Showing posts with label John Lackey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Lackey. Show all posts

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indians push Cubs to the brink with dominant Game 4 win

Corey Kluber
First things first: Can we please stop with the narrative about Cubs pitcher John Lackey being great in the postseason?

Yes, Lackey has had some good playoff moments, such as this game, but he's also gotten his butt kicked in some playoff games, such as this one that is fondly remembered by all White Sox fans.

I keep hearing from both local and national media that Lackey is an awesome playoff pitcher, but frankly, at age 38, it looks like his best days are past. The right-hander has been nothing but mediocre for the Cubs in the postseason. He hasn't worked past the fifth inning in any of his three starts, and he's posted a pedestrian 4.85 ERA in only 13 innings.

Lackey was once again so-so Saturday night, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits over five innings in the Cubs' 7-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 4 of the World Series.

The Indians now enjoy a 3-1 series lead and have three chances to close out the Cubs. Game 5 is Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Lackey was outpitched by Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked one, while improving to 4-1 with 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts. Kluber pitched on three days' rest, and will be prepared to pitch again in Game 7 if the Cubs somehow extend this series that far.

Kluber left the mound after the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead, and the Tribe broke the game open moments later in the top of the seventh on a three-run homer by second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland got Lackey out of there after five, then capitalized for four runs off Chicago middle relievers Mike Montgomery, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood.

The Cubs had somewhat of a moral victory in the eighth when Dexter Fowler homered off Andrew Miller, thus proving the Cleveland relief ace is mortal. Miller already has set a record for playoff strikeouts in a single season with 29, and that Fowler homer was the first run he has allowed in 17 postseason innings.

Having a 7-2 lead allowed the Indians to rest closer Cody Allen for a night. Dan Otero closed out the ninth inning with no difficulty.

We can't count the Cubs out of this yet, as they have the edge in the pitching matchup in Game 5. Ace Jon Lester is going for the North Siders, and he'll be opposed by the one Cleveland pitcher who has not been doing his job in these playoffs, right-hander Trevor Bauer.

We'll see if the season ends Sunday, or if there will be a Game 6 on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Friday, July 29, 2016

White Sox settle for split in crosstown series

Tyler Saladino
In a season full of missed opportunities, the White Sox blew another one Thursday night. The South Siders were forced to settle for a four-game split in the crosstown series after a 3-1 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

We talked earlier in the week about the Sox stealing a couple games from the Cubs in which the pitching matchups didn't seem to favor them. Well, in this game, the Sox did have the advantage in the pitching matchup, and their weak offense failed to take advantage.

For his part, Sox ace Chris Sale wasn't particularly sharp in his return from a five-game suspension. The left-hander was making just his second start since July 8, and the rust showed. He did not have his good fastball command -- especially early -- and his velocity was not at peak levels. Sale did not record any strikeouts through the first three innings of the game. That's the first time that has happened in any of his 136 career starts.

That said, he went six innings and allowed only two runs on six hits. The Cubs have a power-laden lineup, and they are especially tough at home (32-16 record), but Sale kept them in the yard and generally held them down. It was not a poor performance given that his stuff was less than his best.

The loss is disappointing because the Sox hitters allowed struggling Cubs right-hander John Lackey to get back on track. Coming into Thursday, Lackey was 0-5 with a 5.06 ERA over his past seven starts. But against the Sox, he allowed only a run on four hits over six innings.

We're not tipping our caps here. This was an example of poor offense. Lackey retired 10 Sox hitters in a row at one point, and that string was broken on a single up the middle by Sale, of all people.

The Sox blew a golden chance to tie with the score at 2-1 in the top of the eighth. Tyler Saladino doubled off  Hector Rondon leading off the inning, but the Sox couldn't get him home. Apparently, the Cubs were serious about holding this lead. Saladino was at third with two outs when Cubs manager Joe Maddon summoned newly acquired closer Aroldis Chapman for a four-out save opportunity.

The hard-throwing lefty struck out Melky Cabrera to protect the lead, then retired the side in order in the ninth after the Cubs added an insurance run in the eighth off Sox reliever Nate Jones.

With the loss, the Sox are now 1-7 on the road since the All-Star break. That's ominous, given that these two games at Wrigley Field start a stretch of 17 out of 20 games away from U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox drop to 50-52 entering Friday's play, and they are 8.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central -- six games back in the AL wild-card race.

The players say they do not want management to pull the plug and sell before Monday's trading deadline, but they are not making a compelling case for themselves when they fail to support their best pitcher in a game such as Thursday's.

Time is running out on the 2016 Sox.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Oakland, Detroit, St. Louis biggest winners at trade deadline

If there's one thing we learned at the MLB trading deadline, it's that GMs believe front-line starting pitching wins in the playoffs. On Thursday, we saw three contenders make bold moves to solidify their respective starting rotations for the stretch drive.

Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were each willing to include established major-leaguers in trades in order to acquire the front-line starters they coveted. All three of those teams now have a better chance to get to the World Series and win it than they did just 24 hours ago.

Thursday's frenzy started with a blockbuster deal between Oakland and Boston. The Red Sox sent ace pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A's in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

My initial reaction to this move was shock. How often do you see the cleanup hitter on the team with the best record in baseball (Cespedes) moved at the trading deadline? But the more I thought about this deal, the more I liked it for Oakland.

Cespedes is a big media name and a dangerous hitter, but he's not a great hitter, as his so-so .256/.303/.464 slash line will attest. From the seventh inning on, Cespedes has a slash line of .191/.236/.330 this year. This tells us there are plenty of ways to get him out with the game on the line. Opposing managers can bring in that power right-handed reliever to shut down Cespedes in the late innings. You don't have to fear him. You can pitch to him.

No doubt Oakland GM Billy Beane knows this, and that's why he was willing to part with Cespedes -- especially when the return is a legitimate ace with tons of postseason experience in Lester, who possesses a lifetime 2.11 ERA in the playoffs. During the Red Sox' run to the championship last year, Lester went 4-1 with 1.56 ERA in five starts. His only loss was a 1-0 defeat.

Lester is a money pitcher, and the A's are October ready with him, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir in their rotation.

Beane's big move put the pressure on Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski to respond. Respond he did, acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price just minutes before the trading deadline.

The Tigers paid a price, though, in the three-team swap. The deal cost them two players off their 25-man roster. Center fielder Austin Jackson is now a member of the Seattle Mariners. Left-handed starting pitcher Drew Smyly is now with Tampa Bay.

In a bizarre scene Thursday, the game between the Tigers and the White Sox had to be halted mid-inning so Jackson could be removed from center field at 3:56 p.m. EDT -- four minutes before the deadline.

Jackson is an inconsistent hitter, but make no mistake, the Tigers will not be able to replace his defense in center field. Who is going to play center field in Detroit now? Rajai Davis? Will they ask Torii Hunter to turn back the hands of time and move from right field to center? I don't know.

Maybe the Tigers are hoping fewer balls get hit into the outfield with the addition of Price.

There's no denying Detroit has a monster rotation now: Max Scherzer, Price, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. The first three on that list are former Cy Young award winners. Think they may be tough to beat in a short series?

Yeah, even with the hole in center field, I think so.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals made the boldest move among National League teams. On Wednesday, they added Justin Masterson to their rotation. They followed that up Thursday by acquiring John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig.

I like this trade for the Cardinals. Lackey has some age on him -- he's 35 -- but he's another guy who shines on the postseason stage (3.03 career ERA in 19 games). St. Louis knows that well, since Lackey shut the Cardinals down in the clinching game of the World Series last October.

Craig and his .237/.291/.346 slash line will not be missed in St. Louis, especially since his departure creates an opportunity for top prospect Oscar Taveras to play every day in the outfield.

Injuries have limited Kelly to seven starts this year. I suspect his 4.37 ERA and 1.457 WHIP also will not be missed in St. Louis.

Even if the Cardinals don't get Michael Wacha back, they have a front four of Adam Wainwright, Lackey, Masterson and Lance Lynn in their rotation. I don't think it makes them the favorite in the National League, but they would at least have a fighting chance in a short series against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their chances are certainly better now than they were before these deals.

There were several other deadline deals made on Thursday. We won't analyze all of them. This blog is already long enough. You can find a list of other trades here.

We'll wrap it up by saying Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were the biggest winners at the deadline. Who will be the biggest winner on the field? We'll find out between now and late October.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

More on Matt Garza, creative contracts

It took a few days for the Brewers to officially announce their deal with pitcher Matt Garza, but with the news trickling out slowly, so have some interesting details about the contract.

It's basically a four-year, $50 million deal with some twists. In addition to some deferred money ($2 million per year) and a fifth year that vests if Garza is healthy and pitching. There's also a couple interesting team options for 2018.

If Garza doesn't pitch often enough to vest his fifth year at $13 million, the Brewers can bring him back for that fifth year at $5 million. Unless Garza misses 130 days during any roughly 13-month period during the first four years. Then they can bring him back for only $1 million.

Basically, if Garza has an arm injury -- a concern that kept some teams away -- and it costs him a year of this contract on the Brewers' dime, this contract says he'll give that year back at the end of the deal.

This kind of give-back isn't entirely unique. When the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract, it had a clause giving Boston the option to bring him back for one more year at the league minimum salary if Lackey were hurt.

Lackey did hurt his elbow, had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2012. And unless he gets hurt again, he'll likely be pitching in Boston in 2015 in what might be baseball's best bargain contract.

For the Brewers and Garza, there's just as much flexibility. If Garza pitches as he has and stays relatively healthy, he'll get a fifth year and what seems like less than the going rate for a good pitcher on the free agent market. If he's banged up, but maybe still pitching well when he does take the mound, the Brewers can bring him back on a cheap make-good option that compares favorably to the one-year deals teams gave injury-risk-ridden starters like Ben Sheets and Dan Haren  in recent offseasons.

Of course, Garza could pitch like Jeff Suppan and be designated for assignment before getting a chance at seeing his fifth year vest. In which case, Milwaukee will get to re-live the worst memories of one of the worst free agent contracts the organization has given out. (Though maybe not worse than the Jeffrey Hammonds deal.)

This kind of add-on contract year seems like it was a good way to give everyone what they want. The Brewers hedged against the risk of signing Garza. Garza will be compensated for exceeding expectations the market had for him this winter.

Not a bad way to split the difference to get a deal done.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shane Victorino stars as Red Sox complete World Series victory

It was pretty clear the St. Louis Cardinals were not going to let Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz beat them in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

Ortiz, who entered Wednesday's play batting .733 for the series, went 0-for-1 with four walks -- three of them intentional -- in Game 6. However, the St. Louis strategy failed, thanks to Boston outfielder Shane Victorino.

Victorino went 2 for 3 with four RBIs as the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 6-1 and claimed their third World Series title since 2004.

The decisive moment came in the bottom of the third inning. With Jacoby Ellsbury on second base and one out, Ortiz was intentionally walked for the first time. After Mike Napoli struck out and Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch, the table was set for Victorino. With the bases loaded and two away, the right fielder ripped a 2-1 fastball from St. Louis starter Michael Wacha off the Green Monster in left field for a bases-clearing double. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead with one swing of the bat, and well, that was pretty much your ballgame.

Boston tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning, another frame that featured an intentional walk to Ortiz. Napoli and Victorino both foiled the strategy with RBI singles, and Boston had a 6-0 advantage.

I can't fault the Cardinals for going around Ortiz. They were bound and determined to make someone else swing the bat. Other Boston hitters stepped up and got the job done in RBI situations, so give them credit.

St. Louis, meanwhile, failed miserably in the clutch. The Cardinals were just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in Game 6 and could not capitalize against Boston starter and winning pitcher John Lackey. The best opportunity for St. Louis came in the seventh inning. Trailing 6-1, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with two outs for their leading RBI man, Allen Craig. But Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa retired Craig on a routine grounder to first. The Red Sox lead was never threatened again.

The Cardinals hit a major league record .330 with runners in scoring position this season, but their greatest strength failed them at an inopportune time on Wednesday night. They could get runners on. They just couldn't get them in.

When the Red Sox had scoring opportunities, they delivered. And that's why they are partying in Boston right now.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Since we left off, the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals have each clinched the pennant in their respective leagues. They will open the World Series on Wednesday night in Boston.

To get ready, let's take a look at three players from each team whose performance could swing the outcome of the series one way or the other.

St. Louis Cardinals

1. Michael Wacha - The rookie right-hander is 3-0 in three starts this postseason, and he's allowed just one run in 21 innings pitched, with 22 strikeouts and just 12 baserunners (8 hits, 4 walks) allowed. He has the element of surprise in his favor. Nobody in Boston's lineup has ever faced him. Can he continue to pitch like a budding ace? If so, the Cardinals have the advantage in starting pitching in this series. Ace Adam Wainwright will start Games 1 and 5, while Wacha will get Games 2 and 6.

2. Allen Craig - The first baseman hasn't played since Sept. 4. He's been out with a foot injury, but he is slated to DH in Games 1 and 2 in Boston. If Craig can chip off the rust quickly, his bat is a huge asset in the middle of the St. Louis lineup. In 134 games this year, he posted a .315/.373/.457 slash line and had 13 home runs and 97 RBIs. We'll see if Craig is healthy enough to play first base when the series shifts to St. Louis, but even if he can only DH and pinch hit, his return to the active roster could be pivotal.

3. Yadier Molina - One of the things I like about the Red Sox offense is their speed at the top of the order. Boston was third in the American League in stolen bases with 123, with Jacoby Ellsbury (52 steals), Shane Victorino (21 steals) and Dustin Pedroia (17 stolen bases) accounting for most of them. However, few catchers in baseball can neutralize an opponent's running game as well as Molina. He threw out 43 percent of runners who tried to steal against him this year, and has caught 45 percent for his career. Will Boston be able to run against Molina? We shall see.

Boston Red Sox

1. John Lackey - This guy is back from the dead this year. Lackey posted a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and missed all of 2012 after elbow surgery. But this year, he's rebounded to post a 3.52 ERA and has pitched much better than his 10-13 regular season record indicates. He beat Detroit ace Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 of the ALCS, which in hindsight might have been the most pivotal game of that series. Lackey will be matched up with Wacha in Game 2. Does he have another big effort in him? We know the veteran isn't afraid of the big stage. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie with the Anaheim Angels.

2. David Ortiz - It's been a slow postseason for the Boston designated hitter. He's batting just .200 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the playoffs. All of his damage was done in two games. He had a two-homer game in Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, and a game-changing grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit. The Red Sox need Ortiz to get some things done on occasions other than Game 2 of this series. When the series shifts to St. Louis, Boston skipper John Farrell will have to choose between Ortiz and Mike Napoli at first base. You figure Ortiz gets the nod, since St. Louis has all right-handed starting pitchers. But, Napoli is 6-for-16 with two home runs in his last four games. The decision becomes harder if Napoli stays hot and Ortiz stays cold.

3. Koji Uehara - Most championship teams have a few guys who come out of nowhere to have career seasons. No question Uehara is one of those guys for the Red Sox. The 38-year-old reliever went 4-1 with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and a 0.565 WHIP in the regular season. Those are all career bests. Uehara has continued his excellence in postseason play. He's allowed just one run in nine innings, and he has posted five saves. In three of his five saves, he has pitched more than one inning. That's huge, because Boston's starting staff doesn't get deep into games. Knowing Uehara can come on in the eighth inning and get the job done allows Farrell to shorten the game a little bit.

I'm not real good at making predictions, but before the playoffs I said St. Louis had the most balanced team in the field of eight. So, I should probably forecast them as the winner. I think the Red Sox have a real shot at this thing, but I'll stick with my original thought and say Cardinals in six. You can all laugh at me if I get proven wrong.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hey, Nick Punto! Don't wanna get picked off here in this situation...

Some years ago, I was watching a White Sox game on a Saturday afternoon, and former Sox first base coach Ron Jackson was miked up for one of those "Fox Sounds of the Game" segments.

One of the clips they played featured Jackson telling former Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who was on first base at the time, "Don't wanna get picked off here in this situation."

Thank you, Captain Obvious. As if there is any situation where it would be considered OK to get picked off.

Speaking of getting picked off, Los Angeles infielder Nick Punto got picked off at pretty bad time Tuesday in Game 4 of the NLCS. The Dodgers were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning when Punto reached second base on a one-out double.

Los Angeles had the top of its batting order coming up, and it appeared the Dodgers would have a chance to get back in the game in this inning. Alas, Punto was picked off second base by St. Louis reliever Carlos Martinez. Los Angeles didn't score, and the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead in the series with a 4-2 victory.

Maybe Punto would have benefited from having Jackson standing next to him there on second base.

"Don't wanna get picked off here in this situation." That's sage advice right there.

Would you believe it if I told you the Cardinals are hitting just .148 as a team in this series, despite their 3-1 advantage? It's true, but on this night two home runs made the difference for St. Louis. Matt Holliday, who had no hits the first three games of the series, hit a mammoth two-run blast off Los Angeles starter Ricky Nolasco in the third inning. Little-used reserve Shane Robinson added a solo shot in the seventh, his first hit in the playoffs, to account for the final run of the evening.

The Dodgers are on the ropes, but I wouldn't count them out. Remember, St. Louis had a 3-1 lead in the NLCS last year as well, and it failed to close out eventual World Series champion San Francisco. The Dodgers will need a big start from Zack Greinke in Game 5 Wednesday afternoon. The Cardinals will counter with right-hander Joe Kelly.

Boston takes 2-1 lead in ALCS

I mentioned the Cardinals' lousy team batting average in the league championship series. Well, the Red Sox are doing even worse. Boston is hitting just .133 as a team through the first three games of the ALCS, yet it finds itself ahead 2-1 after a 1-0 win in Detroit on Tuesday.

John Lackey fired 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, and Mike Napoli hit a solo home run off Detroit's Justin Verlander for the only run of the game in the top of the seventh inning. Verlander was dominant otherwise; at one point he struck out six batters in a row. He finished with 10 strikeouts and allowed just four hits over eight innings, but Napoli's blast was enough to beat him.

The game's pivotal moment, though, came in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Tigers looked poised to tie or possibly take the lead with runners at first and third and only one out, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder due to hit. The table was set for Detroit's best RBI men. But Junichi Tazawa fanned Cabrera, getting him to chase a pitch that was well outside for strike three. Boston closer Koji Uehara was summoned to face Fielder, and he fanned the Tigers first baseman on just three pitches.

If the Red Sox go on to win this series, those two strikeouts of Cabrera and Fielder might be considered the turning point.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why wasn't John Lackey ejected for plunking Matt Joyce?

It's always interesting how umpires handle the assorted bean ball wars that break out from time to time in Major League Baseball.

On several occasions, I've seen pitchers unfairly tossed for hitting a batter. Other times, a pitcher plunks a guy intentionally and somehow gets away with it.

Such was the case in Monday's game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox won 10-8 in 14 innings, but the contest was marred by a bench-clearing scrum in the sixth inning.

The principle combatants were Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (pictured) and Rays outfielder Matt Joyce.

Joyce homered off Lackey in the first inning. In a later at-bat, he lined a 3-0 pitch deep and foul into the right-field stands. After hitting the foul ball, Joyce dropped his bat and appeared to admire the blast as it landed harmlessly in foul territory. Lackey took exception to the display. After retiring Joyce, he had some choice words for the Tampa Bay hitter on his way off the field.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Joyce came to the plate again with two outs and nobody on. If you're ever going to hit somebody, two outs and nobody on is the ideal situation. Lackey took advantage, drilling Joyce in the back, right between the numbers. Anyone with an IQ over 15 knows it was intentional after the events that had taken place earlier in the game. The benches emptied. Order was eventually restored, yet for some reason Lackey was allowed to stay in the game.

I've seen pitchers get ejected for far, far less than that. If you were umpiring this game, how could you not know that inside pitch was intentional?

Now, to be fair, you can make a good case Joyce had it coming to him. It's dumb to stand in the batters box and admire a long foul ball. In addition, Lackey faced only one more batter after the plunking, so his being allowed to stay in the game had zero impact on the outcome of the game.

That said, if umpires are supposed to eject pitchers for intentionally throwing at hitters, Lackey should have been tossed. The enforcement of these rules seem to vary from umpiring crew to umpiring crew, and that shouldn't be. There's gotta be a better way to handle these situations, right?