs in the ninth

Texas pitcher Yu Darvish turned in one of the more dominant performances you'll ever see Tuesday night against the woeful Houston Astros, but he fell one out short of baseball immortality.

Darvish retired the first 26 batters he faced -- 14 of them by strikeout -- but he failed to complete his bid for a perfect game when some guy named Marwin Gonzalez swung at the first pitch and bounced a base hit back up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I had to look Gonzalez up because I had never heard of him before. He's a 24-year-old infielder with a lifetime batting average of .236 in 208 major league at-bats. Now, he's the answer to a trivia question. Darvish settled for a 7-0 victory and joined a list of 10 other pitchers to lose a bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning.

Three of those previous 10 involved Chicago teams:

1. June 27, 1958
White Sox left-hander Billy Pierce retired the first 26 Washington Senators he saw, but backup catcher Ed Fitz Gerald came off the bench to deliver a double and break up Pierce's bid for history. Moments later, Pierce struck out center fielder Albie Pearson to complete the shutout in a 3-0 Chicago victory.

2. September 2, 1972
There are Cubs fans out there who still hate umpire Bruce Froemming, whose controversial call denied Milt Pappas a perfect game. Pappas lost his perfecto with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a full count when Froemming called ball four on a borderline pitch to San Diego pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. Pappas to this day remains furious about the call, but he did complete a no-hitter on this day. After the walk, he induced Garry Jestadt to pop out to end the game.

3. April 15, 1983
The 1983 White Sox were a 99-win team, but on this April day they were baffled by Milt Wilcox. The Detroit right-hander retired the first 26 men he faced before pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston (much like Marwin Gonzalez) picked on the first pitch he saw and singled up the middle. Wilcox settled for a one-hitter, getting center fielder Rudy Law to ground out on the next pitch to conclude a 6-0 Detroit victory.

Here are the other pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth: 
Hooks Wiltse, Giants, July 4, 1908
Tommy Bridges, Tigers, August 5, 1932
Ron Robinson, Reds, May 2, 1988
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, August 4, 1989
Brian Holman, Mariners, April 20, 1990
Mike Mussina, Yankees, September 2, 2001
Armando Galarraga, Tigers, June 2, 2010

Among that group, Galarraga could probably relate best to Pappas. That, of course, was the famous blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce. Cleveland's Jason Donald was awarded an infield single on the play, spoiling both the perfect game and the no-hitter. Galarraga retired the next hitter, Trevor Crowe. Much like Pappas, he would probably say he actually retired 28 hitters in a row on that day.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field

U.S. Cellular Field is a notorious hitters' ballpark during the summer months. Monday's game between the White Sox and the Kansas City Royals? Well, the weather wasn't summer-like and it wasn't a good day for hitters.

Don't let the view from my seat in Section 531 (pictured above) fool you. It looks like a beautiful day, but the afternoon will go down as one of the coldest South Side home openers in history, with temperatures hovering in the high 30s and windchills making it feel 10 degrees colder than that.

On days like this, the ball doesn't carry and pitching rules. In a battle of aces, Sox left-hander Chris Sale got the best of Kansas City right-hander James Shields as the South Siders began their season with a 1-0 victory.

Making the first Opening Day start of his career, Sale showed no signs of nervousness. In the second inning, he jumped ahead of Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas 0-2 with two straight breaking balls for strikes. At that point, I realized it was going to be a good day for Sale. He could grab a strike at any time with any one of his three pitches, and he was changing speeds on his slider to keep the Royal hitters off balance.

Sale tossed 7.2 innings. He allowed seven hits, all singles, struck out seven and walked only one. He threw 72 of his 104 pitches for strikes. His one difficult inning came in the third. The Royals loaded the bases with one out and had their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters due. Sale struck out Billy Butler and got Moustakas to pop out weakly to second baseman Gordon Beckham.

The Sox broke out on top in the bottom of the fifth on a solo home run by catcher Tyler Flowers, who at least for one day quieted concerns about whether he'll be a suitable replacement for the departed A.J. Pierzynski.

Sale cruised until the eighth inning when he gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar. At that point, Sox manager Robin Ventura went to his bullpen. Nate Jones relieved and struggled. He allowed Escobar to steal second, walked Butler and uncorked a wild pitch. Suddenly, the Royals had the potential tying run on third and the potential go-ahead run on first.

Matt Thornton relieved Jones and struck out Moustakas on three pitches, putting an end to the Kansas City threat. Addison Reed walked a batter in the top of the ninth, but got three outs for his first save of the season.

It was a good start for the Sox, who followed the formula they are going to have to use to be successful in this 2013 season. They got outstanding starting pitching. They played flawless defense, and the bullpen got the job done. I don't expect the Sox to be a great offensive team this year. But one through 12, the South Siders have a good pitching staff. They also have a good defensive team.

It would serve the Sox well to make this Opening Day game a blueprint.

Welcome back, Lars Anderson!

Former Boston Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson is back in the White Sox organization. You may recall the White Sox signed Anderson during the offseason before waiving him early in spring training.

Anderson was claimed by Toronto, but the Blue Jays needed to make space on their 40-man roster for waiver claims Alex Burnett and Clint Robinson earlier this week. So, Toronto traded Anderson back to Chicago for cash.

Thus, we have our first opportunity to play the theme from "Welcome Back Kotter" on this blog.

Welcome back, Lars Anderson!