Showing posts with label Los Angeles Dodgers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles Dodgers. Show all posts

Thursday, November 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dodgers stick with their plan, force Game 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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

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

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

For Houston .... who closes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

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

Alex Bregman
Five hours, 17 minutes of baseball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is huge.

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

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

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

And Jansen isn't the only one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart pitch. Astros hang on.

Can't wait for Game 3.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A few thoughts on the World Series matchup before it begins

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

1. Who will win on the road first?

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

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

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

2. Can Houston's offense get hot?

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

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

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

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

3. Battle of the bullpens

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

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

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

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

Kershaw vs. Keuchel

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

Here is the list:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jake Petricka provides gut punch in White Sox loss to the Dodgers

Jake Petricka
Two outs away. Eight good innings and one horrible one.

However you want to look at it, the White Sox lost a tough one, 5-4, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night.

The Dodgers are 85-34, and there's no shame in losing to them. Everybody loses to the Dodgers. But the Sox had a 4-2 lead with two outs to go in the bottom of the ninth inning, and they did a lot of things right in this particular game. I would have liked to have seen them rewarded with a victory.

Carlos Rodon continued his stretch of terrific pitching. He tossed 7.1 innings of two-run ball and was in line for the victory. The Sox hit four home runs as a team, including two by Nick Delmonico, who has continued to surprise by swinging a great bat since he got called up from Triple-A Charlotte. Leury Garcia and Jose Abreu also homered in this game, and the Sox appeared to be on the verge of handing Yu Darvish his first loss since he was traded to the Dodgers.

Alas, the Sox have traded every competent pitcher in their bullpen, and they couldn't close the deal. We can't blame Juan Minaya. He finished the eighth inning for Rodon. We can't blame Greg Infante, who recorded an out on the only hitter he faced in the ninth.

But Aaron Bummer gave up a single to Cody Bellinger, and then Jake Petricka came in to throw batting practice to Logan Forsythe, Austin Barnes and Yasiel Puig. Those three hitters hung out ropes -- an RBI double into the left-field corner by Forsythe, a bullet single to center by Barnes, then a two-run, game-winning double to the left-center gap by Puig.

In a blink of an eye, Rodon's potential win was gone.

It's been a rough ride for Petricka since he came off the disabled list. He stunk Tuesday night, too, as he was right in the center of the Dodgers' five-run, game-winning rally in the eighth inning.

The past two nights, Petricka has faced eight hitters and retired only two. He's allowed six hits and given up four earned runs.

Yuck.

Petricka is the most accomplished reliever in a bullpen that includes Minaya, Bummer, Infante, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Beck, Dylan Covey and Brad Goldberg. However, injuries have taken their toll on Petricka, and he might actually be the worst pitcher in the Sox bullpen at this moment, past track record nothwithstanding.

Here's how his season statistics rank among the eight relievers on the Sox roster:

ERA: 9.00 (eighth and last)
FIP: 5.77 (third)
WHIP: 2.053 (eighth and last)
H/9: 15.6 (eighth and last)
ERA+: 49 (eighth and last)
Career saves: 16 (first)

I guess that last category is the key one for manager Rick Renteria. Petricka does have high-leverage experience, but his best successes came three years ago, when he had 14 of those 16 saves.

I don't know who the right guy is for closing situations for the Sox. I don't see any good options. I'd give Minaya a shot, because he has the highest K rate (11.8 per nine innings). But I do know that Petricka looks completely incapable of getting the job done for the Sox.

Renteria should ignore the experience factor, trust the recent data and give a chance to somebody else.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Will someone make a waiver deal for Miguel Gonzalez?

Miguel Gonzalez
On the surface, it seems preposterous that a contending team might want to swing a waiver deal for White Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's overall numbers are not impressive -- a 6-10 record in 19 starts, to go along with a 4.67 ERA, a 5.01 FIP, a 1.48 WHIP and a rate of 5.13 Ks per 9 innings.

That said, the 33-year-old right-hander has made six starts since coming off the disabled list July 18 -- all against first-place teams -- and he has performed well in five of them.

The latest good Gonzalez outing came Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Sox lost, 6-1, it was not the fault of Gonzalez, who pitched six innings of one-run ball against a Dodgers team that is an incredible 50 games over .500 (84-34).

Here's a look at the past six outings for Gonzalez:

July 18 vs. Dodgers: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 Ks, 5 BBs (loss)
July 24 vs. Cubs: 7.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 Ks, 3 BBs (win)
July 29 vs Indians: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 Ks, 3 BBs (no-decision)
Aug. 3 vs. Red Sox: 1.2 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 Ks, 0 BBs (loss)
Aug. 9. vs. Astros: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 Ks, 1 BB (win)
Aug. 15 vs. Dodgers: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4Ks, 3 BBs (no-decision)

That outing against Boston was terrible. We can't pretend that it didn't happen, but it's an outlier when you look at Gonzalez's recent performances. But even with that Red Sox disaster, Gonzalez is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA during this stretch against six teams that would all be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

That's respectable, and despite his career mediocrity, Gonzalez could represent a back-of-the-rotation upgrade for a couple of teams that are in the playoff hunt.

I'm looking at you, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada makes long-awaited debut

Yoan Moncada didn't get a hit in his White Sox debut, but he didn't make a fool out of himself either. He also didn't save the slumping Sox from getting run over by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who collected their 11th consecutive win and 31st win in their past 35 games with a 9-1, rain-shortened victory.

Moncada went 0 for 2 with a walk, and it was a well-earned walk. After quickly falling behind 0-and-2 in his first at-bat, he ended up seeing nine pitches before taking his base against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda.

In the fourth inning, Moncada just missed extra bases with a line drive down the right-field line that landed foul. He ended up grounding out to first base. In his third and final at-bat, he lined out to center field on a 2-0 pitch.

Nothing wrong with those ABs. The first hit will come soon enough.

We can't say there was nothing wrong with Carlos Rodon's performance. The left-hander didn't make it out of the fourth inning and gave up four home runs, resulting in five Los Angeles runs. Yuck.

Relievers Chris Beck and David Holmberg provided little relief, combining to allow four runs in the sixth inning. The rains came in the eighth inning, and mercifully, the game was called.

Looking for positives? Hey, Melky Cabrera continues to swing the bat well. He hit a solo home run in the first inning for the only Sox run. He's probably hoping some team in contention is eager to acquire his services.

The folks who are gung-ho about the rebuild have been chatting about how the "fun starts today" with Moncada's call-up. Not really. This game wasn't fun. The Sox are 38-54, and it's hard to fathom them getting much more than 25 wins out of the remaining 70 games.

Does Moncada give us one other player to watch and talk about? You bet. Say what you will about rebuilding, but nothing changes the fact that this is hard to watch, and there are several dark days still in front of the Sox from now until the end of the season.

Monday, March 13, 2017

White Sox score 14 runs in ninth inning to beat Dodgers

Leury Garcia
Let's be honest: Most spring training games are not worth much analysis. However, it gets your attention when a team scores 14 runs in one inning.

While most of the world was sleeping late Sunday night, the White Sox entered the ninth inning trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1. They ended up winning the game, 15-5, after one of the most bizarre half-innings I've ever heard on the radio. (The game was not televised.)

The Sox batted around twice -- sending 18 men to the plate -- and scored 14 runs on only seven hits. A few highlights:

  • Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder who was acquired in the Chris Sale deal, had a two-run single to put the Sox ahead, 5-3.
  • Yoan Moncada, the team's top prospect, had a two-run double. Previously in the game, he had struck out in four consecutive plate appearances.
  • Longtime minor-leaguer Jason Bourgeois had five RBIs in the inning. He had a two-run single in his first AB of the rally, and he capped the Sox's scoring with a three-run homer. 
  • The Dodgers committed four errors, walked three men and hit two batters. So, the Sox were gifted nine baserunners, in addition to the seven hits they had.
The Dodgers probably could not have done any worse in that inning if they had just gone out there and lit themselves on fire. Sure, it was a collection of Double-A and Triple-A players on the field, but no professional team should be giving up that many runs in one inning.

That rally capped an interesting Sunday for the Sox, who also lost, 10-8, to the Texas Rangers in the other half of a split-squad day. In that game, the Sox scored all eight of their runs in the sixth inning.

So, to recap, the Sox had 18 offensive innings Sunday. They scored 23 runs, but they did it in the most bizarre fashion possible -- a 14-run inning, an 8-run inning, an inning with a single run scored, plus 15 innings with no runs at all.

I have to admit, I'm getting a little worried that Leury Garcia is going to make the team. He's got a slash line of .419/.500/.919 in 30 spring plate appearances. He had four hits against Texas on Sunday. But he also made two egregious mistakes on the basepaths, and at shortstop, he butchered a rundown play that allowed the Rangers to score a gift run.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing about Garcia's "versatility" being an asset. Sure, he plays multiple positions, but he plays them all poorly, so who cares? And, yes, he has speed, but he makes dumb outs on the bases, so who cares?

We know that Garcia feasts on Triple-A pitching -- he hit .313 at Charlotte in 2016 -- and that's what he's doing in this spring camp. Here's to hoping the Sox are not fooled. This is a player who makes mental mistake after mental mistake and does not belong on the roster. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jansen, Turner deals make Dodgers an unlikely trade partner for White Sox

Kenley Jansen
The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed with free agent closer Kenley Jansen on a five-year, $80 million contract, sources say.

Jansen, 29, recovered 47 saves and posted a 1.83 ERA and a sparkling 0.670 WHIP for the Dodgers in 2016. He struck out 104 and walked only 11 hitters in 68.2 innings.

Sources also indicate the Dodgers are close to a deal to retain free agent third baseman Justin Turner. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the sides are discussing a four-year deal in the $64 million range.

Turner, 32, had his best year in 2016, hitting .275/.339/.493 with 27 home runs, 34 doubles and 90 RBIs in a career-best 151 games.

How do these moves affect the White Sox? Well, it means the Dodgers are no longer a likely trading partner for the South Siders, because the Dodgers have no need for two of the players the Sox are trying to trade -- closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier.

With Jansen's signing, all the major free agent closers are off the board. The New York Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman (5 years, 86.5 million), and the San Francisco Giants picked up Mark Melancon (4 years, $62 million) during the winter meetings last week.

The losers in the Jansen sweepstakes -- notably the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins -- could be potential landing spots for Robertson, who is owed $25 million over the remaining two years of his contract.

Other free agent possibilities for teams shopping for closers include Greg Holland -- who recorded 125 saves from 2013-15 in Kansas City, but did not pitch in 2016 after arm surgery -- and Brad Ziegler, an eight-year veteran with 85 career saves who finished last year in a set-up role with the Boston Red Sox.

If Holland is healthy -- a big if -- his upside is better than Robertson's at this stage, but Robertson's durability makes him less of a risk for teams. Robertson has appeared in at least 60 games for seven consecutive seasons. The same is true for Ziegler -- his stuff isn't as dynamic as a healthy Holland, but he's appeared in 64 games or more for eight consecutive seasons.

If the Dodgers settle up with Turner, we know Frazier won't be traded to Los Angeles, but where might he go?

How about San Francisco? At the end of last season, the Giants were counting on Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie at third base. It turns out Gillaspie had some big hits for the Giants during the postseason, but as all Sox fans know, Gillaspie is best utilized as a left-handed bench bat, not as an everyday third baseman. Frazier is an upgrade over Nunez or Gillaspie.

Boston also would be a possibility. The Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire the eighth-inning reliever they needed in Tyler Thornburg. People have been saying that opens the door for Pablo Sandoval to be the Boston third baseman in 2017. OK, I suppose, but do the Red Sox really want to count on 140 to 150 games from Sandoval in a season where they are trying to win a championship? I'm skeptical.

Lastly, don't count out St. Louis. The Cardinals showed they are serious about making a push in 2017 with their five-year, $82 million commitment to center fielder Dexter Fowler. But they still appear to be a bat short. Some of the big free agent hitters out there -- notably Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo -- are DH types who are more suitable to the American League. Frazier, in contrast, can actually play his position well, and he represents a potential upgrade both offensive and defensively over Jhonny Peralta. Frazier has only one year left on his contract, so the risk would be minimal for St. Louis.

The best available free agent third baseman right now? It's Luis Valbuena. Teams would rather have Frazier, I'm sure.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?

Wrong.

Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hopefully, John Danks has to earn his spot in the White Sox rotation this year

John Danks
Even though it's only spring training, it was nice to hear baseball on the radio Thursday afternoon. The White Sox lost, 6-1, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The result wasn't satisfactory, but all the usual caveats about spring training being meaningless in the won-loss column apply.

The Sox were limited to just three hits, and starting pitcher John Danks gave up three runs on four hits over two innings. He walked the first batter he saw, then gave up three singles to put the Sox down 2-0 after the first inning. He also gave up a long solo home run to Alex Guerrero in the second inning.

Let me say this about Danks: I hope his spot in the starting rotation isn't secure. His ERAs over the past three years have been 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71, respectively. He's been consistent, give him that, but he's been consistently below par. In each of the past two seasons, his WHIP has been higher than 1.4 (1.441 in 2014, 1.413 in 2015).

Nothing he has done recently should be good enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation. He should have to compete for one, and unlike previous seasons, the Sox do have other options. We know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be in the rotation, assuming good health. But the other two spots should be up for grabs among Danks, Mat Latos, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

If two of those three other pitchers are more impressive this spring than Danks, then they should be in the rotation, and Danks should go to the bullpen. If Danks outpitches all of them this spring, then he can keep his spot. But I don't think it should be just handed to him.

Earlier this winter at SoxFest, a fan asked GM Rick Hahn whether designated hitter Adam LaRoche was going to keep his spot in the lineup based on his veteran status and $13 million salary. Hahn insisted the Sox do not have any "scholarship players," that LaRoche would have to earn his spot, and that manager Robin Ventura has been told to play the best players regardless of who is making the most money.

I don't know if I believe it when the Sox say they will send a high-priced player to the margins if that player is not producing. Like LaRoche, Danks is set to make big bucks in this, the final year of his contract. In fact, Danks will be the highest paid player on the team at $15.75 million.

Based on that figure, I can't shake the feeling that Danks is going to be in the rotation whether he deserves the spot or not. And based upon what I've seen the past three years, he's a good candidate to be replaced. His poor outing Thursday comes with the aforementioned caveats about spring training not mattering, but there have been plenty of times where Danks has failed miserably when it did matter.

Let's hope the Sox take that into account if Danks flounders all spring.

Monday, February 22, 2016

White Sox sign Jimmy Rollins to minor-league deal

Jimmy Rollins
We all thought the White Sox were content to go into the season with Tyler Saladino as their starting shortstop. That was last week.

The Sox moved Monday to create competition at shortstop, signing veteran Jimmy Rollins to a minor-league contract.

Rollins, 37, is coming off a poor season with the Los Angeles Dodgers that saw him post a .224/.285/.358 slash line with 13 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 41 RBIs in 144 games.

That said, Rollins was a 4.0 WAR player as recently as 2014, when he batted .243/.323/.394 with 17 home runs, 28 stolen bases and 55 RBIs for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Is Rollins a bounce-back candidate in 2016? Or are his poor 2015 statistics a sign that he is succumbing to old age? Nobody has a definitive answer to those questions, so the Sox have nothing to lose by giving Rollins a minor-league deal and taking a look at him this spring.

Rollins will reportedly earn $2 million if he makes the club. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal is reporting Rollins rejected offers from two teams that offered him more guaranteed money and a super-utility job. The veteran switch-hitter apparently believes he's still an everyday shortstop, and he was willing to take a minor-league deal with the Sox for the chance to prove it.

"We envision Jimmy contributing both on and off the field," GM Rick Hahn said in a team statement. "He provides us with another quality infield option with the potential to play a variety of roles, as well as another significant positive presence inside our clubhouse."

In other words, get ready to read a deluge of stories about Rollins mentoring top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson.

Best-case scenario: Rollins makes the club and gives the Sox a decent year at a low cost while keeping the seat warm for Anderson. Worst-case scenario: He looks terrible in spring, gets cut and the team is none the worse for wear.

There's not a lot of upside here, but there's also not a lot of risk.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Los Angeles Times report shoots down Andre Ethier rumor

Following up on the Andre Ethier-to-the-White Sox rumors, the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin made it seem unlikely there will be a deal between the Sox and the Dodgers.

 According to Shaikin's report:

"[Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew] Friedman declined to say whether he was in trade discussions with the Chicago White Sox. However, there is little traction in talks between the teams, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The White Sox approached the Dodgers about Yasiel Puig -- apparently in the hope that fellow Cuban Jose Abreu might bring out the best in Puig -- and the Dodgers instead tried to interest the White Sox in Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford."

The Sox would certainly have no interest in Crawford, and it sounds like their interest in Ethier is lukewarm at best.

This news comes as no surprise. White Sox rumors that are floated only by Chicago-based reporters tend to not get much traction.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rumor mill links Andre Ethier to White Sox

Andre Ethier
The rumor started with a report by The Score's Bruce Levine, and continued with speculation from MLB.com's Phil Rogers.

Yeah, I know. I should probably stop right there. But the reports from Levine and Rogers have led White Sox fans to ponder whether Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier would be a good fit on the South Side.

On Thursday, USA Today's Bob Nightengale threw some cold water on the rumor, tweeting that there are no signs of a potential match between the Sox and the Dodgers.

My speculation would lean toward agreeing with Nightengale, but speculation is just speculation, so let's talk a little bit about Ethier's situation.

Ethier has a contract that would scare off teams. He's owed $18 million in 2016 and $17.5 million in 2017, and he has a vesting option for $17.5 million with a $2.5 million buyout for 2018. That's a lot of money owed.

The Dodgers likely are motivated to get out from underneath that contract for a couple reasons. First off, they are looking to trim their payroll. Secondly, they have way too many outfielders: Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke, Alex Guerrero, Enrique Hernandez and former Sox outfielder Trayce Thompson. That's eight outfielders. You only need five. Lastly, Ethier will gain his 10-and-5 rights in April, which means he will become much more difficult to trade once the spring is over.

Ideally, the Dodgers would want to get rid of Crawford, but much like Adam LaRoche on the Sox, his contract and recent poor performance makes him an immovable object. The highest-paid guy on that list of Dodgers outfielders who still has value is Ethier.

What skill does Ethier bring? Well, he hits right-handed pitching.

Here are his 2015 splits:
vs. RHP: .306/.383/.517
vs. LHP: .200/.229/.244

All 14 of his home runs, all seven of his triples and 18 of his 20 doubles came against right-handed pitching last year. He obviously can't hit lefties worth a damn, so he's a platoon player at this stage of his career -- he turns 34 in April.

You can see where this could be a potential fit for the Sox. Their only lefty middle-of-the-order bat is, well, LaRoche, and it's not unreasonable to think he's just washed up at this point.

That said, Ethier makes an awful lot of money for a platoon player. The Sox should not be giving up any top prospects for a high-priced platoon outfielder -- especially given that the Dodgers need to act to address their outfield logjam. Los Angeles doesn't have that much leverage here.

If Sox GM Rick Hahn can get the Dodgers to eat some money and take nothing more than middle-tier prospects for Ethier, then he should consider doing this deal. But if the Dodgers want a top prospect, or if they want the Sox to take on all the contract, then Hahn should pass.

I'm guessing that right now the Dodgers are wanting both salary relief and a good prospect in return for Ethier, and that's why Nightengale is reporting there is no potential match with the Sox. That's simply not a move the Sox should make at the moment.