Showing posts with label Nate Jones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nate Jones. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How might the White Sox pitching staff look when the season starts?

Jose Quintana -- still here
White Sox pitchers and catchers will have their first full workouts Feb. 14 in Glendale, Arizona. It's closer than we think, so let's take a look at how the pitching staff might shake out given the current roster construction.

We'll assume there are no trades between now and Opening Day -- a big assumption, because general manager Rick Hahn made it clear at SoxFest that he's still open to making moves before the season starts.

For a rebuilding club, the Sox look surprisingly set on the pitching side of things. The five projected starting pitchers right now are pretty obvious:

1. Jose Quintana
2. Carlos Rodon
3. Miguel Gonzalez
4. James Shields
5. Derek Holland

In anyone gets injured or traded, Rule 5 draft pick Dylan Covey might get the first shot at taking a spot. The other roster contenders would be two of the three players acquired in the Adam Eaton trade -- Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. However, Hahn indicated a preference to have all the recently acquired prospects start the season in the minor leagues, so we probably will not see Giolito or Lopez in Chicago until later in the 2017 season.

I look for prospects Carson Fulmer and Tyler Danish to potentially get some starts during spring training, but both players are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation in Charlotte when the season starts.

Let's assume the Sox will carry 12 pitchers -- most teams do -- so that means there are seven spots in the bullpen. There isn't a lot of mystery with five out of the seven:
David Robertson -- also still here

1. David Robertson
2. Nate Jones
3. Dan Jennings
4. Jake Petricka
5. Zach Putnam
6. ????
7. ????

Contenders for the last two spots include a quartet of right-handers we saw in Chicago in 2016: Tommy Kahnle, Michael Ynoa, Juan Minaya and Chris Beck.

I'm guessing one of the four makes the club, with Kahnle having the inside track. Unlike the rest of that crew, he had a strong finish to 2016 -- a 0.87 ERA over his final 11 appearances with 11 strikeouts in 10.1 IP.

Why would only one of the four make the team? Well, I'm thinking the Sox want a second left-hander in the bullpen. Jennings is the only left-handed roster lock as a relief pitcher. The door is open for waiver claim Giovanni Soto, who last pitched in the majors with Cleveland in 2015. The 25-year-old's left-handedness is an advantage for him as he battles Ynoa, Minaya and Beck for a roster spot.

But what of the non-roster invitees, you ask? Are there any pitchers that could surprise and make the roster out of spring training?

I'd say keep an eye on the non-rostered lefties, a list that includes Matt Purke, Aaron Bummer, Brian Clark, Jace Fry, David Holmberg and Cory Luebke.

Purke is a familiar name to Sox fans, although his 12 big league outings last season were pretty bad. I'll be interested to see what Bummer has after amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler spoke highly of him at SoxFest. Bummer is hard thrower who missed the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery, and he has fewer than 40 professional innings under his belt. It seems unlikely he'll compete for a roster spot given his inexperience, but he might be the most intriguing name in this group.

Clark is more advanced, having thrown 56 innings across 37 games between Birmingham and Charlotte last year. Fry missed the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery, and has thrown only 61 professional innings. Holmberg has worked mostly as a starter in his career. He made 28 starts between Birmingham and Charlotte last year, and has 167 career starts in the minors. Luebke is a 31-year-old former San Diego Padres prospect who underwent two Tommy John surgeries and missed three seasons from 2013-15.

From that list of six, we'll see if any emerge as a worthy challenger. Personally, I wouldn't count on it. Of course, when do you ever count on non-roster invitees?

Non-rostered right-handed pitchers in camp include Blake Smith, who made five September appearances with the Sox last year; 31-year-old veteran Anthony Swarzak, who had 26 relief appearances with the New York Yankees last year; and 20-year-old prospect Spencer Adams, who split time between Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2016.

And, oh yeah, Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi are going to be in camp as non-roster players. Heard anything about them lately? How's that for burying the lead?

In all seriousness, Kopech is probably ticketed for High-A Winston-Salem when the season starts, while Burdi will be headed to the Charlotte bullpen, in hopes of one day becoming the White Sox closer.

Neither of these two hyped prospects are going to make the club, but they will generate headlines each and every time they take the mound this spring.

Friday, January 13, 2017

White Sox avoid arbitration with Todd Frazier, Dan Jennings, Jake Petricka

Todd Frazier
The White Sox on Friday avoided arbitration with three players, agreeing to one-year contracts with third baseman Todd Frazier and relief pitchers Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka.

Frazier's deal is worth $12 million. He is coming off a season where he led the team in home runs (40) and stolen bases (15) despite a disappointing .225/.302/.464 slash line. He also ranked second on the Sox with 98 RBIs.

Coming into the offseason, Frazier, 30, was a good bet to be traded before Opening Day -- and maybe he still will be. However, there have been few rumors involving Frazier, and there still are several right-handed power-hitting free agents who remain unsigned (Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista). Until those guys come off the market, there might not be much interest in Frazier -- especially since he is coming off a down season in terms of batting average.

He could eventually be traded for prospects as part of the rebuilding plan. Or maybe he won't be. Essentially, he's the Sox's third baseman until he's not. (How's that for insight?)

Jennings, 29, is coming off one of his better seasons -- a career-high 64 appearances with a 4-3 record and 2.08 ERA. His contract will pay him $1.4 million.

Petricka, 28, appeared in only nine games in 2016 before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. His deal is worth $825,000.

Although the Sox are rebuilding, they might enter the 2017 season with a bullpen that looks very similar to the one from last year. Closer David Robertson, set-up man Nate Jones, Jennings, Petricka and Zach Putnam all remain on the roster.

The only two guys gone from last season are Matt Albers, who was too ineffective to be retained, and Zach Duke, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July.

Right now, the projected bullpen includes the five guys listed above, plus Tommy Kahnle. After that, the Sox still need a second left-hander to go along with Jennings. As it stands, the next-best left-handed option in the organization is 25-year-old Giovanni Soto, a waiver pickup who last pitched in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 2015.

Given that Robertson, Petricka and Putnam are all coming off surgery, we might not see too many changes in the bullpen this offseason -- just because the Sox need to hold onto as much veteran depth as possible to get through 2017. One thing a rebuilding team does not want is for prospects to be forced into big-league duty prematurely because of injuries to veteran stopgaps.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some numbers behind Robin Ventura's pitching mismanagement

Robin Ventura
The gripes are all too familiar. We made them routinely for all the years Robin Ventura was managing the White Sox.

He left his starting pitchers in too long, and once he did go to the bullpen, he misused his relievers. He'd use the same reliever three, four days in a row, sometimes even five days out of six. (Remember Addison Reed in August 2013?) He'd used five relievers to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning, and he was a slave to "handedness"  -- always needing to bring in a left-handed pitcher every time the opponent sent a left-handed batter to the plate.

With that in mind, an article that appeared on South Side Sox this morning interested me, because it pulled out some notes on the Sox from the 2017 Bill James Handbook. These numbers were cited in the article, and they confirmed what we suspected about Ventura all along:

  • The White Sox were one of three teams to use three different relievers 20 times on consecutive days. Those three relievers, not surprisingly, were David Robertson, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings. I complained about the overuse of Robertson and Jones at different points during the season. The Sox would have been the only team with four such relievers had they not traded Zach Duke midseason. The left-hander had 17 appearances on zero days' rest with the Sox, plus nine more such appearances once he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Is it any surprise Duke had Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season? 
  • Ventura led the American League by using relievers on consecutive days 128 times, and no other manager was even close. James also noted that Ventura led the league in "slow hooks" for the fourth consecutive year and "long outings" for a second.
Indeed, it's not an accident that Ventura presided over four straight losing seasons. We all know the front office shares in the blame, but the manager exacerbated the problems by not properly handling the pitching staff. Should we be stunned the Sox bullpen had injury problems this year? Of course not. Should we be stunned that some pitchers, most notably Robertson and Matt Albers, got worse the second half of the year? Of course not.

The question is whether anything will change in 2017, with bench coach Rick Renteria now elevated to manager, and Don Cooper still entrenched as the Sox pitching coach. These are the same guys who were Ventura's top lieutenants in 2016. Are they smart enough to see that this was a problem?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Random White Sox thought for Wednesday afternoon

Found this tidbit in an article over at southsidesox.com:

The White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Carlos Rodon, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez, Tim Anderson and Nate Jones set to make just $50 million combined for the 2017 season.

Given the production of those nine players, that's an amazing value, is it not? That's what is so aggravating about the Sox's continuing struggles: There is clearly a core of quality players already in place, yet the losing carries on unabated.

The article also notes the $10 million owed to James Shields is the only significant contract liability.

If the Sox opt to try to contend next year -- and I have no reason to believe they won't try -- shouldn't they have plenty of money to spend to supplement this core?

I would think so. Of course, I thought that last year, yet the most significant free agent contract handed out by the Sox was the one-year, $5 million deal signed by mediocre outfielder Austin Jackson.

If the Sox aren't going to rebuild, it's time to stop the excuses and open the wallet already. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Maybe the White Sox should give Nate Jones a break

Nate Jones
White Sox relief pitcher Nate Jones is tied for the American League lead with 62 appearances.

The team is asking a lot from him, especially since this is his first full season back after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. Whether the Sox want to admit it or not, they are out of the pennant race, and they would be well-advised not to overuse Jones over the final 32 games of the season, which are relatively meaningless.

Jones has been the Sox's best reliever this season, and it's not close. It's important to get him through this season healthy, because he could be a valuable member of the Sox's 2017 bullpen, or he could be traded for something of value as part of a rebuilding plan this offseason.

Unfortunately, Sox brass doesn't seem to be giving any consideration to that strategy. They still are selling out to try to win games, and they are being reckless in the process. Jones was on the mound for the third straight game Monday night in Detroit, and he failed to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run homer off him that lifted the Tigers to a 4-3 win.

You can see where the problem is here. The Sox have eight relief pitchers on their roster, and only three of them belong in the major leagues: Jones, David Robertson and Dan Jennings. The Sox play a lot of close games, and Robin Ventura -- who is on an expiring contract and is managing for his job -- keeps calling for the only relievers he trusts. Even on days where Jones doesn't get in the game, it seems like he's warming up at some point.

The seeds for Monday's loss were sown in Saturday night's game. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into the ninth inning. Jacob Turner, one of the five Sox relievers that does not belong in the major leagues, could not close it out. Seattle scored a run and had the bases loaded with only one out. Jones relieved and got a double play to extricate the team from that mess, but the point is he never should have appeared in that game. Somebody else should have been able to get two outs with a six-run lead. It's just not that hard.

Jones was rightfully used in the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead Sunday, and he got the job done as part of a 4-1 Sox win. It's one thing to use a guy back-to-back days, but three in a row during garbage time is unnecessary, especially for a pitcher with an extensive injury history. I would have been OK with Jones being out there Monday if he had not been used Saturday, but he was foolishly and needlessly used in a lopsided win against the Mariners.

Who knows? If Jones gets the night off Saturday, maybe he's a little fresher and able to protect the lead Monday.

It's too bad, because the Sox got a rare quality start from James Shields on Monday. He went six innings and allowed only two runs. It would have been nice to finish that one off, but the Sox have way too many holes in their pitching staff to have visions of a September run.

The smart play here is to back the workload down for the pitchers who have value -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Robertson and Jones. If that causes the team to lose more games down the stretch, so be it. We can't trust Ventura to do that, sadly, because he's trying to win enough games to convince team brass to let him return in 2017.

For most Sox fans, including me, there's nothing that will convince us that Ventura should be allowed to manage next year's club. He's had his chances. He's overmatched. It's time to move on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chris Sale, Jose Quintana lift White Sox to series win vs. A's

Chris Sale
Perhaps a three-game set between two fourth-place teams in late August doesn't stir the emotions, but the White Sox finally won a series against an American League opponent over the weekend, taking two out of three from the Oakland Athletics.

The series went about as expected, with Sox pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana winning their respective starts, while James Shields turned in yet another clunker.

Let's review the weekend that was at U.S. Cellular Field:

Friday, Aug. 19
Athletics 9, White Sox 0: The Sox rank last in the American League with 493 runs scored. Oakland is not much better offensively -- the A's are tied with the Royals for 13th in the league with 495 runs. Nevertheless, Oakland hitters had no problems with Shields (5-15).

The Sox right-hander got knocked out in the fifth inning, after allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits. He struck out three, walked three and allowed three more home runs.

Shields has now allowed 20 home runs in 69.2 IP since joining the Sox. In fact, he leads the team in home runs allowed, despite spending the first two months of the season in San Diego. Shields is 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA in 14 starts with Chicago.

He has moved into the Jaime Navarro and Todd Ritchie Kingdom of Bad. If you're holding tickets for a game Shields is scheduled to start, I pity you.

The Sox did nothing offensively in this game. Oakland's Kendall Graveman (9-8) needed only 98 pitches to fire a two-hit shutout. He faced 28 batters, one more than the minimum.

It's hard to say whether Graveman was really that good, or if the Sox hitters just gave up after Shields put them in another insurmountable hole.

Saturday, Aug. 20
White Sox 6, Athletics 2: Sale hadn't won a game since July 2. He's had a couple bad outings since then, but he's mostly been the victim of bad relief pitching and lack of run support.

But the ace lefty had few problems in this game, as he fired eight innings of shutout ball to earn his 15th win against six losses. He allowed only three hits -- all singles -- while striking out eight and walking three. Sale allowed two singles in the first inning, but escaped trouble with a double play. He was never threatened again, as Oakland managed just one hit over the next seven innings.

The Sox offense was helpful for a change, touching up Oakland left-hander Ross Detwiler (1-2) for six runs on 10 hits over the first four innings. Jose Abreu's 15th home run of the season got the scoring started in the first inning, and the Sox tacked on with two in the second, two in the third and one in the fourth.

Naturally, the Sox couldn't make it easy in the ninth inning. Nate Jones was summoned to protect a six-run lead, but he struggled. He faced five batters with the following results: home run, popout, single, E-6, single. Suddenly, it was 6-2 with two on and only one out.

With the tying run in the on-deck circle, closer David Robertson was summoned. He collected his 31st save by recording a strikeout and a long flyout to center field.

Sunday, Aug. 21
White Sox 4, Athletics 2: The Sox followed a similar formula to the one they used Saturday night. They handed an early lead to one of their best pitchers, and stayed in front the rest of the afternoon.

The South Siders plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning off Oakland starter Zach Neal (2-3). Justin Morneau had an RBI double, and Todd Frazier added a two-run single as part of his three-hit day.

Abreu added his 16th home run of the season in the fourth inning.

That was enough for Quintana (10-9), who collected his career-high 10th victory. He went seven innings, allowing only a two-run homer to Khris Davis. He allowed eight hits, struck out six and walked one.

The lone walk was to Jake Smolinski leading off the eighth, and that was Quintana's last batter of the afternoon. This time, Jones entered and got the job done. He struck out Oakland's two most dangerous hitters -- Marcus Semien and Davis -- and preserved a 4-2 lead through eight innings.

Robertson gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but retired the next three hitters in succession -- including one strikeout -- to earn his 32nd save in 38 chances.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Two wins in Cleveland? Too much to ask of White Sox ...

Danny Salazar
Everything was set up nicely for the White Sox to steal a series win against the first-place Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.

The South Siders had Carlos Rodon going, and he's been pitching well lately. Meanwhile, the Indians were starting Danny Salazar, who had just come off the disabled list with an elbow problem and hadn't had the benefit of a rehab assignment.

Predictably, Salazar looked terrible. He lasted only one inning, during which he walked the bases loaded and gave up a three-run double to Sox designated hitter Justin Morneau.

Alas, the Sox couldn't make that 3-0 lead stick, and the Indians rallied to win 5-4 and take two out of three in the series.

It's disappointing because, with Salazar out early, the Sox had an opportunity to pile on against Cleveland's lesser relievers. But they let the opportunity slip, mustering only run on two hits in the next five innings against the combination of Kyle Crockett and Mike Clevinger. Both those two Indians pitchers have ERAs over 5, but you never would have known it Thursday night.

Still, the Sox got to the bottom of the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. Rodon once again did his job. He went six innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked nobody. It was his third straight quality outing -- all against contenders (Baltimore, Miami, Cleveland) -- and he probably deserved a win.

He didn't get one, because the bullpen couldn't hold on. Chris Beck gave up a run in the seventh to make it 4-3, and Nate Jones bailed him out with a strikeout to end the inning. Unfortunately, Jones was touched for a run in the eighth, ending Rodon's hopes for victory, and it was 4-4 going to the ninth.

The Sox had a chance to score against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller (7-1) when Jason Coats doubled with two outs in the ninth, but Dioner Navarro flied out to deep center and the score remained tied.

Jacob Turner (1-2) pitched the bottom of the ninth and quickly lost the game, with help from Navarro. Abraham Almonte doubled leading off, advanced to third on Navarro's passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Tyler Naquin.

Ballgame.

It's the same old, same old for the Sox against division opponents. They are 3-9 against the Indians this year, including 1-5 on the road. They are now a combined 11-27 against Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City.

This sounds like a broken record, I'm sure, but the narrative of the past several seasons has been the Sox's inability to hold their own against the AL Central teams they play all the time.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Rare series win: White Sox take two out of three from Marlins

Billy the Marlin
Is there any solace in beating a National League team?

The White Sox have won only two series since the All-Star break, and both of them have come against NL teams. The South Siders took two out of three closely contested games against the Miami Marlins over the weekend.

Here's a recap of how it went down:

Friday, Aug. 12
White Sox 4, Marlins 2: Left-hander Carlos Rodon has started throwing his changeup again since he returned from the disabled list.

Through his first 16 starts of the season, Rodon threw a grand total of 87 changeups, or 5.4 per game. In his last three starts -- including Friday's -- he's thrown 54 changeups, or 18 per game.

Rodon's last two starts have been excellent, and he picked up his first win since May 22 in this game. He went six innings, allowing just one run on three hits. He struck out four and walked three, and did a good job of protecting the lead after the Sox scored three runs for him in the first two innings.

The common denominator for Rodon (3-8) since his return? Rookie catcher Omar Narvaez. Unlike the veteran catchers on this team, Narvaez has Rodon using all of his pitches, and that seems to help.

Also good news from this game: David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts for his 28th save of the season. Robertson has been struggling, and it's imperative he get back on track if the Sox are going to have any success at all the final month and a half.

Saturday, Aug. 13
White Sox 8, Marlins 7: Have we mentioned that James Shields stinks? Somehow, the rest of the Sox managed to overcome another terrible outing by Shields, who squandered an early 4-0 lead and got knocked out in the fourth inning.

Shields' final line: 3 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR

His ERA with the Sox is up to 7.34 in 13 starts. We can't say this is bad luck either. His FIP is 7.11, so these horrible statistics are not a fluke. Shields is giving up a ton of hard contact, and the Sox appear to be stuck with another terrible veteran pitcher through the 2018 season.

What a travesty.

On the bright side, the Sox bullpen combined for six scoreless innings in this game, allowing the Sox to rally for the win. A two-run eighth inning was the difference. Justin Morneau's pinch-hit, RBI double tied the game at 7, and then Dioner Navarro scored on a wild pitch to provide the winning run.

Nate Jones had a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and Robertson made it stick in the ninth with his 29th save of the year. Adam Eaton threw out Giancarlo Stanton at second base to end the game. Stanton made an ill-advised decision to try to stretch a single into a double. Not only was he thrown out, but he suffered a groin injury that sent him to the disabled list for his trouble.

Sunday, Aug. 14
Marlins 5, White Sox 4: Chris Sale's bid to win the Cy Young suddenly isn't looking so good after he failed to finish off a potential series sweep.

This game was tied at 3 into the seventh inning before the Sox ace coughed up two runs to take the loss, keeping him winless since July 2.

Sale has had some bad luck since the All-Star break. Robertson has blown two games with two outs in the ninth inning that would have been wins for Sale, and Sale (14-6) has also suffered 2-1 and 3-1 losses that could have easily been wins on another day.

But this one was not the fault of Sale's teammates. He was just bad, giving up five earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings against the Marlins' Sunday lineup.

The Sox tried to come back and get him off the hook. Tim Anderson homered in the bottom of the ninth to cut the Miami lead to 5-4. After that, the Sox got three singles from Narvaez, Eaton and Tyler Saladino, but pinch runner Carlos Sanchez was thrown out at home plate trying to score on Saladino's base hit to end the game.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

There isn't much more Jose Quintana can do for the White Sox

Jose Quintana -- hosed again
"It's bad when you try everything and you lose."

That's what White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana had to say after Wednesday's 3-2, 14-inning loss to the Kansas City Royals.

Quintana did what he almost always does -- pitch outstanding baseball. He went 7.1 innings, allowing just one run on five hits with five strikeouts and one walk. His ERA is down to 2.85, which is brilliant in the hard-hitting American League.

Quintana's teammates also did what they almost always do -- find a way to squander his terrific performance.

In many ways, this was the prototypical Quintana no-decision. He took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, but the Sox could have had more runs than one. They gave away three outs on the bases, went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners. They failed to deliver the big hit with men on base in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings.

Inept offense.

Nevertheless, there was Quintana, industriously protecting a slim lead all game long. He got one out into the eighth inning before a double by Paulo Orlando ended his night after 97 pitches. I would argue that Quintana had earned the right to try to pitch around that, but it was a hot night, and manager Robin Ventura elected to go to the bullpen.

It took Nate Jones exactly one pitch to blow Quintana's chance at victory. Cheslor Cuthbert doubled to tie the score. Have I mentioned that the Royals have a lineup full of guys who love to swing at the first pitch? The Sox still haven't figure that out yet. #typicalWhiteSoxnonsense

The Sox had another chance to win the game in the 11th inning after Tim Anderson's two-out RBI single staked them to a 2-1 lead. Alas, closer David Robertson still isn't able to close. He gave the run right back in the bottom of the inning for his fourth blow save in eight chances since the All-Star break.

There have been five meetings between the Sox and Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium this year, and the Sox have had the lead in the seventh inning in all five of them. Yet, their record in those five games is 1-4. It's fitting that both Jones and Robertson were charged with blown saves in this one. You get the feeling the Sox bullpen couldn't protect a 10-run lead against the Royals in that stadium.

After the second Sox lead was blown, the game took on the feel of an inevitable loss. The Sox lost, all right, when Lorenzo Cain delivered a two-out RBI single off the increasingly useless Matt Albers in the bottom of the 14th inning.

One wonders why Albers (2-5) and his 5.91 ERA continue to appear in high-leverage situations. With the Sox out of the race, would it would be wrong to see how a younger pitcher would react in that spot? Carson Fulmer? Even Michael Ynoa?

Of course, it's not uncommon for me to be puzzled by some of the in-game decisions the Sox make. Nothing new under the sun there.

Monday, August 8, 2016

White Sox drop two out of three to first-place Orioles

Carlos Rodon
The White Sox threw the back end of their starting rotation against one of the American League's most powerful lineups this weekend at U.S. Cellular Field.

Predictable results ensued, as the hard-hitting Baltimore Orioles maintained their slim lead in the American League East by taking two out of three games from the South Siders.

Let's reflect back on the weekend's action:

Friday, Aug. 5
Orioles 7, White Sox 5: Baltimore never trailed in this game as it jumped on Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez for a run in the second inning and three more in the third to take an early 4-0 lead.

The Sox got two back in the fourth, highlighted by Jose Abreu's 13th home run of the season, and to his credit, Gonzalez (2-6) settled in and kept the score close at 4-2 through six innings.

Unfortunately, attrition has taken its toll on the Sox bullpen, and the unreliable arms now outnumber the reliable ones. That means manager Robin Ventura at times has to roll the dice and hope some lesser relievers can keep games such as this one close in the late innings.

This was one of those times where that completely blew up on the Sox, as Tommy Kahnle allowed three runs on four hits in just one-third of inning. The Orioles increased their lead to 7-2, and wouldn't you know it, the Sox countered with three of their own in the bottom of the inning to make it close again. Too bad Kahnle failed to keep the score at 4-2, huh?

The Sox ran themselves out of the inning in the bottom of the eighth. They scored three runs to make it 7-5, and had runners on second and third with only one out for Adam Eaton. The Sox outfielder grounded out to first for the second out, and Dioner Navarro -- the runner at third -- strayed too far off base and was thrown out trying to get back to bag.

That was a bad baserunning double play, and with it, the Sox squandered their best chance to tie the game. Typical White Sox nonsense.

Saturday, Aug. 6
White Sox 4, Orioles 2: Sox lefty Carlos Rodon got a no-decision in this game, but his performance was the most encouraging part of the win.

Rodon was in big trouble in the top of the first inning with runners on first and third and nobody out -- and a 3-0 count on Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado. Using a fastball that hit 100 mph and a devastating slider, Rodon rallied to strike out Machado. Then, he struck out Mark Trumbo and Steve Pearce to escape the inning with no runs allowed.

Rodon ended up with five consecutive strikeouts after he began the second inning by fanning Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy. He went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits. He finished with seven strikeouts and walked just two. He left the mound with the score tied at 2.

The Sox hung a rare loss on Baltimore ace Chris Tillman (14-4) by scoring a run in the seventh on an RBI single by rookie catcher Omar Narvaez. Eaton added his ninth home run of the season for an insurance run in the eighth, making a winner of Nate Jones (5-2), who worked 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.

Closer David Robertson got three outs for his 27th save in 31 opportunities.

Sunday, Aug. 7
Orioles 10, White Sox 2: I had to back off my criticism of the James Shields trade for a little while after he put together six consecutive quality starts. But now that Shields had allowed 14 runs over his last 2.1 innings, I think I can go back to talking about what a stupid decision it was to acquire him.

The Sox were trailing 10-0 after three innings, thanks to the latest Shields meltdown. On Sunday, he gave up as many home runs as he recorded outs (four). He lasted just 1.1 innings, allowing eight earned runs on six hits. Not a single one of those hits was cheap.

Machado made a little bit of history by homering three times in three at bats in the first three innings. He drove in seven of Baltimore's 10 runs. The first two homers were off Shields, the last was off Matt Albers.

There were few positives for the Sox, although Abreu homered for the third time in four days. He's up to 14 on the season now.

After three innings, and given the thin nature of the Sox bullpen, I thought this one might end with Baltimore scoring 20-plus runs and the Sox using position players to pitch.

Mercifully, Kahnle, Carson Fulmer and Michael Ynoa combined to throw six innings of garbage-time, scoreless relief.

Don't worry, folks, the Sox will be out from underneath Shields' contract at the end of the 2018 season.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Jose Quintana equals career high with ninth win; White Sox top Tigers

Jose Quintana
It's hard to believe White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana has never reached double-digit victories in a season.

He's posted a 3.38 ERA over 140 career starts in his five years in the majors. You would think a pitcher of his quality and consistency would have a better record than 42-42.

Maybe this is the year Quintana finally hits the 10-win plateau and surpasses it. He equaled his career high by collecting his ninth victory of the season Thursday, as the Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers, 6-3.

Quintana (9-8) pitched 7.1 innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits. He struck out three and walked just one in an efficient 93-pitch outing on a hot day in Detroit.

It didn't hurt to have some run support for a change, as the Sox roughed up Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann in his return from the disabled list.

The Tigers right-hander was fortunate to allow just one run in the first inning after the Sox loaded the bases with one out. He would not be so lucky in the second inning, as Chicago erupted for five runs. Avisail Garcia started the rally with a solo home run, and Jose Abreu capped it with a two-run homer to left field.

You read that right: Abreu hit a home run, his first since June 23.

That rally handed Quintana an early 6-1 lead, and he stayed in front all afternoon, eventually departing with one out in the eighth after giving up a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera that made the score 6-3.

Nate Jones retired the only two batters he faced to finish the eighth, and closer David Robertson worked around a leadoff single to secure his 26th save in 30 opportunities.

The Sox salvaged the finale of the three-game series against the Tigers and snapped Detroit's eight-game winning streak. Still, it was a miserable eight-game road trip for the South Siders. They limp home with a 2-6 record, and they'll only be home for three days against the Baltimore Orioles.

Then, it's right back on the road for nine more games. The Sox will need to find a way to solve their road woes soon. Even with Thursday's win, they are an abysmal 3-11 away from U.S. Cellular Field since the All-Star break.

Friday, July 29, 2016

White Sox settle for split in crosstown series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is running out on the 2016 Sox.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

James Shields leads White Sox to shutout of Cubs

James Shields
I didn't care for the move when the White Sox acquired James Shields from the San Diego Padres in early June.

I didn't think he was the "missing piece" the Sox needed to push themselves into contention in the American League, and I still don't think that. As I type here today, the Sox (50-50) still are the same mediocre team they were the day Shields was acquired.

That said, let's give Shields his credit for pulling it together after a historically bad beginning to his tenure with the Sox. He's made 10 starts since joining the South Siders, and there's a clear line of demarcation between the first four starts and the last six. None of his first four starts were quality, but all of his last six have been.

Shields' first four starts with Sox: 13.2 IP, 29 H, 25 R, 24 ER, 8 Ks, 13 BBs, 5 HRs, 15.80 ERA
Shields' last six starts with Sox: 42 IP, 32 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 20 Ks, 12 BBs, 5 HRs, 1.71 ERA

Tuesday's outing was Shields' best since the trade. He fired 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball to lead the Sox to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. He struck out five and walked four, which is a few too many walks, but it almost seemed to be by design. Shields has been hurt by the home run ball a lot this season, and it appeared he just decided he wasn't going to give in to the Cubs hitters on the rare occasions he was behind in the count. He was sooner going to walk somebody than just lay one in and risk giving up a home run.

The strategy paid off, as the Cubs were limited to just four singles and couldn't come through on the occasions when they did get a runner in scoring position.

The recent stretch of good pitching has rebuilt Shields' trade value, and there are rumors now that the Sox might flip him for prospects sometime this week. If indeed the Sox have decided they are not in the race for this year, moving Shields now would be the correct call.

The Sox hitters on Tuesday were facing the Cubs' hottest pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, who entered the game with a streak of 22.1 innings without allowing an earned run. That ended quickly, as the Sox got on the board in the first inning. Jose Abreu's single scored Adam Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk.

Eaton added to the lead in the fifth with a solo home run -- his seventh of the season. The Sox completed the scoring with a run in the sixth. Hendricks departed after giving up a soft single to Todd Frazier. Cubs reliever Travis Wood gifted the Sox a run by walking three consecutive batters. Tyler Saladino's bases-loaded walk forced home a run to make it 3-0.

This time, the Sox had their two best relievers available to protect a late lead. Nate Jones recorded the final out of the eighth, and David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save of the season.

The win keeps the Crosstown Cup on the South Side for the third consecutive season. The Cubs still have a chance to even the season series if they can win both games at Wrigley Field this week, but in the event of a tie, the team that won the Crosstown Cup the previous season keeps it. For that reason, the Sox were awarded the trophy Tuesday night after the game.

I don't often say much about the Cubs on this blog, because I prefer not to attract trolls. But I was noticing their record is 59-40 entering Wednesday's play, and I remember them starting the season 25-6. A little quick math tells me the Cubs are a .500 team over their last 68 games (34-34).

The narrative around Chicago has been that the Cubs are an elite team, that they are enjoying a magical season, and that they are on the brink of history. For those first 31 games, they sure looked pretty damn good. But in these first two games against the Sox, they have been ordinary, and based on their .500 record over a 68-game period, they've been ordinary for a while.

The Sox are starting a Triple-A pitcher (Anthony Ranaudo) Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and I won't be surprised if the Cubs light him up. That said, I have been surprised at how well the mediocre Sox have done so far against the highly regarded Cubs. A lot of folks seemed to believe the Sox would be overmatched in this series. That has not been the case to this point.

Miguel Gonzalez and Shields were better than Jake Arrieta and Hendricks, and that's been the difference so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miguel Gonzalez outpitches Jake Arrieta in crosstown series opener

Jake Arrieta -- not sharp lately
Based on pitching matchups, just about everyone was expecting the Cubs to prevail in Monday's opener of the 2016 crosstown series.

The North Siders had their ace, defending NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta, on the mound, while the White Sox were countering with their No. 5 starter, Miguel Gonzalez.

However, games are not played on paper -- and surprise, surprise -- Gonzalez outpitched Arrieta in a 5-4 Sox victory:

Gonzalez: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BBs, 8 Ks, 1 HR
Arrieta: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BBs, 6 Ks, 1 HR

Neither man figured in the decision, but taking a longer view, maybe we should have known this was not a mismatch.

Arrieta has not been pitching well. The Cubs have lost seven of the last 10 games he has started, including the last four. Arrieta has allowed 20 earned runs in 29.1 innings pitched over his last five outings, only one of which has been a quality start. That will pencil out to a 6.14 ERA.

In contrast, Gonzalez has churned out five consecutive quality starts for the Sox. He has allowed 11 earned runs over 32.2 innings during that span, good for a rock-solid 3.03 ERA.

The Sox right-hander is only 1-2 during that stretch, but it's through no fault of his own. He should have gotten the win Monday night, as he walked off the mound with a two outs in the seventh inning and a 4-2 lead.

But as we discussed in yesterday's blog entry, the Sox are woefully thin in the bullpen right now. Jacob Turner had a short start Friday against the Detroit Tigers. And Chris Sale did not make his start Saturday after the whole jersey-slashing incident, so the Sox bullpen has had to cover an absurd amount of innings over the past few days.

Both closer David Robertson and top set-up reliever Nate Jones were unavailable Monday, leaving Matt Albers and Dan Jennings to try to protect the 4-2 lead in the ninth. They could not. The Cubs tied it, although we can credit Jennings for recording a key strikeout of Jason Heyward with two on and two out to preserve the 4-4 tie.

The Sox then recorded their third consecutive walk-off victory. J.B. Shuck singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth against newly acquired Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery. Dioner Navarro advanced the runner to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Tyler Saladino delivered a game-winning base hit to center field.

In case you were wondering, this is the first time the Sox have had three straight walk-off winners since Aug. 4-6, 1962.

The Sox will send James Shields to the mound in the second game of the series Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Technically, I guess Hendricks is the fifth starter for the Cubs, but much like Gonzalez, he's been pitching better than that moniker would suggest.

Hendricks hasn't given up an earned run since June 29, and has logged a 0.72 ERA over his last seven appearances (six starts).

Maybe as Sox fans, we should be more worried about Hendricks and less worried about Arrieta, media hype aside.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chris Sale suspended; White Sox pitching staff hanging by a thread

Chris Sale
White Sox ace Chris Sale has been suspended five days for "violating team rules, for insubordination and for destroying team equipment," general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement Sunday.

Sale did not want to wear the 1976 throwback jerseys the team was supposed to wear during his scheduled start Saturday, so he cut them up in the locker room before the game. The Sox subsequently sent Sale home and had reliever Matt Albers start Saturday's game instead.

Sale will be eligible to return Thursday, and I'm not going to waste any time discussing the actions by Sale or management in this whole mess. It led SportsCenter on Saturday night. It was a headline on CNN's website. Anything I might say about the matter would only be adding to the noise.

What I will say is the Sox's entire pitching staff is in deep trouble for the next week as a result of this incident. I commend the team for salvaging the final two games of a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers over the weekend, but the bullpen, in particular, is hanging by a thread after what just took place.

The relief corps had to pitch the entirety of Saturday's game. Albers went two innings. Dan Jennings worked two innings. So did Tommy Kahnle. Zach Duke pitched the seventh inning. Nate Jones started the eighth, but struggled -- his own error allowed the Tigers to tie the game at 3. Closer David Robertson relieved with two on and two out and struck out Tyler Collins to keep things even.

After the Sox failed to score in the bottom of the eighth inning, heavy rains moved into Chicago for the second time during the game. Play had to be suspended until Sunday afternoon.

When the game resumed Sunday, Robertson was still on the mound. He essentially had to get four outs to navigate the top of the ninth after J.B. Shuck misplayed a routine fly into a double, but Robertson fanned Cameron Maybin with a runner in scoring position to once again keep it at 3-3. It's worth noting that Robertson had his A stuff during that inning -- two of the three outs were swinging strikeouts.

The Sox won the game, 4-3, on a two-out RBI single by Adam Eaton in the bottom of the ninth. You have to give the bullpen credit for covering all nine innings on an emergency basis and pulling out a win.

However, that workload took its toll in Sunday's regularly scheduled game. The Sox won, 5-4, but it should have been much easier than it was. Starting pitcher Jose Quintana fired 117 pitches on a day where the heat index was 109, and he got two outs deep in the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead.

You'd like to think the Sox bullpen could close that one out, but Jones and Robertson couldn't get it done. Jones gave up a solo home run to Andrew Romine in the eighth inning, and Robertson surrendered three solo shots in the ninth -- Nick Castellanos, Collins and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit those home runs.

Robertson had two strikes with two outs on Collins, and again on Saltalamacchia, and he couldn't close. In the earlier contest, Robertson overmatched both those two hitters with his best stuff. Both struck out swinging. But in this game, Robertson left a cutter in the center of the plate against Collins, and hung a curve ball to Saltalamacchia  -- both with disastrous results.

The Sox won anyway when Melky Cabrera singled home Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk, in the bottom of the ninth. But, fans are ready to tie Robertson to a chair and throw him on the eastbound lane of the Dan Ryan after he blew Quintana's win.

I'm not sure the criticism is fair. Robertson entered Saturday's game around 10 p.m. He had to be ready to take the mound again at 1:10 Sunday. And, he was summoned again shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

So, in about an 18-hour span, Robertson had to warm up three times and take the mound three times, in some of the hottest weather we've had in Chicago in about four years.

How many pitches can we expect a short reliever to throw in that amount of time before he loses effectiveness? Keep in mind, it's not just the pitches on the mound, it's the pitches in the bullpen, too.

Jones has pitched five times in the past six games. Robertson is obviously overworked. Should we really be surprised that they labored so badly in the Sunday afternoon heat?

Sale's actions put his teammates in a tough spot. The Sox are not a good offensive team. They play a lot of close games (49 of 98 games decided by two runs or less). The high-leverage relievers get used a lot. Overuse crossed the line into abuse on Sunday, from my perspective.

The Sox don't have an off day until next Monday. They have two games at home against the Cubs, two games on the road against the Cubs, then three in Minnesota against the Twins.

The schedule offers no relief in the short run. Robertson and Jones almost certainly will need the night off Monday vs. the Cubs. Starter Miguel Gonzalez is probably going to have to go six innings, regardless of whether he is effective or not.

I won't be surprised if some losing comes as a result of all this over the next week. This is the price the Sox will pay for Sale insubordination. Arms are being taxed, and sooner or later, more games are going to be lost. Frankly, it's fairly surprising the Sox got two wins Sunday.