Monday, October 31, 2016

Cubs get away with two egregious mental mistakes, stave off elimination in Game 5

Anthony Rizzo
The 2016 Major League Baseball season will continue for at least another day, after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, on Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series.

Cleveland's lead in the series is cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

The Cubs got this win with quality pitching. Jon Lester did what he is paid to do -- pitch well in big games. He limited the Tribe to two runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk anybody. After a brief relief appearance by Carl Edwards in the seventh, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman recorded eight outs to pick up the save.

It was not easy for Chapman. The Indians got the tying run to second base in the seventh inning, and they got the tying run to third in the eighth. Both times, Chapman turned them away. The hard-throwing lefty then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez to close out the game.

The Cubs got three runs in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, highlighted by a solo home run from Kris Bryant. Addison Russell had an RBI on an infield single, and David Ross added a sacrifice fly.

That said, I thought the Cubs were fortunate to get away with two egregious mental mistakes that just can't happen at this time of the season. One miscue was made by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth, the other by Chapman in the eighth.

After Bryant's home run tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rizzo was the next hitter. He put a good swing on a pitch from Bauer and drove it to deep right field. He stood there, watched the ball, admired it, then slowly started to jog toward first base. Too bad the ball wasn't gone. It hit the wall, and Rizzo suddenly had to hustle to get into second base for a double.

The Cubs are fortunate Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall made a poor throw back into the infield. Any kind of decent throw to second base and Rizzo would have made an embarrassing out. Rizzo later scored the go-ahead run in that inning on the Russell single, so if he's out at second base two plays earlier, that three-run inning doesn't happen, and it's anybody's guess whether the Cubs are still in the hunt today.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. Throughout these playoffs, we've seen Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and now Rizzo not hustle out of the box after making contact. That's embarrassing for your team, even if you don't get thrown out, when you're competing for a championship. It's also a poor reflection on manager Joe Maddon. If one guy pulls that crap, it's the player's fault. But when it's a team-wide thing, the manager better do something. The Cubs can't afford that sort of mistake if they hope to win two games in Cleveland. Next time, Chisenhall might make an accurate throw.

Chapman nearly cost himself the lead, too, when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Rajai Davis. Rizzo made a terrific stop on the play, preventing the ball from getting down the right-field line for extra bases. But when he got up to make a feed to first base, Chapman was nowhere to be found and Davis was easily safe.

Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases this season, and he predictably swiped second and third base after Chapman gifted him the infield single. From Day 1 of spring training, pitchers work on getting over to first base on grounders to the right side. For Chapman to fail to get a good break off the mound in that spot is inexcusable. It's inexcusable in any situation, let alone in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with a one-run lead, in an elimination game with everything at stake. That miscue cost the Cubs three bases. It could have cost the game.

Fortunately for Chapman, he did have his best stuff on the mound, and he got Jason Kipnis to pop out weakly and struck out Francisco Lindor looking to strand Davis at third.

Again, though, that's a mistake the Cubs better not make once they get to Cleveland. I think the Cubs need to play not one but two clean games Tuesday and Wednesday in order to win this series.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indians push Cubs to the brink with dominant Game 4 win

Corey Kluber
First things first: Can we please stop with the narrative about Cubs pitcher John Lackey being great in the postseason?

Yes, Lackey has had some good playoff moments, such as this game, but he's also gotten his butt kicked in some playoff games, such as this one that is fondly remembered by all White Sox fans.

I keep hearing from both local and national media that Lackey is an awesome playoff pitcher, but frankly, at age 38, it looks like his best days are past. The right-hander has been nothing but mediocre for the Cubs in the postseason. He hasn't worked past the fifth inning in any of his three starts, and he's posted a pedestrian 4.85 ERA in only 13 innings.

Lackey was once again so-so Saturday night, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits over five innings in the Cubs' 7-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 4 of the World Series.

The Indians now enjoy a 3-1 series lead and have three chances to close out the Cubs. Game 5 is Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Lackey was outpitched by Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked one, while improving to 4-1 with 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts. Kluber pitched on three days' rest, and will be prepared to pitch again in Game 7 if the Cubs somehow extend this series that far.

Kluber left the mound after the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead, and the Tribe broke the game open moments later in the top of the seventh on a three-run homer by second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland got Lackey out of there after five, then capitalized for four runs off Chicago middle relievers Mike Montgomery, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood.

The Cubs had somewhat of a moral victory in the eighth when Dexter Fowler homered off Andrew Miller, thus proving the Cleveland relief ace is mortal. Miller already has set a record for playoff strikeouts in a single season with 29, and that Fowler homer was the first run he has allowed in 17 postseason innings.

Having a 7-2 lead allowed the Indians to rest closer Cody Allen for a night. Dan Otero closed out the ninth inning with no difficulty.

We can't count the Cubs out of this yet, as they have the edge in the pitching matchup in Game 5. Ace Jon Lester is going for the North Siders, and he'll be opposed by the one Cleveland pitcher who has not been doing his job in these playoffs, right-hander Trevor Bauer.

We'll see if the season ends Sunday, or if there will be a Game 6 on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cody Allen closes out dramatic ninth inning for Cleveland in Game 3

Cody Allen
Saw an interesting stat today: The Cleveland Indians are 23-0 when relief pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller pitch in the same game.

I always say the longer a streak goes in baseball, the more likely it is to end. The Cubs had a chance to end that streak Friday night, but Allen slammed the door on them, striking out Javier Baez with two outs and two runners in scoring position to preserve a 1-0 Cleveland victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

With the win, the Indians hold a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Even if you don't care about either of these two teams, the ninth inning of Game 3 was as dramatic as it gets in a non-elimination game.

Cleveland scored the lone run on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Coco Crisp. The combination of Josh Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen had combined to keep the Cubs off the board through eight innings.

Allen, the Cleveland closer, struck out Kris Bryant on a nasty curve to end the bottom of the eighth inning, but he found himself in immediate peril after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth.

With Chris Coghlan running for Rizzo, Allen bounced back to get the first out on another good curve that caused Ben Zobrist to swing and miss. Coghlan advanced to second on a weak groundout by Willson Contreras, which set up the drama of having the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

Jason Heyward came to the plate for the Cubs with the game hanging in the balance, causing audible groans throughout the Chicago area. The $184 million man is 2 for 31 this postseason, and he's probably the last player the Cubs wanted up in that situation. Heck, they've got some pitchers who have been swinging the bat better than Heyward.

This time, the Cubs lucked out when Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli booted what should have been a routine grounder off Heyward's bat. Suddenly, the Cubs had first and third and the much more dangerous Baez at the plate.

Heyward stole second and got into scoring position representing the winning run, and Baez jumped ahead in the count, 2-1. It was set up for the Cubs to possibly steal this game, but that's when Allen got tough.

The Cleveland reliever went back to his curve on 2-1. It broke hard and down in the dirt, and Baez could not check his swing. Strike two.

Gutsy pitch, because remember the tying run is on third base. If Indians catcher Yan Gomes doesn't block the ball, the game is tied. Gomes made the block. Cleveland got the strike, and Allen had succeeded in changing Baez's eye level.

With two strikes, Baez had to be thinking about that curve ball. After all, Allen had recorded three outs to that point -- all on curve balls. So what did Allen do? He pitched Baez backward. He went away from his preferred out pitch. He probably figured Baez would be protecting against the low breaking ball, so he threw a high fastball, above the hands. And he blew it right past Baez. Swinging strike three. Game over.

Brilliant pitching and a dramatic end to a great baseball game between the two top teams in the sport this year. Who says a 1-0 game is boring? Not me.

Adam Eaton a Gold Glove finalist, and other assorted White Sox news

Adam Eaton
Catching up on a few White Sox notes from the past few days:

1. Right fielder Adam Eaton has been named a finalist for the American League Gold Glove Award. Eaton led major-league outfielders with 18 assists and was second to Boston's Mookie Betts with 22 defensive runs saved.

Eaton is trying to become the first Sox player to win a Gold Glove since pitcher Jake Peavy won the honor in 2012. The last Sox position player to win a Gold Glove was third baseman Robin Ventura in 1998.

Eaton was a finalist for the award as a center fielder in 2014. The other finalists among right fielders this year are Betts and Houston's George Springer.

Consider Betts the favorite, since he also had a big offensive season (yeah, I know it shouldn't matter, but it does) and plays in Boston.

2. No surprise: Pitcher James Shields will opt in for the final two years of his contract, according to reports.

Shields, who will turn 35 in December, is coming off a terrible season in which he posted a 6-19 record with a 5.85 ERA. After being traded to the American League, his ERA swelled to 6.77 in 22 starts with the Sox, during which he went 4-12.

The right-hander is owed $21 million for each of the next two seasons, although the San Diego Padres are on the hook for $11 million in both 2017 and 2018. That means the Sox will play Shields $10 million next year and the year after that.

There is a $16 million club option for 2019 on Shields, with a $2 million buyout, if he somehow manages to hold his roster spot for that long. The Sox would be on the hook for the buyout.

Great trade, huh?

3. The Sox claimed outfielder Rymer Liriano off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Liriano, 25, was once a top-100 prospect in the San Diego system, but his skills have never translated to the big-league level.

He made it to the bigs with the Padres in 2014, but couldn't stick, hitting .220 with a .555 OPS in 121 plate appearances in 38 games.

Liriano missed the entire 2016 season after being struck in the face by pitched ball in spring training. The move brings the Sox's 40-man roster back up to 40 players, but this acquisition is for nothing more than organizational depth.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cubs don't look as if they are going to choke

Kyle Schwarber
One of the main questions I had about the Cubs coming into the playoffs was whether they'd be able to deal with adversity.

Most of their fans would probably never admit to this, but the Cubs faced no adversity whatsoever all season. They played a soft schedule -- 106 of their 162 games were against losing teams -- and dominated a weak NL Central. St. Louis had a down season by its standards. Pittsburgh's pitching staff fell apart. Milwaukee and Cincinnati weren't even trying to win.

The Cubs won their division by 17.5 games, and it was every bit the cakewalk that figure represents. So, I wondered how the Cubs would respond when they were placed in a situation where they had to win a game, because there wasn't a single time during the whole regular season when they were seriously challenged.

So far in these playoffs, the Cubs have been seriously challenged twice. Give them credit, because they've responded both times. Once, on the road in Game 4 of the NLCS, where they were trailing 2 games to 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers after having been shut out in Games 2 and 3. They trounced the Dodgers, 10-2, in that game and went on to win the next two to claim the NL pennant.

The other challenge was Wednesday night. After the Cubs were clobbered, 6-0, in Game 1 of the World Series by the Cleveland Indians, how would they respond in Game 2? Quite well, as a matter of fact, as they collected a decisive 5-1 victory to even the series.

Previous Cubs teams have always choked when they get in these tight situations where they need to win in the playoffs, but this group shows no sign of that. They got a good performance from Jake Arrieta, who is basically a five- or six-inning pitcher these days, but he gave the Cubs an effective 5.2 innings Wednesday. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning, when the Indians scored a run off him and manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen.

Arrieta doesn't have the same command of the strike zone he had during his 2015 Cy Young campaign. His walk rate has nearly doubled. His ERA and home run rates are up, his strikeout rate is down. He needs more pitches to get through innings, and he can't get as deep into games as he might like, but he doesn't give up a lot of hits -- only 6.3 per 9 IP this season -- and that's been his saving grace.

Wednesday night, Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman provided 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, and that made a winner out of Arrieta, whose performance was far superior to that of Cleveland's Trevor Bauer.

Bauer needed 87 pitches to record only 11 outs. The Cubs scored two runs on six hits against him in 3.2 innings. The North Siders then added on with three in the fifth off Cleveland relievers Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw, although the run charged to Shaw was unearned.

Kyle Schwarber, just back from a major knee injury, is becoming the story of the series for the Cubs. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI singles in Wednesday's win. He became the first non-pitcher in the history of baseball to record a hit in the World Series after not getting a hit in the regular season. He has shown that he is healthy enough to be an effective DH in an American League park. That can only help the Cubs, if the series heads back to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7.

Big question for Maddon for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field: Can he put Schwarber in left field?

There's no getting around the fact that Schwarber was a butcher in the outfield even before he got hurt. Putting him out there would significantly weaken the Cubs defensively, but there's also no getting around the fact that he's a difference maker with a bat in his hands.

Schwarber is the kind of player who can hit a three-run homer off a good pitcher and win a ballgame for his team. He's also the kind of player who can misplay a routine fly ball, cost his team runs and lose a ballgame. 

Will Maddon choose to use his best offensive lineup? Or will he opt to put the best defense on the field?

Personally, I subscribe to the philosophy of putting the best defense out there. Of course, I'm not the one being paid millions to make these decisions, so what do I know?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The World Series Game 1 hero is ... Roberto Perez?

There are three players in Cleveland Indians franchise history to have a multi-homer game during the playoffs: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and, of course, Roberto Perez.

Cue Cookie Monster and his famous song, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Things":




Indeed, Thome has 612 career home runs. Ramirez has 555 career home runs. Perez has, well, 11 career home runs. But the career .220-hitting catcher managed to go deep twice Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series, becoming the unlikely hero in Cleveland's 6-0 victory over the Cubs.

Perez also became the first player in World Series history to have a multi-homer game while batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. Not bad for a guy who is "Plan C" for the Indians behind the plate. Perez is only playing because Yan Gomes has been a combination of injured and bad all season, and because Jonathan Lucroy rejected a trade to Cleveland at the deadline and went to play for Texas instead.

In the biggest game of his life so far, Perez clubbed a solo home run off Cubs ace Jon Lester in the fourth inning to increase Cleveland's lead to 3-0. The home run had an exit velocity of 112.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off Lester all season, according to Statcast.

Perez capped his night by hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on a hanging slider from Cubs reliever Hector Rondon. That made the score 6-0 and took all the drama out of the ninth inning.

Cleveland pitching was good again in this game, with Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining to strike out 15 Cubs hitters. Kluber had eight strikeouts through three innings and finished with nine Ks in six innings. Miller pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the seventh, striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to close the inning. He also struck out Kyle Schwarber with two on and two out to end the eighth and snuff out the Cubs' last legitimate chance to get back in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday night, and the start time has been moved up an hour to try to avoid a weather delay. Rain is in the forecast for Cleveland. The Cubs will try to even the series behind right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Indians will counter with right-hander Trevor Bauer.

The best news for the Cubs right now is the fact that Kluber won't pitch in Game 2. And, Miller might be limited, as well, after throwing 46 pitches over two innings of work in Game 1.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Memo to the national media: The World Series was played in Chicago 11 years ago -- and Chicago won (for real)

Sox fans line up outside ESPN's headquarters.
With the Cubs capturing their first NL pennant in 71 years, I've heard several comments criticizing White Sox fans for being "salty" about the North Siders' success.

As a matter of fact, some Cubs fans seem to be getting "salty"about Sox fans refusing to join their bandwagon, and it is true that a majority of Sox fans have declared their support for the AL Central rival Cleveland Indians in the upcoming World Series -- a declaration that would have been previously unthinkable until this week.

I know from experience a Sox fan can never win a public relations war with the Cubs and their fans. They are the majority party around here, and that's just how it is. But it's always been somewhat baffling to me that nobody other than Sox fans understands why we don't cheer for the Cubs. It's really plainly obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

The reason is this: When the Cubs are successful, people go out of their way to chastise White Sox fans and denigrate or willfully ignore the history of the White Sox organization and its accomplishments. They also make sure Sox fans are positioned as "other." Turn on the local news, and you'll see alleged "journalists" dressed in Cubs jerseys and Cubs hats. They'll refer to "our Cubbies" or call the Cubs "we."

What they fail to understand is that about 43 percent of the baseball-consuming public in Chicago is made up of Sox fans, and for us, the Cubs are not a "we" but a "them." Cubs fans will complain and moan to the all ends of the earth about Ken Harrelson referring to the Sox as "we," but they don't even notice the folks in town who refer to the Cubs as "we." Somewhat hysterically, Ken Williams' wife, Zoraida Sambolin of NBC 5, is among the media members who have been guilty of this. Not sure what to make of that. 

And it's not only the local press. It's the national media too. This awesome article from SBNation scolds the national press for its willful ignorance of the White Sox. On Monday, three different national media outlets -- ESPN, CBS This Morning and The Washington Post -- somehow managed to gloss over the Sox's 2005 World Series victory over the Houston Astros. 

CBS This Morning claimed this year's World Series will be the first in Chicago in 71 years, which, of course, is false. Sox fans assailed them on Twitter, forcing them to tweet a correction, which also was incorrect. They failed to note the White Sox made the World Series in 1959, as well. 

This national baseball writer from The Washington Post foolishly tweeted that the 2004 Boston Red Sox would be the only group of people to know what the Cubs or Indians will mean to their city. Sox fans responded by tweeting pictures of our World Series parade (intentional use of the word "our") in 2005. Hey, why don't you read a book for a change? The White Sox broke a championship drought that was two years longer than Boston's.

And then, there was this from ESPN, a graphic comparing sports championships of Chicago to those of Cleveland since 1965. The graphic includes the six Bulls championships from the 1990s, the three recent Blackhawks Stanley Cups, and the 1985 Bears. Noticeably absent? Oh, yeah, the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. That was after 1965, right?

I guess the guys at ESPN are still pissed off about the White Sox destroying their beloved Red Sox in three straight games in the 2005 ALDS. ESPN thinks its the worldwide leader in sports? LOL.

Salty? Yeah, I'm salty. And I'll make no apology for it. I'm tired of being told that a sports team that I love dearly and a 2005 World Series championship that meant everything to me, my family and my friends is irrelevant and meaningless. And I'm certainly not going to cheer for a team whose fans seem to delight in telling me how irrelevant and meaningless they think it is. 

Some might be interested to know that I'm already well aware that the 2005 World Series meant nothing to Cubs fans. And that's fine. I never expected it to mean anything to them. Likewise, if the Cubs win this year, it will mean nothing to me. White Sox-Cubs is a rivarly. The two sides don't like each other. They don't cheer for each other. I don't know why this is so hard to figure out.

Friday, October 21, 2016

White Sox name Chris Getz director of player development

What was rumored is now official: The White Sox on Friday named former second baseman Chris Getz director of player development.

Getz, 33, has spent the past two seasons as a baseball operations assistant with the Kansas City Royals. He replaces Nick Capra, who was recently named the Sox's new third-base coach.

Getz appeared in 117 games for the Sox in 2008-09. He played for the Royals from 2010-13 and finished his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. He posted a .250/.309/.307 slash line with three home runs in 459 career games. He did steal 89 bases, so there is that.

“We are pleased to add Chris’ intellect, background and energy to our front office,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “He is extremely well-regarded throughout the game, and we believe he is going to have a positive impact on the quality of play from rookie ball through Chicago.”

We can only hope that Getz is a better director of player development than he was a second baseman, and hey, he might be. We'll give him a chance to prove himself, although on the surface this looks like yet another example of the Sox giving a job to former player.

With that cynicism in mind, we might as well play our traditional, derisive "Welcome Back" song for Getz.

"Who'd have thought they'd lead ya
(Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Back here where we need ya
(Back here where we need ya)"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?

Wrong.

Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his finger shut

Trevor Bauer
Here's something crazy: According to a FOX Sports report, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his grotesquely injured pinkie finger shut.

“I even had a soldering iron in my hotel room,” Bauer said in the report. “Instead of going to the ER, I probably should’ve sealed it closed myself.”

Bauer has always been a different kind of guy. Among other idiosyncrasies, he has this long-toss warmup routine that few other pitchers would ever try. He clearly has some diverse interests, given that he managed to tear his finger open fixing one of his drones just days before he was scheduled to make the biggest start of his life in the ALCS.

And, if he was willing to whip out a soldering iron to deal with the injury, then I guess we shouldn't be surprised he tried to pitch Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night with six stitches in his finger.

That didn't work so well. He lasted only 21 pitches and two-thirds of an inning before his finger, his uniform and the mound in Toronto were covered with his blood.

The thing that's so incredible about this is the Indians won the damn game anyway, 4-2. They now have a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS going into Tuesday's Game 4, because relievers Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller combined to throw 8.1 innings of two-run ball.

Shaw, Allen and Miller gave up nothing over the final 4.2 innings, and combined to strike out seven batters.

With the Cleveland starter leaving in the first inning, you would think the Blue Jays would have things going their way, especially playing at home. Denied.

Otero had only pitched once since Sept. 30. Manship hadn't pitched in 16 days. McAllister had a 19-day layoff. Didn't seem to matter much. Otero and McAllister each gave up a run, but none of these guys looked rusty or ineffective.

The Indians are not making any excuses for injuries, and they are finding ways to get things done. Even though they are a rival of the White Sox, I find myself rooting for them to win the whole thing.

If Cleveland makes the World Series -- and it is just one win away -- it would represent the fourth time in five years the AL Central has produced a pennant winner. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2012. The Kansas City Royals advanced that far in 2014 and 2015, and they won it last year.

The AL Central is a stronger division than many think, and the Indians' success provides additional supporting evidence. As Sox fans, we can take this information to SoxFest and point out to team brass that it is long past time to step up.

You're not going to build an 85-win-caliber team and luck your way into the playoffs by managing 88 wins in this division any longer. The AL Central is now producing 90-plus-win juggernauts that win in the postseason. Adjust your expectations accordingly moving forward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Blue Jays better start scoring some runs against the Indians' starting pitchers

Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista believes "circumstances" are favoring the Cleveland Indians thus far in the ALCS.

The Indians have taken each of the first two games, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, and the Toronto hitters apparently are getting frustrated.

“All you gotta do is look at the video and count how many times (Cleveland pitchers) throw pitches over the heart of the plate,” Bautista said Sunday, as reported by Mike Vorkunov. “They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances -- that I’m not trying to talk about because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do, but you guys don’t really want to talk about that either.”

It sounds as if Bautista believes the umpiring is going against Toronto, and perhaps he's trying to get some calls to go his way and his teammates' way in Monday night's Game 3. Some have suggested the Blue Jays believe the series is "rigged" in favor of the Indians. That's a reach.

I personally don't think MLB rigs games, and I don't buy into the notion of curses or conspiracies. What motivation would MLB have to tell umpires to make calls favoring the Indians? Cleveland is a small-market team, and it isn't like the league stands to get a big ratings bump if the Indians advance.

All of this is foolishness, and the only circumstance working against the Blue Jays right now is their inability to hit the quality pitching being run out there by the Indians. Toronto is a dead fastball hitting team, and Cleveland has a bunch of pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- who can make quality pitches with their breaking balls.

The Indians' bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular. As a group, they've allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 IP this postseason, and they've been facing good offenses, too -- Boston and now Toronto. That will pencil out to a 1.10 ERA. And, oh, Cleveland relievers have struck out 27 men in those 16-plus innings.

Left-hander Andrew Miller, of course, has been the main reason for that. He's struck out 17 and is unscored upon in 7.2 postseason innings this season. He's formed an unhittable bridge between the Cleveland starters and closer Cody Allen, who has pitched four scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Manager Terry Francona has shown he's not afraid to go to Miller as early as the fifth or sixth inning. He can do that because he has another dominant option in Allen, and two other pretty good middle relief options in Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero. Cleveland has the deepest bullpen of the remaining four teams, for sure.

As we've mentioned before, the Indians' shortcoming is the injuries to their starting pitchers. Corey Kluber is the ace, and he's been tremendous: He's allowed nothing in the postseason. But with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco sidelined, Cleveland is forced to rely more upon Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer than it would like.

But Tomlin was really good in Game 2, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings. He's a breaking ball pitcher, and he used that pitch effectively against the Toronto hitters. He's not overpowering, and he sure as heck wasn't going to give Toronto too many fastballs to hit. Smart pitching.

The Blue Jays will face Bauer in Game 3, and I'd recommend they think less about the umpiring and figure out a way to score early -- before Miller, Shaw and Allen, et al., become involved in the game. Wouldn't hurt, either, if someone from that lineup could do some damage against a curve ball or a slider. The Indians are going to keep throwing them until the Blue Jays show they can hit them.

Friday, October 14, 2016

New White Sox manager Rick Renteria's coaching staff will feature familiar people

Joe McEwing
If you were hoping for significant changes to the White Sox coaching staff this offseason, prepare to be disappointed.

The only hope I have is that new manager Rick Renteria was allowed to make his own choices with regard to the coaching staff. I have no evidence one way or the other, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't suspect that these selections were made for him.

In any case, third-base coach Joe McEwing has been promoted to bench coach, taking the role vacated by Renteria when he accepted the job as manager. McEwing, 44, served as third-base coach for each of the five seasons Robin Ventura was manager. He also managed in the Sox's minor-league system for three seasons. He has been with the organization for nine years.

The McEwing move, of course, creates a need for a new third-base coach, a role that will be filled by Nick Capra, who had been serving as the team's director of player development. Capra has been in that front office role for five years, but he also has been the minor-league field coordinator, the assistant director of minor-league instruction and the minor-league hitting coordinator. Before that, he managed in the Sox's system for 10 seasons. Capra, 58, has been with the organization for 21 years.

Minor-league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler will replace Bobby Thigpen as the team's bullpen coach. Hasler, 51, has been the minor-league pitching coordinator for six years. He pitched in the Sox organization from 1987 to 1991, and he pretty much never left. He's been a pitching coach or coordinator somewhere in the organization for the past 25 years.

Don Cooper will return for his 30th year with the Sox and 16th as pitching coach. Hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks also return. Daryl Boston remains as the first-base coach.

The organization men have been shuffled around a little bit, but basically, the gang is still all here -- except for Ventura. Typically, you'd expect bigger changes after four consecutive losing seasons, but as we've learned, that's not the Jerry Reinsdorf way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Giants don't have anybody who can close games; Cubs capitalize

Bruce Bochy
Seventy-five percent of MLB's final four is now complete after the Cubs scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday to defeat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5. With the victory, the Cubs win the NLDS, three games to one.

For all the talk of the Giants' success in even-numbered years, no amount of hocus pocus was going to allow them to overcome their weaknesses against the Cubs. The most glaring San Francisco weakness? There isn't a single relief pitcher on that roster that can be counted upon to close games.

The Giants bullpen couldn't close out regular-season games against losing clubs such as Colorado and San Diego. Why should we believe they could close out playoff games against the 103-win Cubs? San Francisco took the lead into the ninth inning in both Games 3 and 4. The Cubs rallied to tie in Game 3 before losing in extra innings, and they rallied to win and close out the series in Game 4.

Clearly, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy knew he didn't have any reliable options Tuesday, as he used five different relievers -- none of whom had any success -- to navigate a disastrous ninth inning.

I have some sympathy for Bochy, because there's a distinct possibility that nothing he could have tried would have worked, but I definitely think he was one step behind Cubs manager Joe Maddon tactically in this inning.

The Giants started the inning with a 5-2 lead. But Derek Law gave up a single to Kris Bryant. Javier Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo, and Sergio Romo gave up an RBI double to Ben Zobrist.

5-3 game, three pitchers used, runners at second and third, still nobody out.

At that point, San Francisco's margin for error was gone, and the chess match was on. Maddon fired the first shot with a curious move: He sent journeyman outfielder Chris Coghlan out to pinch hit for everyday shortstop Addison Russell.

I found it odd, because Russell is a more dangerous hitter than the left-handed hitting Coghlan. I sensed Maddon was trying to prod Bochy into replacing Romo with a left-handed pitcher, with the intent of sending Willson Contreras to the plate with the game on the line.

Bochy took the bait.

He brought in left-hander Will Smith to "face" Coghlan, only to see Maddon counter with Contreras, who is hitting .311 with an .854 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year. Bochy had to know Maddon was going to do that, right? He should have.

Contreras won the favorable matchup with Smith, delivering a two-run single to tie the game at 5. I couldn't figure out why Bochy was afraid to leave Romo in to face Coghlan. I even looked up the head-to-head numbers -- Coghlan is 0 for 2 lifetime with a walk in three lifetime plate appearances against Romo. Small sample size. No apparent reason for concern from a Giants perspective.

Who is the more dangerous hitter there? Coghlan or Contreras? In my book, it's Contreras. Bochy should have called Maddon's bluff and left Romo in the game. Make the journeyman Coghlan beat you.

In any case, Contreras ties the game, the inning continues, the Giants fail to turn a double play behind Smith, and the next critical decision arises. Man at second, one out, still tied at 5. Javier Baez due up.

Bochy brings in right-hander Hunter Strickland to pitch to Baez, who singles in the winning run. Hmmmm.....

The Giants had a base open. Did Bochy forget that David Ross was the on-deck hitter? Why not walk Baez and set up the double play? I realize that Ross had homered earlier in the game. I realize that Ross has become a folk hero on the North Side. But who cares? The guy is a .225-hitting career backup for a reason. You have to put Baez on first base and make Ross beat you in that situation.

If Maddon wants to send Miguel Montero or Tommy La Stella up to pinch hit for Ross there, he can be my guest. I would rather face any of Ross, Montero or La Stella in that spot as opposed to Baez. For the record, Ross grounded into an inning-ending double play after the hit by Baez.

Let's be clear: The Giants were overmatched, and they were probably going to lose this series to the Cubs one way or another. Heck, San Francisco's brilliant shortstop, Brandon Crawford, uncharacteristically made two throwing errors that cost his team two runs Tuesday night. That shows right there that it wasn't meant to be for the Giants. Even one of their strengths, up-the-middle defense, became a weakness in this series.

But ultimately, the lack of a real closer and some tactical mistakes that were the product of not having a reliable reliever sealed the Giants' fate in this series. They should have made Coghlan and Ross beat them. Instead, Contreras and Baez sent them home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It will be Cleveland vs. Toronto in the ALCS

Corey Kluber
Expect the unexpected in the MLB playoffs. How many of you had both Cleveland and Toronto advancing to the ALCS this year? Be honest. I sure didn't. I think most people picked Boston and Texas. Guess what? Both the Red Sox and Rangers got swept, and everything we assumed about the American League going into the playoffs was wrong.

Cleveland finished off a three-game sweep with a 4-3 win Monday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had their chances, but they left two men on in both the eighth and ninth innings. Indians closer Cody Allen was able to shut the door in both innings.

I didn't like Cleveland's chances coming into the playoffs because its starting rotation was beat up. Two of its top three pitchers -- Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco -- are on the disabled list. The Indians' ace, Corey Kluber, had a groin strain that kept him out the final week of the regular season and caused him to not be able to make a Game 1 start in the ALDS.

Kluber proved he was healthy, however, with a brilliant performance to win Game 2. In Games 1 and 3, the Tribe got just enough out of back-of-the-rotation starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and manager Terry Francona used his underrated relief corps brilliantly to secure those two wins.

Francona brought relief ace Andrew Miller in during the fifth inning of Game 1 and the sixth inning of Game 3. He's got three good high-leverage relievers in Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen, and he showed he's not afraid to use them for the last four or five innings of a game to protect a precarious lead.

When your starting pitching is beat up, but your bullpen is strong, that's precisely what you have to do to chart a course for victory. Give the Indians credit for pulling this off. They knocked out the team that many perceived as the favorite in the American League.

David Ortiz's brilliant career with the Red Sox is now over, but spare me the stuff about how he "deserved a better ending." Ortiz has three World Series rings, and he had many fine moments with Boston. No one is promised the chance to go out on top, and most athletes do not. He'll get over this loss, I'm sure.

In the other ALDS, how about Toronto knocking the stuffing out of the 95-win Rangers? The Blue Jays scored 22 runs in the three-game sweep, and if you buy into the theory that the "hot team" wins in the playoffs, well, the Blue Jays look like the hot team.

Two things to look for in the ALCS: First, will Kluber be healthy enough to make three starts? He should be in line for Game 1. With all the other injury problems, does he start Game 4 and Game 7, if necessary, as well? In my opinion, he should.

Secondly, can the Blue Jays overcome the fact that the Indians have a far superior bullpen? Toronto closer Roberto Osuna is good, and he toughed it out through some shoulder discomfort in the ALDS, but I don't know that I trust Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini and the other assorted mediocre options the Jays have in the bullpen.

If games are close in the late innings, it should be advantage Tribe.

Of course, the first round of the American League playoffs taught us that things that should be aren't necessarily so. The more you watch, the more you realize that you really know don't much of anything.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Here's why Boston might not beat Cleveland in the ALDS

Rick Porcello
Most of the experts are anticipating a Boston-Texas ALCS this year, so of course, Cleveland and Toronto both won Thursday in their respective ALDS Game 1s.

The Red Sox have become the popular pick to win the AL pennant going into the playoffs. Maybe it's just sentimental -- I think media members root for the story -- they want that Cubs-Red Sox World Series; they want that "David Ortiz retires on a high note" narrative.

But picking Boston is not without merit. The Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball. They scored 878 runs this season, the most in MLB. The second-highest run total in the AL belongs to Boston's first-round opponent, Cleveland, which scored 777 runs.

Here's the problem with the Red Sox: Their top two pitchers have a track record of stinking it up in the playoffs.

Rick Porcello is a Cy Young candidate this year. He went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. It was the best year of his career by far. Nobody can take that away from him.

But, he was awful in a 5-4 Game 1 loss to the Tribe on Thursday. He allowed three home runs in the span of nine pitches in the bottom of the third inning. Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor all took him deep. Porcello pitched just 4.1 innings, allowing five earned runs on six hits. He put the Red Sox in a hole their powerful offense could not quite escape.

Porcello has no track record of postseason success. He's 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA lifetime in nine playoff games. Granted, only three of those nine appearances are starts, but he's yet to show he can do the job when the bright lights come on.

Boston's No. 2 starter, David Price, is in a similar boat. His regular-season numbers this year were quite respectable, 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA. But in the playoffs, he's 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 14 games. And, oh yeah, both his two wins came in relief. In eight playoff starts, Price is 0-7 with 5.27 ERA.

These two guys have got to come through for the Red Sox if they have hopes of winning their fourth World Series title since 2004, and it needs to start Friday when Price takes the ball for Boston against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in Game 2.

Also, maybe we should be taking the Blue Jays more seriously. They throttled the Rangers, 10-1, on Thursday, and while Marco Estrada is not a household name, he's starting to build a resume as a clutch pitcher. He tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball for Toronto in Game 1, and he's 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in four playoff starts over the past two seasons.

James Shields trade didn't turn out great for San Diego, either

Erik Johnson
This probably won't comfort White Sox fans who have watched James Shields get rocked start after start over the past four months, but the guy the Sox traded for Shields -- Erik Johnson -- is sidelined after Tommy John surgery.

Johnson made just four starts for the San Diego Padres in 2016, going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA. He allowed a Shields-like 20 earned runs on 32 hits -- including nine home runs -- and five walks in 19.2 innings. He didn't pitch a single game after July 1.

According to a report in Thursday's San Diego Union-Tribune, Johnson will miss the entire 2017 season after the elbow surgery.

The Padres can at least say they got some salary relief from the deal. They paid Johnson the league minimum to sit on the DL, which is not ideal, but it's probably preferable to paying Shields $21 million to go 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA.