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

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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chris Sale strikes out 12 Houston hitters, quiet concerns -- for now

White Sox ace Chris Sale had his worst outing of the season -- and perhaps the worst performance of his career -- last Friday against the Texas Rangers.

He gave up eight runs over seven innings. Four different Texas batters hit home runs. Naturally, that caused a great deal of alarm among the meathead division of the Sox fan base. "Shut down Sale! He's tired!" they cried. It seems like every time Sale has a bad outing, it's a sign of impending doom. Some people are just paranoid that Sale is an injury waiting to happen.

My thoughts on this matter are simple: You can't predict the future. You never know when a pitcher might get hurt. Every pitcher in baseball at times takes the ball while feeling less than 100 percent physically. That's the nature of the game. I would take a guess that most guys around baseball are feeling a little tired these days. It's late August. It's hot outside. These are the dog days. But so what? If a guy is healthy, he should pitch. If he's not healthy, he should take a seat. It's really no more complicated than that.

And right now, there's no sign that Sale is laboring physically. His stuff looks sharp. He was dominant Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He struck out seven of the first 10 Houston Astros he faced and finished with 12 Ks over eight innings in a 6-1 White Sox winner. I know it's just the Astros, but anyone who watched this game saw Sale at his very best. The fastball was in the mid- to high-90s. The breaking ball was biting. The changeup was well-located, except for one mistake to Chris Carter in the seventh inning. It was just the kind of bounce-back outing you would expect from an ace pitcher.

Sale does not look tired to me. Sure, he could get injured his next start for all I know. There's a risk of injury every single time a player takes the field. You accept that as part of the sport. What is the point in coddling guys? That said, you have to be smart and reasonable. The Sox are out of the race and have been for two months. They don't need to be leaving their starters out there for 120 and 130 pitches an outing trying to win these late-season games. That goes for Sale and everybody else on the pitching staff.

But as long as Sale is feeling good and throwing well, there's no reason he shouldn't take the five or six scheduled starts he should get between now and the end of the season.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chris Sale gets the shaft in loss to Astros

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale struck out 14 Houston Astros Friday night. He allowed no earned runs on five hits over eight strong innings.

And he lost.

Only the Sox could find a way to lose a game like this. In fact, Sale became just the third pitcher since 1912 to strike out 14 batters in a losing effort. When a guy accumulates 14 Ks and still loses, that's proof positive he's got a crap team playing behind him.

How could something like this happen? Well, Alexei Ramirez isn't a good shortstop anymore. That's how.

Ramirez committed two errors in the same inning. Those errors were sandwiched around a walk and an infield single, giving the Astros the only two runs they would need in a 2-1 victory.

The Sox could have overcome those two errors if they could have managed three runs off journeyman left-hander Erik Bedard, whose ERA was up over five until the Sox rolled into Houston. Bedard fired six innings of one-run ball and earned the win. Yet another opportunity for the Sox to "tip their cap" to a pitcher that everybody else in the league hits.

These days, it seems White Sox offense is the cure for whatever ails bad pitchers. Bring the Sox your tired and your poor, and they'll lower his inflated ERA with no problem at all.

In a season like this, you get used to losing. The Sox are 28-36. They've probably got another good 50 or 55 losses in them before the year is over. But every now and then, a loss galls you more than some of the others.

This loss Friday night was an example of a galling loss. When a starting pitcher turns in the kind of effort Sale turned in, that should be an easy win -- especially playing against a Houston team that owns the worst record in the league.

But that's not the way it works for the Sox. This season, they have put on a clinic in beating themselves. Perhaps Friday's loss was the worst one of all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Phil Humber .... one year later

The date was April 21, 2012 -- one year ago today. Phil Humber was at the bottom of this dog pile after tossing the 21st perfect game in MLB history, a 4-0 whitewashing of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

It was a cool story at the time. Humber had pitched in parts of seven major league seasons with four different organizations, yet the perfect game was just the 12th win of his career.

He was a former first-round draft pick who had been a bust. He had been traded and released multiple times. He was about the last guy you'd ever expect to throw a perfect game. He was an underdog, and that was part of what made it so much fun to see him succeed.

Unfortunately for Humber, success has been hard to come by ever since that day in Seattle. He won only four more times for the White Sox after the perfect game. He pitched himself out of the rotation, and ultimately, out of Chicago. He finished 2012 with a 5-5 record and an inflated 6.44 ERA.

The Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball last year and quite possibly the worst again this year, picked Humber up and gave him another shot. The results have not been good. Humber has lost his first four starts of the season. Once again, the ERA is up there at 6.63 ERA.

Humber got the start for Houston against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, almost one year to the day since his perfect game. He didn't even make it out of the first inning. He faced 10 batters and retired only one. He gave up eight runs on eight hits as the Indians rolled to a 19-6 victory.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Yu Darvish loses perfect game with two outs in the ninth

Texas pitcher Yu Darvish turned in one of the more dominant performances you'll ever see Tuesday night against the woeful Houston Astros, but he fell one out short of baseball immortality.

Darvish retired the first 26 batters he faced -- 14 of them by strikeout -- but he failed to complete his bid for a perfect game when some guy named Marwin Gonzalez swung at the first pitch and bounced a base hit back up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I had to look Gonzalez up because I had never heard of him before. He's a 24-year-old infielder with a lifetime batting average of .236 in 208 major league at-bats. Now, he's the answer to a trivia question. Darvish settled for a 7-0 victory and joined a list of 10 other pitchers to lose a bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning.

Three of those previous 10 involved Chicago teams:

1. June 27, 1958
White Sox left-hander Billy Pierce retired the first 26 Washington Senators he saw, but backup catcher Ed Fitz Gerald came off the bench to deliver a double and break up Pierce's bid for history. Moments later, Pierce struck out center fielder Albie Pearson to complete the shutout in a 3-0 Chicago victory.

2. September 2, 1972
There are Cubs fans out there who still hate umpire Bruce Froemming, whose controversial call denied Milt Pappas a perfect game. Pappas lost his perfecto with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a full count when Froemming called ball four on a borderline pitch to San Diego pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. Pappas to this day remains furious about the call, but he did complete a no-hitter on this day. After the walk, he induced Garry Jestadt to pop out to end the game.

3. April 15, 1983
The 1983 White Sox were a 99-win team, but on this April day they were baffled by Milt Wilcox. The Detroit right-hander retired the first 26 men he faced before pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston (much like Marwin Gonzalez) picked on the first pitch he saw and singled up the middle. Wilcox settled for a one-hitter, getting center fielder Rudy Law to ground out on the next pitch to conclude a 6-0 Detroit victory.

Here are the other pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth: 
Hooks Wiltse, Giants, July 4, 1908
Tommy Bridges, Tigers, August 5, 1932
Ron Robinson, Reds, May 2, 1988
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, August 4, 1989
Brian Holman, Mariners, April 20, 1990
Mike Mussina, Yankees, September 2, 2001
Armando Galarraga, Tigers, June 2, 2010

Among that group, Galarraga could probably relate best to Pappas. That, of course, was the famous blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce. Cleveland's Jason Donald was awarded an infield single on the play, spoiling both the perfect game and the no-hitter. Galarraga retired the next hitter, Trevor Crowe. Much like Pappas, he would probably say he actually retired 28 hitters in a row on that day.

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