Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chris Sale's nine-game winning streak ends vs. Indians

Chris Sale fell to 9-1 with a 6-2 loss to the Indians on Tuesday.
I had a bad feeling Chris Sale's winning streak was going to end Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians.

Sale had opened the season with nine victories in nine starts, but a couple of factors were working against him going into Tuesday. First, the nine hitters in the Cleveland batting order entered this matchup with a collective .304 career batting average against Sale.

Secondly, the Indians were getting their second look at Sale this season. The Sox ace beat Cleveland on April 9, but that was the closest Sale had come to losing a game previously this year. Sale walked off the mound after the top of the seventh inning that day, trailing 3-2. A five-run Sox rally in the bottom of the seventh allowed him to escape with a 7-3 win.

He had no such luck as he was pounded for six runs on seven hits in just 3.1 innings Tuesday. The Indians won, 6-2, behind Josh Tomlin (7-0) and have cut the South Siders' lead in the AL Central to just 1.5 games.

It was a strange outing for Sale, who had been using a "less is more" approach throughout his red-hot start. He wasn't throwing his high-90s heat as often, instead backing his fastball down into the low 90s and relying on location to get swings and weak contact early in the count. The result? Much greater efficiency and three complete games, including two in a row, albeit with fewer strikeouts.

But in this one, Sale came out firing 96 and 97 mph bullets. I thought he was overthrowing everything, frankly. His command was spotty at best, but he got through the first 2.2 innings unscathed. That's when the wheels came off.

Jose Ramirez won a 10-pitch battle with two outs in the third, working a walk. Sale was cursing himself on the mound after a 3-2 breaking ball missed well outside. He seemed to lose control of his emotions, as Francisco Lindor followed with a single, and then Mike Napoli hit a two-run triple to put the Indians up 2-1. Carlos Santana walked on seven pitches, and then former Sox infielder Juan Uribe won a nine-pitch battle with a single that scored Napoli for a 3-1 lead. Sale finally fanned Marlon Byrd to end the inning, but only after 43 pitches were required.

Things got no better in the fourth as Chris Gimenez homered to start the fourth to make it 4-1. After a strikeout, Sale walked Rajai Davis and Ramirez consecutively. An RBI hit by Lindor increased Cleveland's lead to 5-1 and ended Sale's night. Reliever Zach Putnam allowed one of the inherited runners from Sale to score, which means Sale was charged with all six runs -- or as many as he had allowed in his past seven starts combined.

The Sox had no answers for Tomlin, who allowed two runs on five hits over eight innings. He struck out six and walked just one.

It's been a rough two weeks for the Sox (27-20), who are 3-6 so far on a 10-game homestand that began with the team enjoying a five-game lead in the division. The South Siders could use a win Wednesday behind left-hander Jose Quintana, who will be opposed by Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber in a 1:10 start.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Some random Tuesday thoughts on the White Sox

Tim Lincecum is headed to the Angels.
The White Sox had their first bad week of the season last week, going 2-4 on a six-game road trip through Texas and New York.

Here's the good news: The Sox had a five-game lead in the AL Central when they left for the trip. They had a five-game lead when they came home. Sometimes, when it's going bad, treading water in the standings is a good thing.

Some other random thoughts:
  • The Sox own a league-best 3.17 team ERA, but their team ERA is 5.93 over the past 12 games (6-6 record). Only Chris Sale and Jose Quintana seem immune from the pitching suck bug right now. But perhaps some regression was inevitable.
  • The Sox bullpen did not lose a single game through the first 33 games of the season. They have now lost three of the past five games.
  • Tim Lincecum's decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels instead of the Sox isn't worth much heartache. I wouldn't have objected had the Sox signed Lincecum -- what's the harm in giving a guy a one-year deal and taking a chance? But it's also true that Lincecum hasn't had a good season since 2011, is coming off hip surgery, and didn't have a spring training. He probably won't make a start in the big leagues for about a month. The odds of him making a major impact are not high.
  • On April 23, Avisail Garcia was hitting .135. In 15 games since, he's hitting .393 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 10 RBIs. He has raised his batting average to a respectable .269 after hitting safely in 13 of those 15 games. But every time I feel like Garcia is turning a corner, he follows a good stretch with a slump that disappoints me. I need to see more before I believe in him.
  • White Sox prospect Tim Anderson is adjusting nicely to Triple-A competition after a slow start to the season. The shortstop was named International League batter of the week Monday after hitting .432 with three home runs and six RBIs during an eight-game stretch. Anderson's season slash line of .287/.310/.380 is respectable, but also reflective of a rough beginning. However, recency suggests he is starting to figure out Triple-A pitching.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Todd Frazier's batting average is low, but his clutch stats are impressive

Todd Frazier (right) has 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 33 games.
For years, White Sox fans have listened to TV announcer Ken Harrelson recite one of his favorite cliches: "Don't tell me what you hit. Tell me when you hit it."

Third baseman Todd Frazier is an interesting case study.

Frazier's .215/.290/.477 slash line through 33 games isn't overly impressive. He's endured two weeklong slumps already this season that have driven his overall numbers down. However, nobody can say they are unhappy with Frazier's team-leading 10 home runs, or his team-leading 27 RBIs.

The hits have come at key times, too, including Monday night when Frazier went 4 for 6 with two home runs and six RBIs. The veteran hit a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning to lift the South Siders to an 8-4 win over the Texas Rangers. The victory is the Sox's fourth straight, and they own a 23-10 record with a six-game lead in the AL Central entering Tuesday's play.

As for Frazier, his numbers spike significantly once the seventh inning arrives. In the late innings of games, he's had 44 plate appearances, during which he's hitting .273 with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

Let's take a look at his leverage stats:

Low-leverage situations: .204/.316/.724, 3 HRs, 5 RBIs, 10 Ks, 8 BBs
Medium-leverage situations: .164/.200/.344, 3 HRs, 6 RBIs, 14 Ks, 2 BBs
High-leverage situations: .400/.478/1.050, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs, 3 Ks, 3 BBs

So, in the biggest spots, Frazier's batting average goes up. Way up, in fact. His power production goes up. His strikeouts go down. Sixty percent of his RBIs have come with the game hanging in the balance.

"Don't tell me what you hit, tell me when you hit it."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Erik Johnson's stay in the White Sox rotation a short one

Erik Johnson is back in Charlotte.
Erik Johnson's audition for the fifth spot in the White Sox starting rotation did not go well Thursday night, as he suffered a 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Johnson needed 81 pitches to get through the first three innings, and he was fortunate to get through five innings. He allowed four runs on eight hits, walking three and striking out six. He did retire seven of the last eight hitters he faced, and ended up throwing 108 pitches.

Still, he was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte after the game.

The Sox (19-10) still have a four-game lead in the American League Central despite losing two out of three to Boston. They'll look to get back on track this weekend with a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins.

Mat Latos, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are lined up to pitch in this series. Carlos Rodon will get the opener of a three-game series that starts Monday in Texas, but then the Sox will need a fifth starter again for Tuesday's game against the Rangers.

The guess here is Miguel Gonzalez will get his second opportunity to try to secure the spot. The right-hander allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 25, a game the Sox eventually won, 7-5.

Gonzalez most recently pitched Wednesday for Triple-A Charlotte, which would put him in line to pitch Tuesday. He's 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA in four starts for the Knights. He's thrown only 17 innings, however, as one of those four starts was cut short when he was struck with a line drive in the first inning.

In other pitching news, Sox reliever Jake Petricka has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a hip problem. Right-hander Tommy Kahnle has taken that spot in the bullpen.

With Johnson's demotion, veteran right-hander Scott Carroll has been recalled to take a spot in the bullpen, according to a tweet by CSNChicago's Dan Hayes. The Sox bullpen has worked seven innings the past two games, and Carroll is the kind of pitcher who can provide multiple innings in relief, if necessary.

The Sox also are sending catcher Alex Avila on a rehab assignment. Avila has been on the disabled list since straining his hamstring April 23.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ill-timed walk costly for Carlos Rodon vs. Red Sox

Carlos Rodon
We know how the national media slobbers all over Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. No doubt, the ESPN guys were excited by the game-changing, two-run homer Ortiz hit off Carlos Rodon in the fifth inning of Wednesday's 5-2 Boston win over the White Sox.

The home run turned a 2-1 Chicago advantage into a 3-2 Boston lead. The Red Sox finished the game off from there.

But from a White Sox perspective, I'm not so concerned about the home run Ortiz hit. Rodon served up a fat fastball, and he knows it. But the real sin Rodon committed in that inning was allowing Ortiz to get to the plate in the first place.

Rodon retired the first two hitters easily in that fifth inning, but then he issued a four-pitch, two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts. That's inexcusable with Ortiz on deck. In a one-run game, you go right at Bogaerts. If he hits his way on -- and he might because he's a good hitter -- so be it. But you can't afford to just give him first base and allow Ortiz to hit with a man on. Rodon was asking for it, and Ortiz made him pay.

If Rodon retires Bogaerts, the inning is over. The 2-1 White Sox lead stays intact. Ortiz leads off the next inning, and even if he hits one to the moon, the best he can do is tie the game. That's what you want when you're playing Boston -- you want to keep yourself out of situations where Ortiz can beat you. Rodon failed to do that, and he got beat.

Just overall, Rodon needs to work on limiting his walks. He's averaging 3.8 walks per nine innings through his first six starts this year. He's issued a team-high 14 walks in 33 innings, and his 1.394 WHIP is too high for a pitcher with his talent. The Sox are 2-4 in Rodon's starts. He'll start winning games when he stops giving away so many free bases to the opponent.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

White Sox designate John Danks for assignnment

The White Sox on Tuesday announced their intention to designate veteran left-hander John Danks for assignment.

Danks is 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts this season, and as we've chronicled previously on this blog, he is the one guy who seems to be holding the Sox back this season. The South Siders enter Wednesday's game against Boston with a 19-8 record, which means they are 19-4 when Danks doesn't pitch.

General manager Rick Hahn indicated right-hander Erik Johnson will be recalled from Triple-A Charlotte to take Danks' spot in the starting rotation. Johnson will start Thursday's game against Boston.

“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn told CSNChicago's Dan Hayes. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”

There's no question Danks has been a momentum killer during his starts in the early going this year. His appearances have put a stop to a five-game winning streak and a six-game winning streak already. The struggles are part of a longer-term trend since Danks underwent shoulder surgery in August 2012.

He has never been the same pitcher since returning in 2013. In 88 post-surgery starts, he has gone 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA. As a team, the Sox are 32-56 in those 88 games. He's just too big of a liability for a team that is off to a good start and has every intention of trying to win this year.

Letting Danks go will not be cheap. The club is eating the remaining $11.75 million on Danks' contract, which comes as a surprise to many longtime Sox observers, who are used to seeing owner Jerry Reinsdorf insist on getting a return on his investment.

For myself and other Sox fans, the move is refreshing, because it shows the Sox are serious about winning and willing to address problems quickly. In the past, we've seen this organization stick with high-priced players despite poor performance. (Why was Adam Dunn batting third in 2011 when his batting average was well below .200?)

In the past, we've seen this organization stick with struggling players (Tyler Flowers, Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham) long after it became apparent they were never going to be solid, everyday contributors.

Whether the Sox have an internal solution for the No. 5 starter spot remains to be seen. But both the numbers and the eye test show that Danks is no longer capable of pitching at the major-league level. I commend the Sox for recognizing that and moving on.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mark Liptak's conversation with new White Sox broadcaster Jason Benetti

It's Tuesday afternoon, and the White Sox haven't played since Sunday afternoon.

So, while we wait for the six-game homestand and tonight's game against Boston to begin, here's a link to an interview with new White Sox broadcaster Jason Benetti, who recently chatted with SoxNet's Mark Liptak.


Monday, May 2, 2016

MLB strength of schedule rankings

It feels like the White Sox have had a tough early-season schedule, making their 18-8 record on May 2 all the more encouraging.

The Sox have played six teams that had a winning record last year, including two division winners -- Texas and Toronto -- both of whom the Sox swept. They've played 17 of their first 26 games on the road, going 12-5, and they just came out of a grueling stretch of 19 games in 19 days with a 13-6 record.

Monday's off day is well-deserved, although there is no rest in the American League schedule. The Sox welcome Boston (15-10) to U.S. Cellular Field for a three-game series starting Tuesday night.

According to this ranking, the Sox have played the seventh most difficult schedule in baseball.

A couple of interesting points about this list:
  • Five of the six teams ranked ahead of the Sox (Toronto, Baltimore, L.A. Angels, Tampa Bay, Oakland) have already played the Sox. At this point, playing against the Sox strengthens one's schedule.
  • Atlanta and Cincinnati are the only two National League teams ranked in the top 15 for strength of schedule. Of course, the Braves (6-18) and Reds (10-15) are two of the worst teams in all of baseball. They don't get to play themselves, and therefore can't weaken their own strength of schedule the way they do for other teams.
  • The three softest schedules in baseball so far belong to the three teams with the best records in the National League. The Nationals (17-7) have played the weakest schedule in baseball, followed by the Cubs (17-6) and Mets (15-8). The Pirates (15-10) have played the fifth-weakest schedule.
This is additional proof of what we've suspected all along. There are a lot of bad teams in the National League. There is a clear class of haves and have-nots in the Senior Circuit. The top teams in the NL are going to have inflated win totals by beating on rebuilding clubs such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Diego.

Meanwhile, there are very few easy nights in the American League. I'll say it now: Any team that wins 90 games in the American League year, that's going to be more impressive to me than winning 100 in the National League.