Thursday, October 12, 2017

Yankees rally from 0-2 series deficit, upset Indians

Didi Gregorius
The Cleveland Indians once had a 22-game winning streak. They finished the season winning 35 of their final 42 games.

None of that means much now, does it?

The New York Yankees are in the ALCS after winning Game 5 of the ALDS, 5-2, at Cleveland on Wednesday night.

I felt as though the Yankees would be a dangerous opponent for Cleveland, just because New York is the one team that can match the Indians' bullpen arm for arm. However, I never expected the Yankees to pull this thing off, especially after Cleveland won the first two games of the five-game series.

New York rallied to win the final three games of the series, and sure enough, strong bullpen work was essential in the Game 5 victory.

That said, we would be remiss if we did not point out that Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia outpitched Corey Kluber, the Cleveland ace and likely Cy Young Award winner in the American League this year.

Didi Gregorius touched Kluber up for two home runs, a solo shot in the first inning and a two-run blast in the third. Kluber lasted only 3.2 innings and left the mound in the top of the fourth inning with his team trailing, 3-0.

Sabathia, meanwhile, allowed no runs on only one hit through the first four innings. He ran into trouble in the fifth, when he gave up two runs on four hits.

The Indians cut the New York lead to 3-2, and had runners on first and second with only one out. But former White Sox reliever David Robertson came in and slammed the door, inducing Francisco Lindor to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Sabathia struck out nine over his 4.2 innings pitched, and that's all the Yankees needed from him with Robertson and Aroldis Chapman coming out of the bullpen.

Robertson played the role of super reliever perfectly, navigating a scoreless 2.2 innings. He did not allow a single hit and protected that one-run lead through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

That got the ball to Chapman, who struck out four and did not allow a hit while recording a six-out save.

The Yankees got a little breathing room in the top of the ninth inning, when Brett Gardner's single on the 12th pitch of an at-bat against Cleveland closer Cody Allen produced two runs to make it 5-2. Gardner fouled off five consecutive 3-2 pitches before getting the base hit. Credit him for a terrific job against one of the better relievers in the AL.

In Game 5, the Yankees' starter outpitched the Indians' starter, and the New York bullpen was better than the Cleveland bullpen. Add in a big-time performance from Gregorius, and there's your upset.

The Yankees are headed to Houston to open the ALCS on Friday night.

Nationals force Game 5

So, I guess sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound worked out OK for the Washington Nationals, huh?

Strasburg struck out 12 over seven shutout innings Wednesday, and the Nationals beat the Cubs, 5-0, to tie the NLDS at 2-all. I don't think Tanner Roark gives you that performance, Washington fans.

We probably wouldn't be talking about a Game 5 back in Washington on Thursday night if Roark had started that game.

The Nationals are at home for this decisive game, which can only help them. But I still think the Cubs have the advantage pitching-wise. Kyle Hendricks was brilliant in Game 1, and he'll start Game 5 on regular rest. Can the Washington offense solve him?

Washington will have to go with either Gio Gonzalez or Roark, but Max Scherzer should be able to give them a couple innings of relief, if necessary.

Still, I'd give the edge to the Cubs. But don't listen to me. I thought the Cubs would close out the Nationals in four. I also thought the Indians would beat the Yankees.

The only thing I know is that I know nothing about baseball.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What is going on with Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals?

Dusty Baker
Does Dusty Baker know that playoff baseball is different than regular-season baseball? Does he have any urgency to win whatsoever?

Baker and the Washington Nationals received a huge break Tuesday when Game 4 of their NLDS against the Cubs was postponed because of rain here in the Chicago area.

The Cubs lead the series, 2-1, and the Nationals are facing elimination in Game 4. The unexpected day off was a gift for Washington, because now it can start ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg on regular rest in this critical game.

Or so we thought.

After the postponement Tuesday, Baker instead announced he would be sticking with Tanner Roark for Game 4. That's the same Tanner Roark who has a 4.67 ERA pitching in the weak National League East this season.

Seriously, Dusty? That's the guy you want to pitch with your season on the line? Should this even be a debate?

Baker also claimed that Strasburg was battling illness, because there is a lot of mold in the air in Chicago at this time of year, and apparently the air conditioning wasn't working right at the Nationals' hotel or some such thing.

Talk about lame excuses.

I can attest that the mold count is a problem in Chicago right now. I suffer from a mold allergy, and I've struggled with it off and on for the past month or so. But you know what I do? I take some allergy medicine and go to work. It's kind of an annoying thing, but it's hardly debilitating. It doesn't prevent a person from doing his job.

Early Wednesday, Baker reversed course and announced that Strasburg will start Game 4. Duh. I assume someone from the Washington front office stepped in and knocked some sense into him. Even if Strasburg fails, this is an obvious move, and it should have been announced Tuesday to give Strasburg additional time to prepare himself mentally for the start.

But Baker isn't very good at strategy, and often fails to make the obvious move. Take Game 3, for example. With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cubs had the go-ahead run on second base with two outs and Anthony Rizzo at the plate.

Baker had a number of options there. He had a solid reliever on the mound in Brandon Kintzler. He could have walked Rizzo and taken his chances with Willson Contreras, the Cubs' on-deck hitter. He could have brought in his best left-handed reliever, Sean Doolittle, to deal with Rizzo. Or, he could have walked Rizzo and brought in his best right-handed reliever, Ryan Madson, to deal with Contreras.

Instead, Baker opts to bring in 36-year-old journeyman lefty Oliver Perez, he of the 4.64 ERA. Rizzo singles on the first pitch from Perez, and the Cubs win Game 3, 2-1.

Nice move, Dusty, nice move. I guess he was saving Doolittle for the ninth inning, huh? Maybe you do that in the regular season, but certainly not in the playoffs.

Honestly, is there a manager out there who is a worse tactician than Dusty Baker? My goodness ...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Astros, Dodgers move on to the next round

Alex Bregman
The Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first two teams to advance to the League Championship Series.

Houston defeated the Boston Red Sox, 5-4, on Monday afternoon to win the ALDS, 3-1. Later Monday, the Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-1, to complete a three-game sweep in the NLDS.

The Houston-Boston game probably was the most interesting of the four playoff games played Monday, because both teams had their respective aces, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale, on the mound by the fifth inning.

Houston starter Charlie Morton lasted 4.1 innings. Boston starter Rick Porcello worked only three innings. I found it interesting that neither manager was desperate enough to start his ace in a Game 4, but both managers were desperate enough to use their ace in a relief role.

I was especially surprised to see Verlander on the hill.  The Astros, after all, led the series 2-1. Had they lost, they had a Game 5 in Houston to fall back on, and I would have liked their chances to win with Verlander starting that game.

But Houston manager A.J. Hinch had other thoughts. He pushed his chips to the center of the table to win Game 4, and win it he did.

I wasn't as surprised to see Sale work in relief because, well, it was do-or-die for the Red Sox. If you're gonna die, die with your best on the mound.

Verlander entered in the fifth inning with his team leading, 2-1, but he lost the lead quickly by giving up a two-run homer to Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi. That ended up being the only hit Verlander allowed over his 2.2 innings of relief, but for a time, it looked as though he was going to take a 3-2 loss.

Sale was brutal in a Game 1 defeat, but he was dealing in the middle innings Monday. The Astros did not get a single hit off him in the fourth, fifth or sixth innings. Sale fanned six and did not walk a batter over his 4.2 innings of relief.

However, the Astros broke through with a two-run eighth inning. Alex Bregman tied it with a home run off Sale to start the inning. Evan Gattis singled sandwiched in between two outs, and Sale was removed from the game with two outs in the top of the eighth and the score tied at 3.

Boston closer Craig Kimbrel was ineffective. He walked the first hitter he faced, George Springer, then gave up an RBI single to Josh Reddick that put the Astros ahead, 4-3. Houston added another run off Kimbrel in the ninth, which proved to be key. Rafael Devers had an inside-the-park home run for the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth to make it 5-4, but it was not enough.

Give the Astros credit. I always say you're not going to win championships beating up on chump pitchers. You have to go through people, and Houston went through two All-Stars -- Sale and Kimbrel -- to score three late runs Monday.

As a result, they await the winner of the series between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, which is tied at 2-all. Game 5 is Thursday night.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Chris Sale gets rocked in first career postseason start

Chris Sale
Chris Sale spent more than six years in a White Sox uniform and made five All-Star appearances. There are few complaints one could make about his performance on the South Side, but if there is one, it would be this: Sale fades at the end of seasons.

Sale, who was traded to the Boston Red Sox last offseason, always has been strong out of the gate, and that's one reason he's always on the mound for the American League in the All-Star Game. But it's no secret September is the month when he's most prone to having some struggles.

Here are Sale's career ERAs by month:

April: 2.91
May: 2.57
June: 2.66
July: 2.66
August: 3.22
September: 3.78

Granted, a 3.78 ERA is hardly an embarrassment, but it is indicative of Sale going from a nearly untouchable ace to a league-average mortal late in the season. That's always created some questions about how well Sale would perform if given the opportunity to pitch in the playoffs.

As it turns out, Sale looked was quite mortal Thursday in his postseason debut with the Red Sox, giving up seven runs on nine hits -- including three home runs -- in five innings of Boston's 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALDS.

It was the continuation of a bizarre late-season pattern for Sale this year. Including Thursday, he's made 12 starts since Aug. 1, and he was lights out in five of them. Four times he allowed no runs. There was another start where he allowed only one run.

However, he's also had four starts where he has allowed five runs or more, and Thursday marked the third occasion when he has allowed seven runs or more.

Bad Sale appeared at the worst possible time, and that is not going to sit well in Boston. The Red Sox were favorites to win in the 2016 American League playoffs, but they were dismissed in three straight games by the Cleveland Indians, largely because of pitching failures by David Price and Rick Porcello.

Boston acquired Sale in December as a response to that. Keep in mind, the Red Sox were a playoff team without Sale. He wasn't brought in to help them win the division. He was brought in specifically to help them win in the postseason. One game and one start does not a series make, but there is going to be a ton of pressure on Sale to deliver should he be fortunate enough to receive another start in this series against the Astros.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

White Sox pare 40-man roster down to 33

As we follow two ALDS Game 1s -- Boston at Houston and New York at Cleveland -- on this Thursday afternoon and early evening, there are some White Sox roster moves to report.

The Sox outrighted catcher Rob Brantly, outfielder Rymer Liriano and pitchers David Holmberg, Brad Goldberg and Chris Volstad to Triple-A Charlotte.

Goldberg remains in the organization as a non-roster player, because this is the first time he has been outrighted. Brantly, Liriano, Holmberg and Volstad elected free agency.

The moves reduce the Sox's 40-man roster to 33. There are three guys on the 60-day DL -- Charlie Tilson, Zach Putnam and Geovany Soto. After those three men are activated, the roster moves to 36, then reduces to 34, because Soto and Mike Pelfrey are free agents-to-be.

That leaves six spots open for the Sox to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, although it's possible we'll see more roster dreck purged in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Former White Sox relievers among Yankees heroes in AL wild card game

David Robertson
Tuesday's American League wild card game was not decided by starting pitchers.

Both Luis Severino of the New York Yankees and Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins were terrible.

Severino lasted 29 pitches. He recorded only one out in the top of the first inning and left the mound with his team trailing 3-0 and runners on second and third. Santana wasn't much better for Minnesota, allowing four earned runs over only two innings.

Nope, this one was decided by the bullpens, and New York's relief corps came through with 8.2 innings of one-run ball in an 8-4 Yankees victory.

Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge homered for New York, but two of the players who had the biggest say in the outcome of this game were two relievers the Yankees acquired from the White Sox in July -- David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.

The two right-handers combined for 5.2 innings of scoreless ball and six strikeouts. Robertson entered in an unfamiliar role -- he came on in the third inning with the Yankees leading 4-3. The Twins had the bases loaded with one out. Robertson allowed only one of the inherited runners to score -- when Byron Buxton narrowly beat out a potential inning-ending double play ball.

The former Sox closer then held the Twins at bay until there were two outs in the sixth inning, during which time the Yankees built a 7-4 lead against the Minnesota bullpen.

Kahnle then came in and retired all seven of the Twins hitters he faced to get New York through eight innings with a lead. Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth, and the Yankees are in the ALDS to face the Cleveland Indians.

Robertson picked up the win, and the 3.1 innings pitched is a new career high for him. He has been a terrific midseason acquisition for the Yankees. In 30 regular-season games, he pitched 35 innings, struck out 51 batters and went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 0.743 WHIP. He did not allow a run in 15 September innings, and carried over his lights-out pitching into the wild card game.

The July trade with the Sox has paid immediate dividends for the Yankees. If not for Robertson and Kahnle, perhaps their season would be over today.

We can only hope that the prospects the Sox got from New York in that trade -- outfielders Blake Rutherford and Tito Polo and pitcher Ian Clarkin -- can one day come through in the clutch in a future big game on the South Side of Chicago.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

AL wild card game: Everyone is picking the Yankees to beat the Twins

Ervin Santana
Postseason baseball begins Tuesday night with the AL wild card game pitting the New York Yankees (91-71) against the Minnesota Twins (85-77).

As far as I can tell, there isn't a person alive who thinks the Twins are going to win this game. Consider the following facts:
  • The Yankees come in red-hot, winners of 20 of their past 28 games, while the Twins were 14-14 in their past 28 games.
  • The Yankees' season run differential is +198, while Minnesota's was only +27.
  • New York won four out of six in the season series, including a three-game sweep in the Bronx in September.
  • Minnesota starting pitcher Ervin Santana had a fine season (16-8, 3.28 ERA), but he's 6-10 lifetime against the Yankees -- and 0-5 in six starts in the current Yankee Stadium. 
  • New York starting pitcher Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98) has had a breakout season, having struck out 230 in 193.1 innings this year. He's probably the third-best pitcher in the AL, behind only Cleveland's Corey Kluber and Boston's Chris Sale.
  • The Twins will be without their most dangerous hitter in third baseman Miguel Sano (28 homers, 77 RBIs), who has appeared in only three games since Aug. 19 because of a left shin injury.
  • The Yankees have a deep bullpen featuring no fewer than three relievers who can close in Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and David Robertson.
  • The Twins traded their closer, Brandon Kintzler, to the Washington Nationals at the end of July, mistakenly believing they were out of the pennant race. Minnesota has 37-year-old journeyman Matt Belisle closing games, and its best reliever is .....  ummmmm, Taylor Rogers, I guess.
Everything points to New York winning this game and advancing to the ALDS to face the Cleveland Indians. So why even watch?

Well, it's baseball, and this is a one-game playoff, not a seven-game series. Could the Twins somehow sneak a win out of the Bronx tonight? I wouldn't bet on it, but it's possible. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

It could have been worse: White Sox finish 2017 with 67-95 record

Jose Abreu
Here's a sentence that I might not type again for the rest of my life: The 2017 White Sox exceeded expectations by finishing 67-95.

Through 118 games, the Sox were 45-73 and appeared to be on their way to 100 losses. And nobody would have been shocked or unhappy if they had lost 100. Established veterans such as Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were traded in July. Competent bullpen arms such as Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak also were shown the door.

After all that, I never would have guessed the Sox would have a winning September -- they went 15-14 -- nor would I have believed they would go 22-22 in their last 44 games. But that's exactly what they did, and you have to give manager Rick Renteria and his staff some credit. He had guys playing hard and playing the right way all the way up to the very end, and the Sox were able to crawl out of last place while the Detroit Tigers (64-98) tanked and finished with the worst record in the league.

The Sox will draft No. 4 overall in the 2018 entry draft, instead of first, as many had hoped. I can live with that, because their late-season competency wasn't led by a group of mediocre veterans. The younger players who are supposed to be a part of the future -- Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer -- all had some positive moments that contributed to winning. You want to see that progress and that development. It's the most important thing for a team that is in the Sox's position.

However, in recent weeks, I have heard some Sox fans getting a little too exuberant about the team's hopes for 2018. It has been pointed out that the Minnesota Twins, who were 59-103 at this time a year ago, rebounded to 85-77 and won the second wild card in the American League. That's led some to ask the question, "Why can't the Sox author a similar turnaround next year?"

That's a noble thought, but it's just not likely. Despite some of the positives we've seen as of late, the Sox have very little talent in their bullpen. In order to contend next season, they would have to buy at least three and maybe four relief arms in free agency, and I don't see that being a prudent course of action at this stage. They've committed to the rebuild, so stay the course.

Looking ahead to 2018, here's my best guess at how things might break down at each position:

Catcher: There's a pretty good chance both Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez are back next year. Smith hit .283, Narvaez hit .277. We haven't seen that sort of offensive competency from Sox catchers since A.J. Pierzynski left, and neither Smith nor Narvaez embarrassed themselves defensively. Both are probably better options at the position than dumpster diving in free agency.

First base: Jose Abreu enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 2017. He hit .304 with 33 home runs and 102 RBIs. He had 343 total bases and posted a .906 OPS. I've often heard people say the Sox should keep Abreu around to be "a mentor and leader" for young Latino players. It is true that Abreu can be that guy, but keeping him on the club just for that reason sells him short. This guy has had 100 or more RBIs for four straight seasons with not a lot of help. Perhaps the Sox should keep him because he's one of the best in the game at his position.

Second base: Moncada's .231 average reflects the struggles he had when he was first called up to the majors. I said we needed to see a hot streak from this guy before the year ended, and sure enough, we saw one. He hit .276 with an .818 OPS and five home runs after Sept. 1. Something to build on for a player who needs to be a core piece in order for the Sox's rebuild to work.

Shortstop: Anderson's second-half OPS (.732) was a full 100 points higher than his first-half OPS (.632), and he hit .327 in September to raise his season batting average to .257. Eight of his 17 home runs and nine of his 15 stolen bases came after Aug. 1. Signs of progress. Next year is a big year for Anderson. He had a good rookie season. He struggled much of his second year before finishing strong. Consider 2018 the tiebreaker season to give us a read on what type of player Anderson truly is.

Third base: As it stands right now, I think Yolmer Sanchez is the guy. He's the best defensive infielder the Sox have, and he hit .267/.319/.413 with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs. That was more production that I ever expected from Sanchez, and he outplayed both Matt Davidson and Tyler Saladino by a wide margin. Sure, Davidson hit 26 home runs, but that's all he does. The .220 batting average and .260 on-base percentage are not impressive, and Davidson doesn't give you much with the glove. Back problems seem to be ruining Saladino's career, as he hit .178 with no home runs in 79 games this year. After a promising 2016, Saladino is perhaps on his way out the door. That's a cautionary tale not to get too excited about Sanchez, I suppose. Long-term, though, I see Sanchez as a valuable bench player on a contender. I think he still can start on next year's Sox team.

Outfield: I'll go on the record: Keep Avisail Garcia. I know some Sox fans want to "sell high," but they are assuming that clubs out there will want to "buy high." I don't know if there will be any takers at a high price. As Sox fans, we don't necessarily believe Garcia can hit .330 again next year. If we don't believe it, why would rival GMs? I'm in favor of putting Garcia in right field for 2018. He won't hit .330, but I'll settle for .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs. I think he can do that, and while the Sox have outfield prospects in the system, none will be ready for the start of next season. Adam Engel and Leury Garcia will probably vie for playing time in center field. Engel is good with the glove, but can't hit at all, and Leury Garcia keeps getting hurt. They are stopgap solutions, but that's good enough for now. I wouldn't mind seeing the Sox add a stopgap corner outfield veteran to play left field in case Nick Delmonico's surprising late-season performance with the bat is a mirage. Not to mention, Delmonico is subpar with the glove, so I don't know that I want to give him 140 games in left field.

Designated hitter: Would a platoon of Davidson and Delmonico be reasonable to start 2018?

Starting pitching: I think I know three of the five coming into next season: Giolito, Lopez and James Shields. Giolito was better than expected in seven late-season starts, going 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA. The Sox hope he is part of their present and future, so let him pitch. Ditto with Lopez, whose performance (3-3, 4.72 ERA in eight starts) was more uneven than Giolito's, but promising at times. Shields is a veteran with a bad contract, and veterans with bad contracts tend to stay right where they are. Fulmer had a rough season at Triple-A Charlotte, then surprised by going 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven late-season appearances (five starts). I think Fulmer competes for a rotation spot in the spring, but he didn't show enough over the course of the year for me to be confident that he's one of the five for 2018. Carlos Rodon was limited to 12 starts this season because of shoulder problems. Now, he's out six to eight months after shoulder surgery. I never felt the Sox were being truthful about the extent of Rodon's injury. Maybe we'll see him in May or June of next year, or maybe not. You can't count on him, and I think the Sox need to sign two stopgap veterans on short-term deals to fill out the rotation. I've heard Sox fans call for the team to sign a "Derek Holland type." Frankly, I'd prefer a "Miguel Gonzalez type," since Gonzalez did that job for the Sox in 2017, while Holland failed miserably after a respectable first two months.

Relief pitching: Who do you keep from this morass? You can't sign a whole new bullpen, so you gotta keep somebody. I'll keep Juan Minaya, Aaron Bummer and Greg Infante. I'm not overly impressed with any of them, but they are the best of a bad lot. Nate Jones has a contract for next season, and he's coming off a second elbow surgery. Fingers crossed that he can provide some veteran stability, but you can't count on that. Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam are always injured. It's time to move on from them. Beyond that, who knows? Is stinks that Zack Burdi is going to miss 2018 after elbow surgery. He would have been in the major league bullpen, and that would have been one more young guy to watch.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Giancarlo Stanton has 56 home runs -- do we care?

Giancarlo Stanton
Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has a chance to become only the sixth man in baseball history to hit 60 home runs in a season.

With 10 games to play, he has 56 home runs.

No doubt, Stanton's chase for history gives Marlins fans a good reason to watch the final week and a half of the season, despite their team being out of postseason contention. And really, as a baseball fan, I feel as though I should be interested in this. However, in all honesty, I can't bring myself to care.

The steroids era has made it impossible for me to get excited about home runs. Sixty-home run seasons were once almost unheard of in the game. Babe Ruth hit 60 in 1927, and nobody touched that figure for 34 years, when Roger Maris broke Ruth's record with 61 home runs in 1961.

Another 37 years passed, and all of a sudden we had this rash of 60-homer seasons between 1998 and 2001. Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998 and 65 more in 1999. Sammy Sosa hit 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001. And, of course, Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, a "record" that still stands.

But as we all know, everything that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa accomplished is complete crap. They were aided by drug enhancements. All three men are cheats and liars, and hopefully none of the three ever gets elected to the Hall of Fame.

What does that have to do with Stanton? Well, absolutely nothing. I have no reason to believe that Stanton is cheating or on steroids. But unfortunately, when I think of 60 home runs, I don't think of Ruth and Maris and the great feats they accomplished. I instead think of those three drug cheats -- Bonds, McGwire and Sosa -- who left a stain on the game forever.

If Maris still were the single-season home run record holder, I think I would feel much differently about Stanton's pursuit. I would be following his at-bats carefully. Perhaps I would even be cheering for him.

However, thanks to the steroids era, the mystique surrounding 60-homer seasons is long gone, As a fan, I'm now indifferent to big home run totals, and probably always will be.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The offseason's most lopsided trades

Wade Davis
Wade Davis is 32 for 32 in save opportunities for the Cubs this season, and that got me thinking about some of the most lopsided trades of the past offseason.

I'm came up with three of them, and two of them benefited NL Central contenders. I'm not talking about veterans-for-prospects trades here. Most baseball trades these days fall into that category, and it will be three or four years before we can fully understand who "won" those deals.

No, I'm talking about the "good, old-fashioned baseball trades" that involve major leaguers changing teams.

I uncovered three such deals, and two in particular, that were horribly one-sided.

1. Boston Red Sox trade 3B Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers for RP Tyler Thornburg

Milwaukee has been perhaps the biggest surprise in the National League this season, if not all of baseball. Did you think the Brewers would be only one game out of the second NL wild card spot on Sept. 20? Did you think the Brewers would be only 3.5 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central at this stage of the season?

Me neither.

And all Shaw has done is hit .275/.349/.523 with 30 home runs, 32 doubles and 96 RBIs. Milwaukee's rebuilding effort has been accelerated by Shaw's breakout season in the middle of its lineup.

Thornburg? Well, he hasn't thrown a pitch for the Red Sox this season. He's out for the year after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

The Red Sox are leading their division despite this lopsided trade, but if they are being honest with themselves, they'd have to admit they missed Shaw for much of the season. Third base was a black hole in Boston until prospect Rafael Devers was called up from the minors to man the position.

Boston's three-game lead in the AL East might be a little bigger right now if it had kept Shaw as its third baseman to start the year.

2. Kansas City Royals trade RP Wade Davis to the Cubs for OF Jorge Soler

Simply put, the Cubs would not be in first place by 3.5 games had they not acquired Davis in the offseason. He has been outstanding, and he is the reason the Cubs are 73-1 when they take a lead into the ninth inning. You can't do better than 32 for 32, right?

The only game the Cubs lost when leading after eight wasn't Davis' fault -- Hector Rondon blew that one.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the Royals thought Kelvin Herrera could close games. They were wrong. Herrera has a 4.56 ERA, almost two runs higher than his career norms, and he's blown five saves and lost his job as closer here in September.

The Royals are 73-77 and have faded from playoff contention.

Soler? Injuries have limited him to 32 games, in which he has hit .151/.255/.269 with two home runs and six RBIs. Good job, good effort.

What a steal for the Cubs and what a disaster for the Royals.

3. Seattle Mariners trade OF Seth Smith to Baltimore Orioles for SP Yovani Gallardo

It isn't even that Smith is any good. He's his usual mediocre self -- .257/.341/.434 with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs in 108 games.

But it's insanity for anyone to think trading for Gallardo is a good idea. The washed-up right-hander has been a predictable disaster for the Mariners, going 5-10 with a 5.72 ERA. Mercifully, he's been removed from the Seattle rotation after a performance similar to that of James Shields throughout the year.

What do you think? Am I missing any trades that were woefully one-sided?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson surging in second half

Tim Anderson
There is nothing White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson can do at this point to make his overall 2017 statistics look impressive. He struggled both offensively and defensively throughout the first four months of the season, and his numbers reflect that.

There is no greater example than his error total. Anderson has committed 26 errors this season, the most by any shortstop in the American League. There's no getting around it -- that's a high number.

But here's something that is encouraging: Anderson has committed only four errors in his past 53 games. He committed his 22nd error of the season July 16, in his 80th game.

The average fan is going to look at those 26 errors and declare that Anderson is a poor defender. But aside from a two-error game in Texas on Aug. 19, a closer look reveals that Anderson has been playing a mostly clean shortstop for a good two months.

Corner turned? We'll find out next year, and we can hope.

When Anderson was struggling, I suspected he was taking his poor at-bats into the field with him, which is a tendency among many young players. His improved defense coincides with a late-season offensive resurgence.

Entering Tuesday's play, Anderson is riding a nine-game hit streak in which he has gone 18 for 43 (.419 average) with three doubles, a triple and a home run. He also has stolen six bases in his past nine games, nearly doubling his season total from seven to 13.

Anderson has hit in 12 of his past 13 games, and he has posted a .418/.426/.612 slash line in September.

Garbage-time heroics, you say? Well, perhaps, but Anderson has been trending in the right direction offensively since about Aug. 1, and given the choice, wouldn't we rather see a garbage-time surge than another two months of Anderson flailing about?

Here are Anderson's slash lines by month for the season:

April: .204/.237/.301
May: .319/.319/.500
June: .213/.242/.298
July: .198/.207/.296
August: .259/.272/.500
September: .418/.426/.612

June and July were a wasteland for Anderson, and his overall slash line (.262/.281/.414) suffers as a result of those extended struggles. The September performance is not sustainable, of course, but his performance has looked more like it should now for an extended period.

Some fans will point out that Anderson still is not taking many walks, and his on-base percentage is suffering for it. True enough, but I think we all need to get over the idea that Anderson needs to walk more. He isn't going to walk more. That's not who he is as a player. Accept that as reality.

Anderson has good bat-to-ball skills. He has speed and athleticism. Those tools should allow him to get hits, steal bases and play good defense. We've seen him do those things recently. If he can do that with more consistency next season, I'll be content with him as the Sox's starting shortstop, low walk totals be damned.

White Sox avoid infamy, split four games with Detroit

Matt Boyd
The White Sox scored 29 runs through the first three games of their four-game weekend series against the Detroit Tigers.

So, naturally, on Sunday, they went out and nearly got no-hit by one of the worst starting pitchers in the American League -- Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd.

Boyd retired 26 of the first 27 hitters he faced in a 12-0 victory, with Rob Brantly being the only man to reach base on a walk with two outs in the top of the third inning.

Alas, Sox shortstop Tim Anderson broke up the no-hit bid with a two-out double in the top of the ninth. The Sox are lucky the Tigers had a third baseman (Nick Castellanos) playing right field, because a good outfielder might have run down Anderson's liner into the right-center field gap.

Boyd finished with a one-hitter, and that will be forgotten about by next week -- if it hasn't been forgotten about already. No-hitters live forever, and it would have been embarrassing for the Sox to be no-hit by Boyd, who is 6-10 with a 5.33 ERA this season.

Crazy thing is, Boyd had been 0-4 with a 6.13 ERA in eight previous career starts against the Sox. Normally, I look forward to seeing Boyd on the mound, so I have no idea how he managed to pitch a one-hitter in Sunday's game.

Here's a look back at the rest of the series:

Thursday, Sept. 14
White Sox 17, Tigers 7: The Sox pounded 25 hits, including 21 singles, and forced the Tigers to use eight pitchers.

It was a career day for right fielder Avisail Garcia, who went 5 for 5 with a three-run homer and seven RBIs. The top five hitters in the Sox lineup combined for 19 hits. Yoan Moncada had four hits, including a home run, and scored five runs. Jose Abreu had four hits, three runs scored and two RBIs. Anderson went 3 for 7 with two runs scored and two RBIs, and Matt Davidson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs. It was quite an offensive display.

And, Tyler Saladino went 0 for 6. Hey, somebody has gotta make the outs, right?

The Sox got a decent outing from James Shields (4-6), who allowed four runs over six innings and struck out seven. With that kind of run support, even the erstwhile Shields is a good bet to pick up a victory.

Friday, Sept. 15
Tigers 3, White Sox 2: There were two positive signs the Sox could take out of this loss. First and foremost, they got a second consecutive good start from Carson Fulmer.

Fulmer went six innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five and walked only one. The right-hander allowed only one run in six innings in his previous start against the San Francisco Giants, so it's possible Fulmer has found something after struggling for much of the year at Triple-A Charlotte.

Or, perhaps Fulmer just capitalized on pitching against two bad teams in San Francisco and Detroit. His next scheduled start should be against AL West champion Houston, so that might provide a better measure of Fulmer's progress.

The other positive sign? Moncada homered for the second straight game. The prized prospect has been swinging the bat better of late.

The bullpen combination of Al Alburquerque (0-2), Aaron Bummer and Juan Minaya coughed this game up by allowing a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, but what else would you expect from that group?

Saturday, Sept. 16
White Sox 10, Tigers 4: The Sox scored six runs in the first two innings and went on to total 17 hits in a lopsided win.

Anderson went 4 for 5 with two runs scored, Moncada collected two more hits, Nick Delmonico connected for his eighth home run of the season, and Abreu is up to 97 RBIs after he knocked in two more runs in this game.

The run support was useful for right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (2-3), who struggled early but settled in to throw seven innings. The Tigers got three off Lopez in the second inning, but only one the rest of the way.

Lopez, Fulmer and Lucas Giolito all have two wins each since being called up from Charlotte. All of them are at least contenders for rotation spots in the 2018 season.

Sunday, Sept. 17
Tigers 12, White Sox 0: We already talked about this terrible game, so can I just say Dylan Covey is NOT a contender for a rotation spot in the 2018 season and move on?

Thanks.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

White Sox damage Kansas City's wild card hopes

The 2012 White Sox lost the AL Central by three games. And from Aug. 7 until the end of that season, the Sox lost nine out of 11 games to the Kansas City Royals.

The 2012 Royals were a 90-loss team, but the Sox couldn't do anything against them coming down the stretch, and I've long felt the inability to beat Kansas City was the reason the South Siders missed the playoffs that year.

The Sox haven't played meaningful September games in the five years since, while the Royals have won two American League pennants and the 2015 World Series. Kansas City has tortured the Sox for most of this decade, and frankly, I will probably carry the scars from this 2016 loss for the rest of my life. It is the worst loss I've ever endured as a Sox fan.

So, given all that history, it is with great joy that I report that the last-place Sox (58-87) damaged Kansas City's 2017 playoff hopes this week by taking two out of three at Kauffman Stadium.

This was a series the Royals (72-73) needed to win. They didn't win it, and now they are four games out of the second wild card with three teams to pass as they embark on an 11-game road trip that starts in Cleveland against an Indians club that has won 21 games in a row.

Good luck, Royals. There isn't a Sox fan alive that has any sympathy for you.

Here's a look back at this week's series:

Monday, Sept. 11
White Sox 11, Royals 3: Jose Abreu almost hit for the cycle for the second time in three days. He came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning needing a home run, but he ended up drawing a walk from Kansas City reliever Trevor Cahill.

The Sox's first baseman went 4 for 5 to lead a 17-hit attack. Adam Engel and Yoan Moncada added three hits each, with Engel capping off a six-run sixth inning with a three-run home run.

The offensive outburst allowed right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (1-3) to pick up his first victory with the Sox. Lopez allowed three runs in the fifth inning, but he got through six, allowing eight hits. The Sox are hopeful it will be the first of many wins for the hard-throwing 23-year-old.

Tuesday, Sept. 12
Royals 4, White Sox 3: Dylan Covey had a miserable first inning. He walked the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Brandon Moss to put the Sox in an early 4-0 hole.

But Covey (0-5) settled down and retired 14 out of 15 hitters at one point, and the Sox had their chances to come back and win the game. They outhit the Royals, 13-4, but left 10 runners stranded.

The Sox had runners at first and third with nobody out in the top of the ninth inning, but could not get the tying run home against Kansas City reliever Scott Alexander.

Moncada struck out, Abreu popped out and Matt Davidson grounded out, ending an unsatisfying offensive day for the Sox.

Wednesday, Sept. 13
White Sox 5, Royals 3: The Sox solved Alexander in the rubber match of the series with two runs in the top of the ninth inning that broke a 3-3 tie.

Tim Anderson singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third as Moncada walked. That put runners on first and third with one out for Abreu, who delivered a sacrifice fly for his 93rd RBI of the season and 4-3 lead. Avisail Garcia's two-out RBI single plated Moncada and capped the scoring.

Juan Minaya (3-2) sealed the win with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. It's too bad Lucas Giolito didn't get the win after he pitched 6.1 innings of one-run ball. Alas, Danny Farquhar allowed two runs in the eighth to give up the lead, and the Sox starter got a no-decision.

But Giolito can take the positives out of the start. He allowed only four hits despite not having his best stuff. His ERA is down to 2.56 in five starts, and he's positioning himself for a job in the 2018 Sox rotation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jose Abreu becomes first White Sox player to hit for the cycle since 2000

Jose Abreu
What are the odds that slugging White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu will hit a triple in any given at-bat?

Not high, you say? Well, you are correct.

Abreu has appeared in 596 career games through Sunday, and he has made 2,582 plate appearances. He has 11 career triples, which means he triples once in every 235 plate appearances.

So, when Abreu stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night needing a triple to complete the cycle, I doubt too many people thought he would actually do it. His odds got even worse after he fouled a ball off his leg in that at-bat, and the game had to be delayed briefly while manager Rick Renteria and trainer Herm Schneider checked on him.

Wouldn't you know, Abreu got back in the box and lined the very next pitch into the right-center field gap. Sore leg and all, the race was on, and somehow the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Abreu lumbered into third base to complete the cycle.

He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs in the Sox's 13-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

I had the good fortune of attending Saturday's game, and it was the first time I've seen a Sox player hit for the cycle in person. That part is really not surprising, because cycles have been rare in club history. There are only six of them, and Guaranteed Rate Field isn't what you would call a triples park - with its short power alleys and symmetrical design.

Here are the other cycles in Sox history:

Jose Valentin: April 27, 2000 vs. Baltimore
Chris Singleton: July 6, 1999 vs. Kansas City
Carlton Fisk: May 16, 1984 vs. Kansas City
Jack Brohamer: Sept. 24, 1977 vs. Seattle
Ray Schalk: June 27, 1922 vs. Detroit

I think the Sox should give free admission to an upcoming home game to anyone who was actually alive when Schalk hit for the cycle.

As for Abreu, he continued his torrid hitting Sunday with two home runs in an 8-1 win over the Giants. The Sox took two out of three in the series after losing 9-2 on Friday night.

The .300/30/100 watch continues for Abreu. He's got 31 home runs now, so the "30" part is secure. He's at 90 RBIs, which means he needs 10 more in the remaining 20 games. The batting average sits at .302 entering Monday's action.

Friday, September 8, 2017

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon headed to the MRI machine

Carlos Rodon
Carlos Rodon was on the disabled list for the entire first half of the season, and I couldn't help but wonder whether the White Sox were lying about the severity of his shoulder discomfort.

My concerns are growing once again after Rodon was scratched from his scheduled start Thursday with "shoulder stiffness" just minutes before he was to pitch against the Cleveland Indians.

Mike Pelfrey (3-11) made an emergency start and gave up four runs before he recorded an out. The Sox went on to lose, 11-2, but really, who cares about that at this point? Pelfrey's doing all he can, which isn't much.

The story of the night was Rodon. He's an important piece to the Sox's rebuilding puzzle, and he's headed to the MRI machine Friday to get his shoulder checked out.

This is not good news. I'd rather a pitcher have elbow trouble than shoulder trouble, because velocity comes from the shoulder. It seems as though most pitchers make it back from elbow surgeries, whereas shoulder surgeries tend to ruin careers (John Danks, Johan Santana, Mark Prior).

Hopefully, whatever is troubling Rodon will not require him to go under the knife. But whatever this is, it's nagging, it's been present all season, and it was never completely healed, regardless of what the Sox said publicly about the matter.

Rodon's season likely is done. The Sox are 31 games below .500, and I can't think of a single good reason to send him to the mound again in 2017. He'll have made only 12 starts this season, and he'll finish 2-5 with a 4.15 ERA.

He had hit his stride as of late -- his ERA was 3.00 in his past seven outings -- so it's really frustrating to see him sidelined again.

I'm not concerned about Rodon's stuff at this point. From my perspective, his three-pitch mix is right where it should be. He can dominate a good lineup on a given day. But at some point, he needs to provide some consistency and show he can make 30 starts in a season and get close to 200 innings.

He has not done that, and until he does, we can't look at him as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, even though that's what all Sox fans want him to become.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reynaldo Lopez was good; the rest of the White Sox were bad

Carlos Carrasco
The White Sox are 54-84 with 24 games remaining. That's a lot of losses, and it's hard to say any one single game is the worst I've seen this team play this season.

However, Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians has to be on the short list.

Yes, the Indians are good. They've won 14 in a row for a reason. And Carlos Carrasco is a good pitcher. He's 14-6 this season for a reason.

But there were some pretty pathetic at-bats turned in by Sox hitters Wednesday, as Carrasco needed only 97 pitches to sail through a complete-game, three-hitter. The Cleveland right-hander was one out away from a shutout, and he faced the minimum 26 batters through 8.2 innings. Adam Engel hit a meaningless solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to save the Sox from complete disgrace.

As bad as the Sox offense was, their defense was even worse. Rookie right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (0-3) has three quality starts in his four outings with the Sox, and this performance was probably the best of the bunch. He deserves a handshake for making it through six innings and allowing only one run to the red-hot Indians, especially given the horrible play behind him.

In the first inning, first baseman Matt Davidson booted a grounder that should have been an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play. Lopez bailed him out by getting Edwin Encarnacion to pop out and Carlos Santana to fly out. No runs allowed.

Shortstop Tyler Saladino kicked a ball that should have been a double play in the second inning. The official scorer inexplicably ruled it a "double." Lopez faced a second-and-third, one-out situation for the second inning in a row, and he again escaped with a strikeout and a popout.

In the fourth inning, the Indians loaded the bases with nobody out on a walk and two "singles." One glanced off the glove of Nick Delmonico after the rookie left fielder took a bad route to the ball. The other "single" should have been turned into an out by second baseman Alen Hanson but was not. Lopez was forced to get five outs in the inning. He allowed a sacrifice fly and nothing more, and that was a good job of pitching.

When Lopez left the game, the Sox trailed 1-0 in a game that could have easily been 5-0 or 6-0. The Indians broke it open late against the Chicago bullpen, and the Sox received a well-deserved loss, even though Lopez deserved a better fate.

The Sox are outmanned against the Indians, so to some extent you can live with losses to this Cleveland team. But there was a sloppiness to Wednesday's game that cannot sit well.

Carlos Rodon will get his shot at ending the Cleveland winning streak Thursday night, and with his stuff, he always has a puncher's chance against any lineup. But he's going to need his teammates to catch the ball for him. The Indians have their ace, Corey Kluber (14-4), scheduled to pitch, so Cleveland has good reason to like its chances of extending this win streak to 15. If the Indians are successful, it will be a new franchise record.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chris Beck is terrible all the time, but especially against the first batter he faces

Full disclosure: Chris Beck is probably my least favorite 2017 White Sox player. I cringe every time he comes in from the bullpen. You're never going to hear me say a nice word about him.

And there's really no arguing with the fact that he's a bad relief pitcher. He's made 51 appearances for the Sox this year, and he's got a 6.42 ERA. Somewhat remarkably, he had a 3.41 ERA as recently as July 5, but he's allowed at least one earned run in 16 of his past 20 relief outings.

That's remarkable incompetence, given that relief pitchers often are asked to pitch only one inning. You would think a major league reliever would be able to provide a scoreless inning more often than four times out of 20, but Beck's horribleness defies logic.

Here's the thing that really bothers me about Beck: He cannot retire the first man he faces to save his life. In Monday's 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the first man he faced was Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez homered.

In Tuesday's 9-4 loss to the Indians, the first man Beck faced was Yan Gomes.

Gomes hit a three-run homer.

This is not a new trend. Beck has allowed 14 home runs in 54.2 innings this season. Seven of those homers have been surrendered to the first man he faces.

In 51 games, Beck has allowed the first man he faces to reach base 25 times. Those 51 hitters have gone 15 for 40 with the aforementioned seven home runs, eight walks, two HBPs and only three strikeouts.

The slash line for those 51 hitters: .375/.490/.950. That's a 1.440 OPS!

This is not an acceptable level of performance for any reliever, even one on a rebuilding team.