Showing posts with label Houston Astros. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Houston Astros. Show all posts

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Astros win 2017 World Series with 5-1 victory over Los Angeles Dodgers

George Springer
The Houston Astros lost 111 games in 2013. Four years later, they are the best team in baseball.

The Astros completed their climb from the bottom of the pit to the top of the mountain Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.

This World Series was one of the most dramatic in a long time, but somewhat surprisingly, Game 7 might have been the only "boring" game of the bunch. The Astros roughed up Los Angeles starter Yu Darvish, scoring five runs in the first two innings. There was never a point where you felt as though the Dodgers could overcome the early 5-0 deficit.

The MVP vote was a foregone conclusion. Leadoff hitter George Springer was right in the middle of everything Houston did offensively in Game 7. His double started a two-run rally in the first inning, and his two-run homer in the second inning capped a three-run rally that made it 5-0.

Springer homered for the fourth consecutive game, tying a World Series record. He hit five home runs total in the series. That also ties a record. Springer posted a .379/.471/1.000 slash line for the series with 11 hits -- eight for extra bases -- and eight runs scored.

Yes, that's a clear MVP-worthy performance.

If we were to pick a LVP (Least Valuable Player) off the Dodgers roster, it would have to be Darvish. The midseason acquisition let Los Angeles down big time, failing to make it out of the second inning in both of his World Series starts.

In Game 7, Darvish lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing five runs (four earned). In Game 3, he lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing four earned runs. Final line: 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA.

The Dodgers acquired Darvish with the idea that he would be a "second ace" behind Clayton Kershaw. That just didn't work out.

Houston, meanwhile, navigated Game 7 by using five different pitchers, most of whom are not household names. Starter Lance McCullers hit four batters and allowed three hits in his 2.1 innings, but he managed to keep the Dodgers off the board.

Brad Peacock tossed two scoreless innings, and Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski each retired the only hitter that they faced. That left the final four innings to right-hander Charlie Morton, who allowed a run in the sixth but shut the door in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Morton struck out four and allowed only two hits to earn the victory. The 33-year-old journeyman was a free agent coming off surgery last offseason. Any team could have had him, but not many teams wanted him. And how could they? Morton entered 2017 with a career 46-71 record with a 4.54 ERA.

The Astros took a chance on revitalizing Morton's career, and it came up aces. He made 25 starts during the regular season and went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA. On Wednesday night, he recorded the 12 biggest outs of his 10-year career in the majors with a performance that likely will never be forgotten in Houston.

When a team wins a championship, its season is usually characterized by not only big performances from core stars (Springer), but also unexpected contributions from players who are perceived as being on the margins (Morton).

The Astros got what they needed when they needed it, and I think they surprised a lot of people by vanquishing the big-money, 104-win Dodgers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dodgers stick with their plan, force Game 7

Rich Hill
For the second year in a row and third time in four years, the World Series is going seven games.

The Los Angeles Dodgers forced a decisive game Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 6.

Game 7 is Wednesday night. Yu Darvish gets the start for Los Angeles. Lance McCullers will be on the mound for Houston.

Give the Dodgers credit: They are smarter than me, and they stuck with the plan that has made them successful throughout the season and playoffs. They don't like to allow their starters to go through a lineup more than two times, and they are standing by that belief. I thought they needed six innings from starter Rich Hill to win Game 6. They didn't. I was wrong.

Hill was effective, giving them 4.2 innings of one-run ball, but when he got in trouble in the fifth, manager Dave Roberts quickly went to the bullpen.

I didn't think Brandon Morrow had anything left in the tank after his poor performance in Game 5, but he got the biggest out of the game in the top of the fifth inning. He entered with the Dodgers trailing, 1-0. The Astros had the bases loaded with two outs, and Game 5 hero Alex Bregman was at the plate.

Morrow retired Bregman on a routine grounder to shortstop to keep it a one-run game, and the right-hander went on to record the first two outs of the sixth inning, as well.

The Dodgers broke through with two runs in the bottom of the sixth off Justin Verlander, highlighted by an RBI double by Chris Taylor and a sacrifice fly by Corey Seager. They added a third run in the seventh when Joc Pederson homered off Joe Musgrove.

This time, the Los Angeles bullpen was up to the task of protecting a lead, and much to my surprise, the Dodgers used Kenley Jansen for a six-out save. Jansen retired every batter he faced the final two innings, with three strikeouts, and he needed only 19 pitches to get the job done.

I figured Jansen would be good for only three outs in Game 6, but with that efficiency, he worked two innings with ease. It could be key that he kept his pitch count low in closing out Tuesday's game, in the likely event he'll be needed in the late innings of Game 7.

We'll see what Darvish can provide for the Dodgers. He was terrible in Game 3, getting knocked out in the second inning. The leash will be short in Game 7, of course, but that's especially true knowing Clayton Kershaw should be available to relieve at some point.

As for the Astros, they missed a big chance to close it out with their best guy on the mound in Game 6. Now, they'll have to piece the pitching together in Game 7, starting with McCullers. Will we see Dallas Keuchel in relief in Game 7? Probably.

Would Verlander come back for an inning after throwing 93 pitches Tuesday? Doubt it, but you never know. Charlie Morton, Houston's Game 4 starter, might be called upon to work in relief as well.

I'm guessing the Astros are going to need a big offensive night in order to win. In Houston's three victories in this series, it has scored 25 runs. In its three losses, it has scored four runs.

The Dodgers have won two 3-1 games in this series. They have had the advantage in the pitchers' duels. The Astros are at an advantage when the game becomes a slugfest.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Game 6 of the World Series ... a couple of key questions

Justin Verlander
The Los Angeles Dodgers are at home, facing a must-win situation Tuesday in Game 6 of the 2017 World Series. The Houston Astros lead the series, 3-2, and have two chances to capture the first championship in franchise history, but they'll have to do it on the road.

It would be hard for Game 6 to top the drama of Game 5, but here's a couple of key questions -- one for each team -- going into this game.

For Houston .... who closes?

The Astros have it set up just the way they want it. Their best pitcher, Justin Verlander, is on the mound with a chance to secure a title. Both bullpens are taxed, so it's a huge advantage for Houston to have this right-hander on its side. Verlander is the only starting pitcher to complete a game in these playoffs.

Can Verlander go all nine innings in Game 6? Well, maybe, but that's a lot to ask. And what happens if Verlander gets through seven or eight innings with a lead, but doesn't have enough left in the tank to finish?

Where do the Astros turn when their two best relievers during the season -- Ken Giles and Chris Devenski -- have blown multi-run leads during this series and generally have been arsonists?

How about Lance McCullers? Sure, he's slated to start Game 7, if necessary. But if you're Houston manager A.J. Hinch, and you have a lead late in Game 6, perhaps you push your chips to the center of the table, go to your best option and try to close it out right then and there.

For me, the next-best option after Verlander is McCullers.

For Los Angeles ... how long can Rich Hill go?

Hill started Game 2 for the Dodgers, and he was effective. He allowed only one run over four innings, but he was given a quick hook. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts just wanted Hill to get through the Houston batting order twice before turning it over to the bullpen, which had been dominant up until that point in the postseason.

That backfired on Roberts in Game 2. Dodgers relievers coughed up six runs in a 7-6 loss, and Houston has been proving over and over again since that it can score against the Los Angeles bullpen.

As we've noted, Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow have been used a lot. They probably cannot be counted upon for multiple innings in this game, even though it is a must-win for the Dodgers.

It's imperative that Hill pitch effectively into the sixth inning, and perhaps he needs to get through the sixth inning for the Dodgers to win.

Based on what I've seen, Roberts needs to stay away from Morrow in this game. Kenta Maeda and Tony Watson seem to be the best bets to form a bridge from Hill to Jansen. And, yes, despite Jansen's diminished effectiveness, I think the Dodgers should go to him in a closing situation. He's still their best option, but they probably shouldn't ask him for more than three outs.

If Los Angeles can get through this Game 6, then maybe it can go Yu Darvish to Morrow to Jansen in a Game 7 situation.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Astros beat Dodgers' best pitchers, take 3-2 lead in World Series

Alex Bregman
Five hours, 17 minutes of baseball.

Game 5 of the 2017 World Series was both exhilarating and exhausting, even for those who are not a fan of either team.

The game ended at 12:37 a.m. CDT Monday, when Alex Bregman's RBI single off Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the 10th inning lifted the Houston Astros to a 13-12 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With the win, the Astros lead the series, 3-2. Monday is a travel day, and Game 6 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The plot twists and turns in this game were many. The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning off Houston's Dallas Keuchel and led, 4-0, going into the bottom of the fourth inning. The Astros responded with four runs off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game.

Not to be outdone, Cody Bellinger put the Dodgers back in front, 7-4, with a three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning. Kershaw had a lead for the second time, and for the second time, he could not hold it. He allowed two men to reach base in the bottom of the fifth before he was removed from the game. Jose Altuve tied it at 7 with a three-run homer off Kenta Maeda.

From the seventh inning through the ninth inning, 10 runs were scored -- five by each team. The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the ninth off Houston's Chris Devenski to tie the score at 12 and force extra innings.

Neither team could put the other away until Bregman's single capped a two-out rally in the bottom of the 10th.

So, what do we make of all this? First and foremost, the Astros beat the best pitchers the Dodgers have to offer in a critical Game 5.

Kershaw is widely considered the "best pitcher of his generation," and who are we to argue? But he was on the mound with a four-run lead, and then a three-run lead, on Sunday night, yet the Dodgers did not win. Los Angeles scored 12 runs in a game started by Kershaw. 12 runs! It wasn't enough.

That is huge.

And Jansen, widely considered the best relief pitcher in the game -- the Mariano Rivera of this generation -- lost the game in the bottom of the 10th. Sure, he worked a scoreless ninth, too, but stretching him for a second inning backfired on the Dodgers.

Los Angeles now trails in this series, and Kershaw won't be able to make another start. Jansen, who was considered invincible after being unscored upon in the NLCS against the Cubs, has now been scored upon by the Astros in each of his past three outings.

Worth noting: The Dodgers have played 13 postseason games this October, and Jansen has appeared in 11 of them. Fatigue? Sure looks like it.

And Jansen isn't the only one.

Brandon Morrow also was unscored upon in his four NLCS outings against the Cubs, covering 4.2 innings. But Sunday, he threw six pitches and gave up four earned runs. He was summoned to protect an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. One pitch later, it was 8-8, courtesy of a 448-foot home run by George Springer.

Very quickly, the Dodgers' one-run lead became an 11-8 deficit.

Morrow has appeared in 12 of Los Angeles' 13 playoff games. He has very little left in the tank.

As we've noted, the Astros are not without their bullpen problems. Closer Ken Giles is not the closer anymore. He's been so bad that Houston did not use him in Game 5. They used Devenski instead, and he couldn't get the job done -- he doesn't have much to get right-handed hitters out with at this point. Yasiel Puig hit a two-run homer off him in the ninth inning. Austin Barnes had a hustle double and scored the tying run on a two-out single by Chris Taylor.

What do those three men have in common? All right-handed hitters, and Devenski's changeup isn't as effective against them as it is against lefties.

So, both bullpens in this series are in trouble. Who has the advantage for Game 6? On paper, it's the team with the better starter going to the mound. That is clearly the Astros, as they have Justin Verlander lined up to pitch. The Dodgers will counter with veteran lefty Rich Hill.

Verlander, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers just before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, has appeared in 10 games with the Astros. Houston is 10-0.

Astros fans have to like their chances. Or, maybe Verlander is due to lose. Nothing would be shocking in this unbelievable World Series, where up is down and down is up.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

World Series tied 1-all after Houston wins wild Game 2

George Springer
So, how are we liking the World Series so far? There have been two great games, with one win for each team, and Game 2 is one baseball fans are likely to remember for a long time.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were up, 3-1, after seven innings Wednesday night. They were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead, and their bullpen had been unscored upon since Game 2 of the NLDS.

So, of course, the Houston Astros hit four home runs and scored six runs in a span of four innings off the Los Angeles bullpen on their way to a 7-6 victory in 11 innings.

The series is tied, and the Astros go back to their home park -- where they are 6-0 in the postseason -- for Games 3, 4 and 5. Remember, I asked the question the other day, "Who will win on the road first?" Houston got that all-important first road win.

Perhaps more importantly, the Astros proved to themselves and everyone else that it is possible to score runs against Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow.

Houston chipped away at that 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning with Alex Bregman doubling off Morrow, and scoring when Carlos Correa singled off Jansen.

Marwin Gonzalez handed Jansen a blown save in the ninth when he tied it at 3 with a solo home run to center field on an 0-2 pitch. Is Jansen finally showing signs of fatigue after being used in four of the five games in the NLCS, plus each of the first two games of the World Series? Not sure, but we'll see.

The Astros took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th on back-to-back homers by Jose Altuve and Correa off Josh Fields. But, remember, Houston has bullpen trouble of its own. Ken Giles has not been impressive as a closer in these playoffs, and he could not close the deal in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Yasiel Puig brought the Dodgers within a run at 5-4 with a solo home run. Enrique Hernandez delivered a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 5 and force an 11th inning.

Los Angeles summoned former White Sox right-hander Brandon McCarthy from the bullpen for the 11th inning. McCarthy had not pitched since Oct. 1, and it showed. Cameron Maybin singled, stole second and scored on a two-run homer by George Springer. 7-5 Astros.

Chris Devenski relieved Giles, and he wasn't exactly lights out in the bottom of the 11th, either. Charlie Culberson homered with two outs to make it 7-6. That brought Puig to the plate, and he struck out swinging after a dramatic nine-pitch at-bat.

Give Devenski credit for this: He knew Puig was not going to take a walk. Puig wanted to be a hero in that situation, and Devenski got him swinging at a changeup that was down and out of the zone. That off-speed pitch is the best thing Devenski has in his arsenal anyway, but he was wise to throw it not for a strike, but close enough to be way too tantalizing for the overanxious Puig to lay off.

Smart pitch. Astros hang on.

Can't wait for Game 3.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A few thoughts on the World Series matchup before it begins

Jose Altuve
The Los Angeles Dodgers host the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. Before the series begins, here's a few things to think about as we watch:

1. Who will win on the road first?

The Dodgers are 4-0 at home this postseason. The Astros are 6-0. It has been difficult for any team to win on the road in these playoffs. Home teams are 23-8 so far, which is a winning percentage of .742.

Los Angeles has home-field advantage, and that's no small thing. The Dodgers were a league-best 57-24 at home this season, and they've won 165 games at home over the past three years. That's 11 more than any other team in baseball. If this comes down to a seventh game, do you think Los Angeles will be happy to be playing at home? Oh, I think so.

It would be huge for Houston to split the first two games of the series, and put itself in a position where it can take control of the series at home. The Astros have outscored their opponents 31-7 in their six home postseason games. Houston has not given up more than two runs in any of those six games.

2. Can Houston's offense get hot?

I've been saying most of the season that the Astros have the deepest lineup I've seen in many years, led by AL batting champion and MVP candidate Jose Altuve.

Houston had a league-best .478 slugging percentage as a team this year, and it also scored a league-best 5.53 runs per game.

Even though the New York Yankees have a deep pitching staff, it was shocking to see the Astros held to a .181/.271/.294 team slash line in the seven-game ALCS. Obviously, Houston won in spite of that, and you can't help but feel this lineup is due for a breakout.

It better break out, if the Astros are going to beat the Dodgers.

3. Battle of the bullpens

There's one area where Los Angeles has a clear edge in the series, and that's in the bullpen. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is among the game's best, if not the best, and I'd have a lot more confidence with him on the mound in the ninth inning with a one-run lead than I would Houston closer Ken Giles.

Los Angeles is deeper than Houston. Brandon Morrow started the season in the minor leagues, but he's now the Dodgers' best weapon in the seventh and eighth innings, having held opponents to a .194 batting average this season. Los Angeles also fortified itself with two midseason trades for left-handed relievers. Both Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani can be trusted in high-leverage situations.

As for Houston, in Game 7 of the ALCS, starter Charlie Morton pitched five shutout innings in the 4-0 win over the Yankees. The Astros went to Lance McCullers, who is normally a starter, as the first man out of the bullpen. McCullers finished the game, which is both a testament to how well he pitched in relief, and to the fact that the Astros don't know whom they can trust out of their bullpen.

Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove struggled in the ALCS, and so did Giles, who had a 9.00 ERA in three appearances against the Yankees. The only left-handed Houston reliever is journeyman Francisco Liriano. He's not to be trusted, either.

Kershaw vs. Keuchel

It's the Game 1 pitching matchup. It also would be the likely Game 5 matchup. Two former Cy Young award winners.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation. He's finally on the big stage, so let's see what he does with that. This should be his moment.

I think the formula for Dodgers success in this series involves two wins for Kershaw. On the flip side of the coin, if Dallas Keuchel can outpitch Kershaw -- especially in Game 1 -- what a boost that would be for the Astros.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Two 100-plus-win teams make World Series for first time since 1970

Clayton Kershaw
For the first time since 1970, the World Series will feature two teams that won 100 games or more in the regular season.

The 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the defending world champion Cubs in five games in the NLCS, while the 101-win Houston Astros rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in seven games in the ALCS.

This will mark only the eighth time in baseball history that two 100-plus-win teams have met in the World Series. It's only happened three times since World War II.

Here is the list:

1910: Philadelphia A's (102-48) def. Cubs (104-50), 4-1
1912: Boston Red Sox (105-47) def. New York Giants (103-48), 4-3
1931: St. Louis Cardinals (101-53) def. Philadelphia A's (107-45), 4-3
1941: New York Yankees (101-53) def. Brooklyn Dodgers (110-54), 4-1
1942: St. Louis Cardinals (106-48) def. New York Yankees (103-51), 4-1
1969: New York Mets (100-62) def. Baltimore Orioles (109-53), 4-1
1970: Baltimore Orioles (108-54) def. Cincinnati Reds (102-60), 4-1
2017: Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) vs. Houston Astros (101-61), ????

The Dodgers clinched Thursday, while the Astros clinched Saturday. The conventional wisdom says the team that clinches first has the advantage with more rest and the opportunity to set its starting rotation.

But here's your stat of the day on that: The last eight teams to clinch their league championship series first failed to win the World Series. Remember, last year the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS. They were sitting around waiting for the Cubs, who beat the Dodgers in six games. The Cubs, who were the less rested team, won the World Series in seven games.

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were the last team to clinch their league championship series first and go on to win the World Series.  So, don't assume the extra rest is an advantage for the Dodgers going into this thing.

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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

White Sox trade Tyler Clippard to the Houston Astros; Dylan Covey comes off DL

Tyler Clippard
Tyler Clippard, we hardly knew ye.

The White Sox on Sunday night traded the veteran reliever to the Houston Astros in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Clippard spent less than a month with the Sox. He was acquired from the New York Yankees, along with three minor-leaguers, on July 19 as part of a seven-player deal that also involved David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle.

The 32-year-old right-hander made only 11 appearances with the Sox, but it might have been enough to turn his season around. He was doing poorly with the Yankees -- a 4.95 ERA in 40 appearances -- but he was much better with the Sox, going 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA and two saves over 10 innings in those 11 outings.

Clippard was unscored upon in each of his final eight games with the Sox, and two of those came against Houston. Perhaps the Astros were impressed enough to pull the trigger on the move to acquire Clippard, who already has joined his new team and worked a scoreless inning Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It's unclear at this point what the Sox will get in return. Perhaps it is contingent on how Clippard performs for the Astros. If he continues to pitch well, maybe the Sox will acquire a midlevel prospect of some sort out of the Houston organization. If he reverts to the poor form he showed in New York, perhaps the Sox only get cash.

That's my speculation; I noticed the language describing the deal said a player to be named later OR cash considerations. The "or" is the crucial word, and it leaves open the possibility that the terms of the trade will be finalized at the end of the season.

In the meantime, Clippard's departure creates another hole in the Sox bullpen. It will be filled by right-hander Dylan Covey, who was activated from the 10-day disabled list.

Covey made eight starts at the start of the season for the Sox and went 0-4 with an 8.12 ERA before going on the DL with an oblique strain. He hasn't pitched since May 23, and he'll no doubt be working out of the bullpen this time, with all the spots in the Sox starting rotation set (for now).

The Rule 5 pick pretty much needs to remain on the active roster for the remainder of the year, or else he would have to be offered back to the Oakland Athletics. As long as Covey is healthy, he'll be on the roster and taking his lumps when he does get the opportunity to pitch.

I wouldn't be particularly concerned about the possibility of losing Covey to Oakland, but from the Sox's perspective, I'm sure they are trying to retain as much pitching depth as possible as they go through this painful rebuilding process.

Friday, August 11, 2017

As we all expected, White Sox sweep Astros

Tim Anderson
The title of this blog entry is intended as sarcasm. So, please, no comments from Astros fans claiming that I'm being disrespectful.

The White Sox entered this week having lost 20 of their past 23 games. The Houston Astros were coming to town with the best record in the American League at 71-40, and their most accomplished pitcher, Dallas Keuchel, was scheduled to pitch Game 1 of the three-game series.

It wasn't looking good.

So, naturally, the Sox rocked Keuchel for eight runs, knocked him out early in an 8-5 victory Tuesday and set the stage for what ultimately would become a three-game series sweep for the South Siders, their first since they swept the Kansas City Royals from April 24 to 26.

Go figure.

We almost never see a Sox starting pitcher make it through eight innings, but stunningly, we saw it happen two nights in a row against a very good Houston lineup. Miguel Gonzalez (6-10) tossed eight innings of one-run ball in a 7-1 Sox victory Wednesday night. That game featured a two-run homer and an RBI double from Tim Anderson.

On Thursday night, left-hander Carlos Rodon continued his encouraging resurgence by throwing eight-innings of two-run ball. He did not get a decision in the Sox's 3-2, 11-inning victory, but he once again pitched deep into a game with an economy of pitches (98), and he walked nobody for the second consecutive outing.

In his past three games -- all against first-place teams (Indians, Red Sox, Astros), Rodon has tossed 22.1 innings and allowed only five runs on 21 hits. That will pencil out to a 2.01 ERA. He has struck out 24 and walked only two in that same span, reducing his season ERA from 6.29 to 4.24.

And, oh yeah, I've buried the lead a little bit here. I didn't mention that everyone's talking about Yoan Moncada after his performance Thursday night. His home run off Houston closer Ken Giles tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the ninth, and then his RBI single in the bottom of the 11th off Francis Martes scored Leury Garcia with the winning run.

Moncada, the Sox's top-ranked prospect, started slowly after being called up from Triple-A Charlotte. But we've seen him come on offensively in the past two series against Boston and Houston. He was 5 for 14 with three walks against the Red Sox, and 4 for 9 with three walks, a home run and a double against the Astros.

During that span, Moncada has raised his batting average from .105 to .213. His on-base percentage is a very respectable .377. The walks have been there all along. The hits are starting to come more frequently.

As for Anderson, he was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts Thursday, but before that, he was on a seven-game hitting streak that saw him go 11 for 31 (.355 average) with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. The solid contact and extra-base hits have suddenly returned to Anderson's game.

The wins over the Astros are nice, but let's be honest, they are inconsequential in the big picture with the Sox sitting at 44-68 overall. What really matters is some better play from some young guys who are supposed to be forming the future core of the team, and that's Rodon, Moncada and Anderson.

Now, we'll get a look at Reynaldo Lopez, who is being called up to make his first start in a Sox uniform Friday against Kansas City. Even if he does poorly, I'd rather see what he can do than watch any more starts from James Shields or Mike Pelfrey.

Friday, November 18, 2016

New York Yankees trade catcher Brian McCann to Houston Astros for two prospects

Brian McCann
Cross Brian McCann off your list of available catchers.

The New York Yankees made the first notable trade of the offseason Thursday, sending the veteran to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitching prospects Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.

McCann, who will be 33 when the 2017 season starts, has two years and $34 million remaining on his contract. The Yankees will send the Astros $11 million -- or $5.5 million a season -- to absorb some of that cost.

The left-handed hitter provided 20 home runs or more in each of his three seasons with the Yankees, but his slash line was a mediocre .235/.313/.418 over that same span. He was, essentially, a league-average hitter, and he was losing playing time in New York to 23-year-old Gary Sanchez, who took the American League by storm with 20 home runs in just 229 plate appearances after an early-August promotion.

Sanchez finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting. He is both the present and the future behind the plate for the Yankees. McCann saw the writing on the wall and agreed to waive his no-trade protection to join the Astros.

From Houston's perspective, the Astros need a catcher because they are likely to lose defensive-minded Jason Castro in free agency. Despite McCann's declining numbers, he still represents a clear offensive upgrade over Castro, who hit .210 with a .684 OPS in 2016.

Houston parts with two live arms in Abreu, 21, and Guzman, 20. Abreu was ranked as the Astros' No. 7 prospect, and Guzman has at times topped 100 mph with his fastball. The Yankees are continuing a trend they started in the middle of last season, trading high-profile, high-priced veterans for prospects. McCann joins Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran on a list of notable players to be dealt out of the Bronx over the past few months.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that the Astros are not done. Apparently, Houston is on the verge of signing free-agent outfielder Josh Reddick to a four-year deal worth $52 million.

The Astros had a disappointing 2016 in which they finished 84-78, in third place in the AL West. They came into the year with much higher expectations after winning the AL wild card game in 2015 and pushing the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals to five games in the ALDS. Clearly, they are adding veterans to try to push their way back into the postseason next year.

Monday, July 4, 2016

White Sox take two out of three from Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Chris Sale latest dominant outing puts him in elite company

The White Sox didn't exactly tear it up offensively on Monday night, managing just three runs on four hits against the Houston Astros.

Fortunately for the South Siders, it was Chris Sale's night to pitch, and three runs were more than enough.

Sale (6-2) struck out 14, walked just one and allowed but five hits in eight innings of one-run ball as the Sox defeated the Astros, 3-1. The left-hander has struck out 49 and walked but four in 30.2 innings over his last four starts.

Here's the fun fact about this recent Sale hot streak: He has struck out 12 or more batters in each of his last three outings, while allowing one run or less in all three.

This is a feat that has been accomplished only one other time in baseball since 1900. Sandy Koufax did it his last three starts of the 1965 season.

Yeah, that's pretty good company for Sale.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Eight road games in seven days: White Sox go 4-4

This week could have been a lot worse, couldn't it?

The White Sox had to play eight games in seven days in three different cities, but they pulled through it in decent shape. A week ago, I think most of us would have taken it if we had been told the Sox would go 4-4 in these games, which is exactly what they did.

It's especially good to end up with a split for the week after the Sox opened with back-to-back losses in Toronto. But they recovered to win the finale against the Blue Jays, before splitting a doubleheader in Baltimore on Thursday and taking two of three from the AL West-leading Astros this weekend.

How about the weird shutout for John Danks on Sunday? The Sox left-hander recorded his 1,000th career strikeout by fanning the first batter of the game, Houston right fielder George Springer. Maybe that was an omen everything else was going to go Danks' way, as well.

Danks struck out six and walked one in a 6-0 win over the Astros, and he somehow managed to go unscored upon despite giving up 10 hits.

How rare is that?

Well, the last pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout while allowing 10 hits or more was former Minnesota right-hander Carlos Silva, who gave up 11 hits in a 10-0 win over the Anaheim Angels on Aug. 3, 2004. It's been more than 10 years.

For Danks, it was his first shutout in nearly four years. The last time? Well, it was a three-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 27, 2011.

No doubt Danks' complete game was welcome for the weary White Sox bullpen. Not only was this a stretch of eight games in seven days, it also was 18 games in 17 days. That's a lot of innings to cover over a two-and-a-half-week period.

The Sox (23-26) finally get an off day Monday before they play the Texas Rangers in a three-game series down south.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signing young players an accelerating trend

With left-handers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale now both signed to long-term contracts, the White Sox have two rotation anchors locked into affordable salaries for the rest of the decade.

It's not hard to see the upside for the Sox in making those deals. Sale is among the very best pitchers in the game, and Quintana has quietly been up to the task of No. 2 starter. Both guys are young enough to desire some security, and the Sox have some cost certainty and the flexibility that comes for paying their two best pitchers low annual salaries.

Locking up players before they reach arbitration, with teams sometimes getting discounted free agent years, isn't new. It was sometimes called the Cleveland Model after the Indians of the 1990s gave young players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel long-term extensions instead of taking them to arbitration year-to-year.

More recently, the Rays reaped huge rewards by signing third baseman Evan Longoria to a massive bargain of a contract very early in his career. Longoria's been so good that Tampa Bay went to the next step of extending him again so they can keep him through the 2023 season if a team option is exercised. His new deal is still looked at as a bargain for the Rays.

So if it's been going on for so long, how is this trend now accelerating?

Just look at what the Astros are trying to do right now. In addition to offering a long-term deal to a player who hasn't even reached the majors yet, they've been rumored to be offering their third baseman Matt Dominguez a five-year contract with team option years at the end.

Nothing has officially happened yet with Dominguez, so we're not entirely clear on the Astros' thinking here. One thing for sure is that Dominguez isn't the type of player we usually think about for these early contract extensions.

Dominguez is 24-years old and has a .248/.290/.410 career batting line in 750 plate appearances. He was a first-round pick in 2007 and has an OK glove, but his minor-league career as a hitter (.256/.323/.409) suggests Dominguez is pretty much everything we can expect him to be. That's a capable third baseman who in a good year won't poison your lineup with his bat.

Maybe there's something I'm not seeing here, and he'll surprise almost everyone and become an All-Star-type player. Frankly, I'll be surprised if Dominguez is just still in the majors after his 30th birthday.

Even accounting for how crummy the free agent market has been for third basemen in recent seasons -- Juan Uribe was the (booby) prize there this offseason, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger the last -- locking up your own fringe players doesn't yet look like a great idea.

The five years and $17 million the Astros allegedly have on the table for Dominguez is more than Uribe, Youkilis or Keppinger received. Dominguez would make less annually, and offer Houston a pair of option years at around $9 million each if he did get better.

But there's still the reality that Dominguez isn't any better. Or that he goes the way of Mark Teahen, Sean Burroughs, Josh Fields or Kevin Orie, all of whom began their careers with more promise than Dominguez, and none of whom spent their 20s getting better.

Locking in mediocre-to-bad players doesn't really give a team good value. Even if a contract like this gave a team some sort of performance floor -- which it can't guarantee -- and some cost certainty, should the Astros ever look like a contender again, Dominguez's spot will probably still look like an area that could be upgraded. Except then the upgrade is even more expensive when you have to pay the incumbent to go away.

Teams are still smart to be exploring ways to lock up their young players before being priced out of the market for their talents. They might still want to consider where to draw the line when it comes to big deals and continuing to go year-to-year.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clayton Kershaw expected to make more than entire Atlanta pitching staff

I pulled this nugget out of the Jan. 27 edition of Sports Illustrated:

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make an average of $30.7 million annually over the life of the seven-year contract he just signed.

By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves' 12-man pitching staff is expected to make $27 million combined in 2014.

I know you've probably heard or read statistics like that before. People are quite fond of pointing out that Alex Rodriguez makes more than the entire Houston Astros' roster, for example.

But here's the thing: The Astros aren't even trying to win right now. They stink. They had the worst record in the league last year at  51-111. I tend to dismiss the Astros as a Triple-A team, so of course they are making Triple-A salaries.

The Braves, in contrast, won the NL East with 96 wins in 2013. Not only that, they led all of baseball with a 3.18 team ERA. Atlanta has a very good pitching staff that happens to be inexpensive as well.

It's hard to say Kershaw doesn't deserve his money. He's won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the National League. He's the best left-handed starter in baseball.

But, the Braves example shows you don't necessarily have to throw around millions upon millions of dollars to build a successful pitching staff, or a successful team. Keep that in mind when people try to tell you the New York Yankees are a lock for the 2014 World Series after they spent almost half a billion dollars this offseason on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees have won the offseason for sure, but there is no special prize handed to the team that spends the most money or collects the most big-name players.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cubs sign reliever Jose Veras ... will he be closing games in August?

The Cubs have agreed with relief pitcher Jose Veras on a one-year, $4 million contract, according to reports.

The deal reportedly includes a $5.5 million option for 2015, along with incentives.

Without question, Veras, 33, will replace Kevin Gregg as the Cubs closer -- at least at the start of the year. I just wonder if another midseason trade isn't in Veras' future.

Last year, he began the season with the lowly Houston Astros, where he compiled a respectable 2.93 ERA and 19 saves in 42 appearances. Just before the trade deadline, he was sent to the Detroit Tigers for future considerations.

The Tigers hoped Veras would help solidify their bullpen for the playoffs. However, he and everyone else in the Detroit 'pen struggled in an ALCS loss to the Boston Red Sox.

I doubt, however, the rebuilding Cubs are concerned about Veras' playoff performance. I suspect they would like him to perform as he did last year from April to July, so they can flip him to a contender in exchange for minor league talent.

It's a plan we've seen the Cubs execute the last couple years. They've signed pitchers like Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman to team-friendly contracts. They get a decent or good half-season out of them, then trade them in July.

I won't be the least bit surprised if Veras is pitching somewhere other than Chicago when August rolls around.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.