Showing posts with label Oakland A's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oakland A's. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

White Sox offense in need of some more hits

Oakland ace Sonny Gray beat the Sox on Wednesday.
Unrealistic dreams of an undefeated season died Wednesday night as the White Sox lost, 2-1, to the Oakland A's.

Oakland ace Sonny Gray fired seven innings of one-run ball, and relievers John Axford and Ryan Madson closed out the first win of the year for the A's.

Gray is one of the best in the league, so fans should not fret too much about losing a game to him, although a fine effort by Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon (7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 Ks, 1 BB) went to waste Wednesday night.

That said, it would be nice to see the Sox have a breakout game offensively sometime in the next few days. Despite a 2-1 record, most of the lineup has started cold. Leadoff hitter Adam Eaton has reached base nine times in his first 13 plate appearances (7 hits, 1 BB, 1 HBP), but he's only scored two runs because so many others have had a slow first three games:

Jimmy Rollins: 2-for-12 (but at least one of the hits was a game-winning homer)
Todd Frazier: 2-for-12 (but at least one of the hits was a three-run homer)
Melky Cabrera: 1-for-11
Avisail Garcia: 1-for-11
Brett Lawrie: 2-for-11

The Sox have a .238/.297/.337 team slash despite a red-hot start by Eaton (.636/.692/.818). They've been held off the scoreboard in 22 of their 27 offensive innings against an Oakland staff that is lacking once you get past Gray.

There's been a lot of talk all offseason about Frazier providing protection for Jose Abreu, and I remain confident that Frazier will do his job. But can Cabrera and/or Garcia provide adequate protection for Frazier?

In the sixth inning Wednesday, Eaton was on second base with one out. Abreu grounded out for the second out, and then Frazier was pitched around with first base open to bring Cabrera to the plate. Gray retired Cabrera on a weak comebacker to close the inning unscathed.

To me, Cabrera and Garcia are going to be the keys to the Sox offense this year. I think Abreu and Frazier will perform as they always do. But will the offense die once the lineup gets down to the 5 and 6 spots? That question remains unanswered.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Jimmy Rollins, Todd Frazier deliver for White Sox

Jimmy Rollins' first home run with the White Sox was a game-winner.
Maybe 37-year-old Jimmy Rollins has a little something left after all.

With the score tied at 4 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, the veteran shortstop got a 2-2 fastball from Oakland closer Sean Doolittle and pounded it over the left-field fence for a solo home run that lifted the White Sox to a 5-4 victory.

Doolittle's fastball was clocked at 94 mph, so at this point I think we can safely say Rollins still has some bat speed.

Rollins wasn't the only newcomer to make an impact in Tuesday's win. Todd Frazier hit a three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning that put the Sox ahead 3-1 at that time.

The thing that was impressive about these two home runs: Both came with two strikes and two outs. Frazier had just seen Oakland starter Chris Bassitt strike out Jose Abreu with breaking balls down. And Bassitt grabbed a strike on a curve ball to get ahead of Frazier 0-2. The Sox third baseman was ready for the second breaking ball that came his way, however, and even though it was down, he golfed it over the left-field wall for his first home run of the season.

Once again, this wasn't the cleanest victory for the Sox. Nate Jones let a 4-2 lead get away in the eighth, costing starting pitcher Jose Quintana a win. But Rollins bailed Jones out with the home run, and David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save in as many games.

Would you believe it if I told you the Sox have started 2-0 in four of the past five seasons? I guess that's a commentary on how being 2-0 doesn't mean much in the big picture, because the Sox haven't made the playoffs in any of those seasons.

In fact, the last time the Sox were two games over .500 at any point was April 15, 2014, when they were 8-6 two weeks into the year.

The Sox have not been three games over .500 since they concluded the 2012 season with an 85-77 record.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

White Sox get gift-wrapped win on Opening Day

Chris Sale got the win in Monday's season opener.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said his team's 4-3 win over the Oakland A's on Monday night "wasn't pretty."

In fact, I'd say Oakland gifted the game to the Sox, who were no doubt happy to accept the charitable donation on Opening Day.

The Sox scored all four of their runs on four hits in the third inning, but two costly Oakland errors (and one egregious misread in the outfield) aided the South Siders' cause.

A's starter Rich Hill walked Austin Jackson with one out, and then made an errant pickoff throw that allowed Jackson to advance to third. Oakland center fielder Billy Burns then misplayed a drive off the bat of Adam Eaton into an RBI triple that produced the first Sox run of the season.

Jimmy Rollins singled to score Eaton, and Jose Abreu doubled to give the Sox runners at second and third with one out. Hill rallied to strike out Todd Frazier, and appeared to be on his way to limiting the Sox to just two runs when Melky Cabrera hit a routine grounder to shortstop. However, Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien's throw was high and wide of the bag, and first baseman Mark Canha missed the ball. Rollins scored easily, and Abreu hustled home to make it 4-0.

That's all the Sox would need, but that doesn't mean it wasn't interesting. Ace Chris Sale handed three runs right back to the A's in the bottom of the third inning. It was an odd performance for Sale, who struck out eight over seven innings and got the win. He was his dominant self in every inning but the third:

Sale in the third inning: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 34 pitches
Sale in all other innings: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks, 70 pitches

The Sox bullpen closed this one out, but not without some drama. Despite having better options available, Ventura used Jake Petricka to start the bottom of the eighth inning, and Petricka walked the leadoff batter, Jed Lowrie. Zach Duke was then summoned to face left-handed hitting Josh Reddick, and he retired him on a comebacker. Finally, Nate Jones came on to retire two hitters with the tying run in scoring position. Jones struck out Khris Davis on a nasty slider to end the frame, leaving fans to wonder why Jones didn't start the eighth inning in the first place.

Closer David Robertson walked the speedy Coco Crisp to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but retired the next three hitters to earn the save. Brett Lawrie made a nice play on a grounder by Yonder Alonso to secure the final out.

Offensively, the Sox knocked Hill out early, but then could not score in 6.1 innings against the Oakland bullpen. Two baserunners were picked off (Eaton in the first, Lawrie in the ninth), and two hitters (Cabrera and Dioner Navarro) popped out on bunt attempts.

By no means was this a clean win for the Sox, but it's a win nonetheless. A year ago, the Sox started the season 0-4, so it's probably a mistake for Sox fans to complain too loudly today as they woke up to a 1-0 record.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Royals use running game to beat A's in AL wild-card game

Kansas City Royals fans have waited exactly 10,565 days for this night.

After 29 consecutive years of missing the playoffs, the Royals captured their first postseason victory since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series on Tuesday night, defeating the Oakland A's 9-8 in 12 innings in one of the craziest, most entertaining American League wild-card games you're ever going to see.

The Royals overcame three deficits and finally prevailed with a two-run rally in the bottom of the 12th inning, capped off by a two-out RBI single by catcher Salvador Perez off former Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel.

Credit the Royals for this: They stuck with their offensive identity in this game. They were going up against a tough pitcher in Oakland ace Jon Lester, who entered Tuesday's action with a 2.11 ERA in 11 career postseason starts. The A's went 2-5 against Kansas City during the regular season, but Lester was the starting pitcher in each of the two Oakland victories.

The A's had the right man on the mound, but the Royals prevailed thanks to their ability to manufacture runs with speed. Kansas City stole a league-best 153 bases during the regular season, and on this night, they tied a Major League record by swiping seven bases in a postseason game. They also successfully executed four sacrifice bunts.

Remarkably, the seven stolen bases came from seven different players: Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Colon, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Terrance Gore.

Dyson had perhaps the biggest steal of them all in the ninth inning. The Royals trailed 7-3 after seven innings, but they scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to get close at 7-6. In the ninth, pinch-hitter Josh Willingham led off with a bloop single and was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Dyson. After one of the aforementioned sacrifice bunts, Dyson found himself on second base with one out. Moments later, in a gutsy move with the season on the line, he stole third and put himself in position to score the tying run on Aoki's deep fly to right field. The stolen base allowed the Royals to tie the score, force extra innings and, ultimately, extend their season.

The stolen base also played a key part in the 12th-inning rally. Kansas City trailed 8-7 after allowing a run in the top of the inning, but erased the deficit when Eric Hosmer tripled and scored the tying run on an infield single by Colon. 

Colon then came through with the second-most important stolen base of the evening, getting himself in scoring position to set the table for Perez's game-winning hit. 

Defense is not a strong point for Oakland. In fact, the A's were the worst defensive club among the five AL playoff qualifiers. They have excellent starting pitching, but if an opponent can put some pressure on them and force them to execute defensively, they cannot. The Royals proved that with Tuesday's win. 

The loss finishes an epic collapse for the A's, who had a 66-41 record the first four months of the season. But they slumped to a 22-33 mark since Aug. 1, and they did not clinch a berth in the wild-card game until the last day of the regular season. 

The Oakland offense struggled mightily down the stretch of the season, but it was not their bats that caused them to lose to Kansas City. Designated hitter Brandon Moss clubbed two home runs and drove in five runs, and left fielder Sam Fuld reached base three times Tuesday, quieting critics who said before the game that Oakland manager Bob Melvin was making a mistake by not including late-season acquisition Adam Dunn in the lineup.

The A's scored plenty of runs, but they could not slow down Kansas City's small-ball attack. Oakland is going home, and the Royals are moving on to the American League Division Series, where they will face the Los Angeles Angels in a five-game set that starts Thursday night.

Friday, September 12, 2014

White Sox add to Oakland's misery

When the Oakland Athletics made midseason deals for pitchers Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, I thought they were solidifying themselves for a potential World Series run.

Shows how little I know.

The A's were considered by some to be the best team in baseball as recently as late July, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would describe Oakland in that manner these days. After Thursday's 1-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, the A's have lost 11 of their last 14 games and are just 9-21 since Aug. 10.

Once the AL West leader, Oakland is all but eliminated from the division race. They now trail the first-place Los Angeles Angels by 9.5 games. A wild-card berth is far from a guarantee, as the A's now lead Detroit by just one game and Seattle by 1.5 games in that race.

Oakland was the best offensive team in baseball over the first four months, but now it can't hit a lick. The A's have scored more than three runs only 15 times in the 39 games since Yoenis Cespedes was traded to Boston for Lester on July 31.

And, if Oakland does miss the playoffs, it will look back on these past four days in Chicago as a missed opportunity. The White Sox won three of the four games, with all three Chicago victories coming by one run.

You can forgive the A's for losing to Sale on Thursday. The Sox ace had dominating stuff. He allowed just two hits and struck out nine over eight shutout innings. At one point, he retired 17 consecutive hitters. Sale improved to 12-3 on the season and lowered his ERA to a league-leading 1.99. He is trying to become the first Sox pitcher to lead the American League in ERA since Joe Horlen in 1967.

Oakland isn't the first team to be stopped cold by Sale. It won't be the last.

However, the A's had two other losses in the series, and both were unforgivable for a contending team. They had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night, only to see Tyler Flowers homer to tie the game. The Sox catcher added a second home run in the 12th inning to lift Chicago to a 5-4 win.

Oakland had a 1-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, but Avisail Garcia delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded to lift the Sox to a 2-1 win.

The A's should have won three out of four in the series. Instead, they lost three out of four to a Chicago team that has been out of contention for more than a month. Two of the three losses were the type that teams that narrowly miss the playoffs look back on and ask, "What if?"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

White Sox trade Adam Dunn to A's; deal Alejandro De Aza to Orioles

When the Oakland Athletics visit U.S. Cellular Field for a four-game series starting Sept. 8, White Sox fans will get their first opportunity to boo Adam Dunn as a member of the visiting team.

That's because the Sox traded Dunn and cash considerations to Oakland on Sunday morning for minor-league pitcher Nolan Sanburn.

Dunn, who was hitting .220 with 20 home runs and 54 RBIs at the time of the deal, finishes his White Sox career with a .201/.321/.410 slash line. Dunn hit 106 home runs during his nearly four-year tenure on the South Side, but he leaves town as a symbol of the franchise's failings over the past four seasons.

Dunn fell out of favor with the fans after an historically bad 2011 campaign, and while he rebounded somewhat the past three years, he never performed to his previous career norms while wearing a Sox uniform.

So why would Oakland want him, you ask? The A's are leading the majors in runs scored, but that's a bit deceiving. The A's traded their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox for ace left-hander Jon Lester on July 31. While Lester has performed well (2.66 ERA in 6 starts), Oakland's offense has slumped. The A's rank 20th in baseball in runs scored during August, and no doubt they are hoping Dunn can give them a boost.

The Sox, meanwhile, save themselves about $1.25 million and acquire some organizational pitching depth with Sanburn, who has been working in relief at Class-A Stockton this year. He has a 3.28 ERA in 71.1 IP with 73 strikeouts and 25 walks.

The Dunn deal comes on the heels of another move the Sox made Saturday night, in which they traded left fielder Alejandro De Aza to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor-league pitchers Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas.

De Aza figures to be a fourth outfielder with Baltimore. He was hitting .243 overall at the time of the trade, but as we've noted before on this blog, De Aza is a left-handed hitter who can produce against right-handed pitchers. He owns a .279/.347/.410 slash line against righties, and he will be a useful offensive player for Baltimore if spotted correctly in matchups that are favorable for him.

Of course, baserunning blunders, defensive gaffes and lollipop throws from left field also are part of the package with De Aza. To put it mildly, the Sox will not miss those things.

Blackmar owns a 10-1 record with a 3.18 ERA in 26 games (18 starts) with Class-A Frederick this season. Chalas (2-3, 4.80 ERA) has been working in relief at Frederick for most of the year. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Nobody can say for certain whether any of these three pitchers will one day contribute to the White Sox. If nothing else, these are moves that help replenish organizational depth. If one of the three pans out and becomes a major-league pitcher, that would be great news for the South Siders.

The best part of these trades for the Sox? Neither Dunn nor De Aza was going to be back with the team for the 2015 season, and these moves open up playing time for younger players. It's evaluation time for the organization.

We know Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia are part of the White Sox outfield plans, both now and in the future. One spot remains open. Now, instead of wasting their time with De Aza, the Sox can take a longer look at Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra or even Jared Mitchell, if they wish.

With the subtraction of Dunn, the door opens for 1B/DH Andy Wilkins, who was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte and is making his big-league debut Sunday for the Sox. Wilkins is a left-handed bat who hit .293 with 30 home runs, 38 doubles and 85 RBIs for the Knights this year. Can he help the Sox in the middle of the order? I don't know, but now is the time to let Wilkins play and gather more information about him.

Of the 25 roster spots available on the 2015 White Sox, you have to figure at least half of them are still open. Some younger players are about to receive an opportunity to put themselves in the picture for a job on next year's club.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Oakland, Detroit, St. Louis biggest winners at trade deadline

If there's one thing we learned at the MLB trading deadline, it's that GMs believe front-line starting pitching wins in the playoffs. On Thursday, we saw three contenders make bold moves to solidify their respective starting rotations for the stretch drive.

Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were each willing to include established major-leaguers in trades in order to acquire the front-line starters they coveted. All three of those teams now have a better chance to get to the World Series and win it than they did just 24 hours ago.

Thursday's frenzy started with a blockbuster deal between Oakland and Boston. The Red Sox sent ace pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A's in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

My initial reaction to this move was shock. How often do you see the cleanup hitter on the team with the best record in baseball (Cespedes) moved at the trading deadline? But the more I thought about this deal, the more I liked it for Oakland.

Cespedes is a big media name and a dangerous hitter, but he's not a great hitter, as his so-so .256/.303/.464 slash line will attest. From the seventh inning on, Cespedes has a slash line of .191/.236/.330 this year. This tells us there are plenty of ways to get him out with the game on the line. Opposing managers can bring in that power right-handed reliever to shut down Cespedes in the late innings. You don't have to fear him. You can pitch to him.

No doubt Oakland GM Billy Beane knows this, and that's why he was willing to part with Cespedes -- especially when the return is a legitimate ace with tons of postseason experience in Lester, who possesses a lifetime 2.11 ERA in the playoffs. During the Red Sox' run to the championship last year, Lester went 4-1 with 1.56 ERA in five starts. His only loss was a 1-0 defeat.

Lester is a money pitcher, and the A's are October ready with him, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir in their rotation.

Beane's big move put the pressure on Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski to respond. Respond he did, acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price just minutes before the trading deadline.

The Tigers paid a price, though, in the three-team swap. The deal cost them two players off their 25-man roster. Center fielder Austin Jackson is now a member of the Seattle Mariners. Left-handed starting pitcher Drew Smyly is now with Tampa Bay.

In a bizarre scene Thursday, the game between the Tigers and the White Sox had to be halted mid-inning so Jackson could be removed from center field at 3:56 p.m. EDT -- four minutes before the deadline.

Jackson is an inconsistent hitter, but make no mistake, the Tigers will not be able to replace his defense in center field. Who is going to play center field in Detroit now? Rajai Davis? Will they ask Torii Hunter to turn back the hands of time and move from right field to center? I don't know.

Maybe the Tigers are hoping fewer balls get hit into the outfield with the addition of Price.

There's no denying Detroit has a monster rotation now: Max Scherzer, Price, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. The first three on that list are former Cy Young award winners. Think they may be tough to beat in a short series?

Yeah, even with the hole in center field, I think so.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals made the boldest move among National League teams. On Wednesday, they added Justin Masterson to their rotation. They followed that up Thursday by acquiring John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig.

I like this trade for the Cardinals. Lackey has some age on him -- he's 35 -- but he's another guy who shines on the postseason stage (3.03 career ERA in 19 games). St. Louis knows that well, since Lackey shut the Cardinals down in the clinching game of the World Series last October.

Craig and his .237/.291/.346 slash line will not be missed in St. Louis, especially since his departure creates an opportunity for top prospect Oscar Taveras to play every day in the outfield.

Injuries have limited Kelly to seven starts this year. I suspect his 4.37 ERA and 1.457 WHIP also will not be missed in St. Louis.

Even if the Cardinals don't get Michael Wacha back, they have a front four of Adam Wainwright, Lackey, Masterson and Lance Lynn in their rotation. I don't think it makes them the favorite in the National League, but they would at least have a fighting chance in a short series against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their chances are certainly better now than they were before these deals.

There were several other deadline deals made on Thursday. We won't analyze all of them. This blog is already long enough. You can find a list of other trades here.

We'll wrap it up by saying Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were the biggest winners at the deadline. Who will be the biggest winner on the field? We'll find out between now and late October.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A's acquire Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel from Cubs

The Oakland A's on Friday fortified themselves for a potential World Series run, strengthening their starting rotation by acquiring pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. In return, Chicago will receive a pair of former first-round draft picks, shortstop Addison Russell (2012) and outfielder Billy McKinney (2013), plus pitcher Dan Straily and a player to be named later.

Samardzija, 29, went 2-7 for the Cubs with a 2.83 ERA this season. He has one more year of arbitration before becoming eligible for free agency. Hammel, 31, beat the Washington Nationals just hours before being traded on Friday. His tenure with the Cubs ends with an 8-5 record and 2.98 ERA. He will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Russell is one of the top-rated prospects in all of baseball, but a hamstring strain has limited him to just 18 games this season. The 20-year-old was hitting .333 in 58 at-bats for Double-A Midland at the time of the deal. McKinney, 19, was hitting .241 with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 75 games for Class-A Stockton.

Straily, 25, is the one player the Cubs got with big league experience in this deal. He's made 41 starts for Oakland over the past three years, going 13-11. Seven of those starts were this year. He was ineffective, going 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA before being sent back to Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 4-3 with a 4.71 ERA.

I like this move by the A's. It's bold and uncharacteristic for them. They are usually the team stockpiling prospects, but obviously their front office senses their time to win is right now. They've got the best record in an American League that lacks a clear favorite, and adding two solid pitchers to their rotation could be the move that swings the pendulum in their favor.

And make no mistake about it -- Oakland needed to add something to its rotation. While the A's have been among the league ERA leaders all year, injuries have left them thin. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin have been lost for the year. Sonny Gray is a good, young arm, but he's never pitched a full season in the big leagues. Jesse Chavez has been a nice stopgap, but I'm not sure he's the kind of guy you want to send to the mound to start a playoff game. Scott Kazmir has also thrown the ball well this season, but he hasn't pitched more than 158 innings in a season since 2008.

There are question marks abound there, and I think veteran workhorses like Samardzija and Hammel can provide the answers for Oakland. And, in Samardzija's case, he might get a new lease on life being paroled from the perpetually rebuilding Cubs. With this move, the A's will be in better shape to match up pitcher-for-pitcher against a team like Detroit in a short playoff series.

As for the Cubs, well, we'll see how this move works out for them sometime around 2018. Straily is still young enough that he could get better, but his track record suggests back of the rotation. He's the only one of these three guys we'll be seeing in the big leagues soon.

The reports about Russell are glowing, but obviously there are still a lot of development at-bats in the minor leagues in his future. McKinney is only 19 years old, and he's struggled in high-A, which is understandable because he's playing against older players in that league.

What's interesting about this deal from a Cubs perspective is they added another shortstop in Russell. Their incumbent shortstop, Starlin Castro, is one of the few legitimate big league hitters they've got. And, they've got highly regarded prospect Javier Baez waiting in the wings at Triple A at that position. Now, they've got yet another "shortstop of the future" in their organization.

Obviously, all three of these guys can't play shortstop together at Wrigley Field, so that means one of two things has to happen -- position changes or trades. The Cubs don't have much in the way of elite pitching prospects in their system, and I'm somewhat surprised they didn't get a highly regarded pitching prospect as part of their return for Samardzija.

But, now they've got a glut of shortstops. Would they trade one or more of these guys to restock their pitching depth? That would seem to make sense. We shall see.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Can Miguel Cabrera get his power stroke back?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Sox oust Rays

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monday quadrupleheader: Best day of the playoffs so far

I have been waiting for a day like Monday. All four divisional playoff series were in action, and this was a quadrupleheader of games that had it all: three one-run decisions, a near no-hitter by Michael Wacha, clutch home runs by Jose Lobaton and Juan Uribe and a bench-clearing incident in Detroit.

There is so much to talk about I could never mention it all in one blog post, but I'll try to touch on a talking point or two from each game.

Oakland 6, Detroit 3

The A's are a team that believes in statistical analysis, so I'm sure manager Bob Melvin was aware of the lefty/righty splits on Detroit pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

For the season, lefties hit .247 against Sanchez, while righties hit at a miserable .207 clip. Accordingly, Melvin loaded his lineup with seven left-handed bats Monday against Sanchez. Three left-handed hitters -- Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith -- took the Detroit right-hander deep over the first five innings of Oakland's victory, which gave the A's a 2-1 series lead.

The game will be best remembered for a bench-clearing incident in the bottom of the ninth inning. Oakland closer Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez exchanged insults after a foul ball. Amusingly, the crowd mic on MLB Network picked up all the expletives. After order was restored, Balfour nailed down the save. The A's will look to close out the series Tuesday.

St. Louis 2, Pittsburgh 1

Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last regular season start. In that game, he lost his bid on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning. This time, with the Cardinals season hanging in the balance, Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before losing it in a slightly less cheap manner -- he gave up a 430-foot bomb to Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

But the St. Louis bullpen came on to close this one out for Wacha, and the Cardinals tied the series at 2-2 and forced a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday.

You have to wonder why it took the Cardinals four games to send Wacha to the mound. Adam Wainwright is their ace, but after him, Wacha has been St. Louis' next best pitcher. If the Cardinals are fortunate enough to advance to the NLCS, they need to make sure Wacha is in line to make two starts in that series. He really impressed me with his fastball-changeup combination. I think he's a better pitcher than both Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, at least at this moment.

There will be no debate over who gets the ball in Game 5 for St. Louis. It will be Wainwright. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has chosen to start rookie Gerrit Cole instead of veteran A.J. Burnett. I like the move by Hurdle. Burnett was shelled in Game 1 of this series, while Cole was masterful in a Game 2 victory. In a winner-take-all situation, I believe you go with the guy who is pitching best, regardless of experience level.

Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4

The Rays have always been a resilient bunch, and they got off the deck in this game a couple times. The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through, but Tampa Bay tied it on a three-run homer by Evan Longoria in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

When Longoria stepped to the plate, the Rays had runners on second and third with two outs. I'm sure some Boston fans are wondering why the Red Sox didn't just put Longoria on with first base open. Conventional wisdom says you don't give teams baserunners with a three-run lead. In this case, I agree with conventional wisdom. But, Longoria is far and away the most dangerous hitter in the Tampa Bay lineup. There's a case to be made that you don't let him beat you and take your chances with the rookie on deck, Wil Myers. The Red Sox pitched to Longoria, and his blast changed the complexion of the game.

Tampa Bay scratched across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to go ahead 4-3. Boston answered with a run of its own in the top of the ninth off Rays' closer Fernando Rodney. No matter. The Rays got it right back when Lobaton hit a walk-off shot off Boston closer Koji Uehara, who gave up only five home runs all season. Go figure.

The Rays still trail the series, 2-1, but they have life. Game 4 is Tuesday.

Los Angeles 4, Atlanta 3

The day started with a curious decision by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He scratched scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco and brought back ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Mind you, Kershaw threw 124 pitches in his Game 1 victory, and Los Angeles entered Monday's play with a 2-1 series lead. I can understand wanting to throw your ace one more time if you're facing elimination, but the Dodgers were not in that situation. I was really surprised they brought Kershaw back on short rest. It was a move that reeked of needless desperation.

But give Kershaw credit. He threw the ball well once again, allowing just two unearned runs over six innings. However, Braves veteran Freddy Garcia matched Kershaw pitch for pitch, and Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Facing elimination, if there was ever a time for the Braves to ask closer Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save, this was it. Instead, David Carpenter pitched the eighth inning for Atlanta. It took him two batters to blow the lead. Yasiel Puig doubled and scored moments late on the game-winning home run by Uribe.

Mattingly wanted Uribe to bunt on the pitches prior to the home run. That didn't work out so well, but the home run erased the stink. Suffice to say, I think the Los Angeles manager made a couple of questionable choices on Monday. He got away with them, and now his team is in the NLCS, awaiting the St. Louis-Pittsburgh winner.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The pennant races with one week to play....

The 162-game marathon has come down to a six- or seven-game sprint for some clubs as we enter the final week of the regular season. Here's a rundown of the races, who has clinched, and who still has work to do:

AL East
The Boston Red Sox have clinched the division and own the best record in baseball (95-62). The Red Sox are two games ahead of the AL West-leading Oakland A's in their quest to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

AL Central
The Detroit Tigers (91-65) possess a five-game division lead. Their magic number is down to two. They open a series Monday against the 90-loss Minnesota Twins. Detroit figures to clinch before it leaves Target Field. The second-place Indians (86-70) figure to be more concerned with securing a wild-card spot at this point.

AL West
The Oakland A's (93-63) have proven last season's division championship was no fluke. They have clinched the title for the second consecutive year, once again outplaying the big-spending clubs in Texas and Anaheim. The A's will need a red-hot final week to catch Boston for the top seed in the AL, but I doubt anyone in Oakland will be complaining if the A's finish with the second-best record in the league.

AL Wild Card
Six teams remain alive, but realistically, this race is between Tampa Bay (86-69), Cleveland (86-70) and Texas (84-71). The Rangers are 1.5 back of Cleveland and two back of Tampa Bay. Texas opens a three-game set Monday against 105-loss Houston, and it better sweep. The Rangers close with four in Anaheim. The Indians are in great shape. They have two games left with the 94-loss White Sox and four with the 90-loss Twins. They win five out of six, they're in. Four out of six will probably do it, too. Tampa Bay is concluding a four-game series with Baltimore on Monday, before a six-game closing road trip to New York and Toronto. That will not be easy, but the Rays have the advantage of that two-game cushion over the Rangers. Kansas City (82-73) is 3.5 out of the wild card. New York is four back, and Baltimore is 4.5 back. Each of those three teams is still alive, but realistically, they would need to win out while others choke.

NL East
The Atlanta Braves (92-63) have the best record in the National League and clinched their division title Sunday with a 5-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It will be a fight to the finish for homefield advantage in the NL. The Braves are just 1.5 games ahead of St. Louis (91-65) and 2.5 ahead of Los Angeles (90-66). Does that even matter? You bet it does. Atlanta is 52-22 at Turner Field this season and just 40-41 on the road.

NL Central
St. Louis (91-65) is in good shape, two games ahead of both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Cardinals are at home for the final week, hosting Washington (84-72) for three and the 91-loss Cubs for three. You have to believe St. Louis will win the division with a .500 homestand, especially since Pittsburgh and Cincinnati close the season playing head-to-head. If either the Pirates or the Reds were to sweep that final series, maybe they could catch the Cardinals. But, the more likely scenario involves the Pirates and Reds beating up on each other, allowing St. Louis to put the division away.

NL West
Los Angeles (90-66) is the only team in baseball enjoying a double-digit lead in its division. The Dodgers have basically lapped the NL West. They could use a hot streak at the end to pass the Cardinals and or the Braves, so that they'll be able to open the playoffs at home.

NL Wild Card
Almost certainly, the NL wild-card game will feature Pittsburgh (89-67) and Cincinnati (89-67). Both clubs are five games ahead of Washington (84-72) with six games to play. Right now, it's a matter of which team will host that wild-card game. It's a dead heat entering Monday. The Pirates play at Chicago for three games before finishing with three in Cincinnati. The Reds welcome the New York Mets for three before playing the Pirates. Here's a possible dilemma for the season's last day: If the two teams are tied going into Game 162, do you throw your best pitcher or one of your best pitchers to try to get homefield for the wild-card game? Or do you rest everybody for the winner-take-all 163rd game? I think I'd save all my bullets for the wild-card game.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Do you suppose the Cubs wish they still had Chris Archer? Or Josh Donaldson?

As a matter of philsophy, I usually agree with the idea of trading prospects for proven veterans. After all, you generally know what you're going to get from a veteran player, and as a percentage, the overwhelming majority of prospects are busts.

If you take a look at what the White Sox have done over the last 10 or 15 years, most of former GM Ken Williams' trades have involved dealing future prospects to acquire help for the here and now. When I look at all the young players Williams traded, the only one I wish the Sox still had is Gio Gonzalez.

Strangely enough, the Sox traded him twice. In 2005, they sent him and Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia for Jim Thome (good trade). They reacquired him, along with Gavin Floyd, for Freddy Garcia in 2006 (also a decent trade). Then, they sent him to Oakland in 2008 with Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos for Nick Swisher (terrible trade).

The rest of the players Williams traded, I can't say I miss.

Here are two guys the former GM of the Cubs (Jim Hendry) traded that I'll bet the current GM (Jed Hoyer) wishes he still had: Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer and Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Archer, a 24-year-old right-hander, is having a breakout season for the Rays. He's 8-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 17 starts. He's allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of those outings. Pretty impressive for a kid who just joined the rotation on June 1 and is pitching in the rugged AL East. 

The Cubs acquired Archer from Cleveland in the Mark DeRosa deal in 2008, but in 2011, they flipped him to Tampa Bay in an eight-player deal that brought Matt Garza to the North Side of Chicago. Over 2 1/2 seasons, Garza went 21-18 in 60 starts for the Cubs. He, of course, is no longer on the team, having been traded to the Texas Rangers earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, the Rays have a potential ace on their roster. The Cubs are still looking for that guy. Some people in Chicago seem to believe Jeff Samardzija is an ace. I disagree. A 28-year-old with a 4.13 ERA who is blowing 5-0 leads against the woeful Philadelphia Phillies is not an ace. He's a mid-rotation starter on a contender. The Cubs should consider trading him this offseason. He's not going to get any better than he is right now.

Donaldson, a 27-year-old third baseman, is a bit of a forgotten man. Most people haven't noticed his .296 average, 19 home runs and 77 RBIs this season because he plays for Oakland. Most people have probably also forgotten the Cubs selected him 48th overall in the 2007 draft.

In July of 2008, Donaldson, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson were traded to Oakland for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. At the time, Donaldson was the least talked about player of the four the Cubs gave up. Right now, he looks like the best player in that deal. He plays third base, too, and it seems like about half the teams in baseball are looking for someone to fill that position. It took five years, but that acquisition is paying dividends for the A's, who certainly do not miss Harden or Gaudin.

With both Chicago teams out of the pennant race this year, both clubs have traded some veterans for future considerations this summer. A couple years down the line, maybe they'll strike gold in some of these deals. Only time will tell. Most of the time, the team acquiring the veteran wins the trade. But every now and then, you seen a trade like the Archer deal or the Donaldson deal where the team acquiring the prospects prevails.