Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Charlie Tilson injured in first game; White Sox outclassed by Tigers

Robin Ventura
We've once again reached that time of year where we separate the die-hards from the fair-weather fans.

The calendar has turned to August. The dog days of the season have arrived. The trading deadline has passed, and the White Sox appear well on their way to their fourth consecutive losing season.

The Sox were outclassed by a division rival Tuesday night -- a common theme during the Robin Ventura era -- losing 11-5 to the Detroit Tigers in the first of a three-game set.

James Shields held the Tigers scoreless through the first four innings, but the Detroit offense erupted for six runs in the fifth. Relievers Matt Albers, Michael Ynoa and Carson Fulmer provided little relief, combining to give up five more runs over three innings of work.

Ho hum, another run-of-the-mill loss, but the real sorrow here is that newly acquired center fielder Charlie Tilson got hurt in his first game with the Sox.

Tilson collected his first major league hit, a single up the middle off Anibal Sanchez, leading off the third inning. Unfortunately, two innings later, he had to be helped off the field after falling awkwardly while chasing Miguel Cabrera's liner into the right-center gap.

The rookie appeared to roll his left ankle as he fell to the ground, although the Sox are calling it a "strained hamstring" for now. By the looks of the injury, it almost certainly is more than that, and Tilson is more than likely headed to the disabled list.

In a strange twist of fate, Tilson becomes the fourth Sox rookie to succumb to injury in his major league debut this season. Kevan Smith (back), Jason Coats (face) and Matt Davidson (foot) also did not make it through their first games.

I have no idea whether Tilson can be part of the solution for the Sox in the outfield, but I would have liked to have seen a 50-plus-game sample size from him here at the end of the year in order to form an opinion. However, if this injury is as serious as I fear, we'll be back to looking at J.B. Shuck in center field by the end of the week. Not good.

Of course, Avisail Garcia came off the bench to replace Tilson and homered in both of his ABs, one of which was a massive 466-foot shot off Detroit reliever Mark Lowe. The Sox keep trying to replace Garcia, but he always seems to find his way back into the lineup through a fluke injury or some other odd occurrence.

It would be just like Garcia to have a fools' gold hot streak during garbage time, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

White Sox surprisingly quiet at trade deadline

Rick Hahn
Baseball's trading deadline came and went Monday afternoon, and the White Sox didn't do anything besides the Zach Duke deal they made with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.

The inactivity is surprising, because GM Rick Hahn previously indicated his frustration with the team being "mired in mediocrity." Such remarks usually signal that changes are coming, but in practice, only one deal was made.

I never expected Hahn to deal any of the Sox's headliners -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu -- but I did think he would make another trade or two similar to the Duke move. The "next tier" on the Sox roster features some productive veterans who would have value to other teams, and I figured players such as David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, James Shields or Todd Frazier could be on the move.

Instead, the gang is still all here, with the noted exception of Duke.

This has created a significant meltdown among an outraged fan base that is hungry for change. I share in the frustration, but not the outrage. You just have to put the emotions away and think logically here.

I watched MLB Network for most of the afternoon Monday, and much of the speculation centered around Sale. I'm sure the Sox received offers, and I'm sure they listened. But never for one second did I think the Sox would actually pull the trigger.

Why? Well, it because all the trade packages being offered seemed to center solely around prospects. The experts kept talking about Boston offering four top prospects for Sale, with 21-year-old Yoan Moncada being the centerpiece of the deal.

I'm sure Moncada is a fine prospect. He might even be a future star. But, you're not going to give up a five-time All-Star such as Sale in exchange for a package of ifs and maybes, with the centerpiece of the trade being a 21-year-old kid who has played a grand total of 32 games above A-ball. For a guy such as Sale -- and Quintana, for that matter -- you need at least one position player who is going to help you at the major league level right away.

I just don't think that deal is out there at midseason, because contenders are not willing to subtract from their current 25-man roster at this time of year. They are looking to add to what they already have. Once the offseason arrives, teams are more willing to part with major leaguers in a deal, because they have time to acquire somebody else to fill whatever hole(s) they create by making a trade. Those adjustments are much harder to make in-season.

Provided Sale and Quintana stay healthy the rest of the season (always a gamble with pitching), the Sox will be in position to get a better haul later than they would right now.

The free-agent starting pitching crop is very weak this offseason, which would only make Sale and Quintana more valuable in a deal, should the Sox choose the nuclear option and blow the team up this offseason.

I was very surprised there was so few rumors surrounding the Robertson-Cabrera-Shields-Frazier tier of the Sox roster. I feel like similar players from other teams were traded for reasonable prospects, so there should have been some market for these guys. But given the lack of rumors, maybe there wasn't.

No trade at all is better than a bad trade, and if the Sox couldn't get someone who might legitimately be able to help them in the future, there's no reason to dump players just for the sake of dumping. That's an emotional reaction that fans call for, but front offices can't afford to think that way.

There's always the possibility of trading any or all of these guys this offseason. That said, it's fair to say management is on the clock now to do *something* between now and the start of the 2017 season.

You can't come out and say that it's "unacceptable" to be "mired in mediocrity," then serve up another year of the status quo. Things don't necessarily have to change now, but they have to change soon. One thing we all agree on is the current results aren't nearly good enough.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

James Shields leads White Sox to shutout of Cubs

James Shields
I didn't care for the move when the White Sox acquired James Shields from the San Diego Padres in early June.

I didn't think he was the "missing piece" the Sox needed to push themselves into contention in the American League, and I still don't think that. As I type here today, the Sox (50-50) still are the same mediocre team they were the day Shields was acquired.

That said, let's give Shields his credit for pulling it together after a historically bad beginning to his tenure with the Sox. He's made 10 starts since joining the South Siders, and there's a clear line of demarcation between the first four starts and the last six. None of his first four starts were quality, but all of his last six have been.

Shields' first four starts with Sox: 13.2 IP, 29 H, 25 R, 24 ER, 8 Ks, 13 BBs, 5 HRs, 15.80 ERA
Shields' last six starts with Sox: 42 IP, 32 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 20 Ks, 12 BBs, 5 HRs, 1.71 ERA

Tuesday's outing was Shields' best since the trade. He fired 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball to lead the Sox to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. He struck out five and walked four, which is a few too many walks, but it almost seemed to be by design. Shields has been hurt by the home run ball a lot this season, and it appeared he just decided he wasn't going to give in to the Cubs hitters on the rare occasions he was behind in the count. He was sooner going to walk somebody than just lay one in and risk giving up a home run.

The strategy paid off, as the Cubs were limited to just four singles and couldn't come through on the occasions when they did get a runner in scoring position.

The recent stretch of good pitching has rebuilt Shields' trade value, and there are rumors now that the Sox might flip him for prospects sometime this week. If indeed the Sox have decided they are not in the race for this year, moving Shields now would be the correct call.

The Sox hitters on Tuesday were facing the Cubs' hottest pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, who entered the game with a streak of 22.1 innings without allowing an earned run. That ended quickly, as the Sox got on the board in the first inning. Jose Abreu's single scored Adam Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk.

Eaton added to the lead in the fifth with a solo home run -- his seventh of the season. The Sox completed the scoring with a run in the sixth. Hendricks departed after giving up a soft single to Todd Frazier. Cubs reliever Travis Wood gifted the Sox a run by walking three consecutive batters. Tyler Saladino's bases-loaded walk forced home a run to make it 3-0.

This time, the Sox had their two best relievers available to protect a late lead. Nate Jones recorded the final out of the eighth, and David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save of the season.

The win keeps the Crosstown Cup on the South Side for the third consecutive season. The Cubs still have a chance to even the season series if they can win both games at Wrigley Field this week, but in the event of a tie, the team that won the Crosstown Cup the previous season keeps it. For that reason, the Sox were awarded the trophy Tuesday night after the game.

I don't often say much about the Cubs on this blog, because I prefer not to attract trolls. But I was noticing their record is 59-40 entering Wednesday's play, and I remember them starting the season 25-6. A little quick math tells me the Cubs are a .500 team over their last 68 games (34-34).

The narrative around Chicago has been that the Cubs are an elite team, that they are enjoying a magical season, and that they are on the brink of history. For those first 31 games, they sure looked pretty damn good. But in these first two games against the Sox, they have been ordinary, and based on their .500 record over a 68-game period, they've been ordinary for a while.

The Sox are starting a Triple-A pitcher (Anthony Ranaudo) Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and I won't be surprised if the Cubs light him up. That said, I have been surprised at how well the mediocre Sox have done so far against the highly regarded Cubs. A lot of folks seemed to believe the Sox would be overmatched in this series. That has not been the case to this point.

Miguel Gonzalez and Shields were better than Jake Arrieta and Hendricks, and that's been the difference so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miguel Gonzalez outpitches Jake Arrieta in crosstown series opener

Jake Arrieta -- not sharp lately
Based on pitching matchups, just about everyone was expecting the Cubs to prevail in Monday's opener of the 2016 crosstown series.

The North Siders had their ace, defending NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta, on the mound, while the White Sox were countering with their No. 5 starter, Miguel Gonzalez.

However, games are not played on paper -- and surprise, surprise -- Gonzalez outpitched Arrieta in a 5-4 Sox victory:

Gonzalez: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BBs, 8 Ks, 1 HR
Arrieta: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BBs, 6 Ks, 1 HR

Neither man figured in the decision, but taking a longer view, maybe we should have known this was not a mismatch.

Arrieta has not been pitching well. The Cubs have lost seven of the last 10 games he has started, including the last four. Arrieta has allowed 20 earned runs in 29.1 innings pitched over his last five outings, only one of which has been a quality start. That will pencil out to a 6.14 ERA.

In contrast, Gonzalez has churned out five consecutive quality starts for the Sox. He has allowed 11 earned runs over 32.2 innings during that span, good for a rock-solid 3.03 ERA.

The Sox right-hander is only 1-2 during that stretch, but it's through no fault of his own. He should have gotten the win Monday night, as he walked off the mound with a two outs in the seventh inning and a 4-2 lead.

But as we discussed in yesterday's blog entry, the Sox are woefully thin in the bullpen right now. Jacob Turner had a short start Friday against the Detroit Tigers. And Chris Sale did not make his start Saturday after the whole jersey-slashing incident, so the Sox bullpen has had to cover an absurd amount of innings over the past few days.

Both closer David Robertson and top set-up reliever Nate Jones were unavailable Monday, leaving Matt Albers and Dan Jennings to try to protect the 4-2 lead in the ninth. They could not. The Cubs tied it, although we can credit Jennings for recording a key strikeout of Jason Heyward with two on and two out to preserve the 4-4 tie.

The Sox then recorded their third consecutive walk-off victory. J.B. Shuck singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth against newly acquired Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery. Dioner Navarro advanced the runner to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Tyler Saladino delivered a game-winning base hit to center field.

In case you were wondering, this is the first time the Sox have had three straight walk-off winners since Aug. 4-6, 1962.

The Sox will send James Shields to the mound in the second game of the series Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Technically, I guess Hendricks is the fifth starter for the Cubs, but much like Gonzalez, he's been pitching better than that moniker would suggest.

Hendricks hasn't given up an earned run since June 29, and has logged a 0.72 ERA over his last seven appearances (six starts).

Maybe as Sox fans, we should be more worried about Hendricks and less worried about Arrieta, media hype aside.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rick Hahn: White Sox are 'mired in mediocrity'

Rick Hahn
Remember when we thought the White Sox would be better in 2016 than they were last season? That was fun while it lasted, huh?

Well, guess what? The Sox are 46-49 after 95 games. At this same point last season, they were 45-50. So, all that moving and shaking over the last calendar year has resulted in a net gain of one lousy win. Hooray!

Before Thursday night's 2-1 rain-shortened loss to the Detroit Tigers, Sox general manager Rick Hahn admitted the plan is not working.

“We looked to get ourselves right as quickly as possible,” Hahn told members of the media scrum. “There was a spurt this season where it looked like it worked. As we sit here today, we’ve been wrestling with being a couple games over, a couple games under .500 for the last few weeks.

“We’re mired in mediocrity. That’s not the goal, that’s not acceptable, that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish for the long term.”

So, there you have it: The first sign that the Sox might be looking at a change in direction at the Aug. 1 trading deadline. The team is 10.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, and 7.5 games back in the wild-card race. There isn't much hope left for 2016, and Hahn acknowledged the team has ruled out any deals that would involve trading prospects for short-term rentals.

Hahn noted several times that the Sox are "open-minded" about their options. He did not rule out a complete teardown, although he commented that trading All-Star pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana "might be extreme."

The Sox are not the most transparent organization in the world -- and I don't care that they're not -- so we're left to speculate about what this might mean. My speculation is they'll keep Sale. Shortstop Tim Anderson also is off limits in a trade. Quintana is unlikely to be dealt, but could be had if the right offer comes along. Everyone else is on the block, with David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Zach Duke and Melky Cabrera among the most likely candidates to be traded.

Here's what I fail to understand: The Sox allowed this season to slip away without firing the manager or anyone else on the coaching staff. Maybe the 23-10 start to the season created false hope, but the 23-39 mark since then is ridiculous. There's no way this team should have played that poorly over a stretch of 62 games.

The Sox were willing to shake up the roster, with John Danks, Mat Latos and Jimmy Rollins all being shown the door. Anderson was called up from the minors. The Sox traded for James Shields. They signed Justin Morneau. They recently recalled top prospect Carson Fulmer. They've been willing to address problems on the roster, but that hasn't improved results. There's no question the team is playing below its talent level at present, and it's been that way for more than two months. Why isn't anyone that's part of the dugout brain trust accountable for that?

I'm reluctant to let Hahn and Ken Williams undertake a new rebuilding project. They've turned almost the entire roster over since the midpoint of the 2013 season -- Sale, Quintana and Nate Jones are the only players left from that time -- but the results still are disappointing.

There's a lot of folks who want to trade Sale and Quintana, but I'm opposed to that line of thinking for two reasons: 1) I don't trust this front office to get the appropriate return, and 2) Right now, you'd be shopping them only to contending teams, and contenders are only willing to give up prospects during the middle of the season. If you're going to trade one or both of the crown jewels of your organization, I think you need to get at least one, if not two, major league players in return -- not just prospects.

Teams that are in the hunt typically are not willing to subtract players from their 25-man roster at this time of year. If the Sox do want to make a move with their top pitchers, they might be better served to wait until the offseason when every team in baseball could conceivably be in the market for Sale or Quintana. At that point in time, the Sox might be better positioned to maximize their return.

Right now, the vultures are circling, looking to pick at the carcass of the 2016 Sox. Hahn needs to exercise patience here. If he is going to move, he better make sure he gets exactly what he wants. These decisions are too important to the future of the Sox organization to rush.

Monday, July 18, 2016

White Sox begin second half with pathetic showing vs. Angels

Hector Santiago
The White Sox couldn't have asked for a worse start to the second half of their season.

They were outscored 16-1 in a three-game series against the last-place Los Angeles Angels. Entering Monday's play, the Sox have scored just one run in their last 41 offensive innings dating back to July 9. They have lost four in a row to slip back below .500 at 45-46, and they are nine games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.

The Sox also are 5.5 games back in the AL wild-card race, with five teams to pass. That is not good position. Let's have a brief look back at the poor weekend in Los Angeles.

Friday, July 15
Angels 7, White Sox 0: Former Sox lefty Hector Santiago had his way with the South Siders in this game. He struck out five men the first two innings and went on to throw seven innings of shutout ball. He allowed just five hits and walked nobody. He finished with seven strikeouts.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez kept his club in the game most of the way. He had allowed only two runs through six innings, but poor defense led to the wheels coming off in the seventh.

First baseman Jose Abreu misplayed a ball off the bat of the Angels' Daniel Nava into a "double," and an error by Tim Anderson put runners on first and third with no outs. The two defensive miscues ended Gonzalez's night and set the table for a five-run Angels rally that saw the Sox burn through three relievers. Anderson committed a second error in the inning that did not help matters.

Saturday, July 16
Angels 1, White Sox 0: I've criticized James Shields quite a bit on this blog, but let's give credit where credit is due: He was outstanding in this game. He pitched a complete game and allowed only two hits. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a leadoff triple by Yunel Escobar in the first inning. Mike Trout got that run home with a RBI groundout, and that was all the Angels needed.

The Sox made Los Angeles starter Matt Shoemaker look like the second coming of Don Drysdale. The right-hander struck out 13 and allowed only six hits in a complete-game shutout.

It was inexcusable, however, that the Sox did not score after Adam Eaton's leadoff double in the ninth inning. Abreu failed to advance the runner with a groundout to shortstop. That was huge because Melky Cabrera followed with a single. Eaton stopped at third on the hit, and he would have scored if Abreu had done something to advance him.

Instead, it was first and third with one out -- still a favorable situation for the Sox -- but neither Todd Frazier nor Justin Morneau could make any contact against the tiring Shoemaker. Both men struck out, securing one of the more unacceptable Sox losses of the season.

Sunday, July 17
Angels 8, White Sox 1: Remember back at SoxFest when I asked Rick Hahn about organizational depth with starting pitching? He said Jacob Turner and Chris Beck were in line as fallback options should anyone in the rotation get injured. My reaction to that was, "Gulp."

Well, Carlos Rodon is on the disabled list, so there was Turner on Sunday, making his first big-league start of the season despite a 4.71 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte.

Results were predictable, as Turner allowed eight runs on seven hits in just four innings of work. He walked three and allowed two titanic home runs by Albert Pujols.

Eaton ended the Sox scoreless streak in the third inning with a two-out RBI double, but the South Siders could muster up nothing else against Jered Weaver, who is 12-2 lifetime against the Sox.

The one bright spot: Two scoreless innings of relief from Carson Fulmer in his big-league debut. The first man Fulmer faced was Pujols, the future Hall of Famer, and he struck him out on three pitches. He showcased his whole arsenal. He grabbed strike one with a fastball, got a swinging strike on changeup with the second pitch, and then Pujols could not check his swing on a slider for strike three.

Fulmer threw 15 of his 21 pitches for strikes. He allowed only one hit. He struck out two and hit a batter. Nice debut overall in an otherwise miserable afternoon for the Sox and their fans.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

James Shields prevails against C.C. Sabathia in matchup of declining pitchers

C.C. Sabathia
Seven or eight years ago, a pitching matchup between James Shields and C.C. Sabathia would have been marquee material.

On Monday, it was just another game, featuring a 34-year-old right-hander with an ERA near six and a soon-to-be-36-year-old 300-pound left-hander with bad knees.

Who would win this battle of titans?

Fortunately for the White Sox, it was Shields, who fired six innings of two-run ball to help the South Siders to an 8-2 win over the New York Yankees.

Neither starter was on solid ground in this game. Shields put the Sox in an early 2-0 hole when he gave up a two-run homer to Chase Headley in the top of the second inning. Sabathia surrendered the lead when Tim Anderson took him deep for a two-run homer to tie the score in the third.

The game remained tied at 2 at the halfway point, and there was a definite feeling that both teams should have had more runs.

The Sox got two men on in the first inning, but didn't score. They loaded the bases with one out in the third after Anderson's homer, but couldn't tack on any runs. They stranded a man at third in the fourth.

The Yankees had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth, but couldn't cash in. They got a runner to second base with one out as the result of two Sox errors in the fifth, but failed to score.

This came down to which pitcher was going to crack the third time through the batting order, and it was Sabathia. The Sox touched him up for three runs in the fifth. Brett Lawrie's sacrifice fly scored Todd Frazier, who had doubled, and Dioner Navarro's two-run homer put the Sox ahead, 5-2.

Shields once again walked the tightrope in the sixth inning, but the Yankees failed to score after placing runners at first and third. The Sox right-hander escaped that situation by getting Aaron Hicks to fly out to right field.

Shields' final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 Ks, 2 BBs, 1 HR. That was good enough for his second win in a Sox uniform.

The Sox tacked on one in the seventh and two in the eighth. Four Sox relievers combined for three innings of scoreless relief, and for a change, David Robertson's services were not needed to close out a victory.

Dan Jennings allowed two base runners in the top of the ninth, but finished off the six-run win in comfortable fashion.

The Sox enter Tuesday's play having won 10 of their past 14 games. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

White Sox have won three straight series for the first time in 2016

Nate Jones
You would think the White Sox would have won three straight series at some point during their 23-10 start to the season, right?

Well, they didn't, but they have now after taking two games from the last-place Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. The Sox (40-39) have won seven of their last 10 games, so I can't complain too much -- especially after living through the misery of the 10-26 stretch that carried on from May 10 all the way until June 19.

Some consistent winning is welcome, even if the wins are over a team as bad as the Twins, and even if the wins aren't as easy as perhaps they should have been.

Do you want to know the last time the Sox won a game by more than three runs? It was May 9 against the Texas Rangers, and even that was an extra-inning affair. The Sox won by four (8-4) because Todd Frazier hit a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning.

On Wednesday night, it looked as if the Sox were finally going to coast across the finish line with an easy victory. They had a five-run outburst in the seventh inning against Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco and reliever Michael Tonkin. Sox right-hander James Shields finally resembled a major league pitcher, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings.

The Sox led 9-1 after eight innings. Piece of cake, huh? If only.

Minnesota's ninth inning went as follows: Double, walk, strikeout, E-4, single, groundout, HBP, walk, double, flyout.

The South Siders hung on for a 9-6 win, but not before three relievers were needed to get through the final inning. It's unfortunate that Nate Jones had to be summoned to pitch in this game. He entered with two on, two out and the tying run at the plate, and got Eduardo Escobar to fly out to end the drama.

But so much for that rare blowout win.

The Sox squeaked out a victory Thursday, as well, winning 6-5 after J.B. Shuck delivered a go-ahead single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Anybody who has ever watched baseball with me knows that relievers who walk people are my biggest pet peeve in the game. "You walk people, you lose"  has always been my mantra.

In this game, Minnesota reliever Fernando Abad walked people, and he lost. He retired the first two men he faced in the bottom of the eighth inning, but then he walked both Avisail Garcia and Jason Coats. The walk to Coats came on four pitches, and that's especially ridiculous when you consider that Coats is 1 for 17 since his recall from Triple-A Charlotte.

Why was Abad afraid to throw a strike to Coats? You got me, but that walk put Garcia in scoring position, and Shuck's bloop over Escobar's head brought Garcia home to put the Sox ahead, 6-5.

The hit made a winner of Jones, who worked 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. David Robertson got three outs for his 21st save of the season.

Carlos Rodon's performance Thursday was a disappointment. He went 5.2 innings, allowing four runs on five hits, but he just wasn't any good with the lead.

Rodon retired the first 11 he faced, but blew an early 2-0 advantage by giving up back-to-back homers to Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier in the fourth. The Sox came right back with three in the bottom of the inning to stake Rodon to a 5-2 lead, but he still couldn't complete the sixth inning and had to be removed with the score 5-4 and the tying run in scoring position.

The Sox need more from their young lefty, who has way too much talent to be 2-6 with a 4.24 ERA. He hasn't pitched into the seventh inning since May 22, a span of six starts. Not coincidentally, that's the last time Rodon won a game. Make the first goal pitching deeper into the game, then go from there.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

White Sox settle for 3 out of 4 in Boston

Jose Abreu
The pitching matchup for Thursday's series finale between the White Sox and the Boston Red Sox did not bode well for Chicago: James Shields vs. Rick Porcello.

After all, Shields had allowed 22 runs in his first 8.2 innings as a member of the Sox, and Porcello entered Thursday's play with an 8-2 record -- including a 6-0 mark at Fenway Park.

The Sox lost, 8-7 in 10 innings, but it had nothing to do with the Shields vs. Porcello matchup. Both men turned in mediocre starts and were gone before the sixth inning was over. Frankly, this Sox loss would have been easier to take if Shields had just gotten knocked around again.

Instead, the Sox squandered two leads and blew two golden chances to score with the bases loaded in the eighth and 10th innings, and it's impossible to feel like they shouldn't have come away with a four-game series sweep.

The Sox led, 4-1, in the sixth when Shields cracked. He departed after walking David Ortiz and Ryan LaMarre consecutively to start the inning. Matt Albers provided no relief, hitting a batter and loading the bases before giving up a pair of singles. One of the singles was of the infield variety, with Brett Lawrie making an errant throw that didn't help matters.

The Sox had to use a second reliever, Dan Jennings, who extricated the team from the mess, but not before Boston had surged in front, 5-4.

Jose Abreu answered for the South Siders, clubbing a three-run homer in the top of the seventh off Junichi Tazawa to give the Sox a 7-5 lead.

That would be short-lived, as Boston scored one in the seventh off Chris Beck and another in the eighth off Nate Jones to tie it at 7.

But the real issue for the Sox here was the inability to put the game away by taking advantage of prime scoring opportunities. The South Siders loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the eighth inning. But J.B. Shuck popped out to shallow left, Tim Anderson struck out swinging and Adam Eaton grounded out weakly to second base.

The failures kept the Sox lead at a meager one run (7-6), and Boston tied it off Jones in the bottom of the inning.

The same exact situation presented itself in the top of the 10th inning. Lawrie at third, Alex Avila at second, Avisail Garcia at first, bases loaded, no outs. Shuck popped out to shortstop. Anderson struck out swinging. Eaton struck out swinging. Once again, no runs, and a heaping pile of frustration.

In the bottom of the inning, Matt Purke lost the game. He walked two hitters and gave up a game-ending single to Xander Bogaerts.

At that point, it felt like Boston was finally putting the Sox out of their misery. They had their chances. They blew them, and Boston finally handed them the loss they deserved.

It's disappointing, because a four-game sweep of the Red Sox could have really built some momentum for the upcoming homestand against Toronto and Minnesota.

Instead, we're once again talking about an infuriating loss. We're once again talking about a sub-.500 Sox team (36-37), and we're looking at a team that is in fourth place, six games out of first.

On Monday, I think any Sox fan would have been more than happy with three out of four in Boston. From that perspective, it was a good series. But, in the bigger picture, it's still difficult to see a path to the playoffs for this deeply flawed Sox team.

Monday, June 20, 2016

White Sox get swept once again vs. a divisional opponent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

James Shields booed off the field in White Sox debut

James Shields
I was skeptical last week when the White Sox acquired right-handed pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Erik Johnson and shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not concerned about losing Johnson, who is a marginal pitcher at best. And the 17-year-old Tatis Jr. is years away from potentially making an impact at the major-league level.

Rather, I just don't believe in Shields. This is a 34-year-old pitcher with a high-mileage arm and declining velocity, and he's making the transition from a pitcher-friendly NL park in San Diego to a hitter-friendly AL park in U.S. Cellular Field.

Heh, heh, what could go wrong?

Well, plenty, unfortunately.

Shields absorbed a severe beating in his Sox debut Wednesday night, an 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. The NL East leaders roughed up Shields for seven runs on eight hits over two-plus innings. Shields struck out two and walked two -- and gave up three home runs.

By the time the Nationals completed their first trip through the batting order, they had hit three homers and scored six runs. Shields needed 79 pitches to complete two innings. He was removed to a chorus of boos after giving up a leadoff hit in the top of the third inning.

Gack.

If Erik Johnson had pitched this game, he likely also would have given up three home runs, but he probably would have had the courtesy to space them out over five innings. Not so with Shields. He got the struggling Sox blown out of the game before they even had a chance to bat.

This game got so bad that outfielder J.B. Shuck pitched the ninth inning for the Sox. He was more effective than Shields, allowing one run on one hit during his inning of work.

I'm not sure what that says, but dating back to his last start in San Diego, Shields has allowed 17 runs over his last 4.2 innings. And, if he does not exercise an out clause in his contract after this season, the Sox are stuck with him through the 2018 season.

Oh, boy. This is the sort of trade that could get Rick Hahn fired if Shields doesn't turn it around.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giants take 3-2 lead with win in World Series Game 5

There have been 30 games played in Major League Baseball's postseason so far this year.

That means there have been 60 starts for pitchers, and of those 60, only six times has a pitcher worked seven innings or more and earned a postseason victory. San Francisco Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner has accounted for four of those six this playoff year.

Bumgarner continued to cement his reputation as a clutch performer with yet another brilliant outing Sunday in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series. The San Francisco left-hander fired a complete-game, four-hit shutout as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, 5-0, to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Kansas City.

Bumgarner is now 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA in four career World Series starts. Opponents are hitting just .120 against him in that span.

How dominant was Bumgarner on this night? In nine innings, Kansas City had only two at-bats with runners in scoring position. Those at-bats were taken by light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson and starting pitcher James Shields, so the Royals had little chance to score in this game.

I've been critical of Shields' postseason performance in previous blog entries, but he was solid in Game 5. He allowed just two runs in six innings. That's certainly a credible performance. He just got outpitched, plain and simple.

The Giants finally solved the riddle of the Kansas City bullpen in the eighth inning, too. They scored three runs off the previously unhittable combination of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to increase their lead to 5-0, a two-run double by reserve outfielder Juan Perez being the biggest hit.

The question becomes, can the Giants get a closeout victory on the road with somebody other than Bumgarner on the mound? Jake Peavy will get his shot in Game 6 against Kansas City's Yordano Ventura in a rematch from Game 2.

If San Francisco wins this thing, I think we already know Bumgarner is going to be named MVP.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Madison Bumgarner cools off Royals in World Series Game 1

The Game 1 winner has won 15 of the last 17 World Series, including 10 out of the last 11.

That fact bodes well for the San Francisco Giants, who cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in the opening game of the 2014 Fall Classic.

How did the Giants cool off the red-hot Royals, who had won nine consecutive games dating back to the regular season? They did it by scoring early and allowing their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, to do his job.

Bumgarner fired seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He fanned five and walked just one. His only mistake was a two-out homer by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez in the bottom of the seventh inning, and by that point it didn't matter because the Royals were hopelessly behind.

San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead in top of the first inning. Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Kansas City ace James Shields highlighted the rally.

You wouldn't have expected Pence to be the guy to haunt Shields. Coming into Tuesday's play, Pence was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Shields. However, his home run was the biggest hit of the game, and he also had a double to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning that increased San Francisco's lead to 5-0.

It's no secret San Francisco has the edge in postseason experience in this series. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012. For many of these Kansas City players, this is their first time in the playoffs.

That difference in experience showed up in this game, particularly in the bottom of the third inning when the Royals had their best chance to get to Bumgarner. Down 3-0, Kansas City placed runners on second and third with nobody out after Omar Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and Mike Moustakas doubled.

It's the kind of situation the Royals have taken advantage of throughout the postseason, but it didn't happen this time. Bumgarner escaped the jam unscathed by getting overanxious Kansas City hitters to swing at bad pitches. Perhaps the combination of being on the big stage and facing an early deficit caused the Royals to press.

It sure looked that way as Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a fastball up and well out of the zone for the first out. Nori Aoki also fanned after he could not check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball that bounced in front of the plate. Bumgarner tried a similar strategy against the next hitter, but to Lorenzo Cain's credit, he laid off those pitches and worked a walk to load the bases for Eric Hosmer.

The Kansas City first baseman swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end what would be the Royals' last and best chance to get back in the game.

I've heard some analysts criticize Hosmer for offering at that first pitch. I won't be among them. I believe in swinging at the first hittable strike in RBI situations. Sometimes, that's the best pitch you're going to get. Hosmer got an 86 mph cutter from Bumgarner that was middle to outer half. It was a hittable pitch. The only criticism I have of Hosmer is he may have tried to pull that pitch when he would have been better served to try to drive it to left field. But, I don't fault him for swinging.

The real disappointment for the Royals in this game was the poor performance of Shields, who was knocked out in the fourth inning and allowed five earned runs. The Giants went 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Kansas City ace, who is now just 1-3 with an 8.26 ERA in his last six postseason starts.

MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac and others need to stop with the obnoxious "Big Game James" references when discussing Shields, because he's obviously been struggling lately.

For an actual "Big Game" pitcher, look no further than Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace has started three World Series games in his career. He's 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those outings. That's clutch.

The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday in Game 2 behind youngster Yordano Ventura. Veteran Jake Peavy will be on the mound for the Giants.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Kansas City Royals must be happy they traded for James Shields, Wade Davis

Wade Davis struggled with Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore made a trade that stunned the baseball world on Dec. 9, 2012.

He sent outfielder Wil Myers -- who at the time was Kansas City's top prospect and perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball -- and pitcher Jake Odorizzi and two minor-leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named later.

The critics howled. How could the general manager of the perpetually rebuilding Royals part with such a huge piece of the franchise's future? This was a "win-now" kind of trade, and Kansas City was coming off a lousy 72-win season in 2012. Was Moore delusional? Certainly he didn't believe Shields and Davis would vault the Royals into contention. Trading away Myers was a move that would haunt the franchise for the next decade, right?

Wrong.

Nearly two years after the deal, Moore is getting the last laugh. That's because the Royals are headed to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City finished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Shields and Davis are both centerpieces of this pennant winning team. Shields is the No. 1 starter in the Kansas City rotation. This season, he led the team in wins (14), innings pitched (227) and strikeouts (180), while finishing second on the team in ERA (3.21). Teammate Yordano Ventura's ERA (3.20) was just a touch better.

The Royals converted Davis, a failed starter, to a full-time relief role this year with outstanding results. Working as Kansas City's eighth-inning guy, he fired 72 innings, striking out 109 batters and posting a 1.00 ERA and a 0.847 WHIP.  He's been lights out in the postseason, striking out 10 and allowing just one run over 9.1 innings in eight games.

In Wednesday's pennant clincher, Davis worked with surgical efficiency, retiring the Orioles 1-2-3 in the eighth inning on 10 pitches (9 strikes). It was the kind of outing Royals fans have come to expect from Davis. He's done it all year.

So, on one December night, with one trade, Moore acquired two players who would become the best starting pitcher and the best relief pitcher on an American League championship team. He paid a price for it, sure, but that celebration that's going on in Kansas City tonight would not be happening without this trade.

And Myers?

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013, but this year he compiled an ugly slash line of .222/.294/.320 with just six home runs and 35 RBIs in 87 games. Myers is only 23 years old, and there is still plenty of time for him to get his career on track, but I don't think the Royals miss him right now.

Let this be a lesson to some media and some fans who tend to overvalue prospects. No matter how highly regarded a young player may be, sometimes it does pay dividends to trade that prospect for more proven ballplayers.

Kansas City is proof of that.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Royals win ALCS Game 1 with more home runs

The Kansas City Royals on Friday became the first team in history to win four extra-inning games in the same postseason with an 8-6, 10-inning victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

The Royals won only five extra-inning games the entire regular season, but now they've won four of them in about a week on their way to a 5-0 record thus far in the playoffs.

The most surprising part of this development is Kansas City is doing it with home run power. The Royals had the fewest home runs of any team in the league, 95, while their opponent in this series led the AL with 211. You would think the Orioles would be the team hitting home runs to win games, but you'd be wrong.

On Friday, Alex Gordon's solo home run off Darren O'Day broke a 5-5 tie in the top of the 10th inning. Later, Mike Moustakas hit a two-run shot off Brian Matusz, his first home run off a left-handed pitcher in two and a half months, to make it 8-5. Baltimore scored one run in the bottom of the 10th, but could not recover from the three-run deficit.

The Royals also won two of their games in the ALDS on extra-inning home runs, one by Moustakas and one by Eric Hosmer.

Why the sudden power surge? Who knows, but the Royals have shown remarkable resiliency for a team with no postseason experience. James Shields, the Kansas City ace, was not effective in Friday night's game, letting an early 5-1 lead slip away. It didn't matter. The Royals kept their composure and found a way to win, just as they have since the playoffs began.

As an aside, one of the most annoying things about this postseason has been listening to commentators repeatedly referring to Shields as "Big Game James." Now, Shields has been a solid pitcher in the American League for several years, but let's remember he's 3-4 with a 5.19 ERA in nine career postseason starts. Some announcers seemed to have deluded themselves into believing "Big Game James" is lights out in the playoffs. Don't let the nickname fool you. He is not.

The Royals bullpen, however, has been lights out, and Friday was no exception. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each fired two shutout innings. Neither man gave up a hit. Davis struck out four of the six men he faced.

Perhaps the key to the whole game was the shutdown inning Davis posted in the bottom of the ninth. In the top half of the inning, Baltimore closer Zach Britton walked the bases loaded with nobody out. But, Hosmer and Billy Butler failed to produce any runs, with Butler grounding into a double play against O'Day to end the threat.

The momentum seemed to swing to the Orioles side at that point, but Davis would have none of it. He fired a clean inning and got the Royals right back to the plate quickly, and then Kansas City scored three runs to take the lead.

Closer Greg Holland was a little shaky in the 10th, giving up a two-out run, but the insurance runs Moustakas provided with his two-run homer proved to be the difference.

Game 2 is Saturday afternoon, and it's a big one for the Orioles. With the way the Royals have been playing, I don't think Baltimore wants to head to Kansas City down 0-2 in this best-of-seven series.