Showing posts with label Matt Davidson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matt Davidson. Show all posts

Monday, October 2, 2017

It could have been worse: White Sox finish 2017 with 67-95 record

Jose Abreu
Here's a sentence that I might not type again for the rest of my life: The 2017 White Sox exceeded expectations by finishing 67-95.

Through 118 games, the Sox were 45-73 and appeared to be on their way to 100 losses. And nobody would have been shocked or unhappy if they had lost 100. Established veterans such as Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were traded in July. Competent bullpen arms such as Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak also were shown the door.

After all that, I never would have guessed the Sox would have a winning September -- they went 15-14 -- nor would I have believed they would go 22-22 in their last 44 games. But that's exactly what they did, and you have to give manager Rick Renteria and his staff some credit. He had guys playing hard and playing the right way all the way up to the very end, and the Sox were able to crawl out of last place while the Detroit Tigers (64-98) tanked and finished with the worst record in the league.

The Sox will draft No. 4 overall in the 2018 entry draft, instead of first, as many had hoped. I can live with that, because their late-season competency wasn't led by a group of mediocre veterans. The younger players who are supposed to be a part of the future -- Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer -- all had some positive moments that contributed to winning. You want to see that progress and that development. It's the most important thing for a team that is in the Sox's position.

However, in recent weeks, I have heard some Sox fans getting a little too exuberant about the team's hopes for 2018. It has been pointed out that the Minnesota Twins, who were 59-103 at this time a year ago, rebounded to 85-77 and won the second wild card in the American League. That's led some to ask the question, "Why can't the Sox author a similar turnaround next year?"

That's a noble thought, but it's just not likely. Despite some of the positives we've seen as of late, the Sox have very little talent in their bullpen. In order to contend next season, they would have to buy at least three and maybe four relief arms in free agency, and I don't see that being a prudent course of action at this stage. They've committed to the rebuild, so stay the course.

Looking ahead to 2018, here's my best guess at how things might break down at each position:

Catcher: There's a pretty good chance both Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez are back next year. Smith hit .283, Narvaez hit .277. We haven't seen that sort of offensive competency from Sox catchers since A.J. Pierzynski left, and neither Smith nor Narvaez embarrassed themselves defensively. Both are probably better options at the position than dumpster diving in free agency.

First base: Jose Abreu enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 2017. He hit .304 with 33 home runs and 102 RBIs. He had 343 total bases and posted a .906 OPS. I've often heard people say the Sox should keep Abreu around to be "a mentor and leader" for young Latino players. It is true that Abreu can be that guy, but keeping him on the club just for that reason sells him short. This guy has had 100 or more RBIs for four straight seasons with not a lot of help. Perhaps the Sox should keep him because he's one of the best in the game at his position.

Second base: Moncada's .231 average reflects the struggles he had when he was first called up to the majors. I said we needed to see a hot streak from this guy before the year ended, and sure enough, we saw one. He hit .276 with an .818 OPS and five home runs after Sept. 1. Something to build on for a player who needs to be a core piece in order for the Sox's rebuild to work.

Shortstop: Anderson's second-half OPS (.732) was a full 100 points higher than his first-half OPS (.632), and he hit .327 in September to raise his season batting average to .257. Eight of his 17 home runs and nine of his 15 stolen bases came after Aug. 1. Signs of progress. Next year is a big year for Anderson. He had a good rookie season. He struggled much of his second year before finishing strong. Consider 2018 the tiebreaker season to give us a read on what type of player Anderson truly is.

Third base: As it stands right now, I think Yolmer Sanchez is the guy. He's the best defensive infielder the Sox have, and he hit .267/.319/.413 with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs. That was more production that I ever expected from Sanchez, and he outplayed both Matt Davidson and Tyler Saladino by a wide margin. Sure, Davidson hit 26 home runs, but that's all he does. The .220 batting average and .260 on-base percentage are not impressive, and Davidson doesn't give you much with the glove. Back problems seem to be ruining Saladino's career, as he hit .178 with no home runs in 79 games this year. After a promising 2016, Saladino is perhaps on his way out the door. That's a cautionary tale not to get too excited about Sanchez, I suppose. Long-term, though, I see Sanchez as a valuable bench player on a contender. I think he still can start on next year's Sox team.

Outfield: I'll go on the record: Keep Avisail Garcia. I know some Sox fans want to "sell high," but they are assuming that clubs out there will want to "buy high." I don't know if there will be any takers at a high price. As Sox fans, we don't necessarily believe Garcia can hit .330 again next year. If we don't believe it, why would rival GMs? I'm in favor of putting Garcia in right field for 2018. He won't hit .330, but I'll settle for .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs. I think he can do that, and while the Sox have outfield prospects in the system, none will be ready for the start of next season. Adam Engel and Leury Garcia will probably vie for playing time in center field. Engel is good with the glove, but can't hit at all, and Leury Garcia keeps getting hurt. They are stopgap solutions, but that's good enough for now. I wouldn't mind seeing the Sox add a stopgap corner outfield veteran to play left field in case Nick Delmonico's surprising late-season performance with the bat is a mirage. Not to mention, Delmonico is subpar with the glove, so I don't know that I want to give him 140 games in left field.

Designated hitter: Would a platoon of Davidson and Delmonico be reasonable to start 2018?

Starting pitching: I think I know three of the five coming into next season: Giolito, Lopez and James Shields. Giolito was better than expected in seven late-season starts, going 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA. The Sox hope he is part of their present and future, so let him pitch. Ditto with Lopez, whose performance (3-3, 4.72 ERA in eight starts) was more uneven than Giolito's, but promising at times. Shields is a veteran with a bad contract, and veterans with bad contracts tend to stay right where they are. Fulmer had a rough season at Triple-A Charlotte, then surprised by going 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven late-season appearances (five starts). I think Fulmer competes for a rotation spot in the spring, but he didn't show enough over the course of the year for me to be confident that he's one of the five for 2018. Carlos Rodon was limited to 12 starts this season because of shoulder problems. Now, he's out six to eight months after shoulder surgery. I never felt the Sox were being truthful about the extent of Rodon's injury. Maybe we'll see him in May or June of next year, or maybe not. You can't count on him, and I think the Sox need to sign two stopgap veterans on short-term deals to fill out the rotation. I've heard Sox fans call for the team to sign a "Derek Holland type." Frankly, I'd prefer a "Miguel Gonzalez type," since Gonzalez did that job for the Sox in 2017, while Holland failed miserably after a respectable first two months.

Relief pitching: Who do you keep from this morass? You can't sign a whole new bullpen, so you gotta keep somebody. I'll keep Juan Minaya, Aaron Bummer and Greg Infante. I'm not overly impressed with any of them, but they are the best of a bad lot. Nate Jones has a contract for next season, and he's coming off a second elbow surgery. Fingers crossed that he can provide some veteran stability, but you can't count on that. Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam are always injured. It's time to move on from them. Beyond that, who knows? Is stinks that Zack Burdi is going to miss 2018 after elbow surgery. He would have been in the major league bullpen, and that would have been one more young guy to watch.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

White Sox avoid infamy, split four games with Detroit

Matt Boyd
The White Sox scored 29 runs through the first three games of their four-game weekend series against the Detroit Tigers.

So, naturally, on Sunday, they went out and nearly got no-hit by one of the worst starting pitchers in the American League -- Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd.

Boyd retired 26 of the first 27 hitters he faced in a 12-0 victory, with Rob Brantly being the only man to reach base on a walk with two outs in the top of the third inning.

Alas, Sox shortstop Tim Anderson broke up the no-hit bid with a two-out double in the top of the ninth. The Sox are lucky the Tigers had a third baseman (Nick Castellanos) playing right field, because a good outfielder might have run down Anderson's liner into the right-center field gap.

Boyd finished with a one-hitter, and that will be forgotten about by next week -- if it hasn't been forgotten about already. No-hitters live forever, and it would have been embarrassing for the Sox to be no-hit by Boyd, who is 6-10 with a 5.33 ERA this season.

Crazy thing is, Boyd had been 0-4 with a 6.13 ERA in eight previous career starts against the Sox. Normally, I look forward to seeing Boyd on the mound, so I have no idea how he managed to pitch a one-hitter in Sunday's game.

Here's a look back at the rest of the series:

Thursday, Sept. 14
White Sox 17, Tigers 7: The Sox pounded 25 hits, including 21 singles, and forced the Tigers to use eight pitchers.

It was a career day for right fielder Avisail Garcia, who went 5 for 5 with a three-run homer and seven RBIs. The top five hitters in the Sox lineup combined for 19 hits. Yoan Moncada had four hits, including a home run, and scored five runs. Jose Abreu had four hits, three runs scored and two RBIs. Anderson went 3 for 7 with two runs scored and two RBIs, and Matt Davidson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs. It was quite an offensive display.

And, Tyler Saladino went 0 for 6. Hey, somebody has gotta make the outs, right?

The Sox got a decent outing from James Shields (4-6), who allowed four runs over six innings and struck out seven. With that kind of run support, even the erstwhile Shields is a good bet to pick up a victory.

Friday, Sept. 15
Tigers 3, White Sox 2: There were two positive signs the Sox could take out of this loss. First and foremost, they got a second consecutive good start from Carson Fulmer.

Fulmer went six innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five and walked only one. The right-hander allowed only one run in six innings in his previous start against the San Francisco Giants, so it's possible Fulmer has found something after struggling for much of the year at Triple-A Charlotte.

Or, perhaps Fulmer just capitalized on pitching against two bad teams in San Francisco and Detroit. His next scheduled start should be against AL West champion Houston, so that might provide a better measure of Fulmer's progress.

The other positive sign? Moncada homered for the second straight game. The prized prospect has been swinging the bat better of late.

The bullpen combination of Al Alburquerque (0-2), Aaron Bummer and Juan Minaya coughed this game up by allowing a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, but what else would you expect from that group?

Saturday, Sept. 16
White Sox 10, Tigers 4: The Sox scored six runs in the first two innings and went on to total 17 hits in a lopsided win.

Anderson went 4 for 5 with two runs scored, Moncada collected two more hits, Nick Delmonico connected for his eighth home run of the season, and Abreu is up to 97 RBIs after he knocked in two more runs in this game.

The run support was useful for right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (2-3), who struggled early but settled in to throw seven innings. The Tigers got three off Lopez in the second inning, but only one the rest of the way.

Lopez, Fulmer and Lucas Giolito all have two wins each since being called up from Charlotte. All of them are at least contenders for rotation spots in the 2018 season.

Sunday, Sept. 17
Tigers 12, White Sox 0: We already talked about this terrible game, so can I just say Dylan Covey is NOT a contender for a rotation spot in the 2018 season and move on?

Thanks.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reynaldo Lopez was good; the rest of the White Sox were bad

Carlos Carrasco
The White Sox are 54-84 with 24 games remaining. That's a lot of losses, and it's hard to say any one single game is the worst I've seen this team play this season.

However, Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians has to be on the short list.

Yes, the Indians are good. They've won 14 in a row for a reason. And Carlos Carrasco is a good pitcher. He's 14-6 this season for a reason.

But there were some pretty pathetic at-bats turned in by Sox hitters Wednesday, as Carrasco needed only 97 pitches to sail through a complete-game, three-hitter. The Cleveland right-hander was one out away from a shutout, and he faced the minimum 26 batters through 8.2 innings. Adam Engel hit a meaningless solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to save the Sox from complete disgrace.

As bad as the Sox offense was, their defense was even worse. Rookie right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (0-3) has three quality starts in his four outings with the Sox, and this performance was probably the best of the bunch. He deserves a handshake for making it through six innings and allowing only one run to the red-hot Indians, especially given the horrible play behind him.

In the first inning, first baseman Matt Davidson booted a grounder that should have been an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play. Lopez bailed him out by getting Edwin Encarnacion to pop out and Carlos Santana to fly out. No runs allowed.

Shortstop Tyler Saladino kicked a ball that should have been a double play in the second inning. The official scorer inexplicably ruled it a "double." Lopez faced a second-and-third, one-out situation for the second inning in a row, and he again escaped with a strikeout and a popout.

In the fourth inning, the Indians loaded the bases with nobody out on a walk and two "singles." One glanced off the glove of Nick Delmonico after the rookie left fielder took a bad route to the ball. The other "single" should have been turned into an out by second baseman Alen Hanson but was not. Lopez was forced to get five outs in the inning. He allowed a sacrifice fly and nothing more, and that was a good job of pitching.

When Lopez left the game, the Sox trailed 1-0 in a game that could have easily been 5-0 or 6-0. The Indians broke it open late against the Chicago bullpen, and the Sox received a well-deserved loss, even though Lopez deserved a better fate.

The Sox are outmanned against the Indians, so to some extent you can live with losses to this Cleveland team. But there was a sloppiness to Wednesday's game that cannot sit well.

Carlos Rodon will get his shot at ending the Cleveland winning streak Thursday night, and with his stuff, he always has a puncher's chance against any lineup. But he's going to need his teammates to catch the ball for him. The Indians have their ace, Corey Kluber (14-4), scheduled to pitch, so Cleveland has good reason to like its chances of extending this win streak to 15. If the Indians are successful, it will be a new franchise record.

Monday, August 28, 2017

White Sox take two out of three from Detroit Tigers

Yolmer Sanchez
This weekend represented a rarity for the White Sox this season: They went into a three-game series in which the pitching matchups seemed to present them with an outstanding chance of winning at least two out of three.

The Sox did, in fact, take two out of three games from the Detroit Tigers, although the order in which they won this series was a little different than I anticipated. Let's look back on the weekend that was:

Aug. 25
White Sox 3, Tigers 2: This was the one game in the series where I felt the Tigers had the edge with their ace, Justin Verlander, going against Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.

Perhaps I should have known better, because Gonzalez has had a strong second half. He's racked up seven quality starts in his past eight outings and lowered his season ERA from 5.15 to 4.30 in the process. And he more than matched Verlander in this game:

Gonzalez: 8 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 9 Ks, 0 BBs
Verlander: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 8Ks, 2 BBs

This one ended up being decided by bullpens, and while neither club has a good one, it was Detroit's relief corps that broke first.

With the score tied at 2, Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a double off Joe Jimenez (0-2). Yolmer Sanchez followed a game-ending RBI single.

That made a winner of Sox reliever Juan Minaya (2-1), who worked 1-2-3 top of the ninth.

Aug. 26
Tigers 6, White Sox 3: I thought this would be the most favorable matchup for the Sox this weekend, so, of course, they lost.

Carlos Rodon (2-5) had allowed two runs or less and worked six innings or more in five straight starts coming into Saturday, but his hot streak ended against the Tigers.

The left-hander lasted only five innings and gave up five runs. Sanchez staked him to an early 2-0 lead with a home run, but Rodon handed it right back by giving up back-to-back home runs to Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera in the top of the third inning. Cabrera's homer gave Detroit a 3-2 lead, and the Tigers led the rest of the way.

Detroit starter Buck Farmer (3-1) has a 6.17 ERA this season, but two of his three wins have come against the Sox. Farmer was nothing special in this game, allowing three earned runs over 5.2 innings, but he was better than Rodon. That was disappointing.

Aug. 27
White Sox 7, Tigers 1: Not so disappointing was the performance of rookie right-hander Lucas Giolito (1-1), who fired seven shutout innings to pick up his first major-league victory in the rubber match of the series.

Unlike his first start, Giolito had his four-pitch mix working. He was consistently ahead in counts and allowed only two hits through his first six innings. He struck out four and threw 72 of his 104 pitches for strikes.

His seventh and final inning was a tough one, but he managed to get out of a two-out jam that saw the Tigers load the bases. Jose Iglesias hit a ball down the left-field line that was initially ruled a grand slam. Replays showed the ball was clearly foul, and the call was reversed. After the loud strike one, Giolito induced Iglesias to ground out to shortstop, and that completed his seven-inning day.

The Sox have had a lot of success against Detroit lefty Matt Boyd (He's 0-4 vs. Chicago in his career), and they scored five runs off him in the bottom of the third inning Sunday. Matt Davidson's two-out, two-strike three-run homer turned a 2-0 lead into a 5-0 lead, and the Sox remained in control the rest of the way.

Sanchez went 3 for 4 and finished the series 6 for 12 with a home run, a double, two runs scored and four RBIs. 

The win finished up a 5-3 homestand for the South Siders. The Sox are 9-5 in their past 14 home games, so at least they are playing better before their fans at Guaranteed Rate Field. Their 2-8 road record this month stinks, but being able to compete and win at home is a step forward over what we were seeing for most of June and July.

Friday, August 25, 2017

White Sox place Yoan Moncada on 10-day disabled list

The White Sox won both Wednesday and Thursday night and ended up taking three of the five games against the Minnesota Twins this week, but Thursday's 5-1 victory came at a price.

Yoan Moncada has been placed on the 10-day disabled list after an MRI on Friday morning revealed a bone contusion in his right shin.

The rookie second baseman sat out two games last weekend against the Texas Rangers with shin splints, and he aggravated the nagging injury Thursday night while rounding third base on his way to scoring a run during a three-run rally in the fourth inning.

Moncada limped back to the dugout and played one more inning before exiting the game.

Third baseman Matt Davidson has been activated from the disabled list to take Moncada's spot on the roster. Davidson, who has 22 home runs this season, was hit by a pitch Aug. 1 and had been on the disabled list since Aug. 6 with a bruised right wrist.

He had played only one game on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Charlotte. I'm sure the Sox would have liked him to get a few more ABs down there before activating him, but the Moncada injury makes his presence in Chicago necessary.

It's good to have Davidson back in the lineup. I'm sure he'll play third base every day, and Yolmer Sanchez will move back to second base in Moncada's place.

Still, it stinks to have Moncada out. As the Sox (50-76) play out the string, Moncada's at-bats give us something to watch and talk about, but he'll be sidelined for at least the next 10 days and possibly longer.

Certainly, the Sox should exercise caution with Moncada. A lot is invested in him, and if they need to shut him down for the year, so be it. He's dealt with several injuries this season, and it's important that he be 100 percent healthy by the time the 2018 season rolls around.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Weekend in review: White Sox lose two of three to Indians; Melky Cabrera traded to Royals

The view from the Guaranteed Rate Club on Sunday
Hey, at least the White Sox won one out of three over the weekend against the first-place Cleveland Indians. At this point, could we have expected better? I don't think so.

I made it out to two of the three games, and fortunately, the one that was a real snooze was the one I did not attend, a 9-3 loss Friday night.

The Sox also lost Saturday, 5-4, but I enjoyed having dinner at the Stadium Club before the game, and I got a sweet 1917 Sox replica jersey for my trouble. And it wasn't a terrible game to watch. The Sox were in it the whole way, even though they blew it in stupid fashion -- with the score tied at 4 in the top of the ninth and the bases loaded with two outs, Sox reliever Gregory Infante plunked Cleveland's Brandon Guyer to force in the winning run.

Still, I've seen enough 10-2 losses this year that losing 5-4 doesn't seem so bad anymore. It's all a matter of perspective.

And, on Sunday, my friend and I were named StubHub fans of the game or some damn thing, and we had our seats upgraded to the Guaranteed Rate Club right below the press box behind home plate. We got all we could eat and drink for free, plus a free T-shirt, in exchange for our willingness to be on the Jumbotron and smile and wave for the camera during a mid-inning promotion for StubHub, which we learned is the official fan-to-fan ticket marketplace of Major League Baseball or whatever.

In any case, that deal was way too good to pass up, and we gleefully took advantage of it. As an added bonus, Carlos Rodon pitched 6.2 innings of one-run ball, and Matt Davidson hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Indians.

We'll take it.

Cabrera dealt to Kansas City for two prospects

When I got to the ballpark Sunday, I looked at the Sox lineup on the scoreboard and noticed Leury Garcia was leading off and playing left field. Garcia was just coming off the disabled list, so I knew immediately another roster move had taken place.

I also noticed that Melky Cabrera was not in the lineup, so I checked my phone and learned the veteran outfielder had been traded to the Kansas City Royals for pitching prospects A.J. Puckett and Andre Davis.

Cabrera is a defensive liability, so I doubt the Royals are too excited about him patrolling the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium. But, the soon-to-be-33-year-old does have a little something left with the bat. He's hitting .295/.336/.436 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs this year, and his high-contact, gap-to-gap approach should fit in that Kansas City lineup.

The Royals enter Monday's play as the second wild card team in the American League, and they sit two games back of Cleveland in the AL Central. In his final game with the Sox on Saturday, Cabrera got four hits off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. Perhaps that was what the Royals needed to see to finalize the deal. Cabrera can get hits off good pitchers.

As for the prospects coming back, Puckett, 22, is a right-hander who was the Royals' second-round pick in the 2016 draft. He was 9-7 with a 3.90 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 108.1 innings and 20 starts with Class-A Wilmington. His fastball sits at 92-93, and his best pitch is reportedly a changeup.

Davis, a 23-year-old left-hander, was 5-4 with a 4.83 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 85.2 innings and 18 starts with Class-A Lexington.

Puckett is likely the better of the two prospects, and we'll see how he does in the Winston-Salem rotation that already features Dane Dunning and Alec Hansen.

Cabrera is owed $5.1 million for the rest of this season, and given the money involved, it's not a big surprise the return in this trade did not involve elite prospects. But these two guys are at least somewhat interesting, so it's OK. The Sox will be paying half of the remaining dollars owed to Cabrera.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Surprisingly, Miguel Gonzalez baffles Cubs in crosstown opener

I apologize for previously including Miguel Gonzalez on my list of washed-up White Sox veterans.

Unlike starting rotation mates James Shields, Mike Pelfrey and Derek Holland, Gonzalez occasionally comes up with a well-pitched ballgame against a good team.

The right-hander came off the disabled list July 18 and fired six innings of one-run ball in a 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he backed that up with another strong outing Monday -- pitching 7.1 innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs in the first game of the 2017 Crosstown Classic at Wrigley Field.

With the win, the Sox (39-57) broke a nine-game losing streak and collected their first victory since the All-Star break. Gonzalez (5-9) also became the first Sox pitcher in 30 games to have an outing of seven innings or more.

It wasn't easy.

The key moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Sox leading 2-1. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs for Anthony Rizzo, and with the Sox bullpen depleted because of trades, manager Rick Renteria had little choice but to stick with Gonzalez.

With the wind blowing in at Wrigley, Rizzo flew out to the warning track in center field to end the threat.

The conditions did not stop the Sox from hitting a pair of home runs. Rookie center fielder Adam Engel's drive in the top of the sixth inning off Cubs reliever Justin Grimm (1-1) got into the left-center field bleachers to give the Sox the lead for good at 2-1.

Matt Davidson added a 476-foot solo shot off Koji Uehara in the top of the eighth inning to complete the scoring. That one was going to be a home run on any day, at any park, in any conditions.

Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak picked up his first save in 226 career relief appearances. He retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth before Kris Bryant reached on an infield single and Rizzo walked. Willson Contreras came to the plate representing the winning run, but Swarzak overmatched him with two blazing fastballs right on the black of the outside corner, the second of which was strike three called.

Contreras didn't think they were strikes, arguing with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez and breaking his bat in frustration after the out was recorded. Alas, they were strikes. Those pitches looked good to me, and good to K zone on the Comcast SportsNet Chicago broadcast, too.

Hey Willson, now it's your turn to cry.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Will Todd Frazier get his batting average above the Mendoza Line?

Todd Frazier (right) with Daryl Boston
There was an unintentionally humorous moment in the second inning of the White Sox game Tuesday night. Broadcaster Ken Harrelson was talking about how Todd Frazier had put on quite a display of home run power during batting practice, and how that was evidence that Frazier was feeling pretty good about his swing.

Naturally, on the next pitch from Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer, Frazier was totally fooled, made an excuse-me swing and hit a slow roller to first base for an easy out. It was an embarrassing result, and it went counter to what Harrelson had just said.

But give Hawk credit. He quickly recovered to note that Frazier "won't feel good about that swing."

That said, Frazier did make a good swing in the ninth inning, when he blasted a 430-foot solo home run to center field off Tampa Bay reliever Ryan Garton. That provided the final run in a 4-2 Sox victory that snapped a five-game losing streak.

The 1-for-4 night raised Frazier's batting average to a still unsightly .196. The Sox third baseman got off to a terrible start this year. He didn't get his first hit until the fourth game of the season, and the high-water mark for his batting average this year is .200.

He's reached that plateau twice, once May 2 and again May 20. Alas, both times Frazier couldn't sustain anything resembling a hot streak, and his average plummeted back into the .170s on both occasions.

I can't say Harrelson is wrong with his comments. Frazier has five hits in his past three games, and he has homered in two games in a row. In the ideal world, the Sox would trade Frazier in July and take an extended look at Matt Davidson at third base the second half of the season. But for that to happen, Frazier needs to sustain some sort of competence with the bat over the next six weeks.

There isn't a big market for a player who hit .225 last season and is off to a slow start this year. But, you take a look at the American League East, and you see a tight race developing that could involve three or four teams. And you see the two teams at the top, New York and Boston, having question marks at third base.

Might those two clubs see Frazier as an upgrade over Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval, respectively? Could the Sox create somewhat of a bidding war among the two AL East powers? Possibly. All Frazier really needs to do is hit .240 with power, and he's better than those two guys.

The question is, can he still hit .240? He hasn't done it yet since he's been with the Sox, and he needs to do it soon if there's going to be any demand for him in July. If he isn't traded, he becomes a candidate for reduced playing time the second half of the year, as the Sox will need to look at younger players during a rebuilding season.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

White Sox recover to take three out of four from Seattle Mariners

Avisail Garcia
Now is the perfect time to have the Seattle Mariners come up on your schedule.

There isn't a team in the American League that has dealt with more key injuries than the Mariners. Seattle's best player, second baseman Robinson Cano (quadriceps), is on the disabled list. Eighty percent of the Mariners' starting rotation  -- Felix Hernandez (shoulder), Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder), James Paxton (forearm) and Drew Smyly (elbow) -- also is on the disabled list.

Teams don't like to make excuses, and they often say injuries are not an excuse. The reality is a little different: If your best dudes get hurt, chances are you're gonna lose. And the Mariners lost three of four to the White Sox this weekend.

The Sox (20-22) took the final three games of the series, the last two in blowout fashion. Here's our recap of the weekend that was:

Friday, May 19
White Sox 2, Mariners 1 (10 inn.): It's well-known that Sox ace Jose Quintana has suffered from a lack of run support for years, and the same has held true this season. But, Quintana hasn't been pitching up to his capabilities as of late, as his 4.38 ERA coming into this game would attest. So, he's hasn't been quite as sympathetic of a figure as he has been in the past.

That changed in this game. It was back to business as usual for Quintana. He was brilliant over eight innings, allowing one run on only one hit. He struck out seven and walked one -- and got a no-decision. Typical.

Fortunately, while Quintana did not get the win, the Sox did. Melky Cabrera's two-out, RBI double on an 0-2 slider from Seattle's Tony Zych (2-1) plated the winning run in the top of the 10th inning.

Sox closer David Robertson (3-1) retired all six men he faced over two innings to pick up the win, which snapped a four-game losing streak for the Sox.

Saturday, May 20
White Sox 16, Mariners 1: I doubt the Sox will have a more lopsided win than this one all year. They jumped on Seattle starter Yovani Gallardo (2-4) for four runs in the first inning, highlighted by Avisail Garcia's three-run homer on a first-pitch curve ball, and never let up from there.

The South Siders pounded out 19 hits, and while we've still got three-quarters of a season left to play, it's getting harder and harder to overlook Garcia's performance. He became the first Sox player to total 12 bases in a game since Dan Johnson hit three home runs in the same game on the final day of the 2012 season. Garcia homered in each of his first two plate appearances, then added two doubles for good measure, as he finished 4 for 5 with six RBIs.

Garcia leads the Sox with 34 RBIs, and he is tied for the team lead in homers with eight.

Not even Mike Pelfrey (1-4) could lose this game. The erstwhile veteran pitched six innings of one-run ball to earn his first victory in six starts this season. If you get 16 runs of support, hey, you better win. That's about a whole month's worth of runs for Quintana, you know?

Sunday, May 21
White Sox 8, Mariners 1: Seattle called up right-hander Chris Heston to make his first start of the season, and let's just say it didn't go well. He walked the bases loaded in the first inning, and that led to a five-run outburst for the Sox.

The BABIP gods were with the South Siders in this one, as they got a couple solid base hits in the inning -- a two-run single by Yolmer Sanchez and an RBI single by Matt Davidson -- and two really cheap RBI infield singles -- one by Tim Anderson and the other by Kevan Smith.

Heston didn't deserve any luck, of course, because walking the bases loaded in the first inning is not a recipe for success.

Left-hander Derek Holland (4-3) has been the Sox's most consistent starting pitcher this season, and  he capitalized on having a 5-0 lead before he threw a single pitch with another strong outing. He went eight innings, allowing only a solo home run to Nelson Cruz. The veteran pounded the strike zone, throwing 70 of his 105 pitches for strikes, which is precisely what a pitcher should be doing with a big lead. He fanned six, walked only two and lowered his season ERA to 2.47.

Sanchez extended his hitting streak to 12 games with the first-inning single. Anderson added a solo home run in the third, his fifth of the year, and a three-hit performance raised his batting average to .264.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Better to fight back and lose than to lay down and die, right?

Tim Anderson
The White Sox trailed the Seattle Mariners, 4-0, after six innings Thursday night.

Is it wrong that I didn't get excited when they fought back to tie it up? I just figured they'd get walked off in the bottom of the ninth inning anyway, and they did, as Guillermo Heredia singled home Jarrod Dyson with the winning run to give Seattle a 5-4 victory.

The Sox (17-22) are now 0-4 on their current 10-game road trip, but we can't say the failure is for lack of trying.

The South Siders' rally from the four-run deficit started with a two-run homer by Matt Davidson in the top of the seventh. Todd Frazier and Tim Anderson hit back-to-back solo homers in the top of the eighth to even the score at 4, and get starting pitcher Dylan Covey off the hook.

We'll give Covey some credit -- he allowed four runs, but he got through six innings. That's more than we can say for Mike Pelfrey in any of his starts. Covey still gets demolished in the fifth inning, however, and Thursday was no different. Jean Segura hit a three-run homer off him in the fifth inning of this game, and opponents are hitting .538 and slugging 1.038 against Covey in the fifth.

Yuck.

But he's not the loser in this one. That would be left-handed reliever Dan Jennings (2-1), who couldn't work around two singles in the ninth. Sox killer Dyson, of course, was involved. He reached first base after his sacrifice bunt attempt resulted in a forceout at second base.

After a long at-bat and numerous throws over to first base, Carlos Ruiz hit a grounder to Frazier, who tried to start a 5-4-3 double play, only to see Dyson beat his throw to second. The Sox made the turn to first base to retire Ruiz, but that left Dyson in scoring position with two outs.

That set the table for Heredia to deliver the game-winning hit, and send the Sox to their 10 loss in their past 12 games.

But, I guess we should give the Sox some credit. It would have been easy to give away at-bats and just lose 4-0. We've seen previous Sox teams do just that. There are no moral victories in pro sports, but at least this team tries to win, even though they aren't good.

Friday, May 5, 2017

No complaints about a White Sox split in Kansas City

Anthony Swarzak is on a career hot streak.
As a White Sox fan, I'm often in bad spirits while the team is playing against the Royals in Kansas City. Horrible things tend to happen to the Sox when they go to Kauffman Stadium, and I carry all the scars from past years with me.

Even if the Sox were up 900-0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning at Kansas City, I'd be somewhat concerned that the Royals would roar back with 901 runs and pull out a win. Hey, I've got my reasons to be paranoid.

So, when the Sox were leading 7-0 going to the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday, I wasn't counting my chickens. It's never over in Kansas City until the 27th out is recorded, and fortunately, the Sox finished off an 8-3 victory to gain a split in the four-game series.

Perhaps most importantly, at least for me as a fan, they avoided the archetypal, gut-wrenching, devastating, lingers-with-you-for-a-week loss that tends to occur against the Royals. In this series, the Sox (15-12) won the two games in which they had the lead, and they lost the two games in which they did not. That's fine. We'll take it and keep moving.

The Sox are 5-2 against the Royals in 2017, after going 5-14 against them last season. It's refreshing to see the Sox punch back against this Kansas City club for a change, even though the Royals (9-18) are admittedly struggling right now.

Some particulars from Thursday:
  • The Sox took the lead three batters into the game on Jose Abreu's fourth home run of the road trip. It was a two-run shot after a bloop single by Melky Cabrera.
  • Matt Davidson connected for a 452-foot homer in the second inning. It was his fifth of the season, and it came off a right-handed pitcher -- Kansas City's Ian Kennedy (0-3).
  • Derek Holland (3-2) continues to pitch well for the Sox. He allowed no runs and only two hits over the first six innings. He got nicked for a couple runs in the seventh, but again, the Sox had a big lead, so no harm. The second run he allowed was not his fault -- it was unearned after Davidson booted a routine grounder that should have had the Sox out of the inning. Holland's ERA is down to 2.02 after this latest strong outing.
  • Slumping shortstop Tim Anderson had the day off, and third baseman Todd Frazier was a late scratch with back spasms. The Sox had Leury Garcia batting fifth in this game, yet they still posted eight runs. Funny game, this baseball.
  • Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak faced two batters and got both of them out. He has now retired 30 of the last 31 batters he has faced. Swarzak has been on four clubs in the past four years, and his career ERA is in the mid-4s. Yet right now, he's pitching as if he's one of the best relievers in the league.
Have I mentioned that baseball is a funny game?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Matt Davidson makes case for more playing time

Matt Davidson
The White Sox leader in home runs and RBIs through 18 games is ... Matt Davidson?

Yes, that's correct.

Davidson went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and his team-best fourth home run of the season Monday, leading the Sox (9-9) to a 12-1 win over the Kansas City Royals (7-12).

The 26-year-old has 14 RBIs, which is tied for the team lead with Avisail Garcia, but Davidson has posted that total in only 40 plate appearances, while Garcia has 72 plate appearances.

Davidson has been the source of much consternation among Sox fans because he hasn't been playing every day. Before Monday's rout, Davidson had not started any of the previous four games.

I can at least understand manager Rick Renteria's logic. In those four games, the Sox faced a strong contingent of right-handed pitchers -- Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees, and then Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians.

None of those pitchers is a good matchup for Davidson, who has struck out 12 times in his 24 plate appearances against right-handers this season. The flip side to that argument? Davidson also has three home runs against righties, so perhaps he's hot enough right now that "handedness" doesn't matter so much.

Davidson was in there Monday against Kansas City left-hander Jason Vargas (3-1), and he laced an opposite field homer in his first at-bat. But perhaps his best swing came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he delivered an RBI double on the ninth pitch of an at-bat against Royals reliever Peter Moylan, who is a side-winding right-hander. Davidson fought off a couple tough 3-2 pitches, then found one that he could shoot into the right-center gap for a hit.

Later in the sixth inning, during which the Sox scored eight runs, Davidson hit a two-run single off the left-field wall that had an exit velocity of 110 mph. He hit the ball so hard that he couldn't make a double out of it. That one was off a left-handed pitcher, reliever Travis Wood.

The question for Renteria is this: Does he continue to spot Davidson in matchups that are favorable for him? Or does he take the training wheels off, throw Davidson in there against everybody -- even tough right-handers -- and find out whether this hot start is for real?

When I look at Davidson's slash line of .368/.375/.789, I can't help but think "small sample size." But the longer this goes on, the more calls we are going to hear for more playing time for Davidson. That especially will be the case if the left-handed side of the DH platoon, Cody Asche, continues to struggle. Asche is 2 for 35 and has yet to record an extra-base hit in 38 plate appearances.

We won't know Tuesday whether Renteria is going to change course. The Royals are starting their best pitcher, left-hander Danny Duffy, so that means Davidson is going to play. We'll see what the Sox manager does the next time the team faces a less-than-elite right-hander.

Speaking of right-handers, Miguel Gonzalez (3-0) continues to roll for the Sox. He went eight innings Monday, allowing only one unearned run on two hits. He struck out five and walked one, and lowered his ERA to 2.00 over four starts and 27 innings. He's been the Sox's best pitcher this month. Who would have thought that? 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Surprise! White Sox win a series against defending AL champion Cleveland

Avisail Garcia -- AL's leading hitter as of April 14
We concluded yesterday's blog post by noting that White Sox manager Rick Renteria would be wise to avoid using relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones for a fourth straight game.

Well, guess what? There was never a reason to consider going to high-leverage bullpen guys in Thursday's game, as the Sox rolled to a 10-4 win over the Cleveland Indians.

The Sox (4-4) took two out of three from the defending AL champions and sent the Tribe (4-5) to their fifth loss in their past six games.

Shortstop Tim Anderson hit a home run off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin (0-2) on the first pitch of the game, and that sparked a five-run first inning for the South Siders. The other four runs were scored after two were out. Matt Davidson hit a three-run, opposite-field homer to make it 4-0. Yolmer Sanchez doubled and scored on a single by Omar Narvaez to cap the rally.

The Sox ended up scoring nine of their 10 runs with two outs, and the trend continued in the second inning when Avisail Garcia delivered a two-run single to make it 7-1 and end Tomlin's night.

Final line for the Cleveland right-hander: 1.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 0 Ks, 2 HRs

It was nice to see the Sox knock Tomlin around. He had a 1.83 ERA in three starts and 19.2 IP against Chicago last year. Hey, it's a new season.

With all the early run support, you would have thought Miguel Gonzalez would have been in line for his second win. Alas, the right-hander ran up a high pitch count, walking four men in the first four innings, and he couldn't make it through the fifth after the Tribe scored two runs to cut the lead to 7-3.

Gonzalez allowed three earned runs on eight hits with five strikeouts in 4.2 innings.

Renteria, as we suggested, went to some of his secondary relievers. Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tommy Kahnle combined for 4.1 innings of one-run relief. Swarzak (1-0) recorded five outs without allowing a run to pick up his first win as a member of the Sox.

The Sox put the game away with three more two-out runs in the eighth on singles by Jose Abreu, Cody Asche and Garcia.

Unbelievably, Garcia is leading the league in hitting with a .452 average. He also has eight RBIs. Cue the talk about small sample sizes.

The Sox will continue their nine-game road swing with a three-game weekend series in Minnesota. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Dylan Covey (First appearance of 2017) vs. Adalberto Mejia (0-1, 10.80 ERA)
Saturday: Jose Quintana (0-2, 6.17 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (2-0, 0.69 ERA)
Sunday: James Shields (1-0, 1.69 ERA) vs. Hector Santiago (1-1, 2.38 ERA)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Derek Holland continues mastery of Cleveland in 2-1 White Sox win

Derek Holland
White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is now 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA over five career starts at Cleveland's Progressive Field, after he tossed six shutout innings Wednesday in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the Indians.

Holland (1-1) limited the Tribe to only one hit -- a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the sixth -- while striking out four and walking four.

The 30-year-old veteran has a 1.50 ERA through 12 innings and two starts, and if you look at some of the pitch charts, it's clear that he's changed his approach after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness the past three seasons.

Based on my own observations, it has seemed as if Holland is throwing his curveball a lot more this season than he did during his time with the Texas Rangers, and this research conducted by our friends at SouthSideSox confirms my suspicion.

Holland is throwing his curve on 21.1 percent of pitches this season, as compared with 7.5 percent in 2016. He's also using more four-seamers and fewer sinkers. His sinker use has dipped from 58.9 percent of pitches to 13.9 percent, while he's using the four-seamer 29.4 percent of the time, as compared with only 1.4 percent last year. The use of the changeup and the slider has remained status quo.

Give credit to Holland for realizing he needs to make adjustments. His fastball is sitting at 92 mph, as opposed to his pre-injury 94 or 95. That two or three miles per hour can make a big difference, and sometimes a veteran pitcher needs to make some concessions to Father Time.

Is Holland's early success sustainable as the weather warms and the conditions become more hitter friendly? I don't know. We'll have to watch and learn.

As for Wednesday's game, the Sox offense was limited again, but Holland and three relievers made two early runs stand up. Matt Davidson's two-run single in the second inning accounted for the only Sox offense, and it was enough for a rare win in Cleveland.

Something to watch for in Thursday's game: Both closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have worked in three consecutive games. If it's a close game late, will new manager Rick Renteria have the restraint to not overwork Robertson and Jones, who could be valuable trading pieces for the Sox later in the year?

Renteria shouldn't be afraid to allow Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak to pitch. Even if the Sox were expected to contend, it's too early in the season to be going to the whip with the best bullpen guys on the club. Robin Ventura made that mistake last year, and despite early success, the relief corps crumbled with injury and ineffectiveness in May and June.

Soto to DL; Smith recalled

The Sox have placed catcher Geovany Soto on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Kevan Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

It's too bad for Soto, who was off to a good start with three home runs. (The Sox only have six as a team). It's also too bad for the Sox, as their already shaky defense behind the plate just got a little bit worse.

I saw Smith catch a few games during spring ball, and while he hit well in Cactus League play, let's just say he did not impress me with his receiving skills.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.