Wednesday, October 28, 2015

White Sox claim Jacob Turner off waivers from Cubs

Remember when Jacob Turner was a top-30 prospect and one of the jewels of the Detroit Tigers farm system? Well, now he's a White Sox reclamation project.

The South Siders claimed the 24-year-old off waivers from the Cubs this week. Turner did not pitch in the majors in 2015, spending most of the year on the 60-day disabled list because of a strained right flexor tendon and right shoulder inflammation.

The Tigers took the right-hander with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. In July 2012, Detroit made Turner the centerpiece of a deal with the Miami Marlins that netted them pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante.

Turner made 20 respectable starts for the Marlins in 2013, going 3-8 with a 3.74 ERA in 118 innings. But he imploded in 2014, compiling a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts). Miami designated him for assignment, and he eventually got traded to the Cubs for two minor leaguers.

Turner pitched even worse for the Cubs the last couple months of 2014 (6.49 ERA in 34.2 IP), and hasn't been seen in the majors since.

This is a classic example of the Sox taking a flier on a guy who is still young. He obviously has some talent, based on draft position and previous prospect rankings. It is more than likely he is just a bust, but if that's the case, the Sox will simply cut him next March. There is no harm in taking a look at a guy such as Turner in spring training.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happy 10th anniversary, White Sox fans


As White Sox fans, we focus a lot on the final three outs of the 2005 World Series. Sometimes, it gets lost what a great game Freddy Garcia pitched on Oct. 26, 2005. This video captures his performance nicely.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Would Manny Acta be the right bench coach to work with White Sox manager Robin Ventura?

We mentioned earlier this week that former Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta is one of the candidates for bench coach of the White Sox.

Below are some Acta quotes taken from this FanGraphs interview in 2012. I'm posting this because I agree with most of Acta's remarks here, and I think some of these ideas could be beneficial for White Sox manager Robin Ventura 

Lineup construction

"The main thing is scoring runs, so you need to stack up your best hitters up front. You forget about trying to put a guy in the second spot just because he can hit-and-run and bunt. After the first six hitters, you should put your best hitters in front of the [lesser] hitters. The bottom of your order should be the bottom. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of having a second leadoff hitter. I don’t like putting a guy in the nine-hole who should be hitting in the seven- or eight-hole. To me, you have to maximize at bats. Your better hitters should have a shot at getting that extra at bat." 

The top of the order
"Speed at the top is important, but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get on base. It’s been proven over the years. Guys like Wade Boggs had no speed, but if you have a high on-base guy, you have a better chance of scoring runs than if you have a guy leading off who can’t steal first base. The guy who hits first obviously has to be an on-base-percentage guy. Then you go from there." 

The middle of the lineup
"Like I said, I’m not a big believer in the second hitter being a guy who can just put the bat on the ball. I think that spot is one of the most important parts of your lineup. Then I believe that the third hitter should be your best hitter in your lineup. Period. I’ve never been a big advocate of having your best hitter hit cleanup. I think he should hit in the first inning and not sometimes lead off the next inning with nobody on.

"Your cleanup hitter has to hit for extra bases. That’s a big part of his job. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to tell you that I don’t want to put a singles hitter there just because he can drive in some runs with ground balls. He has to carry some fear with him when he comes to the plate, so that my best hitter sees some pitches." 

The sacrifice bunt

"I’m not big on bunting guys from first to second. I don’t think it’s a secret, because the facts are out there. It’s been proven that a guy has a better chance of scoring from first with no outs than from second with one out. I have to have way too much of an advantage late in the game, bullpen-wise and great hitters lined up, to do that. At first and second with no outs, I usually only do it with the bottom of the order, or maybe the top guy in the order, depending on how he’s swinging the bat. It guarantees me a runner on third with less than two out and another runner in scoring position. But I probably won’t if we need multiple runs. If it’s the heart of my order, it won’t happen."

Think back to some of the lineup decisions Ventura made in 2015, and in previous years, that made you scratch your head. It would be nice if Ventura had someone on his staff to tell him the second hitter in the lineup shouldn't be a strictly a hit-and-run or bunt guy. It's not a good idea to have weaker hitters such Tyler Saladino or Gordon Beckham hitting second, yet we have seen that lineup construction over and over again under Ventura.

Also, Jose Abreu should never hit cleanup. Ventura would sometimes put him in that spot against left-handed pitching, and it always made me cringe. Like Acta, I'm a big believer in making sure the best hitter gets an AB in the first inning. Abreu should not be hitting lower than third in the Sox batting order.

Avisail Garcia also should never hit cleanup, albeit for a different reason. Garcia had only 32 extra-base hits in 601 plate appearances in 2015. He had no power to speak of, so why did he start 40 games in the cleanup spot? You got me.

I've never been able to get my mind around Ventura's philosophy on bunting. He often bunts when I think he shouldn't, and he often doesn't bunt when I think he should. I'm generally not big on giving away outs, so Acta's philosophy is agreeable to me overall.

One other thing I'll say about Acta: His record as a manager stinks. His .418 winning percentage in six seasons is pathetic, but the main criticism of him is he doesn't know how to relate to players. We've been told that player relations is a strength of Ventura's, and I have no reason to doubt that is the case. Ventura has his clubhouse under control. What he needs is some help when it comes to in-game strategy. Whether that comes from Acta or somebody else, that needs to be the point of emphasis for the Sox in hiring a new bench coach.

Mets complete NLCS sweep of Cubs

Daniel Murphy is the first player in baseball history with at least four total bases in six consecutive postseason games. That's probably because he's first player to hit a home run in six consecutive playoff games. The New York second baseman took Cubs reliever Fernando Rodney deep in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday night to set that record, as the Mets beat the Cubs, 8-3, to complete a four-game sweep of the National League Championship Series.

New York will face the Kansas City-Toronto winner in the World Series.

It's getting late, so I'll just offer a few bullet points from this game:

  • Why on earth did Cubs manager Joe Maddon start Jason Hammel in a do-or-die game? Granted, Jon Lester on short rest is no sure bet, but nobody should be surprised that Hammel got pummeled. He gave up five runs, all earned, in just 1.1 innings. The Cubs were behind 4-0 just six batters into the game, and the crowd at Wrigley Field was full of long, ashen faces. That was a nightmarish start for the Cubs, and a dream come true for anyone cheering for the Mets. Maddon is considered a genius by many in the Chicago media, but starting Hammel is this game was a terrible move, an indefensible decision.
  • Power pitching will always beat power hitting. The Cubs have a lineup full of dangerous hitters, but they can't score if they don't hit home runs. The Mets outhomered the Cubs, 3-1, on Wednesday and 7-4 in the series. The Mets have four quality pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Those power arms in the New York rotation gave up a grand total of six runs to Cubs hitters in four games. For the most part, they kept the Cubs in the park and off the scoreboard. As a team, the Cubs hit just .164 in the four-game series.
  • Enough with the silly Cubs narratives, man. A lot of people ask me why so many White Sox fans (such as myself) refuse to cheer for the Cubs. Well, there are a couple reasons, but most of all, I'm weary of the storylines that seem to follow the Cubs. I'm tired of hearing about omens and curses and black cats and "Maddon magic" and various other hocus-pocus. Movie scripts that were written decades ago should not be taken as prophecy. The Red Sox rallying from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS has nothing to do with the 2015 NLCS. Nothing. There are no dead people looking down from heaven to make a ball disappear in the ivy. None of these extraneous factors have any impact on the outcome of ballgames.
Remember, the Cubs did not lose to the Mets because they are cursed. They lost because New York is a better team than they are. In fact, the Cubs are not cursed at all. They haven't won the World Series in 107 years because they've never fielded a good enough team to get the job done. 

Marco Estrada saves the Blue Jays in ALCS Game 5

Marco Estrada was waived by the Washington Nationals in 2010. As a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, he gave up more home runs (29) than any starting pitcher in the National League. After being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason, he started 2015 as a relief pitcher.

So, of course, Estrada has been Toronto's best starting pitcher during these playoffs. He turned in the start of his life Wednesday, going 7.2 innings and allowing just one run on three hits as the Blue Jays beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-1, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

Estrada featured precise fastball command and a changeup that had Kansas City hitters off balance all afternoon. He faced just one batter over the minimum through 7.2 innings, before Salvador Perez finally got to him with a solo home run to the opposite field. Alex Gordon followed the home run with a single that ended Estrada's day, but the 32-year-old journeyman had done his job.

With the win, the Blue Jays cut Kansas City's series lead to 3-2. Game 6 is Friday night in Kansas City.

This is the second time this postseason Estrada has come up big in an elimination game. He pitched Game 3 of the ALDS, an outing where he allowed just one run over 6.1 innings in a win over the Texas Rangers. He is now 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in three postseason starts.

The best news for the Blue Jays: Estrada got deep enough into the game to where they only had to use two relievers: Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. Toronto ace David Price warmed up during the game, but did not pitch.

That is key, because now Price is available to start Game 6. His mound opponent will be Kansas City's Yordano Ventura, in a rematch of Game 2, which was won by the Royals.

Kansas City is in terrific shape in this series. The Royals play well at home, and they've got two chances to win one game to advance to their second consecutive World Series. But, thanks to Estrada's performance on Wednesday, the Royals still have a little work ahead of them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

White Sox search for new bench coach continues

Manny Acta
The White Sox are searching for a new bench coach after relieving Mark Parent of his duties during the last week of the regular season.

According to a report by Scott Merkin of MLB.com, sources say former managers Manny Acta and Rick Renteria are on the Sox's list, along with Raul Ibanez, who played with five teams during a 19-year career in the major leagues.

The Sox also talked to former catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who is currently the first-base coach for the Cleveland Indians, but multiple sources are confirming Alomar Jr. is not a candidate for the position.

My guess is we won't see the Sox move real quickly on this. There's always a chance the team is waiting to speak with a coach whose team is still participating in the playoffs. In addition, there are four managerial openings around MLB (Florida, San Diego, Seattle, Washington). Potential bench coach candidates for the Sox also could be candidates for those managerial openings. More dominoes could fall once those hires are made.

Yoenis Cespedes' steal of third base: Most overlooked important play in NLCS Game 3

The Cubs played a lousy defensive game Tuesday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The New York Mets took advantage of most of their opportunities and got strong pitching from Jacob deGrom to earn a 5-2 victory at Wrigley Field. The Mets now have a 3-0 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.

Here in Chicago, some of the postgame laments are focusing on a couple misplays in left field by Kyle Schwarber, and a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill in the top of the sixth inning that allowed New York's Yoenis Cespedes to score the go-ahead and eventual winning run. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez made an error on the first play of the game, and right fielder Jorge Soler also had a horrible misplay in the sixth inning, so there were no shortage of defensive gaffes by the Cubs.

But the most overlooked important play in the game proceeded Cahill's wild pitch. With Cespedes on second base and one out in a 2-2 game, the Cubs' middle infielders, Baez and Starlin Castro, fell asleep. They were not holding Cespedes close, and he got a huge jump on Cahill and stole third base with ease.

The Mets successfully stole third base just five times during the regular season, but this is the fourth time one of their baserunners has swiped third in the postseason. New York is being more aggressive in the playoffs. The Cubs should have caught on to that by now, but apparently not.

That stolen base put Cespedes at third with just one out, which is always crucial. As it turns out, Cahill made the big pitch he needed to get the second out. Travis d'Arnaud grounded out to third base, and Cespedes could not advance. Michael Conforto then struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt, but the ball skipped past Cubs catcher Miguel Montero all the way to the screen. Conforto reached first safely on the dropped third strike, while Cespedes raced down the line to put the Mets up 3-2.

They tacked on two more in the seventh, with help from a Schwarber misplay, but do you think that steal of third base was crucial? You bet it was. That wild pitch means nothing if Cespedes is still standing on second base.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kansas City Royals unsung hero in Game 4 win: Kris Medlen

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know about the Kansas City Royals: Through the first four games of the American League Championship Series, Kansas City starting pitchers have thrown a grand total of 18 innings.

That's right: Royals starters are averaging less than five innings per outing, yet Kansas City owns a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after its 14-2 thumping of the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. That should tell you how much the Royals rely on their bullpen and how good those guys really are.

You're probably wondering why I'm declaring Kansas City pitcher Kris Medlen the unsung hero of Game 4, when he didn't even pitch in the game. But reflect back to Monday's Game 3 -- Kansas City's lone loss of the series -- when Medlen came on to replace the ineffective Johnny Cueto in the third inning. The Royals lost, 11-8, but Medlen ate up five innings and saved the rest of the Kansas City bullpen for critical Game 4. Other than Medlen, Franklin Morales was the only Royals reliever to appear in Game 3.

That kept Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis rested and fresh for Tuesday. You figured those guys would be needed, with journeyman Chris Young getting the start for the Royals.

As it turns out, Hochevar recorded the most critical out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Royals were up 5-2 at the time. Young had done a respectable job to that point, but it probably would not have been a good idea for him to face the middle of the Toronto batting order for a third time.

Ben Revere was on first base with two out. The potential league MVP, Josh Donaldson, was at the plate for Toronto. Here was the Blue Jays' chance to get back in the game. A fresh Hochevar came in from the bullpen and induced a weak foul out off the bat of Donaldson. Inning over.

Hochevar, Herrera, Madson and Morales went on to toss 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Toronto did not get a runner into scoring position against the Kansas City bullpen until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. And by then, the Royals had scored four runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two in the ninth against a far weaker Toronto bullpen to put the game out of reach.

The Royals bullpen is the best in the game. They are always tough, but they are even tougher when they are all fresh. They had Medlen to thank for having the rest of the relief corps primed and ready for Game 4. Cueto's short outing could have had an impact on the rest of the series had it not been for Medlen, but after Tuesday's result, that is long forgotten by most people.

Just in general, I think many of us forgot how good the Royals are coming into the playoffs. We all were impressed by the Blue Jays and their big bats and their plus-231 run differential. We installed them as a clear favorite. We pointed to the Royals' 11-17 September and figured Kansas City was a tired team, much like the St. Louis Cardinals were in the National League.

Not really. The Royals were probably just bored in September. They were basically unchallenged in the AL Central this summer. They won their division by 12 games. Now that the lights are on, the Royals are turning up their game again, just as they did last October when they won the AL pennant.

A White Sox fan's reaction to the Cubs playing in October

My good friend, Tom Braxton, has penned this poem in the same verse as Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."

As always, it is brilliant work:

Once upon a barstool dreary, while I pondered, dim and beery,
Over many a tired and tedious volume of old Bill James lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a yapping,
As of someone just recapping, flapping gums about some score.
“’Tis some blusterer,” I muttered, “flapping gums about some score.
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was far beyond September,
And each bumbling Sox defender left me with an open sore.
Eagerly I wished the springtime; vainly I had missed the pastime
That provided dreams of bigtime – bigtime games in South Side lore –
For the rare, triumphant Series when the champagne dared to pour –
Ten years past, and nothing more.

And the distant sound of boasting as the revelers were toasting
Thrilled me – filled me with the memory of joys I’d felt before;
So that now, to stop the bruising of my ears, I tried deducing,
“’Tis some family just boozing down the hall and through the door –
Some crowd just came a-cruising late tonight and through the door –
That it is, and nothing more.”

Finally my nerves got stronger; wasting time not any longer,
“Folks,” said I, “or family, may I ask what lies in store?
The fact was I was drinking, and all the while was thinking,
And your happy glasses clinking, clinking gaily through the door,
Brought me to a mind to join you” – here I walked on through the door;
Cub fans there, and nothing more.

Deep into their blankness staring, long I stood there, lost, despairing,
Baffled, building thoughts I’ve thought of many times before.
But their cheer was unrelenting, none among them were dissenting,
As they spoke of Schwarber sending homers further than before.
And I wondered as their chorus mumbled back the words, “He’ll score!”
Dreams of madness, nothing more.

It was then I saw no mystery, pointing out their dismal history,
As I reminded them of crashes that had gone so long before.
Not the least attention paid they; not a set of facts had made hay
With the stern conviction they say that would bring them safe to shore.
And my stronger stern conviction naming one they all abhor –
“Think of Bartman, nothing more.”

Then the Cub fans were beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the vapid, empty manner of the countenance they wore.
“Though thy jersey may say ‘Bryant,’ I don’t think that if you tried it
You could not maintain a scorebook as was done in days of yore.
You must understand the balk, the bunt, the meaning of ball four.
Quoth the Cub fan, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, fan or fake,” I cried, upstarting.
“I’ll go back into the South Side and the black hats we adore!
Leave no T-shirt as a remnant of those guys who’ll miss the pennant!
Leave me be in my resentment! I leave you through that barroom door!
Take thy ivy from my face, and take thy phony Cub d├ęcor!”
Quoth the Cub fan, “Nevermore.”

And the Cub fan, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the greenish planks of bleacher high above the grounds-crew door.
And his eyes have but the interest of a picture dumped in Pinterest,
And the iPhone light that’s simplest casts his shadow on the floor.
And my soul from that long shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!