Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Sox vs. Orioles -- no fans allowed; I watched it on TV

I had a chance to watch Wednesday's game between the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles on TV, and as expected, it was a little weird to be watching a game where no fans were in attendance.

The ballpark was closed to the public because of the recent rioting in Baltimore, so nobody saw the Orioles thump the Sox, 8-2, in person except for some scouts and assorted members of the media.

I have to say the game felt extremely odd for the first three or four innings, but after that I got used to it.

For at least the past 30 years, I've been listening to White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson say "Souvenir, right side" every single time a right-handed hitter hits a foul ball over the first-base dugout. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit just such a ball in the top of the first inning Wednesday, and Harrelson caught himself in mid-sentence, realizing that foul ball would not be a "souvenir" for anybody on the "right side," because there were no fans in the park. Harrelson instead said, ".... And ... that's a foul ball into the upper deck." For one afternoon, he was forced to drop one of his familiar catchphrases.

A fielding error by Abreu opened the door for the Orioles to have a big inning in the bottom of the first, and have a big inning they did. Baltimore scored six runs off Sox starter Jeff Samardzija to put the game out of reach early, and it was quite bizarre to hear no cheers coming from the crowd while the hometown Orioles were playing well.

Chris Davis launched a 3-run homer well over the right-field fence during that six-run rally. It was the kind of shot that always draws a reaction from the crowd, even if it's hit by a member of the visiting team, but in this case all you heard was the crack of the bat and then silence. It was eerie in a way.

Later, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones made a fine running catch on a drive off the bat of Sox catcher Geovany Soto. Again, the cheers were conspicuous by their absence.

The Orioles enjoyed an 8-2 lead by the time the fifth inning concluded, and with the outcome no longer in doubt, I felt like hitters from both sides started giving away at-bats over the final four innings. I saw a lot of first-pitch swings and a lot of quick outs. The game was played in just one hour, 58 minutes. It seemed like the players were eager for the whole ordeal to be over, and I can hardly blame them for that.

As I watched the late innings, the game started to feel like your usual run-of-the-mill blowout, the kind where the crowd leaves early to beat traffic. There was nothing notable happening in the game, so the lack of cheers, boos or otherwise was less significant.

Any in case, I've never watched a game like this before, because there never has been a game like this before. Hopefully, nothing like this ever happens again. No one wants to see any city burn like Baltimore has the past couple days, and you hope Major League Baseball never has to take safety precautions like this again.

This was a one-of-a-kind game. As far as I'm concerned, it can stay that way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adam Wainwright done for the season; Josh Hamilton returns to Rangers

There have been a couple big stories from around the league the past couple days. Most notably, the St. Louis Cardinals have lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Does this injury torpedo the season for St. Louis? Of course not. You may recall the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, despite Wainwright missing the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. If there's an organization that can adjust and sustain a loss like this, it is St. Louis.

Wainwright's absence gives hope to both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cubs, both of whom are off to good starts in the NL Central. But, I still think the Cardinals are the team to beat in that division even without their ace. St. Louis still has two reliable rotation veterans in Lance Lynn and John Lackey. Two of their young arms, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, are off to good starts this season, and they have options to fill that fifth spot.

Marco Gonzales is probably the best bet to get a call-up - eventually - but he's on the Triple-A disabled list with shoulder tightness right now. Jaime Garcia has major league experience and is another option, although he also has had some shoulder problems. You may see a guy like Tyler Lyons in the Cardinals rotation in the short run. I wouldn't bet against St. Louis piecing it together and remaining atop the division.

That said, if the Cardinals are going to get to the World Series and win it this year, I think they will need to go outside their organization and get some help. Wacha has never thrown 150 innings in a season, let alone 200. Martinez has never thrown more than 108 innings in a season, and he worked as a reliever for the Cardinals both last year and the year before. Both pitchers are just 23 years old, and it's just plain unrealistic, if not silly, to expect them to throw 220 to 240 innings this year -- regular season and, presumably, playoffs combined.

The asking price for Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels may be high, but the Cardinals may need to consider paying it -- not only to stabilize their rotation for this year, but for the future as well. This is Wainwright's second major injury, and he'll be 34 years old by the next time he takes the mound for the Cardinals. It might be time for St. Louis to acquire another veteran for the top of their rotation, while these younger guys such as Wacha, Martinez and Gonzales develop.

Aside from Hamels, there doesn't figure to be a premier starter on the midseason trade market, so don't be surprised if the Cardinals shop the middle tier for a starting pitcher, as well. Would Kyle Lohse be an option? He was formerly with the Cardinals, he's in the last year of his deal in Milwaukee, and the Brewers are off to such a bad start (4-16) that they might already be out of the race.

Wainwright has averaged 226 innings per year over his last five healthy seasons. Even though you expect a smart organization like the Cardinals to find a way to fill that void, that doesn't mean it will be easy.

Hamilton back to the Rangers

Josh Hamilton is less than halfway through a five-year, $125 million contract, but that didn't stop the Anaheim Angels from trading him to the Texas Rangers on Monday for nothing more than a player to be named later and cash considerations.

Hamilton, 33, was with Texas from 2008 to 2012. He was an All-Star in each of those five seasons and won the MVP award in 2010. However, he did not play well in two injury-plagued seasons with the Angels, and an offseason alcohol and drug relapse was apparently the final straw for the ownership group in Anaheim.

The Angels are eating most of the $80.2 million still owed to Hamilton, who is slated to make $23 million this year and $30 million in each of the final two years of the deal. Reports indicate Texas will be on the hook for only about $7 million of that.

Given Hamilton's .741 OPS over the last two years and personal problems, it's pretty clear the Angels simply wanted him gone. We'll see if Hamilton can regain his stroke in Texas, where he had a .912 OPS during his previous stint.

Monday, April 27, 2015

White Sox finally beat Royals -- twice in a day

It was anything but business as usual Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. First off, the White Sox beat the Kansas City Royals not once, but twice -- a rare sight indeed. Secondly, relief pitcher David Robertson threw both the first pitch of the afternoon and the last.

The closer became the first White Sox pitcher to earn both a win and a save on the same day since Bob Howry accomplished the feat in a doubleheader on Aug. 21, 1999.

After Saturday's rainout, the two clubs had to complete Friday's suspended contest, which was tied at 2-2 after eight innings when the showers came.

John Danks got his first win of the season Sunday.
The game resumed in the top of the ninth inning Sunday, and that put Robertson in the unusual position of "starting" the game on the mound. He worked a scoreless inning, pitching over an error by first baseman Jose Abreu, and earned a 3-2 win when the Sox scored a run in the bottom of the inning on a single by Avisail Garcia.

The Sox took the regularly scheduled game, 5-3, as John Danks (1-2) improved his career record against Kansas City to 8-1. Danks walked off the mound in the sixth inning trailing 3-0, but his teammates rallied for five runs in the bottom of the sixth to give him the lead.

The combination of relievers Jake Petricka, Zach Duke and Robertson made it stand up, as the trio combined for three scoreless innings. Melky Cabrera made one of the best catches of the season in the eighth inning for the Sox, robbing Eric Hosmer of a game-tying home run for the final out of the inning.

Robertson wasn't as dominant in his second outing of the day. He gave up two singles, but also fanned two batters to earn his third save of the season.

When these two teams meet, typically it's the Royals who capitalize on mistakes by the Sox to win close games. That script was flipped on Sunday, as it was Kansas City that made the costly miscues.

In the completion of the suspended game, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera walked Cabrera with two outs and then uncorked a wild pitch to move the runner into scoring position. Herrera's wildness came back to bite him when Garcia's bloop to left-center field fell in and Cabrera came home to plate the winning run.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas booted a grounder off Abreu's bat in the sixth inning of the second game, allowing the Sox to score their first run. From there, the South Siders strung together four more singles to surge ahead -- the biggest hit was a two-out, two-run single by Conor Gillaspie that put the Sox ahead 4-3 and sent Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez (2-2) to the showers.

It's been a long time coming for the Sox to win a series against the Royals. Coming into Sunday, they had lost 15 of the last 18 head-to-head meetings. Will this be the day that marks the end of Kansas City's domination of the Sox? We'll find out later in the season. The two teams have 13 more games to play, but they don't meet again until a doubleheader on July 17 in Chicago.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Some thoughts on the White Sox-Royals brawl

You can watch the video here if you haven't already seen the fracas between the White Sox and the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

For the record, the Royals won the game, 3-2, in 13 innings, and for me as a Sox fan, that's the most frustrating part of the whole evening. The Sox have lost the last five head-to-head meetings with Kansas City, and 15 out of the last 18, dating back to last year.

The Sox cannot call themselves a contender if they're going to continue to allow Kansas City to walk in and kick their ass game after game and series after series. When is enough going to be enough?

The Royals are a good team; they got to the World Series last year for a reason, but let's not pretend they are some sort of juggernaut like the Yankees were in the late 1990s. Even in the loss last night, White Sox pitchers were able to keep the Royals off the scoreboard for 11 consecutive innings. What does that tell you? Kansas City is not some sort of elite fighting force that cannot be stopped. The Royals are beatable. The problem is more with the White Sox, who have developed an identity as a team that cannot execute in clutch situations and routinely beats itself.

That's what I'm mad about today as a Sox fan, much more than the fight.

But looking at the fight, it strikes me as bizarre that Adam Eaton is getting so much blame from Kansas City and its fans. Supposedly, Eaton "said something" to provoke Yordano Ventura, the Royals pitcher. I don't doubt that Eaton "said something," but whatever he said, the home plate umpire had to have heard it. He was standing right there; yet Eaton was not among the five players ejected from the game.

If Eaton had said something that inflammatory toward Ventura, don't you believe he would have been tossed? I do. The umpires seemingly had no reservations about sending the people who were in the wrong to the showers. Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Lorenzo Cain of the Royals were all rightfully ejected, as were Jeff Samardzija and Chris Sale of the White Sox. I firmly believe Eaton would have been ejected if he had deserved an ejection. The umpire, who was standing right there when the whole thing went down, apparently did not see Eaton as the instigator.

I believe Eaton "said something" that was misconstrued by Ventura. That happens. It's part of the game. Both players were apologetic about the incident, and I think fans of both teams should be able to let that part of the brawl go without further discussion.

What went on after that was far more troubling. Cain and Samardzija were instigators. Both were way out of line, both in actions on the field and words after the game. We should expect better from two quality players who should be acting as leaders for their respective teams. I wouldn't be surprised if Samardzija gets the longest suspension of anyone involved in this fracas. As a Sox fan, I'm disappointed in him.

There's no excuse for throwing wild sucker punches on the field, and Volquez merits a lengthy suspension for his actions, as well. There's also no reason for Sale to be anywhere near the Kansas City clubhouse while the game is still going on.

It's time for the managers and the team leaders on both sides to get this nonsense under control, especially Kansas City, which has brawled with three different teams in the first 17 days of the season.

And from a White Sox perspective, it's long past time to man up and start beating the Royals, not with fists and purpose pitches, but rather by playing good baseball.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jose Abreu says White Sox need to play better, then White Sox beat Indians

It would be meathead-ish to say the White Sox's 6-0 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon had anything to do with first baseman Jose Abreu's pregame comments.

Nevertheless, it was nice to hear the best player on the team speak up and acknowledge it hasn't been going well for the Sox in the early going, and that things need to improve soon.

"We have to be more a unit, like a team -- the players, the coaches, everybody. Because we need to start playing well … better," said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox Spanish-language broadcaster Billy Russo, according to an article on

Abreu's comments came after the Sox hadn't done much offensively the first two games of the series against Cleveland, especially early in games. In Monday's opener, they rallied to win, 4-3, with four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. On Tuesday, they managed to get the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning, but no comeback was forthcoming in a 6-2 loss.

Abreu correctly noted the Sox were having better at-bats late in games, but of course, what's really needed is a good approach on a consistent basis.

"We have to start the game with that mentality and that fierceness to try to create opportunities, not just wait until the ninth inning to see what happens," Abreu said. "But I think that we are OK. I hope so. I am very confident that we will be OK at the end of the season."

They will be OK at the end of the season if they play like they did Wednesday. Abreu backed those comments up by going 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the victory. He hit a solo home run in the first inning to give the Sox an early lead, and his two-run double in the seventh capped a three-run rally that put the game away.

Cleveland's Corey Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young winner, gave up a career-high 13 hits and was touched up for all six runs.

Meanwhile, Jeff Samardzija picked up his first win in a Sox uniform with a workmanlike six shutout innings. Samardzija did not have his best stuff, but he pitched out of jams in four of his six innings.

  • The Indians had runners on first and third with one out in the second inning. They did not score.
  • The Indians loaded the bases in the third inning. They did not score.
  • The Indians had runners at first and second with two outs in the fourth. They did not score.
  • The Indians got a leadoff double in the sixth inning. They could not score, despite Samardzija being over 100 pitches at the start of the inning.
Eight of the nine Sox starters had at least one hit. Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez and Micah Johnson had two hits each.

This win was as good as any the 6-8 Sox have had to this point in the season.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Carlos Rodon shaky in White Sox debut

Couldn't White Sox manager Robin Ventura have found a little less stressful of a situation for rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon to make his major league debut?

Talk about walking right into the fire.

Rodon entered Tuesday's game against the Cleveland Indians in the top of the sixth inning, with the Sox trailing 2-1 and Cleveland runners on first and third with two outs.

The game was on the line, and the Sox likely would have been better served to turn to a veteran reliever in that situation. Rodon almost certainly had some jitters and it showed. He walked the struggling Brandon Moss on four pitches to load the bases, then fell behind 2-0 in the count to Sox killer Ryan Raburn.

Eventually, the count went to 3-2, and Raburn fouled off three pitches before looping a broken-bat single into left field to drive home two runs and increase the Tribe lead to 4-1. In case you were wondering, Raburn now has 79 career RBIs against the Sox. He has no more than 24 RBIs (Kansas City) against any other major league team.

Rodon got out of that sixth inning without further damage, but then walked the first two hitters he faced in the seventh. Both walks came around to score after a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly and a single as the Tribe went on to beat the Sox, 6-2.

The rookie did work around a one-out double in the eighth and recorded his first major league strikeout, so at least there's that.

Rodon's final line in his debut: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3BB, 1 K.

It was not a good night for the Sox or Rodon, but at least the first-night nerves are out of the way for the South Siders' prized prospect.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Was Monday's comeback win a slumpbuster for the White Sox?

If you watched Monday's game between the White Sox and the Cleveland Indians, you know it was looking like another lifeless loss for the South Siders.

The Sox were limited to no runs on four hits over the first eight innings by the combination of Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer and two relievers, and the Indians took a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead into the ninth.

But it all unraveled from there for closer Cody Allen and the Tribe, as the Sox rallied for a 4-3 win. Chicago had six hits in the ninth inning, and it benefited from a tactical error by Indians manager Terry Francona and just poor pitching by Allen.

The key play came with one out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth, when Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez sent a deep drive into center field. Francona had started Mike Aviles, an infielder by trade, in center field and inexplicably allowed him to remain in the game late, despite his regular center fielder (Michael Bourn) presumably being available off the bench.

I think Bourn makes the catch on Ramirez's ball for the second out of the inning, but he wasn't out there. Aviles was, and he took an odd route to the ball and seemingly didn't know where the wall was. He pulled up short, and the ball hit the base of the fence for a two-run double that brought the Sox within a run at 3-2.

Allen would completely implode from there, failing to record another out. Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera delivered four consecutive singles, with Beckham's hit tying the game and Cabrera's winning it.

The victory improved the Sox record to 5-7, which strangely sounds a lot better than 4-8, although it's only a one-game difference. The question is whether a come-from-behind win like this can get the Sox going for the first time this year.

Well, it depends a lot on Tuesday night's starting pitcher, Hector Noesi. Quite a few Sox fans had hoped Saturday's 12-3 thumping of the Detroit Tigers was the slumpbuster Chicago was looking for. Unfortunately, any "momentum" from that victory dissipated quickly when Jose Quintana gave up a grand slam to Yoenis Cespedes in the first inning Sunday. The Tigers waxed the Sox, 9-1, in that game and put any thoughts of  Chicago building on Saturday's win to rest.

After the inspired rally on Monday, the Sox are once again in position to potentially get something started. If they get a good outing from Noesi on Tuesday, maybe they will. But the joy of Monday's win won't mean a thing if Noesi goes out and gives up four or five runs early in the game.

The Sox need their starting pitcher to put up some zeroes early, and if they can score in the early innings against Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, then maybe things will start to snowball their way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

White Sox call up top prospect Carlos Rodon, activate Jake Petricka from the disabled list

The White Sox have promoted their top prospect to the big leagues. Left-hander Carlos Rodon will be available to work out of the bullpen Monday night when the South Siders take on the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox also have activated relief pitcher Jake Petricka (forearm) from the disabled list. To make room for Rodon and Petricka, relief pitcher Javy Guerra was placed on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to April 13) with shoulder inflammation, and relief pitcher Kyle Drabek was designated for assignment.

Rodon's early call-up is a bit of a surprise. He made only two starts in Triple-A Charlotte. The first was a good one, as he struck out nine and allowed only a run on two hits in five innings against Norfolk on April 11. His second outing was just average, three runs on six hits with four strikeouts in five innings against Gwinnett on April 16.

The Sox had indicated a preference to have him work as a starter, presumably because he might eventually be called up to take the place of one of the Sox's two middling starters -- John Danks and Hector Noesi -- later in the season.

But apparently, the Sox have changed course and decided to let Rodon get his feet wet at the big-league level by using him as a reliever. It's the same philosophy they used with Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale in previous years.

Some have speculated the Sox are bringing Rodon up to try to give a slow-starting 4-7 team a jolt, but let's hope he's actually being called up because he's ready for the opportunity. I would suspect that's the case. I can't believe the Sox would rush Rodon to the big leagues for public relations reasons. The organization makes some questionable moves, but there is no way they are that stupid.

Petricka, who had 14 saves for the 2014 Sox, fired a scoreless inning in each of his two rehab outings at Triple-A Charlotte. He figures to give manager Robin Ventura another option in the seventh or eighth inning moving forward.

Guerra is unscored upon in three appearances for the Sox this season, but he's worked only 1.2 innings. Perhaps the shoulder issue was a reason for his scarce workload to this point in the year.

Drabek has not distinguished himself in three outings this season, allowing three runs on nine hits over 5.1 innings. If he clears waivers and reports to Charlotte, that's nice, but if another team does claim him, the Sox have other pitchers in their organization who can do what he does.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

White Sox juggle starting rotation for weekend series vs. Tigers

Since we last posted, the White Sox split a brief two-game series against the banged-up Cleveland Indians.

The Sox got six solid innings from starting pitcher Jose Quintana on Tuesday, and relievers Dan Jennings, Zach Duke and David Robertson combined to strike out eight batters in a 4-1 Chicago victory in the series opener.

On Wednesday, a combination of poor infield defense and lack of clutch hitting did the Sox in, as they dropped a 4-2 decision to a Cleveland club that is currently missing three regulars (Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Nick Swisher) from its lineup.

The series leaves the Sox with a 3-5 record, which isn't completely terrible given an 0-4 start, but it's still not an enviable position -- especially since both the Detroit Tigers (8-1) and Kansas City Royals (7-1) are off to red-hot starts in the American League's Central Division.

That makes this weekend's three-game series in Detroit more crucial for the Sox than most April series would be. The South Siders already are 4.5 games off the pace in the division, and it would be bad news if they were to go into Comerica Park and get swept.

No matter how "early" it is, it's hard to feel good if you fall 7.5 games off the division lead just two weeks into the season. That makes it important the Sox squeeze out at least one win, if not two, against the Tigers.

It won't be easy, because the Tigers have David Price, Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene lined up to pitch the three games. Price and Sanchez are always tough, and Greene hasn't allowed a run in either of his first two starts of the season -- both Detroit victories.

Perhaps sensing the need to match up, Sox manager Robin Ventura has wisely decided to skip Hector Noesi's turn in the rotation for Friday's game. Instead, Jeff Samardzija will pitch, and I think we can all agree he gives the Sox a better chance than Noesi would against Price, the Detroit ace.

That lines up Sox ace Chris Sale to face Sanchez on Saturday. The Sox haven't announced a starter for Sunday's game yet, but they could (and probably should) go back to Quintana on regular rest for the series finale.

With Detroit playing well and the Sox struggling out of the gate, Ventura simply cannot afford to concede any games to the Tigers by putting the erratic Noesi on the mound.

One other thing to keep an eye on in this series: Detroit has stolen an AL-high 13 bases through its first nine games. Meanwhile, the Sox have surrendered a league-high 11 steals through their eight games.

The Sox had better start holding opposing runners closer this weekend.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Weekend thoughts: Chris Sale, bullpen, late-game managerial tactics

The White Sox won't go 0-162 after all, after they picked up a pair of weekend victories over the Minnesota Twins. The Sox rallied from a 4-0 deficit Saturday to win, 5-4, and backed that up with a 6-2 win Sunday. Here are a few takeaways from what we saw in these two games:

1. Chris Sale looks healthy. The Sox ace was facing major league hitters for the first time this year after missing most of the spring with an avulsion fracture in his foot, but there were few signs of rust as he picked up the victory in Sunday's game.

The left-hander allowed one run on five hits over six innings. He struck out eight, walked just one and threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes. His 98th and final pitch registered 98 mph on the radar gun. The velocity and command of his fastball were both present, and his changeup was working well, too.

The exciting thing about Sale is there is still another level he can get to from here. His slider was ineffective Sunday. He threw it only 10 times, and by my unofficial count, three of the five hits he allowed came on that pitch. When a pitcher misses time with injury, usually the last thing to come back to him is the feel for his breaking pitch. That was the only component missing for Sale in this start.

Fortunately, his overpowering fastball and effective change were more than enough against a light-hitting Twins team. Sale's next start is against the Detroit Tigers, so he'll likely need the slider a little more against a better offensive team.

2. One of the better parts of this weekend for me as a Sox fan was seeing newly acquired relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke do the jobs they were signed to do.

Duke worked a scoreless eighth Saturday to keep the game tied at 4-4. After the Sox scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to take a 5-4 lead, Robertson struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth inning to earn his first save with the Sox.

Robertson overpowered the 7-8-9 hitters in the Minnesota lineup. It was an example of a dominant closer dominating hitters he should be dominating, so from that perspective the achievement probably shouldn't be celebrated that much.

But from the perspective of Sox fans, we've watched our alleged "closers" fail to throw strikes to punch-and-judy hitters and walk their way into trouble one too many times over the past few seasons. It was a refreshing change to watch Robertson go right at guys and protect a one-run lead without forcing fans to gnaw their fingernails down to their bloody stubs.

Duke also worked the eighth inning on Sunday. The defense behind him was poor -- he was forced to get five outs in the inning -- but he limited the damage to just one run. Duke left the mound with a 3-2 lead. The Sox scored three in the bottom of the eighth, and Robertson once again retired the side in order in the ninth in a non-save situation.

3. Speaking of the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday, the Sox took advantage of what I thought was a rookie mistake by new Twins manager Paul Molitor.

Minnesota relief pitcher Aaron Thompson had a pretty good series for himself. Thompson retired all four batters he faced Saturday. He retired all four batters he faced Sunday, too. He posted a 1-2-3 seventh inning and struck out Sox DH Adam LaRoche to start the eighth inning.

But I guess the left-handed Thompson was doing too good of a job. Molitor apparently didn't want him to face Avisail Garcia with one out and nobody on base in a 3-2 game, so he brought in right-hander Blaine Boyer.

Boyer faced four hitters -- all right-handed -- and he gave up a single to Garcia, an RBI single to Alexei Ramirez, a two-run homer to Gordon Beckham and a single to Tyler Flowers. All four were line drives.

Did I mention Boyer was the same guy who blew the game for the Twins on Saturday? Boyer is terrible, but Molitor wanted his righty-vs.-righty matchups, and he got them.

Personally, I felt like doing cartwheels when Molitor removed the effective Thompson from the game. It's always amazing to me when managers remove a left-handed pitcher who is throwing the ball well for no other reason than the fact that a right-handed hitter is stepping to home plate.

It's just silly, lazy managing, and it worked out nicely for the Sox in this case.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field is always one of my favorite days of the year.  The long, cold winter is over. A new season has begun, and it's a chance to celebrate that renewal with good friends and take in a ballgame. (See photos)

Too bad the White Sox missed the memo that this was supposed to be a happy occasion. I've been to the Sox home opener every year since 2010, and this is the first year I've seen them lose. Until Friday's 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Sox had won their home opener every year since 2007.

I guess it was inevitable that they'd drop one eventually, but this loss was pretty galling. The festive, sellout crowd that was present at the start of the game had thinned out to just us diehards by the time the game ended. The Sox looked terrible, and the loss dropped them to 0-4 -- the first time they've started a season with four consecutive losses since 1995.

Even though the Sox have been struggling, I did not expect their bats to be silenced by Minnesota left-hander Tommy Milone, a soft-tosser who reminded me a little bit of Bruce Chen. Milone worked 7.2 shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- a bunt single by Micah Johnson in the third and two-out double to Tyler Flowers in the eighth. The Sox did not have a runner reach third base until the ninth inning.

The Sox have scored one run or fewer in three of their first four games, and obviously, that doesn't lend itself to success. Look at some of these bad starts from hitters you expect to perform:

Adam Eaton: 2 for 16
Melky Cabrera: 2 for 16
Jose Abreu: 3 for 14
Avisail Garcia: 3 for 11 with all three hits coming in the same game
Adam LaRoche: 1 for 14 with 8 strikeouts
Alexei Ramirez: 1 for 12

These are all guys with a track record, but none of them are swinging the bat well right now. You just have to cross your fingers and hope they start hitting the way they have in the past.

But perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've seen from the Sox is their terrible baserunning. I know they want to be aggressive, but they've crossed the line to criminal stupidity. After Johnson's bunt single Friday, he was picked off second base -- the second time he's been picked off already this year. The final out of the game, somewhat fittingly, came on a bad baserunning play by Eaton. He tried to score from third on a shallow pop to left off Abreu's bat. He was tagged out while getting tangled up at the plate with Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki, and for what? Even if he's safe, it's 6-1. Why risk injury by making a reckless play like that in 6-0 game in the ninth?

It's time for the Sox to pull in the reins on their new "aggressive" baserunning strategy. So far, it's resulted in no stolen bases, and by my count, six gift outs for the opposition, including the two today. When you're not swinging the bats well, the problem is compounded when you waste outs on the basepaths.

And, oh, by the way, starting pitcher Hector Noesi stunk Friday. He walked six, threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in just 4.2 innings pitched. It's a miracle the Twins only scored two runs off him after they loaded the bases three times in the first five innings. Against a better hitting team, I believe Noesi would have been shelled today. Throughout the offseason, Sox brass was bullish on Noesi and insisted he would be improved for this season. Count me among the skeptics.

Reliever Zach Putnam also allowed three runs in the ninth inning Friday, increasing my suspicion that he was a one-year wonder in 2014.

It's too bad the play on the field had to be so bad for Opening Day. After that, you wonder how many of the 38,000-some in attendance on Friday will want to return. I'm going back to the ballpark tomorrow, but perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Same old story for White Sox in Kansas City

White Sox left-hander John Danks is 4-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts in Kansas City. In fact, he's 7-1 with a 2.64 ERA in 17 lifetime starts against the Royals.

Unforunately, that one loss was Thursday, as the Royals defeated the White Sox, 4-1, to complete a three-game sweep. Not even Danks' track record of success in Kansas City could prevent the South Siders from sliding to an 0-3 start to the 2015 season.

Like most Sox pitchers, Danks did not have a good spring, and he was shelled by Triple-A hitters in each of his final two exhibition outings. In that context, I think most Sox fans would have been delighted if he had gotten through six innings Thursday and kept his team in the game.

He was one strike away from doing that, but a high changeup to Salvador Perez with two outs in the bottom of the sixth got hammered over the left-field fence, increasing a 2-0 Kansas City lead to 4-0. At that point, the sweep was inevitable.

The two teams traded HBPs throughout the series, and the only reason the Sox got on the board in this game was because Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez was apparently trying to settle the score in that regard in the seventh inning.

Volquez beaned Adam LaRoche with two outs and nobody on base. After a walk to Avisail Garcia, the HBP came around to score on an RBI single by Alexei Ramirez.

If Volquez was trying to send a message, I think he was wasting his time. The Royals sent a much louder message by outplaying the Sox in every facet. They outscored the Sox 21-7 in the series, and the scoreboard was an accurate reflection of the play.

The Royals have now won 14 of the last 17 head-to-head matchups with the Sox, and that's something that's going to have to change if the Sox are to contend in the AL Central this year.

The Sox will now limp home for a three-game weekend series against the Minnesota Twins. If there's a silver lining here, it's that the Twins also are 0-3. Minnesota got outscored 22-1 in its three-game series loss to the Detroit Tigers. We'll find out Friday which team is playing worse, the Twins or the Sox.

Jeff Samardzija joins list of newly acquired White Sox starters to struggle on Opening Day

Jeff Samardzija had a pretty forgettable turn as an Opening Day starter for the White Sox on Monday. Sadly, that's been the state of things throughout history when the Sox have put a newly acquired hurler on the mound to kick things off.

Here are the guys who started a season opener in their first tour with the Sox:

David Wells (2001)
Arrival: Wells, a free-agent-to-be, was the big offseason acquisition for the Sox after they won a surprising division title in 2000. Mike Sirotka was sent to Toronto in a swap of lefties in which Chicago got the better end, but only because the guy they traded had a bum shoulder and never pitched in the majors again.

Opening Day: Wells was solid, giving up a pair of runs over six innings for a quality start in a 7-4 win against Cleveland.

The Season: Wells wasn't the missing piece for the Sox's rotation. The big pitcher gave up at least four earned runs in half of the 16 starts he made that year before an injury forced him out in June, conveniently after he dogged Frank Thomas for not being tough enough to play through a torn triceps.

Postscript: It was one-and-done for Wells and the Sox when the aging hurler went back to the Yankees, where he previously had his most successful seasons and would go on to have the best of his late-career run.

Jaime Navarro (1997)
Arrival: Navarro was the second-biggest free agent splash the Sox made before this year. The other was signing Albert Belle to what was then the richest contract in baseball. Navarro, who had won 29 games over the previous two seasons with middling Cubs teams, was given four years and $30 million as the less-costly alternative to either re-signing the Sox's own free agent Alex Fernandez, or luring Roger Clemens to the South Side.

Opening Day: Navarro pitched six innings against Toronto, gave up five runs -- three earned -- on five walks and seven hits that included a couple home runs. The Sox still prevailed, 6-5, with reliever Tony Castillo getting the win and Roberto Hernandez recording the save.

The Season: The only thing that would make Navarro's first start anomalous from his inaugural campaign with the Sox is that he struck out eight batters. He was not prolific in recording Ks the rest of the time, but was pretty good at issuing walks, hits and especially home runs on his way to a 5.79 ERA in just less than 175 innings.

Postscript: Navarro was maybe the worst free agent signing in Sox history. In a classic Jerry Manuel decision, the surly right-hander was given the ball on Opening Day again the next year. The walks, home runs and attitude kept getting worse. Stints of banishment to the bullpen over the next couple years did nothing to improve his over-6.00 ERAs. The last year of his contract was dumped on the Brewers in exchange for taking back Jose Valentin and Cal Eldred, who both had great moments with the Sox.

Ricky Horton (1988)
Arrival: Then-GM Larry Himes dealt Jose DeLeon to the Cardinals for Horton and an outfield prospect named Lance Johnson. DeLeon was part of an exodus of rotation stalwarts from the previous season as Himes also traded Floyd Bannister and Richard Dotson. Horton had done good work as a swingman for St. Louis, posting a 3.12 ERA starting 36 games and finishing 53 over the previous four seasons. The Sox planned to slot the lefty right into their rotation.

Opening Day: With the top three starters from the previous season gone, the start could have gone to prospects Jack McDowell or Melido Perez (acquired in the Bannister trade). Or journeyman Dave LaPoint, acquired from St. Louis the previous year. Or scrap-heap reclamation Jerry Reuss. Instead they went with Horton, who gave up five runs -- four earned -- in an 8-5 win against the Angels, gutting his way into the ninth before putting two men on and yielding to Bobby Thigpen for the save.

The Season: Horton had a nice April going 3-3 with a 3.43 ERA, but then the wheels fell off. He was thrashed his first three starts of May before being pulled from the rotation. By July his ERA was touching 6.00. By September he was a Dodger, where he did little to impress out of the bullpen, not even appearing in the World Series that year for Los Angeles on its way to a title.

Postscript: Horton was bad and out of baseball after a couple more years. That was probably fine for the Sox, who were really after Johnson in the DeLeon trade. It was Johnson that was in center field once the Sox broke through to win 94 games two years later with McDowell, Perez and Greg Hibbard (also in the Bannister trade) leading the rotation. More pitching was on the way for the resurgent franchise that was still in transition when Horton came and went.

Ed Durham (1933) / Sad Sam Jones (1932)
Arrival: Jones and Durham share an entry because they started openers back-to-back during the darkest days of the White Sox franchise. Jones was part of a package that included Bump Hadley and Jackie Hayes for Carl Reynolds, an outfielder coming off a disappointing year, and infielder John Kerr. Durham was traded for four guys, only one of whom appeared in the majors after 1933.

Opening Day: The then-39-year-old Jones started the 1932 campaign for the Sox with a complete game in a 9-2 win against the St. Louis Browns. He got the Opening Day nod with Hall-of-Famers Ted Lyons and Red Faber not being able to take the ball until later in the season. Durham tossed seven innings in a 4-2 win over the Browns on Opening Day the following year.

The Season(s): Jones had a respectable year, going 10-15 but with a respectable 4.22 ERA in that day. That would be pretty representative of the work the Sox would get from him, more sporadically, over the next there seasons. Durham, then just 25, might have appeared to a more promising long-term piece. But after reportedly injuring his arm in his Opening Day start, he labored to a 4.48 ERA in 23 more games -- 20 of them starts -- and was gone from baseball after the season.

The Postscript: It's the popular perception that the White Sox entered baseball's wilderness after the 1920 season when eight of their players were given lifetime bans for throwing the 1919 World Series. That's partly true in that the Sox were awful in 1921, but they did bounce back to 77-77 record the year after and finished above .500 in 1925 and 1926. The gutted Sox rosters of the early- and mid-20s were overall mediocre, but with Hall-of-Famers Eddie Collins, Harry Hooper and Ray Schalk, plus solid players like Johnny Mostil and Willie Kamm, they were mostly respectable.

That changed by the end of the decade, when Collins, Hooper, Schalk and Mostil saw their careers wind down with no replacements at hand. Over six seasons from 1929-1934, the Sox had a .377 win percentage. For six years they had a worse winning percentage than they had in any single season except 1948. It wasn't until 1936 when Luke Appling hit .388 that the Sox again posted a winning record.

The Sox were grasping at straws when they hauled Jones and Durham in to help fill out pitching staffs that were among the worst in baseball for half a decade.

When the Sox added Samardzija, they were in a more enviable position, already in possession of a left-handed ace (Chris Sale), a lefty who could be an ace on many teams (Jose Quintana) and yet another lefty prospect who could develop into an ace (Carlos Rodon).

Let's hope the current state of the Sox franchise continues its divergent path from the one taken by the early 30s Sox, while Samardzija recovers to pitch better for the Sox that anybody else on this list.

Zach Putnam: Can the White Sox trust him?

Zach Putnam was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable 2014 White Sox bullpen. We're not going to take that away from him.

The right-hander went 5-3 with a 1.98 ERA and allowed only 39 hits in 54.2 innings for the 2014 Sox. He totaled six saves, and most impressively, he stranded a team-record 89 percent (26 of 29) of his inherited runners last year. That's a solid season by any standard, especially for a pitcher who had been picked up off the scrap heap and didn't make the roster at the start of the year.

But despite the good numbers Putnam put up last season, I haven't yet been able to shake the idea that his 2014 performance was an aberration. After all, Putnam is a 26-year-old on his fourth organization. The other three teams he was with before he joined the Sox -- Cleveland, Colorado and the Cubs -- didn't give him many opportunities at the major league level, and he didn't do anything with the handful of chances he received.

In parts of three seasons with those three teams, Putnam appeared in 15 games, worked a total of 12.2 innings and posted a 8.53 ERA. You might say he profiles as a journeyman.

For the first time in his career, Putnam reported to camp this February with his major league roster spot secure based on his previous year's performance. He did not perform well in Cactus League play. He posted a 9.35 ERA and gave up four home runs in just 8.2 innings, increasing my suspicions that maybe last year was simply a career year for him.

People talk about sinkers not sinking and split-finger pitches not moving in the dry air of Arizona, and I'm sure that had some impact on Putnam's poor spring. However, it's no excuse for the flat sinker Putnam threw to Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning Wednesday night in Kansas City. Or was that a splitter? Heck, it had so little movement on it that I don't even know what pitch it was.

What is clear is that, whatever it was, Cain crushed it over the left-field wall for a two-run homer that broke a 5-5 tie and lifted the Royals to a 7-5 victory over the White Sox.

The South Siders are now 0-2 with the loss. I'm not panicked tonight by any means, but I am asking myself whether the Sox can continue to trust Putnam with an eighth-inning role. When I look at his stuff and career profile, those 54.2 good innings from a year ago just aren't enough to convince me that he should be a high-leverage reliever on team that believes itself to be a contender.

It's worth noting that perhaps the Sox don't have any better options right now. They spent $46 million to bring in David Robertson to close games. OK, great, but with Jake Petricka and Nate Jones both on the disabled list, who is the best choice to be the right-handed setup man?

You're choosing among Putnam, Javy Guerra and Matt Albers. I can't say any of those options inspire me, and that's one of the holes on this Sox roster right now. The team needs somebody to step up and join left-hander Zach Duke as part of the bridge between the starting staff and Robertson.

The Sox are giving Putnam first crack at that job, but I can't get past the sinking feeling that Putnam is going to pitch himself out of that role and cost the Sox some more games in the process.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

White Sox give fans an Opening Day to forget

Opening Day of the baseball season is supposed to be about new beginnings and new hope. Unfortunately for the White Sox and their fans, Opening Day 2015 proved to be way too reminiscent of 2014.

The Kansas City Royals won 13 of 19 meetings against the White Sox on their way to the American League pennant last season, and they continued their mastery of the South Siders on Monday with an easy 10-1 victory.

You would like to think with all the acquisitions the Sox made over the offseason things would be different now, but at least for one day, the faces have changed but the results remained the same.

Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitched poorly in his Sox debut. His fastball command was erratic at best. His offspeed pitches weren't working at all, and the result was five Kansas City runs on six hits over six-plus innings. Samardzija walked three and hit two batters, and he struck out just one. There wasn't anything good to say about his outing, other than the fact that the Sox were still in the game -- down 4-1 -- when he left the mound in the seventh inning. It could have been worse.

Relievers Dan Jennings and Kyle Drabek also struggled. By the time that seventh inning was over, Kansas City held a 9-1 lead. A 3-run homer by Alex Rios (off Drabek) was the highlight of the frame for the Royals, but in many ways, all five of those runs were gifts.

First off, Samardzija and Jennings each walked a batter to give the Royals two baserunners with nobody out. But it looked like Jennings had a chance to get out of the inning, as he got Lorenzo Cain to ground out and struck out Eric Hosmer. But with runners on second and third and two outs, Sox manager Robin Ventura needlessly ordered an intentional walk of Kendrys Morales.

Ventura wanted the left-handed Jennings to face the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon, but as we discussed when Jennings was acquired, he's not a lefty specialist. He actually gets right-handed hitters out at a better clip than lefties, so giving the Royals a third walk and a third baserunner in the inning was foolish move.

Still, Jennings made the pitch he needed to make to get out of the inning, but a weak grounder by Gordon somehow eluded both Alexei Ramirez and Micah Johnson and squirted into center field for a two-run single and a 6-1 Kansas City lead. It was a play Johnson should have made, but the play is at least partially Ramirez's fault because he jumped in front of the Sox rookie and perhaps screened him from seeing the ball.

The inning should have been over with the Royals still leading 4-1. Instead, it continued and Rios hit his home run to end any doubt on how this afternoon would end.

The Sox looked bad in all aspects, and it was hard not to feel like there wasn't some carryover from a poor ending to spring training. The South Siders had lost their last two exhibition games, a 10-2 drubbing against Arizona and a silly 10-2 loss to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Ventura had warned his team that enough was enough, and that the sloppy play needed to end.

That warning went unheeded, and similar results ensued in the opener in Kansas City. There were three silver linings from this game. 1) Jose Abreu homered, ending needless worries about his lack of power during spring training; 2) Johnson got his first big-league hit out of the way; and 3) it only counts as one loss and there's another game on Wednesday.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Future is now for White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers

It seems pretty odd that one of the more controversial players for White Sox fans is catcher Tyler Flowers. Yes, he was once a good prospect acquired in trade for a pretty good pitcher. No, he has never lived up to his prospect hype or the expectations his minor league resume stirred (.275/.391/.484 on the farm vs. .218/.287/.396 with the Sox).

The pent-up frustration was shuffled to the back burner this offseason with the 29-year-old receiver coming off an up-and-down, but overall solid season (.241/.297/.396). The Sox maybe inadvertently created a smoke screen when they made big improvements to other parts of the roster. A look at some of the free agent options might have convinced fans there wasn't a catcher upgrade available that didn't cost an arm and a leg. And maybe there also was the realization that Flowers isn't really holding the Sox back.

So Flowers enters this year as the unquestioned starter with the fragile Geovany Soto as his backup. But Flowers' advancing age and increasingly large salaries mean the position will almost certainly be re-examined soon.

Should Flowers bomb, he'll be non-tendered the way Gordon Beckham was once the paychecks he was set to earn through arbitration exceed his usefulness to a team, only receiving an invitation to return after agreeing to diminished pay and playing time.

If Flowers is fine again, I imagine the Sox will keep bringing him back through arbitration. They can do that potentially through the 2017 season, after which he'll be 32-years-old. When considering monetary commitments against performance, this might be the optimal situation for the Sox, even if Flowers is just "good enough."

Is Flowers the kind of catcher who will age well into his 30s?

I think the better question is are there any catchers you'd want to rely on as a starter once he reaches 30. Recent history makes that proposition seem pretty bleak.

Here are all the catchers the last decade who have started at least 90 games in their 30s by year, indicating they were at least the dominant half of a platoon. Catchers who didn't start at least 110 games have an asterisk. (That's a little arbitrary, but for perspective, the fewest games that A.J. Pierzynski started at catcher during his time with the Sox was 112 games in 2011).:

Jason Kendall (31)
Mike Matheny (34)
Jason Varitek (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (33)
Gregg Zaun (34)
Jorge Posada (33)
Paul Lo Duca (33)
Mike Lieberthal (33)
Jason LaRue (31)*
Bengie Molina (30)*
Mike Piazza (36)*
Damian Miller (35)*

Jason Kendall (32)
Kenji Johjima (30)
Ramon Hernandez (30)
Brad Ausmus (37)
Jorge Posada (34)
Ivan Rodriguez (34)
Paul Lo Duca (34)
Johnny Estrada (30)*
Mike Piazza (37)*
Damian Miller (36)*

Jason Kendall (33)
Kenji Johjima (31)
Bengie Molina (32)
Jorge Posada (35)
Jason Varitek (35)
Brian Schneider (30)
Ivan Rodriguez (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (30)
Paul Lo Duca (35)
Johnny Estrada (31)
Brad Ausmus (38)*
David Ross (30)*
Ramon Hernandez (31)*
Gregg Zaun (36)*

Jason Kendall (34)
Bengie Molina (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (31)
Jason Varitek (36)
Ramon Hernandez (32)
Ivan Rodriguez (36)*
Brian Schneider (31)*
Kenji Johjima (32)*
Rod Barajas (32)*

Jason Kendall (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (32)
Bengie Molina (34)
Rod Barajas (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (37)*
Jason Varitek (37)*
Carlos Ruiz (30)*
Miguel Olivo (30)*

A.J. Pierzynski (33)
Jason Kendall (36)
Carlos Ruiz (31)*
Miguel Olivo (31)*
Victor Martinez (31)*
Bengie Molina (35)*
Ivan Rodriguez (38)*

John Buck (30)
Miguel Olivo (32)
A.J. Pierzynski (34)
Yorvit Torrealba (32)*

A.J. Ellis (31)
A.J. Pierzynski (35)
John Buck (31)*
Ryan Hanigan (31)*
Rod Barajas (36)*
Carlos Ruiz (33)*

Yadier Molina (30)
Russell Martin (30)
A.J. Pierzynski (36)
A.J. Ellis (32)*
Chris Iannetta (30)*
John Buck (32)*
Chris Stewart (31)*

Miguel Montero (30)
Kurt Suzuki (30)
Carlos Ruiz (35)*
Russell Martin (31)*
Yadier Molina (31)*
Dioner Navarro (30)*
Brian McCann (31)*
Chris Iannetta (31)*

Probably nobody needed to see this list to realize catching is a younger player's position. The sampling of players is too small to make any sweeping generalizations, but it looks like the bumper crop of older catchers in the early 2000s was bolstered by a few aging Hall-of-Fame candidates (Piazza, Posada, Rodriguez), guys with occasionally big bats (Lieberthal, Lo Duca), guys who played forever because of good defensive reputations (Miller, Ausmus, Molina), and some guys who played forever I guess because they could (Kendall, Zaun). Pierzynski and Varitek are anomalies here in that they played a lot, and played well.

Even with things in baseball being cyclical, I suspect three things will keep this list from expanding again: 1) The increased emphasis on defense and pitch framing will keep guys with big bats like Piazza and Posada from catching a huge number of games if their gloves don't age as well; 2) Teams that have invested in big hitting catchers will try to keep the bat from aging by shuffling those guys to other positions, like the Twins have done with Joe Mauer, the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers did with Victor Martinez and the Yankees are likely to do with Brian McCann; and 3) Stricter testing for performance enhancing drugs will likely keep some guys from staying as healthy as they once did, a situation only unique to catching in the sense that no other position faces as much wear and tear.

So assuming Father Time remains unbeaten, the Sox will be happy to make do with Flowers, which is really what most teams do at the catcher position, anyway. Hopefully while avoiding a huge commitment to an aging receiver while they wait for a better, younger catcher to be had.