Showing posts with label Alex Avila. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alex Avila. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Former White Sox catchers are suddenly good hitters

Alex Avila
The Detroit Tigers have been on local TV a lot the past two weeks. The White Sox have played seven games against them since May 26, and Detroit's game against the Los Angeles Angels is the MLB Network feature today on "Thursday Afternoon Baseball."

When I watch the Tigers, I cringe every time Alex Avila steps to the plate. Of course, now that the veteran catcher doesn't play for the Sox anymore, he's rediscovered his batting stroke. Check out his numbers this year in Detroit, when compared with his numbers last year with the Sox:

2017 with Detroit: .324./440/.640, 9 HRs, 24 RBIs, 8 2Bs in 39 games
2016 with Sox: .213/.359/.373, 7 HRs, 11 RBIs, 8 2Bs in 57 games

Avila was nothing but injured and bad for the Sox in 2016. Now that he's back with Detroit, he's healthy and raking. He's already surpassed his run production totals from last year, and it's only June 8.

Doesn't that figure. And he's not alone in the category of former Sox catchers who suddenly know how to hit.

Would you believe it if I told you Tyler Flowers is hitting .350/.459/.455 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 41 games for the Atlanta Braves? Well, it's true.

Flowers has reinvented himself as a high-average, contact hitter:

2016-17 with Atlanta: .295/.389/.431
2009-15 with Sox: .223/.289/.376

This season, Flowers has struck out 27 times in 148 plate appearances, or once every 5.5 times he steps to the plate. During his time in Chicago, he struck out 464 times in 1,395 plate appearances, or once every 3.0 times he stepped to the plate.

Makes you wonder why he couldn't make these adjustments while he was with the Sox, doesn't it? If he had, he'd probably still be in Chicago.

By way of comparison, Sox catchers in 2017 are hitting .240/.316/.333 with three home runs and 18 RBIs. All three home runs and nine of those RBIs are on the disabled list (Geovany Soto). The Sox don't get much offense out of their catchers, and that remains a position of need moving forward.

Friday, November 4, 2016

White Sox decline option on Matt Albers, among other roster moves


So long, Matt Albers. We'll always have this photo of me with your jersey at SoxFest.

The first day after the conclusion of the World Series often brings a flurry of minor roster moves around the league, and the White Sox made a handful on Thursday.

Most notably, they declined a $3 million option on Albers for the 2017 season, instead exercising a $250,000 buyout.

Albers, 33, went 2-6 with a 6.31 ERA in 58 appearances this year. He was unscored upon in April, but was absolutely terrible for the rest of the season. Now, he's a free agent, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's spent his last day in the big leagues.

The Sox also reinstated third baseman Matt Davidson (broken foot) and relief pitcher Jake Petricka (hip surgery) from the 60-day disabled list. Outfielder J.B. Shuck was outrighted to Triple-A Charlotte, and relief pitcher Daniel Webb was given his release.

Somewhat strangely, the whitesox.com article on the moves indicates the Sox's 40-man roster now sits at 37 players. By my count, the Sox added two players to the roster (Davidson and Petricka), while subtracting three (Albers, Shuck and Webb).

That should mean the roster is at 39 players ... hmmmm ...

Worth noting: The Sox have a five-day window to negotiate exclusively with potential free agents Alex Avila and Justin Morneau. Perhaps the team has already decided they have no interest in talking to those two players, and their names will be officially subtracted from the 40-man roster when they become free agents in five days. That would take the roster count down to 37.

Monday, August 29, 2016

White Sox take three out of four from Seattle Mariners

Jose Quintana
The Seattle Mariners this weekend became the latest American League contender to lose a season series to the White Sox.

The Sox took three out of four over the weekend at U.S. Cellular Field and finished 4-3 against Seattle this year. Chicago (63-66) also has prevailed in the season series against AL-West leading Texas (4-2), AL-East leading Toronto (5-1) and AL wild card-leader Boston (4-3).

Too bad the Sox can't win against their own division, where they are 20-29. Too bad 27 of the 33 remaining games are against AL Central opponents. It could be a rough road ahead, but today, let's reflect back on the weekend success against the Mariners:

Friday, Aug. 26
Mariners 3, White Sox 1: The day began with news that the Sox traded disappointing catcher Dioner Navarro to Toronto in exchange for pitcher Colton Turner.

Navarro somehow managed to be a downgrade from previous Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. We knew coming into the year that Navarro was a subpar pitch framer, and there would be defensive shortcomings. But Navarro couldn't even clear the low offensive bar set by Flowers in previous years. Good riddance to Navarro and his .210 batting average.

With Omar Narvaez behind the plate Friday, Chris Sale (15-7) pitched a complete game. He retired the last 16 batters he faced --10 by strikeout - and finished with a season-high 14 strikeouts.

Of course, he lost, because the Sox are not a good offensive team. At least this time they could say they got shut down by an elite pitcher. Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (9-4) fired 7.1 innings of one-run ball to earn the victory.

Hernandez did leave, however, with the bases loaded and only one out in the eighth. But Seattle reliever Edwin Diaz got a force at home and a popout to third to extricate the Mariners from that mess. Diaz went on to strike out the side in the ninth to earn his 11th save.

Saturday, Aug. 27
White Sox 9, Mariners 3: Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino both went 3 for 4 with a homer as the Sox pounded 15 hits to make a winner out of Jose Quintana (11-9).

The Sox scored two in the first and one more in the fourth against Seattle starter Ariel Miranda (1-1), who was removed after four innings in just his sixth career game and fourth career start.

The Mariners brought in middle reliever Vidal Nuno, and he fooled nobody. He gave up six runs on 10 hits, including three home runs, over three innings. The Sox scored four runs off him in the fifth, highlighted by back-to-back home runs by Garcia and Alex Avila. Saladino added his two-run homer in the seventh inning.

Quintana had to be overjoyed to pitch with a big lead. He went 7.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits. He struck out eight, walked one and lowered his ERA to a team-best 2.77.

Jacob Turner made the ninth inning somewhat annoying when he loaded the bases with nobody out. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into that inning, so the outcome was not really in doubt, and the Mariners scored only one run out of that situation anyway. Nate Jones came on to induce a game-ending double play off the bat of pinch-hitter Seth Smith.

Sunday, April 28
White Sox 4, Mariners 1: The Sox managed only five hits in this game, but they bunched them and made them count.

They went nine-up, nine-down against Seattle starter Taijuan Walker the first three innings, but two HBPs and a double loaded the bases in the fourth inning. Justin Morneau's two-run single put the Sox on top, 2-0.

The Sox did not get another hit until the eighth inning, but they added to a 2-1 lead with two more runs on three hits. Tim Anderson singled and scored on triple by Melky Cabrera. Jose Abreu followed with a sacrifice fly to account for the final margin of victory.

Carlos Rodon (5-8) continued his red-hot August with six innings of one-run ball. He allowed only a solo home run to Robinson Cano, and improved to 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA over five starts this month.

Anderson and Saladino turned a slick double play to extricate the Sox from a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh inning. Nate Jones worked a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, and closer David Robertson secured his 33rd save by pitching over two soft singles in the top of the ninth inning.

The Sox are off to Detroit to start a three-game series Monday. Will they be able to sustain this momentum from a good series win and a 6-3 homestand?

Well, James Shields is starting the opener against the Tigers, so don't bank on it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

White Sox injury updates: Avisail Garcia, Alex Avila, Brett Lawrie

Avisail Garcia
The White Sox on Tuesday activated outfielder Avisail Garcia from the 15-day disabled list and optioned outfielder Jason Coats to Triple-A Charlotte.

Garcia, 25, last played in a game Aug. 7 and has been sidelined with a sprained right knee. He recently completed a three-game rehabilitation assignment in Charlotte. Two of those starts were in right field. He went 5 for 13 with a home run and four RBIs.

With the Sox, Garcia is hitting .240/.309/.378 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in 86 games this season. 

Coats is hitting .189/.318/.324 with one home run and three RBIs in 18 games over three separate stints with the Sox. He had a little more success during this recent two-week call-up. He is 5 for 15 at the big league level in August, and he hit his first major league home run on Aug. 13 against Miami. We'll probably see Coats again when rosters expand in September.

In other injury-related Sox news, catcher Alex Avila went 3 for 4 as the designated hitter Monday in his first game on a rehab assignment with the Knights. Avila has had two separate stints on the disabled list because of hamstring problems this year. Both times, he hurt himself running the bases. He was on base three times Monday night, and presumably, he survived.

The news is not so good for second baseman Brett Lawrie, who is back in Chicago to be re-evaluated after having a setback on his rehab assignment.

Lawrie went 5 for 12 over his first three games at Double-A Birmingham, but he was unable to complete a fourth game on Aug. 17. After two days off, he gave it a try again Aug. 20, but once again left the game after two at bats.

The second baseman originally had a hamstring strain, but then he landed on the DL when the injury was said to involve his knee. Now, a sore quad seems to be the problem in that same leg.

Lawrie had never played more than 125 games in a season until last year, and we can see why. He just keeps getting hurt. It's fair to assume he won't be of much help to the Sox the rest of the season.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avila headed back to disabled list

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

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

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

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

Sale headed to All-Star Game

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Are the White Sox phasing out Avisail Garcia?

Avisail Garcia
Here is a little-noticed detail from the White Sox's weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays: Avisail Garcia was not in the starting lineup Saturday or Sunday.

As I was driving to the ballpark Sunday, I heard WLS radio host Connor McKnight say Garcia was "getting another day off." That's a charitable way to say it. If a player is sitting for one game, that's a "day off." If a player is sitting for consecutive games, that player is either injured or the manager is looking for better options.

We saw a couple of interesting lineup constructions from Sox manager Robin Ventura over the weekend. Garcia played Friday as the designated hitter, but we saw Todd Frazier at first base -- Jose Abreu got the day off.

In Saturday's game, Ventura had both of his catchers in the lineup with Alex Avila serving as the designated hitter, and Dioner Navarro behind the plate. The move actually worked. Avila had a home run and a double, and Navarro also homered.

Tyler Saladino got a start at third base Sunday, with Frazier moving to designated hitter. This move also worked. Saladino walked and scored the first run of the game, and he started two slick 5-4-3 double plays that helped Sox ace Chris Sale pick up his 13th win of the season.

There are two conclusions I can draw from these moves: First, Ventura and staff have no use for Jason Coats. And who can blame them? Coats is 1 for 15 in 21 plate appearances since his recall from Triple-A Charlotte. He hasn't shown anything in limited opportunities, and it seems as if he's a waste of a roster spot at this point.

Secondly, Garcia is taking a seat because he has been providing next to nothing in terms of extra-base pop in the designated hitter role. He's a lousy defensive outfielder and a poor base runner, and he's not getting any better with the bat:

Garcia in 2015: .257/.309/.365 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs in 601 plate appearances
Garcia in 2016: .247/.309/.358 with 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in 236 plate appearances

These are similar slash lines, and even though Garcia is still relatively young at age 25, after 1,334 plate appearances in the majors, you start to believe that he's never going to be much better than he is right now.

And what he is right now is not good enough to be an everyday designated hitter. Garcia's slugging percentage for the month of June is a pathetic .265. He has one extra-base hit (a double) in 75 plate appearances this month. His last home run came May 28, and that's the only long ball he has hit since May 6.

We're talking about a hitter who is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and he still hasn't shown he can drive the ball with any consistency, despite receiving more than enough opportunities from the Sox.

It seems as if Ventura has seen enough, and I can't blame him.

Saladino has a .394 slugging percentage this season -- that's 36 points higher than Garcia's slugging percentage. And Saladino provides strong defense at any position on the infield, and he's a threat to steal a base when he gets on. If Garcia is not going to hit the ball off the wall or over it as a designated hitter, then the Sox are a better team with Saladino taking Garcia's spot in the lineup. Quite simply, Saladino can do more things.

The Sox can play Saladino at third and use Frazier as the DH. The Sox can play Saladino at second base and use Brett Lawrie as the DH. The Sox can put Saladino at third, shift Frazier to first and use Abreu as the DH.

Any of these lineup combinations seem more appealing that Garcia as DH at this stage. The Sox, obviously, intend for Justin Morneau to be the DH against right-handed pitching when he comes off the disabled list sometime after the All-Star break. But until that happens, Ventura is probably better off going with a rotating DH, and he showed signs of going in that direction with his lineup construction against Toronto.

Monday, June 20, 2016

White Sox get swept once again vs. a divisional opponent

"Poor Jose" Quintana
The White Sox are once again on a losing streak, having been swept in a divisional series against the Cleveland Indians over the weekend. Let's take a look back at the carnage:

Friday, June 17
Indians 3, White Sox 2: Jose Quintana ranks fourth in the American League with a 2.63 ERA. He's also 0-6 in his last seven starts because the Sox offense has scored only five runs total when Quintana has been on the mound during that same span.

It's no wonder we're seeing classic satire such as this when describing Quintana's hard-luck career pitching for a perpetually underachieving Sox team.

In any case, Quintana was spared a loss Friday. The Sox trailed 2-1 in the ninth inning, but back-to-back doubles by Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia off Cleveland closer Chad Allen tied the game.

While Quintana was spared, the team was not. Carlos Santana hit a walk-off home run for Cleveland on a hanging slider from Sox reliever Nate Jones in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Jones jumped ahead of Santana 0-2 with two good sliders. Sox catcher Alex Avila called for a fastball on 0-2, but Jones shook him off for another slider. Moral of the story: If you're going to throw the same pitch to a major league hitter three times in a row, you better make it a good one.

That third slider to Santana was as bad as it gets.

Saturday, June 18
Indians 13, White Sox 2: So, that James Shields trade isn't working out so well. The veteran right-hander needed only 11 pitches to get the Sox blown off the field in this game.

Shields walked Santana on four straight pitches to start the first inning. Jason Kipnis narrowly missed a two-run homer on Shields' sixth pitch of the game. The ball hit the fence for a double and placed runners on second and third.

Francisco Lindor hit an RBI single on the eighth pitch from Shields, and Mike Napoli connected for a three-run, opposite-field homer on pitch No. 11. At that point, it was 4-0 Indians, and the game was over.

Cleveland ended up scoring five runs in the first inning and three more in the second. All eight were charged to Shields, who was removed after lasting just 1.2 innings.

Shields has allowed 22 runs (21 earned) on 24 hits with nine walks in his first three starts with the Sox. We were told he is an "innings eater," but so far he's thrown only 8.2 innings.

In other words, he's recorded 26 outs as a member of the Sox, while allowing 22 runs. Let that ratio roll around in your brain for a moment. He's allowed 15 first-inning runs since the trade.

It makes no sense at all for Shields to remain a member of the starting rotation. You can't keep running a guy out to the mound who is putting your team four, five or six runs down in the first inning. Yet the Sox have stated Shields will make his next start Thursday in Boston.

Have I mentioned the Shields deal is the type of trade that gets GMs fired?

Sunday, June 19
Indians 3, White Sox 2 (10 innings): After the way the first two games went, Sunday's game just had a feeling of inevitability to it. Sox starter Carlos Rodon pitched pretty well; he went 6.1 innings and allowed only two runs.

That's not a bad outing at all, although it was disappointing that Rodon blew two leads. The Sox went ahead 1-0 in the first; the Indians tied it in the bottom of the inning. Melky Cabrera hit his sixth home run of the season in the fourth to put the Sox up 2-1; Rodon served up a home run to Juan Uribe in the bottom of the inning to make it 2-2.

It stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th when Jose Ramirez hit a two-out single with the bases loaded off Sox closer David Robertson to win the game. The Sox never trailed until the moment they lost, but watching the game, there was never a single moment where I thought they would win. Sometimes you just know it isn't going to end well.

The loss dropped the Sox (33-36) 5.5 games behind the first-place Indians. The South Siders have lost the last six head-to-head meetings with Cleveland, and they are 0-9 in road games against divisional opponents Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit. They have been swept in three-game series in all three of those cities.

Overall, the Sox are now a combined 6-18 against Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit -- the teams that remain relevant in the AL Central race. Manager Robin Ventura is now 140-190 (.424 winning percentage) against divisional foes during his tenure.

The Sox have dropped 26 of 36 since their 23-10 start. This "slump" has continued on for six weeks, but all the decision-makers in the organization still had jobs as of Monday morning.

People wonder why the Sox have a dwindling fan base and poor attendance. Personally, I can't blame people for not wanting to put up with this anymore.

Friday, May 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

White Sox put John Danks on notice (finally)

We're three weeks into the season, and the White Sox are coming off a sweep of the Texas Rangers that concluded a 5-2 homestand.

The South Siders have surprised even the biggest optimists by posting a 13-6 record through the first 19 games -- that's the most wins in the American League entering Monday's play.

That said, there was some roster juggling necessary over the past week. Catcher Alex Avila pulled a hamstring during Saturday's 4-3 win over Texas, and Kevan Smith was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte as Avila was placed on the disabled list.

More notably, Erik Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte after going unused on the homestand, and Miguel Gonzalez was called up to start Monday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays -- the first of a weeklong, seven-game road trip.

Ace Chris Sale's start was pushed back to Tuesday. Jose Quintana will start Wednesday's game. For the second time this season, John Danks had his turn skipped, and he will pitch either Thursday or Friday against Baltimore.

It appears the Sox are (finally) sending a message to Danks that his spot in the rotation is not secure. The Sox are 0-3 in Danks' three starts this year, and 13-3 behind their other four starting pitchers.

Obviously, there will be some regression in those numbers as we go along, but Danks has earned his 0-3 record, which is coupled with a 6.23 ERA, a 5.52 FIP, a 1.65 WHIP and a 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His struggles cannot be attributed to a small sample size, either, given his high ERAs in the past three seasons (4.75, 4.74, and 4.71). Right-handed batters are hitting .309 against Danks this year, after hitting .294 against him last year. Sending him to the mound against Toronto would be akin to raising the white flag, given the strong right-handed hitters in the Blue Jays lineup (Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki).

Toronto hitters had a 1.021 OPS in two games against Danks last year. In contrast, Danks had one of his best starts of 2015 -- seven scoreless innings -- against Baltimore, so from a matchup perspective, this Toronto series is a great time to skip Danks.

And, in case you were wondering, here are Gonzalez's numbers against the Blue Jays since 2012:

7-3, 2.61 ERA, 76 IP, 56 H, 7 HR, 21 BB, 54 K

Having played in Baltimore, Gonzalez has seen quite a bit of the Blue Jays, and he's won his share of the battles. That doesn't mean he'll win Monday -- there's a reason Baltimore released him. The Orioles let him go because his fastball velocity had dipped from 90-92 to 86-88. The Sox say Gonzalez's velocity came back in the two starts he has made at Charlotte, and that's why they are giving him a chance.

If nothing else, it's encouraging to see the Sox are considering other options for the No. 5 starting job beyond Danks, who has simply not pitched well enough to have a firm grip on the spot. We might learn that he's still the best option they have (for the time being), but it's clear the longest-serving, highest-paid member of the Sox is now officially pitching to keep his job.

Friday, April 8, 2016

I went to Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field, and it snowed

How's this for baseball weather?:


That was the scene at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday before the White Sox's first home game of the season against the Cleveland Indians. The game resulted in a 7-1 Cleveland victory. More on that in minute, but five years from now, when people talk about Opening Day 2016 the main thing they are going to remember was the bone-chilling cold (temperatures in the 30s, wind chills in the 20s) and snow.

It did stop snowing for a little while, and the ballpark looked great for pregame ceremonies:


And, did I mention this new center field scoreboard is awesome?


On the field, there weren't many positives for the Sox, who fell to 3-2 with their worst performance of the season's first week.  We should have seen it coming. John Danks entered Friday's action with a 5-14 record, with a 5.29 ERA, in 26 career starts against Cleveland.

Make it 5-15 in 27 starts.

Danks gave up seven runs, five earned, over five innings pitched. He sucked the life out of the sellout crowd by giving up three runs in the top of the first inning, plus two more in the second. The "here we go again" feeling that was so prominent in the ballpark during these last three losing seasons of 2013-2015 was back again immediately with the Sox down 5-0 an inning and a half into the home portion of the schedule.

There were physical mistakes (Alex Avila's throwing error in the first inning that cost the Sox two runs) and mental mistakes (Avisail Garcia getting picked off first base with runners on first and second and one out, down 5-0, in the bottom of the second inning). There was an alarming lack of offense -- only three hits all day.

Todd Frazier went 2-for-3 with a solo home run, a single and a walk. Beyond that, the only offense was a single by Austin Jackson. This marked the second straight year the Sox were limited to just three hits in their home opener. Last year's 6-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins was utterly forgettable and sadly a predictor of misery to come.

We can only hope today's performance is an aberration and not a foretelling of another bad season on the South Side.

The only other good thing we can say? Well, Dan Jennings and Zach Putnam combined for four scoreless innings in relief of Danks. If not for that, it would have been worse than 7-1.

Without question, this game was one to forget, unless you're talking about the weather.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Projected White Sox lineup for Monday's opener vs. Oakland

Robin Ventura
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the lineup he fielded in Tuesday's 6-2 exhibition win over the Texas Rangers would likely be the one he uses Monday when the season opens against the Oakland A's.

If that's true, here is Monday's lineup:

1. Adam Eaton, RF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Todd Frazier, 3B
5. Melky Cabrera, LF
6. Avisail Garcia, DH
7. Brett Lawrie, 2B
8. Austin Jackson, CF
9. Alex Avila, C

Chris Sale, P

The biggest questions were who Ventura would use at DH, and how he would align his defensive outfield. Clearly, he's going defense-first here, with the weakest defensive outfielder of the four in the lineup (Garcia) serving as the DH. As long as Jackson is playing, he's going to be in center field. That moves Eaton to a corner spot. If Garcia is the DH, that puts Eaton in right field. If Cabrera gets a DH day, expect to see Eaton in left field with Garcia in right.

The Sox broke camp in Glendale, Arizona, with a 15-13-1 Cactus League record. They hit a major-league best 49 home runs and finished with a winning spring record for the first time since 2004.

The South Siders have two exhibition games in San Diego against the Padres on Friday and Saturday before the opener in Oakland.

One thing to watch this weekend: Mat Latos is slated to start Friday after pitching coach Don Cooper said the team needs more from the right-hander, who has a 12.46 ERA in 8.2 innings this spring. Cooper is looking for Latos to be more efficient and pitch deeper into games.

Latos is scheduled to start the fourth game of the season April 7 in Oakland. He's one of the biggest question marks as the Sox head north.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thoughts on what I saw and heard at SoxFest 2016

Me with White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton
Some people were expecting pitchforks and torches at SoxFest 2016 after the team failed to add a major free-agent outfielder this offseason. That really wasn't the case, but it's also worth noting that there didn't seem to be a lot of buzz or excitement about the upcoming season in the air, either.

It seems like most Sox fans are of the mindset of, "Ehh ... this is probably a .500 team. Whatever." Here are a few other thoughts and tidbits from the weekend:

1. Robin Ventura and Rick Hahn addressed the slow starts the Sox have had the last seven seasons before I was able to step to the microphone to ask a question Friday night. Ventura said there are "different things you can do" to try to prevent the team from getting off to a slow start, such as having the veterans play six or seven innings in spring training games, as opposed to three or four innings. The braintrust also noted that they've been talking about the trend of slow starts ever since last July or August, so it was on their radar well before it was asked about at SoxFest. Ventura also noted the importance of drilling on fundamentals and cleaning up mental mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. You'd like to think he did that last year, too, but it just didn't produce good results.

2. I asked Ventura and Hahn about accountability Friday night, and not in the sense that we typically speak about that topic. Usually when fans talk about accountability, they're talking about the need for someone to be fired when things don't go well. When I spoke, I talked about the need for players to hold each other accountable for bad play, whether that has been happening in the Sox clubhouse, and whether the Sox have a culture where that sort of thing is encouraged. Ventura acknowledged that it is important for players to police each other, and that it's different in the clubhouse now in the post-Paul Konerko era. Konerko was the leader of the team for so long, and other players were in the habit of deferring to him. Last year, he was gone, so now what? Hahn indicated some of his acquisitions have been made with the idea of adding more leadership to the room. He believes newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier and newly acquired catcher Alex Avila can add that element. Adam LaRoche's name also was brought up during that discussion, but Hahn correctly noted LaRoche didn't have a leg to stand on in holding his teammates accountable last year, because he was suffering through a horrible season himself.

3. First baseman Jose Abreu and center fielder Adam Eaton are really good and accommodating with the fans in the autograph and picture lines. I'm not an autograph person at all, but I did have my picture taken with Eaton (see above). When you approach Eaton, he'll extend his hand and say, "Hi, I'm Adam, good to meet you." That seems like such a small thing, and let's be honest, we already know who he is and he doesn't need to introduce himself, but he doesn't assume that, and he doesn't big-time people. There are other guys who could learn from his example.

4. Ken Harrelson, as you might expect, hogs the microphone way too much when he's moderating a seminar. He stands up there and tells the same stories that we hear all summer long on the broadcasts. Yo Hawk, we really don't need to hear about Sam McDowell and his great stuff again. Let the fans ask questions and let the panelists talk. Frazier had some insightful comments during the "Big League Bats" seminar that also featured Chet Lemon and Melky Cabrera on Friday night. Lemon also was interesting. I would have liked to have heard more from Frazier and Lemon, and less from Hawk and his observations on his "seven decades in the American League." At one point, Harrelson was going on and on about the importance of protection in the lineup. Cabrera was on stage looking at his phone, apparently bored by Hawk's extended soliloquy. Suddenly, Hawk turned around and said, "Isn't that right, Melky?" Cabrera, like a schoolchild not expecting to be called on, looked up and appeared stunned for a moment before saying, "Oh, si, si, si ..." Give Cabrera credit for one thing -- he knows it's a good idea to just agree with whatever Hawk says and move on.

5. Speaking of Frazier, he was asked about his second-half struggles last year. He hit .284 with 25 home runs before the break in 2015, but slumped to .224 with 10 home runs in the second half. Frazier, of course, won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game last year in Cincinnati, and a fan asked the cliched question about whether that messed up his swing. Frazier said that is a myth, and noted if your swing is screwed up, it should only take a few sessions in the cage to rediscover it. He instead attributed his slow second half to fatigue (he played 157 games last year) and indicated improving endurance has been the focus of his offseason workouts.

6. I asked Hahn and Ventura on Saturday about organizational depth in starting pitching. I pointed out that Erik Johnson doesn't have a lot of big-league innings under his belt, and that Carlos Rodon -- for all his promise -- has yet to have a 30-start, 200-inning season in the majors. The Sox will have to watch their workloads carefully, and of course, the potential for injury and the realities of the MLB schedule make it necessary to have a couple extra guys in the organization who can make spot starts when necessary. Hahn, of course, agreed that you're not going to get through a season using just five starting pitchers, except in the rarest of cases, and he said Jacob Turner and Chris Beck were the guys who would be in line to step in and help. Gulp. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, so I hope Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks stay healthy all year. And I hope Rodon and Johnson take steps forward in their development.

7. One thing I was disappointed about: There wasn't a lot of opportunity to ask current players questions in the seminar room -- especially the core players. Sale, Eaton and Abreu participated in "kids-only" seminar Saturday morning. Adults were allowed in the room, of course, but only children ages 3 to 14 were allowed to ask questions. I actually thought that was an excellent idea, allowing young Sox fans to interact with the star players on the team. But I would have liked it had there been an opportunity for adult fans to ask baseball-related questions of that core group. Hahn mentioned he had a difficult conversation with Sale last September, where Sale expressed his frustration with the losing the team has experienced over the past three years. I would have loved to have asked Sale about that, but the team didn't have him scheduled for any seminars that weren't "for the kids." Makes you wonder if the organization is nervous about the core players being asked tough questions by the fans.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Twittersphere full of rumors linking White Sox to Yoenis Cespedes

It wasn't a surprise when FOXSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal tweeted Tuesday that the White Sox remain active in trying to sign a free-agent outfielder to fortify the middle of their batting order. Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon were named as possible acquisitions.

No new information there, really. That was more confirmation of what we already suspect.

But then there was this tweet from national baseball reporter Jesse Sanchez, which has the Sox and the Baltimore Orioles as the front-runners for Cespedes. The Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers also are in the mix.

An article published Tuesday on Yahoo! Sports has the Sox listed as the No. 2 team (behind the Giants) most in need of signing Cespedes.

There's been so much discussion surrounding Cespedes this week that it feels like he could be making a decision within the next few days. As it stands right now, the Sox's payroll is in the $115 million range for 2016 with the additions of Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro this offseason.

Will they be willing to stretch a little farther to close a deal with Cespedes?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

White Sox remake their catching situation

Alex Avila
When the 2016 season opens, the White Sox will have two new catchers.

Tyler Flowers' three-year reign as the Sox's No. 1 backstop ended Wednesday when the team opted to non-tender him. Last year's backup catcher, Geovany Soto, signed Nov. 24 with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Sox will turn to longtime Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila as their main guy behind the plate next year. Avila signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million on Nov. 25.

When Sox GM Rick Hahn announced the non-tendering of Flowers on Wednesday, he said the move was "part of a plan," and that the club saw an opportunity to upgrade the position offensively.

Reports indicate 12-year veteran Dioner Navarro is set to sign a one-year deal with the Sox to be the second catcher.

What do we make of this? Well, assuming Avila is healthy (he played only 67 games last year because of knee issues), this is a platoon system that should work.

Avila, 28, a left-handed hitter, can't hit lefties at all. But if he achieves his career slash of .251/.358/.423 against right-handed pitching, this is a good pickup for the Sox. I don't think anyone would complain about a .781 OPS from a platoon catcher.

Even in a generally lousy, injury-plagued 2015, Avila had a .355 OBP against right-handed pitching. In case you were wondering, Flowers never posted an OBP over .300 in any of his three seasons as a full-time catcher.

Avila can't hit lefties, which brings us to the switch-hitting Navarro. The 31-year-old is a lifetime .255 hitter with a .688 career OPS, but check out the splits:

Navarro vs. LHP: .270/.336/.439
Navarro vs. RHP: .249/.305/.353

So, Navarro has a career .775 OPS against left-handed pitching. Avila has a career .781 OPS against right-handed pitcher. Platoon these guys in matchups favorable for them, and you might see some good things offensively from White Sox catchers for a change.

Flowers has a career .665 OPS, so the bar for improvement is not high. If used properly, Avila and Navarro have a good chance to clear it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Tigers have the Indians on the ropes

For most of this season, I've been of the mindset that the American League Central Division is a one-team race. The Detroit Tigers are the best and most complete team, and barring an unforeseen rash of injuries, they are going to the playoffs. That's just how it is.

But give the Cleveland Indians credit. They have made things interesting for longer than anyone expected. However, I think the party might be over for the Tribe following the events of this week.

Flash back to Monday: Detroit came into Cleveland to open a four-game series. The Tigers had a three-game lead in the division. Critical series? Well, not exactly. But it was an important series; important enough that it could be a huge turning point if one team or the other swept.

Well, the Tigers swept. That first game Monday night set the tone. The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. They were three outs away from trimming Detroit's division lead to two games. If closer Chris Perez could get the job done, the race would be on. Instead, Perez imploded.

He faced four batters and retired none of them. Prince Fielder doubled. Victor Martinez singled. Andy Dirks walked. Then, Alex Avila (pictured) hit a 3-run homer. Suddenly, the Tigers led 4-2, and that would be the final score. In a blink of an eye, Detroit had a four-game lead in the AL Central -- the top of the ninth inning Monday night representing a huge two-game swing.

On Tuesday, Detroit's Justin Verlander outpitched Cleveland ace Justin Masterson as the Tigers prevailed 5-1. Wednesday brought another crushing loss for the Tribe as they fell 6-5 in 14 innings. Detroit ace Max Scherzer finished off the four-game sweep on Thursday. The likely AL Cy Young winner is now 17-1 after earning a 10-3 victory.

The Tigers left Cleveland with a seven-game division lead and a 12-game winning streak intact. The New York Yankees broke Detroit's winning streak with a 4-3 win in 10 innings Friday night, but Cleveland failed to take advantage, falling 5-2 to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Entering Saturday's play, Detroit leads Cleveland by 7 games and red-hot Kansas City by 7.5 games. The Royals have won 15 of 17 and could take over second place by the end of action today. The Indians, however, look like their chances are dying. It's been a terrible week for Cleveland, and if the Tribe fails to make the playoffs, this recent series with Detroit will be the one they look back on as the one that cost them.