Showing posts with label Justin Verlander. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Justin Verlander. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dodgers stick with their plan, force Game 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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

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

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

For Houston .... who closes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

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

Alex Bregman
Five hours, 17 minutes of baseball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is huge.

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

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

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

And Jansen isn't the only one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

White Sox Opening Day shenanigans predictable

My girlfriend, Jen, and I combined to spend zero dollars on concessions Monday at White Sox Opening Day.

We were talking and looking at the weather forecast Sunday night, and both of us were less than enthusiastic for the home opener vs. the Detroit Tigers -- we had a gut feeling the game was going to get rained out.

And it was rained out.

I just wish the Sox would have told fans that there would be no game at 10 o'clock in the morning, instead of 5 p.m. It would have saved me the trip down to the South Side, fighting traffic and whatnot, to see not one single pitch of baseball.

The last time weather caused the Sox home opener to be postponed? It was in 2009, and on the Sunday night before the scheduled game, the club announced that the game would be played Tuesday, instead of Monday, and fans had time to adjust their schedules accordingly.  That's the right way to do it, and many Sox fans applauded the way the situation was handled.

Alas, times have changed, and that's not the way the Sox do business any longer. In 2009, the Sox were coming off a division championship in 2008. They were only four years removed from winning the World Series. They still had a strong season-ticket holder base. They still were getting decent attendance totals for games other than the home opener and the crosstown series. If some fans couldn't come that Tuesday, hey, no big deal, there would still be quite a few fans there that day and every other day during the season.

Fast forward to 2017, the team hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, hasn't had a winning season since 2012 and has embarked on a rebuilding project that will almost certainly render the club to second-division status for the next three years. Fan apathy is at an all-time high. There are probably only four home games all season that fans are going to show up to -- the home opener, the Mark Buehrle jersey retirement ceremony on June 24 and the two crosstown games.

Knowing this, during our discussion Sunday night, Jen and I both agreed about what was going to happen: There was no way they were going to call the game early. They were going to make sure the crowd of 40,000 came down to the stadium, and they were going to drag it out as long as possible before announcing the game was postponed. Game or no game, they wanted fans to eat, drink and be merry, pay that concession money and line Jerry Reinsdorf's coffers. Because, starting Tuesday, it will be a couple months before you see 40,000 fans at Guaranteed Rate Field again.

We're longtime Sox fans, so we weren't going to fall for that crap. We ate at Rocky's, our favorite Bridgeport bar, before the game. The Sox no doubt made money hand over fist from the fans who didn't know any better, but we didn't give them a dime. Sure, I paid my $20 parking fee, but the ticket says I can turn it in for $20 worth of Comiskey Cash in the event the game is rained out. You can be 100 percent sure I'll be doing just that. No extra profits for Reinsdorf after he wasted my Monday afternoon.

The Sox even went about the business of having the pregame ceremonies during a short break in the rain, right around 3:30. They pulled the tarp back just far enough for the players to have room to stand along the foul lines (see picture). The national anthem was sung. Then the tarp was pulled back just far enough for former Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

But once that was over, the tarp went back on, to a chorus of boos from fans who did not know better. Jen and I, and our friend, Brian, were not fooled. We've all been Sox fans since we were little kids. We saw the radar on our smartphones. We saw that starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Justin Verlander never came onto the field. Note to novice fans: They aren't serious about playing the game until the pitchers appear and start warming up.

Predictably, they kept the park open and sold concessions for 90 more minutes after the "pregame" ceremonies. Some of us just laughed at the absurdity of it all. Predictable shenanigans. Predictable White Sox money grab. Then, with the rain coming down, they called it.

And, oh, the stadium escalators were turned off after they announced the game was postponed, so everyone had to walk down the ramps in the pouring rain. Thanks for that, Sox. I'm sure they turned off the escalators for "fan safety" or some such nonsense.

For many of us, we've seen it all before, and we're not surprised. And then the Sox wonder why they don't have as many fans as they once did ...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Chris Sale, Justin Verlander cancel each other out for second time in a week

Chris Sale
Chris Sale and Justin Verlander have locked up in a battle of aces twice in the last week. The result has been the same both times: Both men pitched well, canceling each other out. The games became a battle of bullpens, and the Detroit Tigers defeated the White Sox both times.

Here are the lines from the two matchups:

Aug. 31
Sale: 8 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 Ks, 4 BBs
Verlander: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ERs, 9 Ks, 0 BBs

Sept. 5
Sale: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 8Ks, 0 BBs
Verlander: 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 11 Ks, 1 BB

The two pitchers battled to a 2-2 draw Aug. 31 before the Tigers won, 3-2, when Sox closer David Robertson coughed up a run in the bottom of the ninth.

The Labor Day game was similar, with the two pitchers battling to a 2-2 deadlock into the late innings. This one went extras. The Tigers prevailed when Justin Upton hit a 3-run homer off Sox reliever Chris Beck in the top of the 11th inning. The Sox got one back in the bottom of the inning, but Detroit held on, 5-3.

This has to be maddening for Sale, who obviously had a tougher task facing the Tiger lineup than Verlander did facing the Sox lineup. Detroit has many more tougher outs, so you can make the case that Sale pitched better. He also lasted one more inning than Verlander did in each of the two games.

Still, no wins for Sale. The ace left-hander has posted quality starts in eight of his nine outings since the All-Star break. He has gone eight innings or more in each of his past four starts, and eight innings or more in five of his past seven.

He has been rewarded with a grand total of one win. He's stuck at 15-7, and probably is falling out of the Cy Young race with each no-decision.

#typicalWhiteSoxnonsense

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Surprise! White Sox swept again by divisional opponent

The winning stops for the White Sox whenever they play a AL Central opponent, especially if they happen to be playing that opponent on the road.

A few days ago, there was actually some optimism that the Sox could pull their record up to .500 and maybe salvage a winning season. They had a 6-3 homestand, and they looked good in taking three out of four games from the wild-card contending Seattle Mariners over the weekend.

Consider those good vibes erased, however, after the Sox (63-69) got swept in a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers.

Again.

Since I last blogged, the Sox dropped two games in a 24-hour span. They blew a 3-0 lead on Tuesday night and ended up losing 8-4. On Wednesday afternoon, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander locked up in a entertaining pitcher's duel. Neither man figured in the decision. Sale took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but Detroit scored a two-out run to take Verlander off the hook. The Tigers then won, 3-2, on a sacrifice fly against David Robertson in the ninth.

The Sox had at least a two-run lead at some point in all three games in Detroit. They lost them all.

For the season, Chicago went 1-8 in its nine games at Detroit. Overall, the Sox are 3-18 in road games against AL Central opponents Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. Even if you include home games, the Sox are a pathetic 11-29 against those three teams.

That poor record continues to befuddle, especially when you consider how well the Sox have done against contending teams in the AL East and AL West. They are a combined 26-19 against Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Seattle and New York -- those seven clubs all have winning records, and the Sox have more than held their own.

However, the Sox are embarrassingly bad against the teams they most need to beat -- Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. Divisional teams are always very familiar with one another, and that familiarity seems to help other teams but work against the Sox.

The only conclusion we can come to here is that the Sox are being out-scouted and out-coached, and somebody needs to be fired for it. If they were truly that talent-deficient, wouldn't they be losing against all or most of the good teams in the American League, as well? I believe so.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tigers gamble on Justin Upton reversing their decline

Justin Upton
Both Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are better players than Chris Davis. So, after Davis got paid by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, you just had a feeling that Cespedes and Upton would soon get their big paydays, as well.

Cespedes still is on the board as of Tuesday afternoon, but Upton agreed on a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs for the San Diego Padres last season, and he fills the hole the Tigers had in left field.

But does he make Detroit a legitimate contender? I knew the Tigers would make big splashes this offseason. They are coming off a last-place finish in the AL Central, and their owner, 86-year-old Mike Ilitch, has shown that he's willing to spend his millions on trying to build a winner sometime before he dies.

Here's one problem for the Tigers: Several members of their core (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are aging and coming off years where they've spent time on the disabled list, or played through injury issues.

Here's another problem for the Tigers: Despite an active offseason, they won't be entering 2016 with a better roster than the one they had 12 months ago.

Think about it: They have Jordan Zimmermann instead of David Price. They have Upton instead of Cespedes. They have Cameron Maybin instead of Rajai Davis. They have Francisco Rodriguez instead of Joakim Soria. The rest of their core is the same.

Which of these four would you rather have: Price, Cespedes, Davis and Soria? Or Zimmermann, Upton, Maybin and Rodriguez?

It's close, but I think I would take the group with Price and Cespedes. The Tigers had those guys last year, along with Cabrera, Martinez, Verlander, et al., but after an 11-2 start, they slumped badly. They were back to .500 by the first week of June and never got it going again. They struggled so much, in fact, that former GM Dave Dombrowski broke up the band, dealing Price, Cespedes and Soria to contending teams at the July trading deadline.

Dombrowski was ultimately fired for abandoning the win-now mentality that has existed for years under Ilitch. Normally, I'm a proponent of the win-now philosophy, but there's something to be said for a front office that realizes its window has closed. Dombrowski knew that last year, and he changed gears. Just because ownership dismissed him for that decision does not mean he was wrong.

Even with the addition of Upton, I'm looking at a Detroit roster that has significant question marks, and costs roughly $200 million. For that kind of money, a team should probably be a favorite to win its division. But to me, the Tigers (and everyone else in the AL Central) are still looking up at the Kansas City Royals, and frankly, they aren't as close to the top as they believe they are.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Max Scherzer agrees to $210 million deal with Washington Nationals

Most White Sox fans will be happy to see Max Scherzer pitching somewhere other than the AL Central this season, after the former Detroit ace agreed to a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

More on the AL Central implications of this signing in a moment, but first, let's take a look at what this move means for the Nationals, who had the best record in the National League last year and will likely enter the 2015 season as a favorite to go to the World Series.

First off, the contract isn't as outrageous as it sounds, at least in terms of annual salary. Sources indicate half of that $210 million is deferred, and that Scherzer will be making $15 million a year for each of the next 14 years.

There had been previous speculation that Washington would have to trade either pitcher Jordan Zimmermann or shortstop Ian Desmond in order to add Scherzer and still make its bottom line work. If Scherzer was making $30 million annually, that probably would be the case. But since he's making "just" $15 million a year, maybe the Nationals will be able to hold on to other key players and make an "all-in" push this season.

Zimmermann will be a free agent after the season, and it's unlikely the Nationals will be able to retain him when he hits the open market. But if I'm Washington, I'm not concerned with that right now. I've got Scherzer, Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg at the top of my rotation. I've got Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark as options for the final two spots in my rotation. What other team in the National League can match that kind of depth in starting pitching?

I don't see another team in the NL that strong 1 to 6. The Nationals should forget about Zimmermann's impending free agency, keep him and go for it this year. That acquisition of Scherzer is a "go for it now" move. You have to believe that's their mindset.

As for Detroit, this is a big loss for the Tigers, no matter what public spin they try to put on it. Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA last year, after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and winning the Cy Young award in 2013. Scherzer has more wins (39) and more strikeouts (492) than any other pitcher in the majors over the past two years. Even if Detroit goes out and signs James Shields to fill Scherzer's rotation spot, that's hard production to replace.

Here is how Detroit's rotation looked at the end of last season: Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello.

Here is Detroit's projected rotation for 2015 today: Price, Verlander, Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene.

Will that rotation be good enough for the Tigers to win the Central again this year? Maybe. That top three is still formidable, but don't you think that first list with Scherzer and Porcello is more impressive than this second list with Simon and Greene? I certainly do.

Scherzer's departure provides hope to all other teams in the AL Central, including the White Sox. In his career, Scherzer is 12-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 23 starts against Chicago. He's tough on everybody, but he's been better against the Sox than he's been against the league overall.

As a Sox fan, I'll take my chances against Simon and Greene. I'd also take my chances against Shields over Scherzer, if the Tigers do indeed decide they need to make another big acquisition for their rotation. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Victor Martinez re-signs with Detroit Tigers

Designated hitter Victor Martinez has agreed to a four-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Detroit Tigers, according to AP sources.

Martinez, 35, is an American League MVP candidate after hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs for the 2014 Central Division champion Tigers. The switch-hitter missed the whole 2012 season with a knee injury, but aside from that, he's been a consistent offensive force for nearly a decade. He has hit over .300 in eight of his last nine seasons.

That said, the Tigers are taking a risk here with the length of this contract. Martinez will be 36 years old when the 2015 season begins. His batting average and home run total this past year were career bests, and he's unlikely to meet or exceed those numbers again. He will still be a productive middle-of-the-order presence even if he regresses to his career norms, but for how long will he be able to play at this same level? Nobody knows for sure.

White Sox fans who were hoping to see their team sign Martinez this offseason should not despair. Yes, the Sox need somebody who can swing the bat from the left side to put between Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the middle of the batting order, but I would caution against giving a four-year deal to a soon-to-be 36-year-old who doesn't do anything but DH.

It makes more sense for the Tigers to hand out this kind of contract, because they are in their window to win. In fact, they might be coming toward the end of that window. Injuries and Father Time seem to be taking their toll on both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter are free agents this offseason. Who knows if they'll be back? If you're the Tigers, a team with an aging core, there has to be urgency to get things done right now. If Scherzer walks away, they are going to need their offense to carry them on a lot of nights, and Martinez was their best hitter last year. For them, he was a "must-keep," and the contract they handed out reflects that.

From a White Sox perspective, they are likely a year and potentially two away from returning to legitimate contention. If they had been able to add Martinez to their lineup, sure, they would be immediately better. But he wouldn't fix the problems with the pitching staff, and by the time the Sox are ready to win, Martinez would be 38 years old and likely in decline. Unless you're ready to win right now, it doesn't make much sense to add a designated hitter at the price of more than $16 million a year.

Just in general, I think it would behoove the Sox to seek younger players who can provide long-term solutions to the holes on the roster. Martinez, to me, is not one of those guys. Much like the Tigers as a team, he's coming toward the end of his window for success. In that regard, team and player are a perfect fit for each other.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday produces two wins for perceived ALDS underdogs

The prevailing wisdom says the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels are on a collision course to meet in the American League Championship Series.

Naturally, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have other ideas, and both perceived underdogs threw a wrench in that plan Thursday with Game 1 victories in AL Division Series action.

The Orioles took advantage of Detroit's leaky defense and lousy bullpen by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking open a tight contest on their way to a 12-3 victory.

Meanwhile, third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Angels.

Baltimore's rotation: Better than we think?

Anyone else think the experts are underestimating the Orioles? They won 96 games this year. They must have done something right.

I keep hearing Detroit has an overpowering edge in starting pitching. I'll be honest: I disagree with that. Detroit's starting pitchers are all prominent media names, but they haven't necessarily pitched better than the guys in the Baltimore rotation throughout the season.

We saw today how things don't always go the way you might expect. Quite a few observers assumed Detroit ace Max Scherzer was going to own Baltimore's Game 1 starter, Chris Tillman.

That did not happen. Tillman only lasted five innings, but he allowed just two runs and left the mound with his team leading, 3-2. He ended up getting the win.

Scherzer took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 7.1 innings pitched.

Shocking? Not really.

Scherzer had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP this year. In comparison, Tillman had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure, you would have to give Scherzer the edge on paper in that matchup, but not decisively so.

The Game 2 matchup in this series is an interesting one. Detroit's Justin Verlander has the Cy Young awards and the playoff experience. He also has a puffy 4.54 ERA, his worst since the 2008 season. Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen is unfamiliar to casual fans, but don't underestimate him: He won 16 games this year and posted a 3.54 ERA -- a full run better than Verlander. It's hard to bet against Verlander in the playoffs, but his mound opponent is formidable. Game 2 is hardly a slam dunk for the Tigers.

Looking ahead to Game 3, Detroit will send David Price to the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. Again, Price has a Cy Young award and the playoff experience. But it's Gonzalez who posted the better ERA this year (3.23 to 3.26).

This isn't to say the Detroit starters won't ultimately outpitch the Baltimore starters over the course of this five-game series. They might. But keep this in mind: The Orioles have a great chance to win if their starters are good enough to keep the game close into the late innings.

Here's why: Baltimore has a nasty bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and his power 96 mph sinker totaled 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA this year. The Orioles have a outstanding lefty-righty combination setting him up. Midseason acquisition Andrew Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with the O's since coming over from Boston. Darren O'Day, the right-handed setup guy, posted a 1.70 ERA this season.

We saw all three of those relievers in Thursday's game. The Tigers found out they are pretty tough to beat.

Two of the relievers Detroit is counting on to work in high-leverage situations, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria, contributed to that eight-run eighth inning meltdown in this opening loss. You better believe the bullpen is a huge concern for the Tigers. Detroit's 4.29 bullpen ERA was third worst in the majors this year.

Yes, Detroit has a bit of an edge in starting pitching, primarily because of all that playoff experience among Scherzer, Verlander and Price. However, I don't believe it's a huge edge. If there's a huge edge in this series, it's the advantage the Baltimore bullpen enjoys over the Detroit relievers.

All the Oriole starters really need to do is keep it close into the late innings. That's what Tillman did Thursday. Baltimore got its desired result.

Can the Royals pull it off? 

If you're looking for a reason to believe Kansas City can upset the 98-win Angels, here it is: Los Angeles has a starting pitching staff that is in disarray.

Jered Weaver is the Angels' lone reliable starter, and he pitched well in Game 1 on Thursday. However, Kansas City's Jason Vargas matched him. The game was tied, 2-2, when the starters left, and the Angels' bullpen blinked first with Moustakas hitting the home run off Fernando Salas.

Los Angeles has burned up its best starter and trails in the series. The Angels will be counting on rookie Matt Shoemaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15 due to an oblique strain, in Game 2. C.J. Wilson is in line to pitch Game 3 for Los Angeles. Wilson has had a terrible second half -- his ERA is 6.05 over his last 16 starts.

The Angels definitely miss ace Garrett Richards, who is gone for the year with a serious knee injury.

Kansas City has a shot if it can take advantage of the iffy Angels starters. The Royals are 65-4 when leading after six innings, so it could be tough for Los Angeles if its pitchers put them behind early in games.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Justin Verlander takes a beating from White Sox

As a White Sox fan, I used to dread games when the team would have to face Detroit right-hander and former Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander.

I don't have those pangs of fear anymore.

We discussed it on this blog a couple weeks ago: It looks like Verlander's best days are behind him. And, if that's the case, then Detroit can be had in the AL Central Division race.

When I looked at Wednesday night's matchup between Verlander and Chicago left-hander John Danks, my initial instinct was not "Oh crap," as it might have been two or three years ago. Instead it was, "Hey, the Sox could win this one."

Win it they did, 8-2. The victory means the Sox (33-33) have as many wins as the first-place Tigers (33-28) and are just 2.5 games back in the division race.

However, the main story I took out of this game was Verlander's continuing vulnerability. The Sox touched him up for seven runs on eight hits over 5.2 innings. The erstwhile Detroit ace has now given up five runs or more in five of his past six starts. His ERA over that stretch is 8.72. His season ERA has swelled to 4.61. That's Hector Noesi territory right there.

And, anyone who watched this game knows the Sox should have scored more runs than they did. The South Siders loaded the bases with just one out in the third inning, but neither Conor Gillaspie nor Jose Abreu could knock in a run.

The Sox also got a one-out triple from Adam Eaton in the fifth inning, but failed to score after the Sox center fielder was thrown out at the plate on grounder off the bat of Gordon Beckham.

Verlander found himself in bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth, and this time he did not get off the hook. With the score tied 1-1, Dayan Viciedo grounded into a double play that gave the Sox a one-run lead. The twin killing gave Verlander a great chance to minimize damage and keep his team in the game. Instead, he imploded.

Alejandro De Aza singled in a run. Verlander then walked light-hitting catcher Adrian Nieto and Eaton back-to-back to reload the bases. Beckham ended Verlander's night with a two-run single that put the Sox ahead 5-1.

Detroit summoned Naperville product Ian Krol from the bullpen, and the lefty provided little relief. Gillaspie's two-run double increased the Sox' advantage to 7-1. After an intentional walk to Abreu, Adam Dunn singled to make it 8-1. Chicago cruised to victory from there.

How often do you get a seven-run inning in a game started by Justin Verlander? The answer used to be never. Now, it can be done. The Sox proved it Wednesday night.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Justin Verlander: Are his best days behind him?

To this point in the season, most observers are assuming the Detroit Tigers will win the AL Central Division for the fourth consecutive year.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that assumption is correct. After all, the Tigers have the second-best record in the American League (28-19) entering Tuesday's action, and they possess a five-game lead in the division.

No other AL Central team is above .500. The White Sox (26-27) enter Tuesday in second place, but they are closer to last place than first. Chicago, Kansas City (24-26), Minnesota (23-25) and Cleveland (24-28) are separated in the standings by just 1.5 games.

Is there any reason at all to believe the Tigers can be had this year? Well, you have to look pretty hard, but here's one thing Detroit should be concerned about: Veteran ace Justin Verlander is no longer pitching like a Cy Young award candidate.

The 31-year-old is 5-4 with 4.04 ERA in 11 starts this year. Those numbers are ordinary to say the least, and his peripherals are also not impressive. Verlander's 1.514 WHIP is well above his career mark of 1.203, and above the career-worst 1.403 he posted during his struggling 2008 season.

Moreover, Verlander's K rate has fallen off a cliff. He has fanned just 50 batters in 71.1 IP this year. That's not good for a pitcher who has averaged roughly one strikeout per inning in every season since 2009.

Verlander's month of May has been terrible. He's 2-3 with a 6.03 ERA in his last five starts, and he has surrendered five earned runs or more in each of his last three outings. That's not like Justin Verlander.

Maybe this is a just a slump, but Verlander was coming off a "down" 2013 by his standards, in which he went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA. In fact, if you look at the last five years you can see that Verlander is on a decline since his 2011 peak:

201018-9, 3.37 ERA 219 Ks in 224.1 IP1.163 WHIP
201124-5, 2.40 ERA251Ks in 251 IP 0.920 WHIP
201217-8, 2.64 ERA239 Ks in 238.1 IP1.057 WHIP
201313-12, 3.46 ERA217 Ks in 218.1 IP1.315 WHIP
20145-4, 4.04 ERA50 Ks in 71.1 IP1.514 WHIP

From these numbers, we can't say Verlander is bad now.  However,  he's starting to profile more as a No. 3 starter than the ace he has been in the past. There's really not much question Max Scherzer has overtaken him as the Tigers' best pitcher.

Starting pitching is the edge Detroit enjoys over the rest of the division, but that advantage becomes a little less if Verlander's day to pitch becomes more of a coin toss than a likely Detroit victory. That's where things stand now. It remains to be seen whether Verlander can regain his ace form. The Tigers need him to if they want to make it back to the World Series and win it.

But, even if Verlander is no longer an ace, it remains a open question whether the other teams in the AL Central, all of which have significant warts, will play well enough to take advantage anyway.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rounding up Jose Abreu's record-breaking April

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Sunday to lead the South Siders to a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Abreu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record four games with four RBIs or more during the first 26 games of his career. Abreu has a modest .262 batting average, but as Ken "Hawk" Harrelson might say, "It's a hard .262." Abreu leads the league with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. Even with three games to go in the month, those figures are for the record books.

The 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in one month are both MLB rookie records. The 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month. The 31 RBIs are a new record for the opening month of the season by any Sox player -- the previous record was 28, set by Paul Konerko in 2002. The 31 RBIs are also the most by any Sox player in the first 26 games of a career. The 10 home runs tie the team record for the most by a Sox player in the first 26 games of a career -- Zeke Bonura accomplished the same feat in 1934.

This indeed has been an historic month for Abreu. He has homered off two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and David Price, which shows that he isn't just pounding on mediocre pitchers. He's won a few battles with elite pitchers, too. The cynic would say, "Let's see what happens when the league adjusts to Abreu." And the cynic isn't completely wrong. Opposing pitchers will change their pattern to try to slow Abreu down, and he will have to adjust.

But, let's also remember that Abreu is putting up these monster numbers in the miserable, cold April conditions at U.S. Cellular Field. The ballpark plays smaller and becomes more hitter-friendly when the weather warms up in the summer. Abreu isn't going put up 10 homers and 30-plus RBIs every month. That's just not realistic, but I'd wager he has a pretty fair chance of continuing to produce runs when the ball starts flying in June and July.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clayton Kershaw to get record-setting deal; David Price also signs

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the new richest man in baseball -- at least for now.

According to reports, the left-hander agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the National League, becomes the first player with a $30 million average annual salary.

Previously, the most lucrative deal for a pitcher was the one the Detroit Tigers gave Justin Verlander, $180 million over seven years.

In other pitching news, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The contract is the richest one in Tampa Bay franchise history. Price, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation. Since he did not sign a long-term deal with the Rays, I would expect that speculation to continue in the coming days and months.

After seeing the dollars these guys are commanding, it's comforting for me as a White Sox fan to know the team has its All-Star left-hander, Chris Sale, under control through 2019. Sale's five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019 is a tremendous bargain in this marketplace.

I'll be interested to see what the Kershaw contract means for international free agent Masahiro Tanaka. No, Tanaka is not going to command $30 million a year, but the Dodgers have reportedly been major players in that sweepstakes. Are they still major players after committing such a large dollar figure to Kershaw? Or is it now a given that Tanaka is going to the New York Yankees, who are the team most in need of a top-flight starting pitcher?

After Tanaka signs, we should see the other dominoes start to fall among the free-agent starting pitchers. All the major free-agent position players have already signed. Meanwhile, you've still got three high-profile starting pitchers still on the market in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Look for those three players to be consolation prizes for the teams that lose out on Tanaka.

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Can Miguel Cabrera get his power stroke back?

The Oakland A's actually took my advice for Thursday night's Game 5 of the ALDS. They started Sonny Gray instead of Bartolo Colon.

It didn't work out so well as Gray allowed three runs on six hits and walked four over five innings pitched. He took the loss as the Detroit Tigers beat Oakland 3-0 to secure a 3-2 series victory and advance to the ALCS.

It wouldn't have mattered if Colon had gotten the start because nobody was going to outpitch Justin Verlander on this night anyway. Verlander continued his postseason mastery of the A's, allowing just two hits over eight shutout innings. He struck out 10 and took a no-hitter into the seventh. The hard-throwing right-hander has now fired 24 consecutive scoreless innings against Oakland in the playoffs.

The "Moneyball" approach doesn't seem to work against Verlander. The Oakland hitters tried to work the count, but most of the time, they found themselves behind 0-2 and 1-2. That's a recipe for making outs against Verlander.

Perhaps the best sign for Detroit was seeing reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera hit a his first home run of the postseason, a two-run blast off Gray in the fourth inning. It was just the third extra-base hit Cabrera has had since Sept. 1. The slugger has a groin, hip and abdominal strains that are limiting his mobility and overall effectiveness. He hasn't been able to run, nor has he been able to get his legs into his swing. Hence, the loss of power.

It's a tough spot for the Tigers. They can't lose Cabrera's presence in the lineup, but they need him to be more than just a singles hitter in the No. 3 hole, especially given cleanup hitter Prince Fielder's overall struggles in the postseason.

Detroit opens the ALCS on the road against Boston on Saturday night. I think the Tigers are underdogs in this series, primarily because Cabrera isn't healthy and hasn't swung the bat up to his capabilities lately. Can he overcome his injury (or injuries) enough to get his power stroke back? Is Thursday's home run a sign of better things to come? That may be the deciding factor in whether Detroit can advance to the World Series for the second consecutive year.

 The Tigers can match (and maybe even exceed) the Red Sox in the starting rotation, but Boston has a clear advantage offensively if Cabrera doesn't produce the way he has in the past.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Justin Verlander vs. ???? in ALDS Game 5

A year ago, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's battled it out for five games in the American League Division Series. Once again this season, the two teams are going to play five games in the ALDS.

The Tigers made it so by rallying for an 8-6 win over the A's on Tuesday. The Detroit victory tied the series at 2-2 and set up a decisive Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday night.

Detroit will be forced to alter its rotation after using 21-game winner Max Scherzer for two innings of relief in Game 4. Scherzer picked up the win after pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the top of the eighth inning. The Tigers were leading by just a run (5-4) at the time. They scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to break it open, then held off an Oakland rally in the ninth inning.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland could afford to use Scherzer in relief in Game 4 because he has Justin Verlander lined up to pitch on regular rest in Game 5. You may recall that Verlander fired a complete-game, four-hit shutout in Game 5 to clinch a series win in Oakland last October. He also pitched seven innings of shutout ball in Game 2 of this series, only to see his team lose 1-0 after he left the mound. Verlander has struck out 22 and allowed no runs in the last 16 postseason innings he has pitched against the A's. Yeah, he's a pretty good fallback option for the Tigers.

The pitching decision for Oakland isn't so cut-and-dried for Game 5. Do they go back to their Game 1 starter, Bartolo Colon, a 40-year-old veteran who went 18-6 this season? Or do they start Sonny Gray, the 23-year-old rookie who matched Verlander pitch for pitch in Game 2?

A's manager Bob Melvin hasn't announced a decision yet. On MLB Network, I heard analyst Dan Plesac say the "safe call" would be to go with Colon. I don't know if there is a "safe call" in this situation. If Melvin selects Colon and the A's lose the ballgame, people are still going to ask why he didn't go with Gray. What's so safe about that? Really, the only way Melvin isn't going to get second-guessed here is if the A's win.

With that in mind, I think he should go with Gray, who is 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA while pitching at home this year. When in doubt, pick the guy who is pitching the best, regardless of experience level. Right now, Gray is that guy for Oakland.

Red Sox oust Rays

The other division series in the American League wrapped up on Tuesday as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to complete a 3-1 series victory.

Give credit to the top two hitters in the Boston batting order. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino combined to go 15 for 32 with nine runs scored and five stolen bases in the series. Victorino beat out an infield grounder with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to score Ellsbury with the eventual game-winning run on Tuesday.

Rays manager Joe Maddon burned through nine of the 11 pitchers on his playoff roster in a fruitless effort to stay alive in this series. All the mixing and matching in the world couldn't change the fact that Tampa Bay managed just one run off Boston starter Jake Peavy and nothing off three Red Sox relief pitchers.

Boston advances to the ALCS and will open at home on Saturday. The Red Sox can set their pitching rotation however they want. None of their starters were used more than once in this series against Tampa Bay.