Showing posts with label Minnesota Twins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Minnesota Twins. Show all posts

Monday, April 10, 2017

White Sox lose two out of three to Minnesota Twins

Avisail Garcia
The Minnesota Twins lost a league-worst 103 games last season, but they've surprised the American League with a 5-1 start this year. Minnesota starting pitchers have racked up quality starts in five of the team's first six games, and not surprisingly, all five of those games resulted in wins.

The Twins took two out of three from the White Sox over the weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are some observations from the series:

Friday, April 8
Twins 3, White Sox 1: If we're being honest with ourselves, we know the Sox are going to struggle offensively. They don't have much power, and they were limited to seven hits (six singles, one double) by Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (1-0) and two relievers in this loss.

Poor defense cost Sox starter Derek Holland (0-1) a gift run in the fourth inning. He tried to pick Robbie Grossman off second base and tossed the ball into center field, allowing Grossman to advance to third. The Minnesota runner later scored when Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped a shallow fly ball that was not nearly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly.

Grossman also scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a double by Miguel Sano. In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Eduardo Escobar bit Holland, as a double by Chris Gimenez off Sox reliever Nate Jones scored Minnesota's third run.

This game featured Rick Renteria's first glaring managerial mistake of the season. With the Sox trailing 3-1 after eight innings, he put Jacob May in center field in place of Leury Garcia -- presumably for defensive purposes. Naturally, May ended up at the plate after Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto drew two-out walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie, who is hitless through five games, was seemingly unaware that the previous two hitters had walked. He swung at the first pitch from Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and grounded out to second base to end the game. Fail.

Saturday, April 9
White Sox 6, Twins 2: The Sox executed pretty well offensively in the game, knocking Minnesota starter Adalberto Mejia out of the box early with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.

In both innings, the Sox placed a runner on second base with no outs. Both times, they brought the runner around to score. Tyler Saladino doubled to start the game, advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Tim Anderson and scored when Melky Cabrera grounded out to short with the Minnesota infield back.

Todd Frazier walked and stole second base in the second inning. Avisail Garcia did the right thing -- he looked to hit the ball to the right side -- and he drove one off the right-field wall for an RBI triple. Garcia scored later in the inning when the Twins botched a rundown off a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Soto.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-0) protected the lead through six innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Jason Castro in the sixth, but walked off the mound with a 3-2 lead. Garcia and Soto hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth to account for three more runs, providing the final margin of victory.

Garcia finished a double short of the cycle. He went 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

Saturday, April 10
Twins 4, White Sox 1: Again, the big hit was lacking for the Sox. They had 11 runners reach base and stranded 10 of them. The good news: They took five walks and had one man reach on an HBP. The bad news: They had only five hits, and all of them were singles.

The lineup had no punch against Minnesota's best pitcher, Ervin Santana (2-0). The right-hander went six innings, and he allowed only two hits.

Sox ace Jose Quintana (0-2) pitched much better than he did in the home opener. He had his typical quality start, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. Alas, he left with the Sox trailing 2-0, and had nothing to show for a respectable effort.

Minnesota increased its lead to 4-0 in the eighth when Sano got a not-high-enough fastball from Jones and knocked it over the center field wall for a two-run homer.

The Sox had their chance in the bottom of the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Minnesota reliever Matt Belisle. But, Matt Davidson basically struck himself out by swinging at a Belisle fastball that was up and out of the zone. It was a rally-killing at-bat, to say the least.

Kintzler entered the game and plunked Avisail Garcia with a pitch to the give the Sox their lone run, but then he struck out Yolmer Sanchez, who flailed helplessly at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

One area the Sox must improve: They need to cut down on their strikeouts. They are letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the zone in RBI situations. It's a long-standing problem, and part of the problem is they need to get better players. Davidson and Sanchez likely will never be good hitters at the big-league level. But in the meantime, Renteria and his staff need to preach more patience at the plate.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why is David Robertson pitching four days in a row?

David Robertson
I don't much care for the Detroit Tigers, so I was happy the White Sox recovered from a Labor Day loss to take two out of three games at U.S. Cellular Field this week.

The Sox won, 2-0, on Tuesday as Miguel Gonzalez came off the disabled list to fire 6.1 innings of shutout ball. Jose Abreu backed him with his 23rd home run of the season.

A fourth-run eighth inning Wednesday lifted the Sox to a come-from-behind 7-4 win. The Sox trailed, 4-3, entering the inning. Abreu singled and scored the tying run on a double by Justin Morneau. Avisail Garcia delivered a go-ahead RBI single, and Tyler Saladino and Adam Eaton tacked on RBI hits.

But here's what I didn't like about this series: Closer David Robertson pitched four straight days.

What is the point of that?

This is September. The rosters are expanded. There are plenty of other relievers available. The Sox are out of the pennant race. While Robertson is one of the few reliable relievers the Sox have, there's no reason to be pushing him this hard in relatively meaningless games.

Robertson blew a save Sunday in an extra-inning win over the Minnesota Twins. He pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning in Monday's loss to the Tigers. And he picked up his 34th and 35th saves of the season in games Tuesday and Wednesday, although he was shaky in both outings.

Knowing that Robertson has two years and $25 million remaining on his contract, I would not be doing anything that puts extra wear and tear on his arm. If the Sox were pushing for a playoff spot, you could justify the workload. However, that's just not the case here.

The Sox need to protect their assets and make sure they have a healthy Robertson going into the offseason.

This overuse is yet another reason the Sox need to move on from manager Robin Ventura. He just doesn't seem to have a feel for what is going on.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Carlos Rodon ties Mat Latos for third on White Sox in wins

Carlos Rodon
Mat Latos pitched his last game in a White Sox uniform June 7. He was given his release June 17. He has not since appeared in a big league game with any team.

Nevertheless, Latos has ranked third on the Sox in wins all summer long with six, trailing only All-Stars Chris Sale (15-7) and Jose Quintana (11-10).

But Friday, one of the other Sox pitchers finally reached the exalted six-win plateau. Left-hander Carlos Rodon won his fourth straight decision, going a season-high seven innings in an 11-4 win over the last-place Minnesota Twins.

Rodon allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits. He struck out five and walked one while improving his record to 6-8. He is now tied with the erstwhile Latos for third on the team in wins. Hooray!

The Sox's offense solved a nemesis. They knocked around Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (5-9) for five runs on nine hits over 5.2 innings. Gibson had allowed only one earned run in 12.2 innings in two previous starts against the Sox this year, including seven innings of shutout ball in a Minnesota victory on June 28.

In this game, the Sox pounded out a season-high 16 hits. Adam Eaton went 4 for 5 with four runs scored. Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera both went 3 for 6 with three RBIs, and Todd Frazier hit a two-run homer, his 35th of the season. With the home run, Frazier sets a new record for homers by a Sox third baseman in a single season. The previous record (34) was set by Sox manager Robin Ventura in 1996.

But more importantly, Rodon looks poised to finish the season strong. He's 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA over his last six starts. With about five starts left, he appears to be in good position to push Latos farther down the team rankings in wins.

Friday, July 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so much for that rare blowout win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kyle Gibson continues mastery of White Sox

Kyle Gibson
Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson entered Tuesday's action with an 0-5 record and a 6.05 ERA. He had struck out only 22 batters in 38.2 innings, and arm problems had limited him to just seven starts this season.

Fortunately for Gibson, the White Sox are always willing and able to tip their caps and grab some bench against struggling pitchers. So, naturally, Gibson fired seven innings of shutout baseball on Tuesday. He struck out seven and allowed just five hits as the last-place Twins (25-51) beat the Sox, 4-0.

Minnesota pitchers collected their first shutout of the season in their 76th game. Gibson is now 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in eight career starts against Chicago. He is 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA in five career starts at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox ought to be ashamed of themselves. Gibson is 27-32 with 4.49 ERA in his career. He's basically a league-average pitcher, and the Sox have no excuse for allowing a mediocre pitcher they see all the time to own them in this fashion.

We could cue up the narratives about Jose Quintana (5-8) being a tough-luck pitcher, but frankly, I didn't think Quintana was that good in this loss. He went seven innings, allowing four runs on six hits with eight strikeouts. He served up two home runs to Brian Dozier that cost him the game.

Dozier's first home run was a solo shot in the second inning. His second blast was a three-run-shot in the sixth that effectively put the game out of reach, and it came after some bizarre strategy by Quintana and the Sox.

The Twins were leading 1-0 in the sixth and had a runner on third base with two outs, and Quintana threw four consecutive pitches to Joe Mauer that were nowhere near the zone. Mauer dutifully took his walk. It was quite clear Quintana was pitching around Mauer to get to Dozier.

This was a criminally stupid choice because Dozier is far and away the hottest Minnesota hitter right now. The Twins second baseman is on a 10-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .439 (18 for 41) with five home runs, two triples and three doubles.

Mauer, in contrast, is in a 5-for-34 slump (.147) over his past nine games. His batting average is down to .267, and the Twins are basically paying him $23 million a year to be a singles hitter. His days of being among baseball's best hitters are now years in the past.

What baseball world are we living in where it makes sense to pitch around the ice-cold Mauer to get to the red-hot Dozier? It should come as no surprise that Dozier made the Sox pay with a game-deciding home run.

Decisions such as the one to walk Mauer only make sense in White Sox Land, a land where it's OK to tip your cap to Kyle Gibson and blow winnable games at home against last-place teams.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Robin Ventura's winning percentage is down to .427 against divisional opponents

After a 23-10 start, the White Sox are now reeling, stuck in a freefall that has no end in sight.

They've lost 18 of 24 games. Their record entering Tuesday's play is a mediocre 29-28. Where they once led the AL Central by six games, they now trail the first-place Cleveland Indians by 3.5 games.

Some of these woes can be traced to the Sox's inability to defeat divisional foes, which has been a problem for as long as Robin Ventura has been the manager, if not longer.

The Sox have played 10 of their last 13 games against AL Central opponents. They have gone 1-9 in those 10 games, including nine straight losses. They took the first game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians on May 23, then lost the next three games of the four-game series.

From May 27 to 29, they lost three in a row to the Kansas City Royals, blowing a four-run lead in the seventh inning the first game, a six-run lead in the ninth inning the second game, and a two-run lead in the eighth inning in the finale.

After a brief respite in which the Sox won two of three from the New York Mets in an interleague series, the South Siders were swept in a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers over the weekend. The Sox were outscored 22-9 in the series and generally looked overmatched against a fourth-place Detroit club (which, by the way, is now tied with the Sox for third).

Here's a look at the Sox's divisional record for each season during the Ventura era:

2016: 9-12
2015: 32-44
2014: 33-43
2013: 26-50
2012: 37-35
Total: 137-184

The only winning year against the division was 2012, and even that was skewed because the Sox went 14-4 against the 96-loss Minnesota Twins. They struggled against other divisional foes.

This year, that 9-12 mark is a bit deceiving, as well, because the Sox are 6-0 against a Minnesota club that enters Tuesday's play with a miserable 16-40 record. Against legitimate teams -- such as Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit -- the Sox are a combined 3-12.

Ventura's winning percentage over four-plus years against his own division is down to .427. Not that his overall winning percentage is very good -- it sits at .462. But the Sox have shown they cannot win critical games under his leadership.

How much longer can the front office allow this to go on? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

White Sox add to Minnesota's early misery; Twins drop to 0-7

Minnesota's Kyle Gibson had never lost to the Sox -- until Monday.
I was hoping the Minnesota Twins would win at least one game over the weekend against the Kansas City Royals. Not so much because I wanted the Royals to lose, but more because I didn't want the Twins to enter their three-game series against the White Sox this week winless.

I figure the longer a streak goes -- either a good streak or a bad one -- the more likely it is to end. The law of averages eventually kicks in.

So, I had a little bit of dismay Sunday when the Royals erased a 3-1 deficit in the ninth inning and went on to beat the Twins, 4-3, in 10 innings. That meant Minnesota would enter its home opener Monday against the Sox with an 0-6 mark. The Twins were sending right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson to the mound. Gibson had a 4-0 career record against the Sox, including a 2.13 ERA.

The Twins were due for a win, and the Sox were facing a pitcher they never hit well. Gulp.

It turns out I had no reason to worry. Jose Quintana outpitched Gibson, and the Sox beat Minnesota 4-1, sending the Twins to 0-7.

This was a methodical win for the Sox, who improved to 5-2. They took the lead early, added to their lead, and then protected it. Brett Lawrie had an RBI single in the second inning. Austin Jackson narrowly missed a grand slam in the fourth -- the ball hooked just foul -- moments before delivering a two-run single up the middle. Todd Frazier's RBI double in the ninth accounted for the final Sox run.

Quintana fired six innings of one-run ball. Matt Albers worked a scoreless seventh. Zach Duke and Nate Jones combined for an easy eighth. Closer David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save of the season. For the Sox, that's how you draw it up.

The Twins, however, did not plan on being 0-7 at this stage. Yes, there are 155 games to go, but history tells us Minnesota is a long shot to get out of this hole.

Of the 10 previous teams to start the season 0-7 in American League history, none have recovered to post a winning record, let alone make the playoffs. The 2008 Detroit Tigers started 0-7 and ended up 74-88. No team has ever reached 75 wins after starting 0-7. On average, teams that start 0-7 end up with 60 wins.

There are three teams in MLB history that have started 0-6 and recovered to make the playoffs: the 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1995 Cincinnati Reds and the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays. All three of those clubs picked up their first win of the season in their seventh game.

Make no mistake, the Twins are still likely to win one soon. Odds are the Sox will not sweep this current three-game set. But even after that first win comes, Minnesota will be fighting history the rest of the way as a result of its historically bad first week.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

John Danks has the lowest WHIP of any White Sox starter in the second half of the season

An absurd ninth-inning meltdown by Tyler Flowers and David Robertson prevented White Sox left-hander John Danks from picking up his eighth victory of the season Monday night, but it didn't change the fact that Danks turned in a quality outing in the Sox's 8-7, 14-inning win over the last-place Oakland Athletics.

Danks went seven innings, allowing just three hits. Granted, all of them were solo home runs, but can anyone really complain about the so-called No. 5 starter giving up three runs over seven innings? I don't believe so.

The overall numbers don't look great for Danks; he's 7-12 with a 4.56 ERA this year. But I'll bet you didn't know he has the lowest WHIP of any Sox starter since the All-Star break. His ERA is the second lowest over that same span, behind only Jose Quintana, who has been the Sox's best pitcher over the last two months.

Here are the second-half numbers for each member of the Sox rotation:

1. Quintana: 5-1, 3.28 ERA, 1.369 WHIP
2. Danks 3-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
3. Carlos Rodon 4-4, 4.10 ERA, 1.298 WHIP
4. Chris Sale 4-5, 5.00 ERA, 1.302 WHIP
5. Jeff Samardzija 3-8, 6.46 ERA, 1.450 WHIP

Not sure what to make of all this, other than to say this isn't the way the Sox drew it up. Quintana has done his job, but Sale and Samardzija are supposed to be the two best pitchers. Samardzija has been consistently terrible. Sale has been up and down, mainly because he keeps inexplicably getting roughed up by the Minnesota Twins.

One thing we can say: Danks is not responsible for the Sox's inability to make a second-half push. He stunk the first half, yes, but he's routinely done his job in more recent outings -- including Monday night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If the White Sox insist on keeping John Danks in the rotation, they need to give him a shorter leash

White Sox pitcher John Danks is overpaid. Everybody knows that. But this blog entry is not going to be about money. Today we are talking about Danks' poor performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The veteran left-hander had another implosion against an AL Central opponent Monday night. He gave up nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, including three home runs, over 5.1 innings in an embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on national TV. Danks getting rocked by a divisional foe is nothing new. We've chronicled those struggles here in the past.

I've heard some folks argue Danks is a "serviceable" fifth starter. Heck, I think I might have made that statement a couple times in the past. But as time goes on and I gather more information, I've come around to the opinion that this guy doesn't belong in the rotation anymore. His 5.38 ERA ranks 50th out of 53 qualifying American League pitchers. That's not serviceable. It's terrible. It's the kind of performance you can't live with if you want to think of yourself as a competitive team.

It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have other options. For instance, we can complain until we're blue in the face about the not-so-dynamic Sox catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. But the reality is those two guys are the best the team has in its organization at that position right now. You can't do anything else but trot them out there until the front office addresses the issue.

But it's not that way with the fifth starter spot. White Sox farmhand Erik Johnson is pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte. He was just named International League Pitcher of the Week. He has not given up a run in any of his last three outings, striking out 28 batters and walking just four in 22 innings over that span.

Given what we know about Danks and his struggles against the AL Central, and just his struggles in general, wouldn't it be a better play to drop Johnson into the rotation for a week and see how he does? At the very least, he could give teams such as Minnesota and Detroit a different look. The Tigers and the Twins are not fooled by the offspeed pitches of Danks. They've faced him countless times, and they are probably fighting to get to the bat rack, knowing a night against Danks is a chance to pad their personal statistics. Minnesota did a good job of getting fat on Monday night, that's for sure.

If the Sox are going to insist on leaving Danks in the rotation, at the very least they need to give him a shorter leash. Minnesota hung a five-spot on him in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, turning a 2-1 Sox lead into a 6-2 deficit. No, it wasn't all Danks' fault. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a crucial error behind him that opened the door for the big inning, but the Twins scored three runs after two were out, as well. Danks had opportunities to make pitches, pick his teammate up and minimize the damage. He failed to do that.

He should have been removed after that fourth inning. A four-run deficit is not good, but it's not insurmountable. The Sox's long and middle relievers were all fresh and available to use. Manager Robin Ventura should have gone to one of them. You hope a fresh relief pitcher can keep Minnesota at six runs, and then maybe your offense can come back.

Instead, Ventura trotted the ineffective Danks out there for both the fifth and sixth innings, apparently wanting him to "eat innings." Predictable results followed -- a three-run homer by Kennys Vargas in the sixth made it 9-2. Then, the game was over.

The whole thing was disturbing and disheartening. By sending Danks back out after he had been roughed up, it felt like Ventura was conceding the game. And he can't afford to concede games to division foes right now. The Sox are 30-39, 11 games out and in last place. There has to be an urgency to win right now. You can't allow a struggling pitcher such as Danks to go out there and torpedo everything for 24 other guys. There's no rule that says Danks has to stay in for 90 to 100 pitches no matter what. When he's bad, pull him and give the team a chance to come back and win. This isn't rocket science.

On Monday night, it seemed as though Ventura was managing for tomorrow when he needed to win today. The Sox skipper is running out of tomorrows, maybe a lot faster than he realizes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

John Danks vs. AL Central: AL Central wins

Whatever good vibes the White Sox generated with their six-game winning streak are gone now, after the team dropped three consecutive games to the last-place Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field this week.

The latest loss came Thursday night, a 5-2 Cleveland victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The game started at 7:10 p.m. It was basically over by 7:30. Sox starter John Danks gave up four runs in the first inning, including home runs to Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles, and the Indians tacked on another run in the second to seize an early 5-0 edge.

The score remained the same until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, when Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hit the traditional, ceremonial meaningless home run to make the score look better in the paper.

The larger trend I took away from this game, though, is that Danks really struggles against AL Central division opponents. The teams than know him best tend to get to him early and often. I checked the numbers, and for the most part, they confirmed my suspicions. Danks is just plain lousy against three of the four teams he pitches against most regularly:

Danks vs. Indians: 5-13, 5.29 ERA
Danks vs. Twins: 7-14, 5.67 ERA
Danks vs. Tigers: 6-10, 5.11 ERA
Danks vs. Royals: 8-1, 2.73 ERA
Danks vs. AL Central: 26-38, 4.83 ERA

The Royals have to be wondering what they are doing wrong. For the Indians, Tigers and Twins, it's a fight at the bat rack when they see Danks is pitching. Those hitters probably can't wait to get to home plate.

Take out the stats against Kansas City, and Danks is 18-37 with a 5.38 ERA against Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.

If you're wondering why the Sox can't seem to beat divisional foes these past few years, Danks is among the culprits.

The Sox (18-20) welcome divisional rival Minnesota to the U.S. Cellular Field for a three-game set this weekend. Fortunately, Danks is not slated to pitch in the series. Here are the weekend matchups:

Friday: Jeff Samardzija (3-2, 4.58 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.76 ERA)
Saturday: Chris Sale (3-1, 4.36 ERA) vs. Trevor May (2-3, 5.15 ERA)
Sunday: Jose Quintana (2-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (3-3, 2.98 ERA)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Weekend thoughts: Chris Sale, bullpen, late-game managerial tactics

The White Sox won't go 0-162 after all, after they picked up a pair of weekend victories over the Minnesota Twins. The Sox rallied from a 4-0 deficit Saturday to win, 5-4, and backed that up with a 6-2 win Sunday. Here are a few takeaways from what we saw in these two games:

1. Chris Sale looks healthy. The Sox ace was facing major league hitters for the first time this year after missing most of the spring with an avulsion fracture in his foot, but there were few signs of rust as he picked up the victory in Sunday's game.

The left-hander allowed one run on five hits over six innings. He struck out eight, walked just one and threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes. His 98th and final pitch registered 98 mph on the radar gun. The velocity and command of his fastball were both present, and his changeup was working well, too.

The exciting thing about Sale is there is still another level he can get to from here. His slider was ineffective Sunday. He threw it only 10 times, and by my unofficial count, three of the five hits he allowed came on that pitch. When a pitcher misses time with injury, usually the last thing to come back to him is the feel for his breaking pitch. That was the only component missing for Sale in this start.

Fortunately, his overpowering fastball and effective change were more than enough against a light-hitting Twins team. Sale's next start is against the Detroit Tigers, so he'll likely need the slider a little more against a better offensive team.

2. One of the better parts of this weekend for me as a Sox fan was seeing newly acquired relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke do the jobs they were signed to do.

Duke worked a scoreless eighth Saturday to keep the game tied at 4-4. After the Sox scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to take a 5-4 lead, Robertson struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth inning to earn his first save with the Sox.

Robertson overpowered the 7-8-9 hitters in the Minnesota lineup. It was an example of a dominant closer dominating hitters he should be dominating, so from that perspective the achievement probably shouldn't be celebrated that much.

But from the perspective of Sox fans, we've watched our alleged "closers" fail to throw strikes to punch-and-judy hitters and walk their way into trouble one too many times over the past few seasons. It was a refreshing change to watch Robertson go right at guys and protect a one-run lead without forcing fans to gnaw their fingernails down to their bloody stubs.

Duke also worked the eighth inning on Sunday. The defense behind him was poor -- he was forced to get five outs in the inning -- but he limited the damage to just one run. Duke left the mound with a 3-2 lead. The Sox scored three in the bottom of the eighth, and Robertson once again retired the side in order in the ninth in a non-save situation.

3. Speaking of the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday, the Sox took advantage of what I thought was a rookie mistake by new Twins manager Paul Molitor.

Minnesota relief pitcher Aaron Thompson had a pretty good series for himself. Thompson retired all four batters he faced Saturday. He retired all four batters he faced Sunday, too. He posted a 1-2-3 seventh inning and struck out Sox DH Adam LaRoche to start the eighth inning.

But I guess the left-handed Thompson was doing too good of a job. Molitor apparently didn't want him to face Avisail Garcia with one out and nobody on base in a 3-2 game, so he brought in right-hander Blaine Boyer.

Boyer faced four hitters -- all right-handed -- and he gave up a single to Garcia, an RBI single to Alexei Ramirez, a two-run homer to Gordon Beckham and a single to Tyler Flowers. All four were line drives.

Did I mention Boyer was the same guy who blew the game for the Twins on Saturday? Boyer is terrible, but Molitor wanted his righty-vs.-righty matchups, and he got them.

Personally, I felt like doing cartwheels when Molitor removed the effective Thompson from the game. It's always amazing to me when managers remove a left-handed pitcher who is throwing the ball well for no other reason than the fact that a right-handed hitter is stepping to home plate.

It's just silly, lazy managing, and it worked out nicely for the Sox in this case.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field




Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field is always one of my favorite days of the year.  The long, cold winter is over. A new season has begun, and it's a chance to celebrate that renewal with good friends and take in a ballgame. (See photos)


Too bad the White Sox missed the memo that this was supposed to be a happy occasion. I've been to the Sox home opener every year since 2010, and this is the first year I've seen them lose. Until Friday's 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Sox had won their home opener every year since 2007.

I guess it was inevitable that they'd drop one eventually, but this loss was pretty galling. The festive, sellout crowd that was present at the start of the game had thinned out to just us diehards by the time the game ended. The Sox looked terrible, and the loss dropped them to 0-4 -- the first time they've started a season with four consecutive losses since 1995.

Even though the Sox have been struggling, I did not expect their bats to be silenced by Minnesota left-hander Tommy Milone, a soft-tosser who reminded me a little bit of Bruce Chen. Milone worked 7.2 shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- a bunt single by Micah Johnson in the third and two-out double to Tyler Flowers in the eighth. The Sox did not have a runner reach third base until the ninth inning.

The Sox have scored one run or fewer in three of their first four games, and obviously, that doesn't lend itself to success. Look at some of these bad starts from hitters you expect to perform:

Adam Eaton: 2 for 16
Melky Cabrera: 2 for 16
Jose Abreu: 3 for 14
Avisail Garcia: 3 for 11 with all three hits coming in the same game
Adam LaRoche: 1 for 14 with 8 strikeouts
Alexei Ramirez: 1 for 12

These are all guys with a track record, but none of them are swinging the bat well right now. You just have to cross your fingers and hope they start hitting the way they have in the past.

But perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've seen from the Sox is their terrible baserunning. I know they want to be aggressive, but they've crossed the line to criminal stupidity. After Johnson's bunt single Friday, he was picked off second base -- the second time he's been picked off already this year. The final out of the game, somewhat fittingly, came on a bad baserunning play by Eaton. He tried to score from third on a shallow pop to left off Abreu's bat. He was tagged out while getting tangled up at the plate with Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki, and for what? Even if he's safe, it's 6-1. Why risk injury by making a reckless play like that in 6-0 game in the ninth?

It's time for the Sox to pull in the reins on their new "aggressive" baserunning strategy. So far, it's resulted in no stolen bases, and by my count, six gift outs for the opposition, including the two today. When you're not swinging the bats well, the problem is compounded when you waste outs on the basepaths.

And, oh, by the way, starting pitcher Hector Noesi stunk Friday. He walked six, threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in just 4.2 innings pitched. It's a miracle the Twins only scored two runs off him after they loaded the bases three times in the first five innings. Against a better hitting team, I believe Noesi would have been shelled today. Throughout the offseason, Sox brass was bullish on Noesi and insisted he would be improved for this season. Count me among the skeptics.

Reliever Zach Putnam also allowed three runs in the ninth inning Friday, increasing my suspicion that he was a one-year wonder in 2014.

It's too bad the play on the field had to be so bad for Opening Day. After that, you wonder how many of the 38,000-some in attendance on Friday will want to return. I'm going back to the ballpark tomorrow, but perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Justin Verlander: Are his best days behind him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

If you're hurt and can't pitch, well, then don't pitch

The White Sox bullpen had a bad day on Thursday. The South Siders had an 8-5 lead after six innings and couldn't hold it. They took a 9-8 lead into the ninth inning and had the Minnesota Twins down to their final strike, but Matt Lindstrom couldn't close. The Twins rallied for a 10-9 victory at chilly U.S. Cellular Field.

I imagine most Sox fans are angry at Lindstrom. I am not. Stuff happens, and Lindstrom is hardly the only guy around baseball to blow a ninth-inning lead during this opening week.

No, the Sox reliever on my bad side right now is Nate Jones, and it has nothing to do with the outcome of Thursday's game. I'd still be pissed at Jones even if the Sox had won. When it comes to pitchers, there are two things I have little tolerance for: 1) Relief pitchers who refuse to throw strikes and 2) Guys who try to be heroes and pitch through injury. Jones committed both those sins on Thursday.

Jones entered the game in the top of the seventh inning with the Sox up three runs and promptly walked the only two Minnesota hitters he saw -- Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. At one point, Jones threw seven consecutive pitches out of the zone. His final pitch of the day almost hit Mauer and went all the way back to the screen. It wasn't even close. Those back-to-back leadoff walks eventually came around to score, and the Twins got back in the game.

Afterward, Jones said the glute strain that affected him during spring training had resurfaced. It bothered him in the bullpen while he was warming up and continued to bother him after he entered the game.

“I felt a little discomfort out there today,” Jones told Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “It's kinda just in the back of your head. When you're thinking about something else besides hitting the mitt, then you see what happens. It's not good for the team.”

No, it's not good for the team. That's the one thing Jones got right today. Here's a tip, Nate: If you're hurt and don't think you can pitch effectively, tell the bullpen coach. Tell somebody, anybody. That way, the team can get somebody else warming up.

If a player says, "Hey, I'm hurt and I can't go," I can deal with that. What I don't care for is a pitcher throwing up all over the mound, costing the team, then saying "I'm hurt" after the fact. 

If you can't pitch, then don't pitch. Simple as that.

New York talking heads out of line, as usual

New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the season because his wife had a baby. Murphy went on paternity leave for three days, which is his right under major league rules.

You would think nobody would have a problem with that, but a couple of blabbermouths on sports talk radio in New York City took Murphy to task.

''One day I understand. And in the old days they didn't do that,'' WFAN broadcaster Mike Francesa said. ''But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You're a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.''

Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason also chimed in on WFAN.

''Quite frankly, I would have said C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day, I'm sorry,'' he said. ''This is what makes our money. This is how we're going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I'll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I'm a baseball player.''

Two points about this: First, if this had happened in July would anyone have noticed? I don't believe so. This whole tempest in a teapot is a prime example of how Opening Day games and games during the first week of the season in general are overanalyzed. The Mets didn't play well in their first series of the year. They got swept by the Washington Nationals, and in the small minds of some, dammit, someone must be blamed. Murphy is a convenient and easy target, but I really doubt his absence during those two games will have any impact on the outcome of the Mets' season. There's 159 games to go, you know?

And, second, as for Mr. Esiason, "quite frankly" he should stick to NFL talk. I firmly believe Murphy will be able to send his newborn child to college, despite missing the first two games of the season. I'm sure Murphy appreciates Esiason's concern. I know every game and every snap in the arrogant, self-important, bloated, overanalyzed NFL is treated as a matter of life and death, but that's not the way it should be.

No matter what your line of work, family should always come first. That shouldn't be a hard concept to grasp, unless you're an NFL meathead.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bunting with two strikes ... sometimes that works

I was watching a White Sox-Reds spring training game last week when I saw Sox center fielder Adam Eaton bunt for a base hit on an 0-2 pitch. The Cincinnati third baseman was so stunned that he threw the ball away on the play. Even with an accurate throw, Eaton would have been safe.  

I thought to myself, "I haven't seen a Sox player try something like that in quite a few years."  

Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon: With the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Sox infielder Leury Garcia lays down a perfect bunt on an 0-2 pitch. He beats the play out without a throw.  Later in the inning, he scores the game-winning run on a wild pitch as the Sox defeat the Minnesota Twins, 7-6.  

It would be a refreshing change if the Sox can find a way to score some runs this season without the benefit of the long ball. On Wednesday, only one of their seven tallies came on a home run -- a solo shot by Adam Dunn in the eighth inning.  

The Sox scored three runs in the second inning on three singles, a double and two sacrifice hits. They rallied to tie the game with two runs in the ninth on three singles and a fielder's choice. It was encouraging to see some manufactured runs with the game on the line.

Speaking of that ninth-inning rally, Paul Konerko got off to a good start in his new bench role. He led off the inning with a pinch-hit single off Minnesota closer Glen Perkins, who is left-handed. Konerko, for all his struggles in 2013, hit .313 against left-handed pitchers a year ago. He can still be effective for the Sox if he is spotted in matchups that are favorable for him.

'Don't want to get picked off here in this situation'

Good news for the Cubs: Their new leadoff man, Emilio Bonifacio, is swinging the bat exceptionally well out of the gate. He's 9 for 12 through the first two games of the season.  

Bad news for the Cubs: Bonifacio has been picked off base two of the nine times he's reached, and he would have been picked off a third time if the Pittsburgh first baseman had not dropped the ball.

I don't know if I've ever seen a guy get picked off three times the first two days of the season. Would that be some kind of record? It's hard to come down too hard on Bonifacio, though, because he's one of the few Cub hitters off to a good start. The North Siders are 0-2, having lost a pair of extra-inning contests in Pittsburgh. They've scored only three runs in 26 innings against the Pirates pitching staff.

On Wednesday, the Cubs rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a run in the eighth and another run in the ninth. They even took a short-lived 3-2 lead on Anthony Rizzo's solo home run in the top of the 12th. But new closer Jose Veras failed in his first save situation. He gave up the lead and was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded jam and with only one run allowed in the bottom of the 12th. Veras was taking forever in between pitches and seemed to have no confidence in his stuff. It's only one outing, but that performance cannot be encouraging for the Cubs, who went on to lose 4-3 in 16 innings.  

Buerhle turns back clock in first start of season  

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle had an up-and down year in his first season in Toronto in 2013, but on Wednesday, he looked like the pitcher he was five or six years ago.

Buehrle allowed only four hits over 8.2 innings and picked up the win as the Blue Jays defeated Tampa Bay, 3-0. The southpaw struck out 11 and walked just one.

It was just the second double-digit strikeout game of Buehrle's career. The other came during the Sox' World Series year. He fanned a career-high 12 in a 2-1 win over Seattle on April 16, 2005.

I still root for Buehrle, as long as he isn't pitching against the Sox.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Opening Day 2014 at U.S. Cellular Field

White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza is on pace for 324 home runs and 486 RBIs this season.

OK, so that isn't going to happen, but credit De Aza for coming up with a big performance on Opening Day -- two home runs and three RBIs in the Sox' 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

It was De Aza's first multihomer game of his career. He became just the fourth Sox player to hit two home runs in a game on Opening Day. The others are Minnie Minoso, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome.

As you can see from the picture, the weather cooperated on Monday. It was windy day on the South Side, but the temperatures were in the 60s. In fact, it was the warmest day in the Chicago area since last November. After the winter we've had, I had no complaints.

Here are a few other first impressions from yesterday's game:

1. The Sox played errorless defense. I don't know if that's going to last, but it was nice to see. I'll bet the Sox coughed up 15 to 20 games on poor defense alone in 2013. They were sloppy at times during spring training as well, so defense ranks as my No. 1 concern coming into the season. On Monday, all the routine plays were handled behind ace left-hander Chris Sale. If the Sox could just be adequate defensively, they might add five to 10 games to their win total on that alone.

2. Jose Abreu hits the ball hard. Really hard. He crushed the first pitch he saw in the big leagues for a double to right field. Minnesota outfielder Oswaldo Arcia didn't have time to react before the ball was over his head. Abreu went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his first game, and he hit the ball right on the screws three times. We'll see how Abreu reacts as pitchers adjust to him, but it was a good start for the Cuban slugger.

3. I think Adam Eaton is going to become a fan favorite on the South Side. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored in his first game, but perhaps his most impressive at-bat was one in which he made an out. He saw 11 pitches from Minnesota reliever Anthony Swarzak in the seventh inning. He fouled off several good pitches before grounding out to first base. Eaton looks like he's going to be a tough out, and just in general, he seems like he's going to be a pain to opposing teams. Sox fans like guys like that.

4. There are two types of pitchers who start on Opening Day. There are aces, and then there are guys who pitch on Opening Day because somebody has to. Sale is an ace. Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco started because, well, somebody had to start for the Twins. The difference in quality between those two guys is pretty obvious to anyone who watched this game. No surprise that Sale got the win and Nolasco the loss.

5. Sox manager Robin Ventura has selected veteran Matt Lindstrom to be his closer. Lindstrom picked up the save Monday, retiring three of the four batters he faced with one strikeout. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but I like Lindstrom over Nate Jones in the ninth inning. Will Lindstrom be a dominant closer? Hell no. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Daniel Webb takes his job before the year is over. But for me, Jones walks too many batters to be a closer. His command was spotty at best during the spring. Lindstrom will get beat at times, but I think he's less likely to give games away with walks than Jones. I'm fine with giving Lindstrom a shot.

161 games to go, but for one day, the Sox and their fans can feel good about this performance. The Sox have won each of their last seven home openers, and Monday's effort was a solid one from top to bottom.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baltimore Orioles take a flier on Johan Santana

The Baltimore Orioles continued their recent habit of shopping in the bargain bin on Tuesday, signing two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal.

Santana, who missed the entire 2013 season, is attempting to come back from a second major surgery on his left shoulder. Reports indicate he had trouble getting his fastball over 80 mph when he threw a bullpen session for interested teams last week, but apparently Baltimore saw enough to take a flier on the former Minnesota Twins ace.

Since it's a minor league deal, it's not much of a gamble. If Santana is unable to regain his arm strength, the Orioles can just cut him and be none the worse for wear. If Santana impresses this spring, the Orioles can add him to the 40-man roster at a relatively low cost.

The 34-year-old lefty would get a $3 million, one-year deal if he is added to the roster and would have the chance to earn an additional $5.05 million in roster and performance bonuses. He would receive the full amount for 120 days and 25 starts.

Baltimore earlier added pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz to its roster late in free agency. I was critical of the Jimenez signing, but I can't blame the Orioles for picking up Santana. They still need pitching help, they don't have anything to lose by giving Santana a shot.

In his Minnesota heyday, Santana's out pitch was his changeup. He threw it from the same release point as his fastball, and there was such a wide variance between his heater and his change that opposing hitters had their timing completely disrupted. But if his fastball is going to top out in the low- or mid-80s, there isn't going to be enough variance between that pitch and his changeup for him to be effective.

The Orioles need to hope Santana can get his fastball back up into the 88 or 89 mph range. If he does, he might have some good innings left in his arm.