Friday, July 29, 2016

White Sox settle for split in crosstown series

Tyler Saladino
In a season full of missed opportunities, the White Sox blew another one Thursday night. The South Siders were forced to settle for a four-game split in the crosstown series after a 3-1 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

We talked earlier in the week about the Sox stealing a couple games from the Cubs in which the pitching matchups didn't seem to favor them. Well, in this game, the Sox did have the advantage in the pitching matchup, and their weak offense failed to take advantage.

For his part, Sox ace Chris Sale wasn't particularly sharp in his return from a five-game suspension. The left-hander was making just his second start since July 8, and the rust showed. He did not have his good fastball command -- especially early -- and his velocity was not at peak levels. Sale did not record any strikeouts through the first three innings of the game. That's the first time that has happened in any of his 136 career starts.

That said, he went six innings and allowed only two runs on six hits. The Cubs have a power-laden lineup, and they are especially tough at home (32-16 record), but Sale kept them in the yard and generally held them down. It was not a poor performance given that his stuff was less than his best.

The loss is disappointing because the Sox hitters allowed struggling Cubs right-hander John Lackey to get back on track. Coming into Thursday, Lackey was 0-5 with a 5.06 ERA over his past seven starts. But against the Sox, he allowed only a run on four hits over six innings.

We're not tipping our caps here. This was an example of poor offense. Lackey retired 10 Sox hitters in a row at one point, and that string was broken on a single up the middle by Sale, of all people.

The Sox blew a golden chance to tie with the score at 2-1 in the top of the eighth. Tyler Saladino doubled off  Hector Rondon leading off the inning, but the Sox couldn't get him home. Apparently, the Cubs were serious about holding this lead. Saladino was at third with two outs when Cubs manager Joe Maddon summoned newly acquired closer Aroldis Chapman for a four-out save opportunity.

The hard-throwing lefty struck out Melky Cabrera to protect the lead, then retired the side in order in the ninth after the Cubs added an insurance run in the eighth off Sox reliever Nate Jones.

With the loss, the Sox are now 1-7 on the road since the All-Star break. That's ominous, given that these two games at Wrigley Field start a stretch of 17 out of 20 games away from U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox drop to 50-52 entering Friday's play, and they are 8.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central -- six games back in the AL wild-card race.

The players say they do not want management to pull the plug and sell before Monday's trading deadline, but they are not making a compelling case for themselves when they fail to support their best pitcher in a game such as Thursday's.

Time is running out on the 2016 Sox.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Anthony Ranaudo's White Sox debut memorable, but unfortunate

Anthony Ranaudo
With Carlos Rodon still stuck on the disabled list, the White Sox turned to Anthony Ranaudo to make a spot start Wednesday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Ranaudo held up his end of the bargain. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and even became the first Sox pitcher to hit a home run since Mark Buehrle in 2009.

But from the sixth inning on, it all unraveled, and the Sox lost 8-1 -- although very little of that damage was Ranaudo's fault.

The Sox led 1-0 into the sixth inning before Kris Bryant ended Ranaudo's no-hit bid and shutout with a solo home run on a 3-1 hanging curve ball. To Ranaudo's credit, he did not get rattled. He retired the next two hitters and got the game into the seventh inning with score tied at 1.

After the first two Sox hitters made outs in the seventh, manager Robin Ventura allowed Ranaudo to hit for himself. I thought that might have been a spot to give Justin Morneau an opportunity to pinch hit against Cubs starter Jason Hammel, but given the Sox's thin bullpen, Ventura decided to try to get another inning out of Ranaudo. A questionable decision, but not indefensible by any means.

It looked like it would work out, initially, as Ranaudo retired Miguel Montero and Addison Russell on groundouts to start the bottom of the inning. That's where things got dicey, and frankly, what occurred the rest of the seventh was not Ranaudo's fault.

The Sox right-hander snapped off beautiful curve ball to Jason Heyward on a 2-2 pitch. It was right at the bottom of the zone and over the plate. It fooled Heyward, and he took it for what should have been strike three, inning over. But catcher Dioner Navarro's lousy framing skills once against cost the Sox. As Navarro caught the pitch, he snapped his glove downward, making it seem like the ball was in the dirt. The Sox didn't get the call, the inning continued, and Heyward walked on the next pitch.

Ranaudo was at 101 pitches at that point, and that should have been the end of his night. Javier Baez was the next Cubs hitter, and Ventura should have gone with one of the power right-handed arms in his bullpen. It would have been nice to see Carson Fulmer, or even Tommy Kahnle, in that spot to give Baez a different look.

Instead, Ranaudo remained, and he hung a 3-2 curve to Baez, who hit one out to give the Cubs the lead for good at 3-1. Then, Ventura emerges from the dugout to make a pitching change.

A day later and a dollar short there, Robin.

Fulmer and Jacob Turner struggled in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing the Cubs to blow it open with five more runs, but the game was lost with the lousy receiving of Navarro and the questionable decision-making of Ventura in the seventh inning.

Ranaudo deserved a better fate, and to add insult to injury, he was the one who was sent to the minors after the game to make room on the roster for Chris Sale, who is returning from his five-game suspension.

Between the home run and limiting the Cubs to two hits over 6.2 innings, I'd say Ranaudo's debut was a memorable one, but he unfortunately became a victim of the usual White Sox nonsense.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

James Shields leads White Sox to shutout of Cubs

James Shields
I didn't care for the move when the White Sox acquired James Shields from the San Diego Padres in early June.

I didn't think he was the "missing piece" the Sox needed to push themselves into contention in the American League, and I still don't think that. As I type here today, the Sox (50-50) still are the same mediocre team they were the day Shields was acquired.

That said, let's give Shields his credit for pulling it together after a historically bad beginning to his tenure with the Sox. He's made 10 starts since joining the South Siders, and there's a clear line of demarcation between the first four starts and the last six. None of his first four starts were quality, but all of his last six have been.

Shields' first four starts with Sox: 13.2 IP, 29 H, 25 R, 24 ER, 8 Ks, 13 BBs, 5 HRs, 15.80 ERA
Shields' last six starts with Sox: 42 IP, 32 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 20 Ks, 12 BBs, 5 HRs, 1.71 ERA

Tuesday's outing was Shields' best since the trade. He fired 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball to lead the Sox to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. He struck out five and walked four, which is a few too many walks, but it almost seemed to be by design. Shields has been hurt by the home run ball a lot this season, and it appeared he just decided he wasn't going to give in to the Cubs hitters on the rare occasions he was behind in the count. He was sooner going to walk somebody than just lay one in and risk giving up a home run.

The strategy paid off, as the Cubs were limited to just four singles and couldn't come through on the occasions when they did get a runner in scoring position.

The recent stretch of good pitching has rebuilt Shields' trade value, and there are rumors now that the Sox might flip him for prospects sometime this week. If indeed the Sox have decided they are not in the race for this year, moving Shields now would be the correct call.

The Sox hitters on Tuesday were facing the Cubs' hottest pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, who entered the game with a streak of 22.1 innings without allowing an earned run. That ended quickly, as the Sox got on the board in the first inning. Jose Abreu's single scored Adam Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk.

Eaton added to the lead in the fifth with a solo home run -- his seventh of the season. The Sox completed the scoring with a run in the sixth. Hendricks departed after giving up a soft single to Todd Frazier. Cubs reliever Travis Wood gifted the Sox a run by walking three consecutive batters. Tyler Saladino's bases-loaded walk forced home a run to make it 3-0.

This time, the Sox had their two best relievers available to protect a late lead. Nate Jones recorded the final out of the eighth, and David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save of the season.

The win keeps the Crosstown Cup on the South Side for the third consecutive season. The Cubs still have a chance to even the season series if they can win both games at Wrigley Field this week, but in the event of a tie, the team that won the Crosstown Cup the previous season keeps it. For that reason, the Sox were awarded the trophy Tuesday night after the game.

I don't often say much about the Cubs on this blog, because I prefer not to attract trolls. But I was noticing their record is 59-40 entering Wednesday's play, and I remember them starting the season 25-6. A little quick math tells me the Cubs are a .500 team over their last 68 games (34-34).

The narrative around Chicago has been that the Cubs are an elite team, that they are enjoying a magical season, and that they are on the brink of history. For those first 31 games, they sure looked pretty damn good. But in these first two games against the Sox, they have been ordinary, and based on their .500 record over a 68-game period, they've been ordinary for a while.

The Sox are starting a Triple-A pitcher (Anthony Ranaudo) Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and I won't be surprised if the Cubs light him up. That said, I have been surprised at how well the mediocre Sox have done so far against the highly regarded Cubs. A lot of folks seemed to believe the Sox would be overmatched in this series. That has not been the case to this point.

Miguel Gonzalez and Shields were better than Jake Arrieta and Hendricks, and that's been the difference so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miguel Gonzalez outpitches Jake Arrieta in crosstown series opener

Jake Arrieta -- not sharp lately
Based on pitching matchups, just about everyone was expecting the Cubs to prevail in Monday's opener of the 2016 crosstown series.

The North Siders had their ace, defending NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta, on the mound, while the White Sox were countering with their No. 5 starter, Miguel Gonzalez.

However, games are not played on paper -- and surprise, surprise -- Gonzalez outpitched Arrieta in a 5-4 Sox victory:

Gonzalez: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BBs, 8 Ks, 1 HR
Arrieta: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BBs, 6 Ks, 1 HR

Neither man figured in the decision, but taking a longer view, maybe we should have known this was not a mismatch.

Arrieta has not been pitching well. The Cubs have lost seven of the last 10 games he has started, including the last four. Arrieta has allowed 20 earned runs in 29.1 innings pitched over his last five outings, only one of which has been a quality start. That will pencil out to a 6.14 ERA.

In contrast, Gonzalez has churned out five consecutive quality starts for the Sox. He has allowed 11 earned runs over 32.2 innings during that span, good for a rock-solid 3.03 ERA.

The Sox right-hander is only 1-2 during that stretch, but it's through no fault of his own. He should have gotten the win Monday night, as he walked off the mound with a two outs in the seventh inning and a 4-2 lead.

But as we discussed in yesterday's blog entry, the Sox are woefully thin in the bullpen right now. Jacob Turner had a short start Friday against the Detroit Tigers. And Chris Sale did not make his start Saturday after the whole jersey-slashing incident, so the Sox bullpen has had to cover an absurd amount of innings over the past few days.

Both closer David Robertson and top set-up reliever Nate Jones were unavailable Monday, leaving Matt Albers and Dan Jennings to try to protect the 4-2 lead in the ninth. They could not. The Cubs tied it, although we can credit Jennings for recording a key strikeout of Jason Heyward with two on and two out to preserve the 4-4 tie.

The Sox then recorded their third consecutive walk-off victory. J.B. Shuck singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth against newly acquired Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery. Dioner Navarro advanced the runner to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Tyler Saladino delivered a game-winning base hit to center field.

In case you were wondering, this is the first time the Sox have had three straight walk-off winners since Aug. 4-6, 1962.

The Sox will send James Shields to the mound in the second game of the series Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Technically, I guess Hendricks is the fifth starter for the Cubs, but much like Gonzalez, he's been pitching better than that moniker would suggest.

Hendricks hasn't given up an earned run since June 29, and has logged a 0.72 ERA over his last seven appearances (six starts).

Maybe as Sox fans, we should be more worried about Hendricks and less worried about Arrieta, media hype aside.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chris Sale suspended; White Sox pitching staff hanging by a thread

Chris Sale
White Sox ace Chris Sale has been suspended five days for "violating team rules, for insubordination and for destroying team equipment," general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement Sunday.

Sale did not want to wear the 1976 throwback jerseys the team was supposed to wear during his scheduled start Saturday, so he cut them up in the locker room before the game. The Sox subsequently sent Sale home and had reliever Matt Albers start Saturday's game instead.

Sale will be eligible to return Thursday, and I'm not going to waste any time discussing the actions by Sale or management in this whole mess. It led SportsCenter on Saturday night. It was a headline on CNN's website. Anything I might say about the matter would only be adding to the noise.

What I will say is the Sox's entire pitching staff is in deep trouble for the next week as a result of this incident. I commend the team for salvaging the final two games of a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers over the weekend, but the bullpen, in particular, is hanging by a thread after what just took place.

The relief corps had to pitch the entirety of Saturday's game. Albers went two innings. Dan Jennings worked two innings. So did Tommy Kahnle. Zach Duke pitched the seventh inning. Nate Jones started the eighth, but struggled -- his own error allowed the Tigers to tie the game at 3. Closer David Robertson relieved with two on and two out and struck out Tyler Collins to keep things even.

After the Sox failed to score in the bottom of the eighth inning, heavy rains moved into Chicago for the second time during the game. Play had to be suspended until Sunday afternoon.

When the game resumed Sunday, Robertson was still on the mound. He essentially had to get four outs to navigate the top of the ninth after J.B. Shuck misplayed a routine fly into a double, but Robertson fanned Cameron Maybin with a runner in scoring position to once again keep it at 3-3. It's worth noting that Robertson had his A stuff during that inning -- two of the three outs were swinging strikeouts.

The Sox won the game, 4-3, on a two-out RBI single by Adam Eaton in the bottom of the ninth. You have to give the bullpen credit for covering all nine innings on an emergency basis and pulling out a win.

However, that workload took its toll in Sunday's regularly scheduled game. The Sox won, 5-4, but it should have been much easier than it was. Starting pitcher Jose Quintana fired 117 pitches on a day where the heat index was 109, and he got two outs deep in the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead.

You'd like to think the Sox bullpen could close that one out, but Jones and Robertson couldn't get it done. Jones gave up a solo home run to Andrew Romine in the eighth inning, and Robertson surrendered three solo shots in the ninth -- Nick Castellanos, Collins and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit those home runs.

Robertson had two strikes with two outs on Collins, and again on Saltalamacchia, and he couldn't close. In the earlier contest, Robertson overmatched both those two hitters with his best stuff. Both struck out swinging. But in this game, Robertson left a cutter in the center of the plate against Collins, and hung a curve ball to Saltalamacchia  -- both with disastrous results.

The Sox won anyway when Melky Cabrera singled home Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk, in the bottom of the ninth. But, fans are ready to tie Robertson to a chair and throw him on the eastbound lane of the Dan Ryan after he blew Quintana's win.

I'm not sure the criticism is fair. Robertson entered Saturday's game around 10 p.m. He had to be ready to take the mound again at 1:10 Sunday. And, he was summoned again shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

So, in about an 18-hour span, Robertson had to warm up three times and take the mound three times, in some of the hottest weather we've had in Chicago in about four years.

How many pitches can we expect a short reliever to throw in that amount of time before he loses effectiveness? Keep in mind, it's not just the pitches on the mound, it's the pitches in the bullpen, too.

Jones has pitched five times in the past six games. Robertson is obviously overworked. Should we really be surprised that they labored so badly in the Sunday afternoon heat?

Sale's actions put his teammates in a tough spot. The Sox are not a good offensive team. They play a lot of close games (49 of 98 games decided by two runs or less). The high-leverage relievers get used a lot. Overuse crossed the line into abuse on Sunday, from my perspective.

The Sox don't have an off day until next Monday. They have two games at home against the Cubs, two games on the road against the Cubs, then three in Minnesota against the Twins.

The schedule offers no relief in the short run. Robertson and Jones almost certainly will need the night off Monday vs. the Cubs. Starter Miguel Gonzalez is probably going to have to go six innings, regardless of whether he is effective or not.

I won't be surprised if some losing comes as a result of all this over the next week. This is the price the Sox will pay for Sale insubordination. Arms are being taxed, and sooner or later, more games are going to be lost. Frankly, it's fairly surprising the Sox got two wins Sunday.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rick Hahn: White Sox are 'mired in mediocrity'

Rick Hahn
Remember when we thought the White Sox would be better in 2016 than they were last season? That was fun while it lasted, huh?

Well, guess what? The Sox are 46-49 after 95 games. At this same point last season, they were 45-50. So, all that moving and shaking over the last calendar year has resulted in a net gain of one lousy win. Hooray!

Before Thursday night's 2-1 rain-shortened loss to the Detroit Tigers, Sox general manager Rick Hahn admitted the plan is not working.

“We looked to get ourselves right as quickly as possible,” Hahn told members of the media scrum. “There was a spurt this season where it looked like it worked. As we sit here today, we’ve been wrestling with being a couple games over, a couple games under .500 for the last few weeks.

“We’re mired in mediocrity. That’s not the goal, that’s not acceptable, that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish for the long term.”

So, there you have it: The first sign that the Sox might be looking at a change in direction at the Aug. 1 trading deadline. The team is 10.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, and 7.5 games back in the wild-card race. There isn't much hope left for 2016, and Hahn acknowledged the team has ruled out any deals that would involve trading prospects for short-term rentals.

Hahn noted several times that the Sox are "open-minded" about their options. He did not rule out a complete teardown, although he commented that trading All-Star pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana "might be extreme."

The Sox are not the most transparent organization in the world -- and I don't care that they're not -- so we're left to speculate about what this might mean. My speculation is they'll keep Sale. Shortstop Tim Anderson also is off limits in a trade. Quintana is unlikely to be dealt, but could be had if the right offer comes along. Everyone else is on the block, with David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Zach Duke and Melky Cabrera among the most likely candidates to be traded.

Here's what I fail to understand: The Sox allowed this season to slip away without firing the manager or anyone else on the coaching staff. Maybe the 23-10 start to the season created false hope, but the 23-39 mark since then is ridiculous. There's no way this team should have played that poorly over a stretch of 62 games.

The Sox were willing to shake up the roster, with John Danks, Mat Latos and Jimmy Rollins all being shown the door. Anderson was called up from the minors. The Sox traded for James Shields. They signed Justin Morneau. They recently recalled top prospect Carson Fulmer. They've been willing to address problems on the roster, but that hasn't improved results. There's no question the team is playing below its talent level at present, and it's been that way for more than two months. Why isn't anyone that's part of the dugout brain trust accountable for that?

I'm reluctant to let Hahn and Ken Williams undertake a new rebuilding project. They've turned almost the entire roster over since the midpoint of the 2013 season -- Sale, Quintana and Nate Jones are the only players left from that time -- but the results still are disappointing.

There's a lot of folks who want to trade Sale and Quintana, but I'm opposed to that line of thinking for two reasons: 1) I don't trust this front office to get the appropriate return, and 2) Right now, you'd be shopping them only to contending teams, and contenders are only willing to give up prospects during the middle of the season. If you're going to trade one or both of the crown jewels of your organization, I think you need to get at least one, if not two, major league players in return -- not just prospects.

Teams that are in the hunt typically are not willing to subtract players from their 25-man roster at this time of year. If the Sox do want to make a move with their top pitchers, they might be better served to wait until the offseason when every team in baseball could conceivably be in the market for Sale or Quintana. At that point in time, the Sox might be better positioned to maximize their return.

Right now, the vultures are circling, looking to pick at the carcass of the 2016 Sox. Hahn needs to exercise patience here. If he is going to move, he better make sure he gets exactly what he wants. These decisions are too important to the future of the Sox organization to rush.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

White Sox should have swept Seattle; they lose two of three instead

Dan Jennings
As previously noted, the White Sox choked away a brilliant effort from ace Chris Sale in Monday night's series opener against Seattle, but surprisingly enough, they responded with a crisp 6-1 victory on Tuesday night.

Jose Quintana (8-8) got back to .500 by winning his third consecutive start, and he was backed by home runs from Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier. Cabrera's blast leading off the top of the seventh inning broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Sox on their way to the win.

The Sox should have won the series finale on Wednesday, too. They had a 5-2 lead in the seventh inning, but then the old choke reflex kicked in again.

Zach Duke gave up a two-run homer to Mike Zunino in the seventh inning. Adam Lind, who homered off David Robertson to win the game Monday, struck again with a solo home run to tie it off Nate Jones in the eighth. Then, Leonys Martin went deep in the bottom of the 11th inning off Dan Jennings to lift the Mariners to a 6-5 win.

Here's the real shame of it: Miguel Gonzalez outpitched Felix Hernandez.

Yes, you read that right. The Sox's No. 5 starter got the game into the seventh inning with a three-run lead against the Seattle ace. Gonzalez provided his team with a golden opportunity to steal a win in a game that featured an unfavorable pitching matchup.

Instead, the Sox kicked the opportunity away, like they have so many others over the past 60 games. Teams that contend take advantage of those chances. Teams that finish in fourth place blow them. I'll bet you can guess which kind of team the Sox are.

White Sox trade Scott Carroll to Texas for cash considerations

Scott Carroll
The Texas Rangers have two starting pitchers (Derek Holland, Colby Lewis) on the 60-day disabled list, and injuries have limited Yu Darvish to only four starts this season.

Things have gotten so bad in Texas that the Rangers have turned to washed-up Kyle Lohse to make a couple of recent starts (Lohse has a 12.54 ERA in two games).

So, it comes as no surprise that Texas has reportedly called the slumping White Sox to see if they are going to make All-Star pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana available in a trade.

According to a recent tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox are looking to keep their starting rotation intact, instead choosing to make all position players except for Tim Anderson available in a deal.

In any case, a few hearts might have skipped a beat yesterday when a story called "White Sox-Rangers trade" moved across the AP wire. Alas, it was not the rumored blockbluster.

Instead, the Sox sent right-handed pitcher Scott Carroll to Texas for cash considerations.

Carroll, 31, started 14 games for the Sox two years ago and has a lifetime mark of 6-11 with a 4.60 ERA in 47 games (19 starts). Carroll has toiled at Triple-A Charlotte (2-8, 5.55 ERA) for most of this season, and the Rangers are sending him to Double-A Frisco.

He could eventually make a spot start for Texas, but I'll take a guess and say this isn't the impact trade Rangers fans want. We'll see if they get the starting pitcher they need in the coming days.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

David Robertson ruins gem from Chris Sale in Seattle

David Robertson
Chris Sale is the man you want on the mound when it's time to put a stop to a losing streak.

The White Sox ace did his part Monday night. He fired eight innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just one hit -- a single in the first inning. He struck out six, walked three and hit two batters. He needed 100 pitches to complete the eighth inning, and he left the mound with a 3-0 lead.

Too bad the Sox lost 4-3 to the Seattle Mariners because closer David Robertson did not do his job.

Adam Lind's three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning cost Sale what should have been his 15th victory of the season.

Sox manager Robin Ventura is catching a lot of blame for taking Sale out. I won't disagree with anyone who thinks Ventura should have been relieved of his duties long ago, but I'm pinning this loss squarely on Robertson and his battery mate, Dioner Navarro.

Sale hit two batters in the seventh inning and worked his way out of trouble. He walked two batters in the eighth, including a four-pitch free pass to No. 9 hitter Shawn O'Malley. While Sale escaped those jams, it is fair to say his command was starting to slip, so it wasn't a poor decision to not have him face the heart of the Seattle order for the fourth time in the ninth inning.

Robertson is paid $12 million a year to protect three-run leads, and he didn't get it done. He hung a curve to Franklin Gutierrez, who singled to start the inning. After Robinson Cano grounded into a force out, Navarro cost Robertson an out against Seattle slugger Nelson Cruz.

On a 2-2 pitch, Robertson threw a fastball at the knees that had the whole plate, but Navarro caught it in such a way that he snatched the ball from over to the plate into the right-handed batter's box, making it appear as though it was six inches inside. PitchTrax indicated it was a strike, and maybe it would have been with a better umpire behind the plate. But Navarro's poor receiving skills fooled Joe West, who is not a good umpire, and ball three was called. Robertson walked Cruz on the next pitch to put a second man on bring the tying run to the plate.

Robertson recovered to fan Dae-ho Lee on a good curve for the second out, but he missed location badly on a 2-1 cutter to Kyle Seager, who singled to make it 3-1. That brought Lind to the plate representing the winning run. Robertson jumped ahead with a good curve that Lind swung over, but then he missed location by about a foot on a high cutter on the second pitch. Lind did what he should do with that pitch -- he hit it over the fence to win the game.

The Sox have lost five straight, falling to 45-47. They remain nine games out of first place in the AL Central and fall to six games out of the AL wild-card race with six teams to pass.

That is going to be a tall mountain to climb. The thing that's really upsetting about this loss is Sale being denied his 15th win. The team is going nowhere, but as fans, we all want to see Sale get 20 wins. We all want to see him win the Cy Young this year. His presence on the team is one of the few points of pride for this fan base.

This game in Seattle should have been his next step on the road to the Cy Young. Instead, it's just another punch in the gut in another lost season on the South Side.

Monday, July 18, 2016

White Sox begin second half with pathetic showing vs. Angels

Hector Santiago
The White Sox couldn't have asked for a worse start to the second half of their season.

They were outscored 16-1 in a three-game series against the last-place Los Angeles Angels. Entering Monday's play, the Sox have scored just one run in their last 41 offensive innings dating back to July 9. They have lost four in a row to slip back below .500 at 45-46, and they are nine games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.

The Sox also are 5.5 games back in the AL wild-card race, with five teams to pass. That is not good position. Let's have a brief look back at the poor weekend in Los Angeles.

Friday, July 15
Angels 7, White Sox 0: Former Sox lefty Hector Santiago had his way with the South Siders in this game. He struck out five men the first two innings and went on to throw seven innings of shutout ball. He allowed just five hits and walked nobody. He finished with seven strikeouts.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez kept his club in the game most of the way. He had allowed only two runs through six innings, but poor defense led to the wheels coming off in the seventh.

First baseman Jose Abreu misplayed a ball off the bat of the Angels' Daniel Nava into a "double," and an error by Tim Anderson put runners on first and third with no outs. The two defensive miscues ended Gonzalez's night and set the table for a five-run Angels rally that saw the Sox burn through three relievers. Anderson committed a second error in the inning that did not help matters.

Saturday, July 16
Angels 1, White Sox 0: I've criticized James Shields quite a bit on this blog, but let's give credit where credit is due: He was outstanding in this game. He pitched a complete game and allowed only two hits. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a leadoff triple by Yunel Escobar in the first inning. Mike Trout got that run home with a RBI groundout, and that was all the Angels needed.

The Sox made Los Angeles starter Matt Shoemaker look like the second coming of Don Drysdale. The right-hander struck out 13 and allowed only six hits in a complete-game shutout.

It was inexcusable, however, that the Sox did not score after Adam Eaton's leadoff double in the ninth inning. Abreu failed to advance the runner with a groundout to shortstop. That was huge because Melky Cabrera followed with a single. Eaton stopped at third on the hit, and he would have scored if Abreu had done something to advance him.

Instead, it was first and third with one out -- still a favorable situation for the Sox -- but neither Todd Frazier nor Justin Morneau could make any contact against the tiring Shoemaker. Both men struck out, securing one of the more unacceptable Sox losses of the season.

Sunday, July 17
Angels 8, White Sox 1: Remember back at SoxFest when I asked Rick Hahn about organizational depth with starting pitching? He said Jacob Turner and Chris Beck were in line as fallback options should anyone in the rotation get injured. My reaction to that was, "Gulp."

Well, Carlos Rodon is on the disabled list, so there was Turner on Sunday, making his first big-league start of the season despite a 4.71 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte.

Results were predictable, as Turner allowed eight runs on seven hits in just four innings of work. He walked three and allowed two titanic home runs by Albert Pujols.

Eaton ended the Sox scoreless streak in the third inning with a two-out RBI double, but the South Siders could muster up nothing else against Jered Weaver, who is 12-2 lifetime against the Sox.

The one bright spot: Two scoreless innings of relief from Carson Fulmer in his big-league debut. The first man Fulmer faced was Pujols, the future Hall of Famer, and he struck him out on three pitches. He showcased his whole arsenal. He grabbed strike one with a fastball, got a swinging strike on changeup with the second pitch, and then Pujols could not check his swing on a slider for strike three.

Fulmer threw 15 of his 21 pitches for strikes. He allowed only one hit. He struck out two and hit a batter. Nice debut overall in an otherwise miserable afternoon for the Sox and their fans.

Friday, July 8, 2016

I just turned 40, so I'm taking a vacation

Those of you who know me personally are probably aware that I turned 40 on Thursday.

Now that I'm old and tired and crabby, I'm going to take a vacation to rest my weary bones.

Blogging will resume on Monday, July 18. Enjoy the All-Star break everybody.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Michael Pineda stinks with two outs; White Sox take advantage

Michael Pineda
Here's an unusual stat: With two outs in an inning, opposing hitters have posted a .366/.414/.710 slash line against New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda.

The White Sox took advantage of Pineda bizarre inability to close out innings Wednesday in a 5-0 victory over the Yankees.

Pineda retired the first two hitters in the Sox's second inning with little difficulty, but then the wheels fell off.

Brett Lawrie singled and advanced to second on a passed ball. Pineda walked Dioner Navarro on four straight pitches, which I thought might have been a pitch-around with the struggling Avisail Garcia on deck, but then Garcia burned Pineda with an RBI single that scored Lawrie.

J.B. Shuck's ground-rule double plated Navarro to make it 2-0, and Tim Anderson followed with a two-run double down the left-field line on an 0-2 pitch.

What started out looking like a harmless inning for Pineda ended with the Sox leading 4-0. These struggles are obviously a trend for the New York pitcher, but it seems to be one of those hard-to-explain things in baseball.

The Sox added one more run in the sixth, and that was more than enough for starter Miguel Gonzalez, who upped his won-loss record to 2-4 with one of his best starts of the season. He went seven shutout innings, allowing only five hits. He struck out three and walked one.

Zach Duke and David Robertson combined for two inning of scoreless relief, and the Sox (44-41) finished off their fifth consecutive series win. The Sox haven't been able to sweep anybody during that time, mind you, but an 11-5 record over the past 16 games is pretty good.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Carlos Rodon's disappointing first half ends with a dud; Alex Avila heads back to DL; Chris Sale an All-Star

Carlos Rodon
Carlos Rodon is far from the worst player on the White Sox, but he might be the most disappointing.

Many people, including me, thought the young left-hander was poised for a breakout season after a strong finish to his rookie campaign in 2015. Instead, the first half of this year has represented a step backward.

Rodon was shelled in a 9-0 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He lasted only five innings, giving up a season-high six runs (five earned) on a season-high 12 hits. He struck out just three and walked two. The only inning in which he did not allow a run was the first, and he was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded situation in that inning.

Right now, Rodon is consistently behind in counts. He cannot throw either of his offspeed pitches for strikes consistently. Opposing hitters know the fastball is the only pitch Rodon can get over the plate, and they are feasting on it.

Rodon is going to continue to struggle until he can establish either his slider or his changeup as a pitch that hitters have to honor. In the meantime, his record is 2-7. He hasn't won since May 22. His ERA is up to 4.50, and the Sox are just 5-11 in the 16 games he has started.

Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka silenced the Sox bats Tuesday, so Rodon would have had to have been awful good to have a chance to win this game. However, it's hard for a pitcher to claim non-support when he fails to pitch into the seventh inning and fails to keep his team within striking distance of the opposition.

Avila headed back to disabled list

Sox catcher Alex Avila left Tuesday's game after the fifth inning with a right hamstring strain. Reports after the game indicated Avila is headed back to the 15-day disabled list. This is the same injury that caused Avila to be disabled in late April and into early May.

Avila will have plenty of company on the disabled list, as he joins teammates Austin Jackson, Justin Morneau, Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb and Matt Davidson on an increasingly crowded shelf.

The Sox will have to dip into their minor leagues for another catcher before Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees. Kevan Smith (back injury) remains on the DL at Triple-A Charlotte (sensing a theme here?), and the only other catcher on the 40-man roster is recently acquired Alfredo Gonzalez, who is currently in Birmingham and has never played about Double-A.

Omar Narvaez, who was in big league camp during spring training, has been getting the majority of the playing time recently at Charlotte and is another possibility.

Sale headed to All-Star Game

On a brighter note, Sox ace Chris Sale was chosen to represent the American League in the All-Star Game for the fifth consecutive season.

Sale leads the league with 14 wins against just two losses in his 17 starts. He also leads the league in innings pitched (120) and WHIP (0.98) and ranks third with a 2.93 ERA.

It would be surprising if Sale does not get the nod to start the game, although American League manager Ned Yost has not yet announced his decision.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

James Shields prevails against C.C. Sabathia in matchup of declining pitchers

C.C. Sabathia
Seven or eight years ago, a pitching matchup between James Shields and C.C. Sabathia would have been marquee material.

On Monday, it was just another game, featuring a 34-year-old right-hander with an ERA near six and a soon-to-be-36-year-old 300-pound left-hander with bad knees.

Who would win this battle of titans?

Fortunately for the White Sox, it was Shields, who fired six innings of two-run ball to help the South Siders to an 8-2 win over the New York Yankees.

Neither starter was on solid ground in this game. Shields put the Sox in an early 2-0 hole when he gave up a two-run homer to Chase Headley in the top of the second inning. Sabathia surrendered the lead when Tim Anderson took him deep for a two-run homer to tie the score in the third.

The game remained tied at 2 at the halfway point, and there was a definite feeling that both teams should have had more runs.

The Sox got two men on in the first inning, but didn't score. They loaded the bases with one out in the third after Anderson's homer, but couldn't tack on any runs. They stranded a man at third in the fourth.

The Yankees had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth, but couldn't cash in. They got a runner to second base with one out as the result of two Sox errors in the fifth, but failed to score.

This came down to which pitcher was going to crack the third time through the batting order, and it was Sabathia. The Sox touched him up for three runs in the fifth. Brett Lawrie's sacrifice fly scored Todd Frazier, who had doubled, and Dioner Navarro's two-run homer put the Sox ahead, 5-2.

Shields once again walked the tightrope in the sixth inning, but the Yankees failed to score after placing runners at first and third. The Sox right-hander escaped that situation by getting Aaron Hicks to fly out to right field.

Shields' final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 Ks, 2 BBs, 1 HR. That was good enough for his second win in a Sox uniform.

The Sox tacked on one in the seventh and two in the eighth. Four Sox relievers combined for three innings of scoreless relief, and for a change, David Robertson's services were not needed to close out a victory.

Dan Jennings allowed two base runners in the top of the ninth, but finished off the six-run win in comfortable fashion.

The Sox enter Tuesday's play having won 10 of their past 14 games. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

White Sox take two out of three from Astros

Chris Sale
The Houston Astros had won 11 out of their previous 12 games through Friday, so it was impressive to see the White Sox come back and take the final two games of a three-game series this weekend.

The Sox (42-40) are now two games over .500 for the first time since June 4, and they have won four consecutive series -- including three against winning teams (Boston, Toronto, Houston). Here's a look back at the weekend that was:

Friday, July 1
Astros 5, White Sox 0: The Sox's offensive inconsistency reared its head again in the opener of the series. The South Siders had scored 15 runs in their final two games in the previous series against Minnesota, but they couldn't get anything done Friday against Mike Fiers -- who is nothing more than a league-average starter -- and three Houston relievers.

The Sox were limited to just five hits and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

It was a shame, because one of Miguel Gonzalez's better starts went to waste. He went seven innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits. Through the first six innings, the Astros managed only one run against Gonzalez, and that came on a cheap infield single in the fourth.

An error on Tyler Saladino opened the door for Houston in the seventh, and Carlos Gomez homered off Gonzalez to make it 3-0 Astros. That was essentially the final nail in the coffin, although Houston tacked on two more in the eighth against Sox reliever Chris Beck for good measure.

Saturday, July 2
White Sox 7, Astros 6: Sox ace Chris Sale collected his league-leading 14th victory on a day where he had less than his best stuff.

Jose Altuve homered for Houston in the first inning, and the Astros touched Sale up for three runs in the third to take a 4-2 lead.

The Sox would rally. J.B. Shuck homered in the fourth, and then Dioner Navarro delivered a two-run single in the fifth to put the South Siders ahead to stay at 5-4.

Shuck added an RBI triple in the eighth and came around to score on a double by Tim Anderson. That increased the Sox lead to 7-4, and those two runs would prove to be the difference.

Perhaps the biggest sequence of the game came in the bottom of the eighth. Sale allowed a base hit to George Springer, and Todd Frazier committed a two-base error that put Houston runners on second and third with nobody out.

Sox reliever Nate Jones was summoned, and he got the next three hitters out, allowing only one of the inherited runners to score. The Astros missed perhaps their best opportunity to get back in the game right there.

Closer David Robertson retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth before giving up a home run to A.J. Reed that made the score 7-6. Robertson then fanned Colby Rasmus to secure his 22nd save of the season.

Sunday, July 3
White Sox 4, Astros 1: There has been a lot of talk about a lack of run support for Jose Quintana, and much of that discussion is justified. However, that narrative obscured the fact that Quintana had a lousy June. He went 0-3 with a 5.51 ERA in five starts for the month.

On Sunday, the good Quintana (6-8) made his triumphant return. The left-hander earned his first win since May 8 with a brilliant seven-inning performance. He gave up a home run to Springer on his second pitch of the game, but allowed no runs after that.

Quintana allowed just two hits over seven innings, and he retired the final 15 hitters he faced.

The Sox got two runs in the third and two more in the eighth. They went 3 for 8 with runners in scoring position, with Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie and Navarro all collecting RBI singles in the clutch.

Jones was once again strong, working a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth with two strikeouts.

Robertson was a bit shaky in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff hit to Marwin Gonzalez and walked Gomez. That brought Reed to the plate representing the tying run with two outs.

During Saturday's ninth inning, Reed took Robertson deep on a cut fastball. He did not see that pitch this time. Robertson threw him four straight breaking balls, the last of which was a nasty knuckle-curve that Reed swung over the top of for strike three.

Robertson is now 23 for 25 in save opportunities this season.

Friday, July 1, 2016

White Sox place Matt Davidson on DL, recall Carlos Sanchez

Matt Davidson
Catching up on roster moves before the White Sox (40-39) face the Houston Astros (42-37) in a three-game weekend series:

After left-hander Matt Purke contributed to the near-meltdown in the ninth inning Wednesday night against Minnesota, he was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Infielder Matt Davidson was called up, and he made an immediate contribution in Thursday's win over the Twins -- an RBI single and a run scored in the fourth inning.

Unfortunately, Davidson broke his right foot while running the bases sometime in that inning, and he has been placed on the 15-day disabled list.

You can't help but feel badly for Davidson, who struggled in Charlotte for two years before turning it around this season. He made the Triple-A All-Star team and earned his call-up. Now, he's looking at some extended time on the sidelines, and you hope the time off doesn't cause him to lose the good swing he's had working for him lately.

His loss, however, is Carlos Sanchez's gain. The infielder has been recalled from Charlotte to fill out the roster. Sanchez appeared in 11 games earlier this season with the Sox, hitting .154 with an RBI in 29 plate appearances. He was hitting .258/.313/.413 with six home runs and 24 RBIs for the Knights.

A few thoughts about Purke, who we may or may not see again in Chicago this year, he's an interesting case study on what happens when you stop throwing strikes.

The lefty reliever made 12 appearances with the Sox, and the first six were remarkably different than the last six. Purke's walk rate rose dramatically in his most recent outings.

First six appearances: 10 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 5 Ks, 3 BBs, 3.60 ERA
Last six appearances: 8 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 10 Ks, 9 BBs, 7.88 ERA

My saying is, "You walk people, you lose." In Purke's case, he walked people, and he found himself on a plane back to Charlotte.