Showing posts with label Tampa Bay Rays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tampa Bay Rays. Show all posts

Thursday, July 27, 2017

White Sox trade reliever Dan Jennings to Rays

Dan Jennings
There is only one relief pitcher remaining with the team from the White Sox Opening Day roster after left-hander Dan Jennings was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday in exchange for Triple-A first baseman Casey Gillaspie.

Yes, Gillaspie is the younger brother of former Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

Casey Gillaspie, a 24-year-old switch-hitter, began the season ranked as the No. 74 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. He was a Midwest League All-Star in 2015 and a Southern League All-Star in 2016, but he has fallen on hard times this season at Triple-A Durham.

Gillaspie has slumped to a .227/.296/.357 slash line with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 95 games for Durham. The struggles are a little bit surprising because Gillaspie hit .307 in 47 Triple-A games after being promoted to Durham late in the 2016 season. That's how he got that respectable ranking on the prospects list.

Is the slump this year an anomaly? Possibly. Gillaspie had hit at every level until this year, so we can't count out the possibility that he'll regain his form. He's a former first-round draft pick, so he's obviously got some talent.

And, really, it's not a bad gamble for the Sox, who are parting with a league-average reliever in Jennings. The left-hander is 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 48 appearances this season, and he's certainly a respectable bullpen arm. However, Jennings doesn't have much value on the roster to the Sox, who are obviously on their way to finishing well up the track.

Do you really need decent-to-good bullpen arms when there are so few leads to protect? Not really.

For the record, Jake Petricka is the last man standing from the Opening Day bullpen. He's often injured, and thus has little value in a trade. That's probably the one thing that's keeping him in Chicago.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Todd Frazier becomes seventh player in White Sox franchise history to reach 40 home runs

Todd Frazier
The "dream" of a .500 season survives for another day. The White Sox (77-81) won their fifth consecutive game Wednesday night, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0.

This game featured two rain delays, and cold, wet, windy weather that knocked down its share of flyballs. However, Sox third baseman Todd Frazier connected for a solo home run off Tampa Bay knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa in the bottom of the seventh inning, and that provided the margin of victory.

The home run was the 40th of the season for Frazier, extending a career high, and he became the seventh player in Sox franchise history to reach 40 home runs in a single season. Here are the others:

Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (5-8) concluded a sneaky-good season with his best outing of the year Wednesday. He worked 8.1 scoreless innings, despite having to sit for 97 minutes because of a rain delay in the third inning. Gonzalez allowed just three hits, struck out five and walked nobody. He threw 71 of his 102 pitches for strikes, and that allowed him to get some quick outs in the pitcher-friendly conditions.

Gonzalez finishes his season with a 3.73 ERA. Fifteen of his 23 starts were quality. Like most of the Sox rotation, he pitched better than his record indicates, and I don't think anyone can complain about his performance this year.

His 102nd pitch Wednesday was a hanging slider that Logan Forsythe hit for a single to left with one out in the top of the ninth. At that point, closer David Robertson was summoned. He needed one pitch to record his 37th save in 44 chances, inducing Kevin Kiermaier to hit into a game-ending double play.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

White Sox have had their best offensive month in September

Leury Garcia
Stat of the day: The White Sox have scored 137 runs in 25 games this month, an average of 5.5 runs a game.

That makes September far and away their best offensive month of the season. The next best offensive month? It was May, when the Sox plated 123 runs in 28 games (4.4 a game).

Where was this September offense in June and July, you ask? Great question. This is obviously a case of too little and much too late, but the Sox continued their run of better-than-we're-used-to offense with a 13-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.

Three batters into the bottom of the first inning, the Sox had three runs. Adam Eaton doubled and scored on a single by Tim Anderson. Melky Cabrera followed with his 14th home run of the season to make it 3-0. The Sox had the lead the rest of the way.

It was a tough night for Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb, who is trying to make it back from Tommy John surgery. He lasted only three innings and gave up eight runs. His ERA swelled to 8.59 after five starts. The Sox added two runs in the second and three more in the third, including a three-run home run by Leury Garcia, of all people.

For Garcia, it was just his second career home run and first since June 4, 2014.

Anderson continued to impress in his rookie season as he went 3 for 5 with a double, his eighth home run of the season, two runs scored and three RBIs. His batting average sits at a respectable .278 clip 94 games into his career. At no point during this season has he looked overmatched offensively or defensively, and while it's still too soon to say what kind of player Anderson will ultimately become, it has to be comforting for the Sox to know who their shortstop is going to be in 2017. It's one less hole to fill.

The beneficiary of all this run support was Sox ace Chris Sale (17-9), who equaled a career high in wins with 17 in what might be his last start of the season. Sale wasn't at his sharpest, but he didn't need to be. He went seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits. He struck out seven and did not issue a walk, which is typically the recipe for success when pitching with a big lead.

Chris Beck worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and the Sox led, 13-3, after eight innings. Enter Matt Albers, whose career is probably going to be over after this week. He allowed three runs (two earned) to account for the final score. Remember when Albers was unscored upon for 30 straight appearances? Well, his ERA is up to 6.31 now. That's how badly he's pitched the last three or four months. He's done.

The win was the Sox's fourth in a row, and at 76-81, they still have an outside shot at finishing .500 if they can win the rest of their games this week. Not likely, but hey, it's all we got, right?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

White Sox pitcher James Shields will avoid 20-loss season

James Shields
For a change, struggling White Sox pitcher James Shields didn't lose Monday night.

The right-hander picked up his first victory since July 26, firing six innings of one-run ball in a 7-1 Sox win over Shields' former team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

With the victory, Shields improves to 6-18 (4-11 with the Sox) and ensures that he will not be a 20-game loser this season, regardless of the outcome of his final scheduled start Saturday against the Minnesota Twins.

Shields struggled for most of the game. Tampa Bay had multiple base runners in four of the six innings he pitched, but a couple of well-timed double plays and six strikeouts allowed Shields to pitch out of trouble.

I'm still 100 percent opposed to the idea of Shields being in the Sox's rotation for 2017. His 0-4 mark with an 11.42 ERA over six starts in August was more than enough for me to say it's time to move on. But the reality is Shields has two years left on his contract, and the Sox are probably going to trot him to the mound for 32 starts next season, so we're left with hoping the Shields of Monday night appears more often.

It didn't hurt that the Sox had another decent offensive game. Justin Morneau and Carlos Sanchez each hit two-run homers as part of an 11-hit attack. Morneau, Sanchez, Jose Abreu and Omar Narvaez had two hits each. Abreu picked up his 98th RBI, inching closer to reaching the 100-RBI mark for the third straight season. Melky Cabrera collected his 40th double Monday, becoming the first Sox hitter to reach that plateau since Jermaine Dye in 2008.

After a six-game losing streak, the Sox (75-81) have won three straight games and will send ace Chris Sale to the mound Tuesday in the second game of the four-game series with the Rays.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Kansas City Royals must be happy they traded for James Shields, Wade Davis

Wade Davis struggled with Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore made a trade that stunned the baseball world on Dec. 9, 2012.

He sent outfielder Wil Myers -- who at the time was Kansas City's top prospect and perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball -- and pitcher Jake Odorizzi and two minor-leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named later.

The critics howled. How could the general manager of the perpetually rebuilding Royals part with such a huge piece of the franchise's future? This was a "win-now" kind of trade, and Kansas City was coming off a lousy 72-win season in 2012. Was Moore delusional? Certainly he didn't believe Shields and Davis would vault the Royals into contention. Trading away Myers was a move that would haunt the franchise for the next decade, right?

Wrong.

Nearly two years after the deal, Moore is getting the last laugh. That's because the Royals are headed to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City finished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Shields and Davis are both centerpieces of this pennant winning team. Shields is the No. 1 starter in the Kansas City rotation. This season, he led the team in wins (14), innings pitched (227) and strikeouts (180), while finishing second on the team in ERA (3.21). Teammate Yordano Ventura's ERA (3.20) was just a touch better.

The Royals converted Davis, a failed starter, to a full-time relief role this year with outstanding results. Working as Kansas City's eighth-inning guy, he fired 72 innings, striking out 109 batters and posting a 1.00 ERA and a 0.847 WHIP.  He's been lights out in the postseason, striking out 10 and allowing just one run over 9.1 innings in eight games.

In Wednesday's pennant clincher, Davis worked with surgical efficiency, retiring the Orioles 1-2-3 in the eighth inning on 10 pitches (9 strikes). It was the kind of outing Royals fans have come to expect from Davis. He's done it all year.

So, on one December night, with one trade, Moore acquired two players who would become the best starting pitcher and the best relief pitcher on an American League championship team. He paid a price for it, sure, but that celebration that's going on in Kansas City tonight would not be happening without this trade.

And Myers?

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013, but this year he compiled an ugly slash line of .222/.294/.320 with just six home runs and 35 RBIs in 87 games. Myers is only 23 years old, and there is still plenty of time for him to get his career on track, but I don't think the Royals miss him right now.

Let this be a lesson to some media and some fans who tend to overvalue prospects. No matter how highly regarded a young player may be, sometimes it does pay dividends to trade that prospect for more proven ballplayers.

Kansas City is proof of that.

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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rounding up Jose Abreu's record-breaking April

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Sunday to lead the South Siders to a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Abreu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record four games with four RBIs or more during the first 26 games of his career. Abreu has a modest .262 batting average, but as Ken "Hawk" Harrelson might say, "It's a hard .262." Abreu leads the league with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. Even with three games to go in the month, those figures are for the record books.

The 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in one month are both MLB rookie records. The 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month. The 31 RBIs are a new record for the opening month of the season by any Sox player -- the previous record was 28, set by Paul Konerko in 2002. The 31 RBIs are also the most by any Sox player in the first 26 games of a career. The 10 home runs tie the team record for the most by a Sox player in the first 26 games of a career -- Zeke Bonura accomplished the same feat in 1934.

This indeed has been an historic month for Abreu. He has homered off two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and David Price, which shows that he isn't just pounding on mediocre pitchers. He's won a few battles with elite pitchers, too. The cynic would say, "Let's see what happens when the league adjusts to Abreu." And the cynic isn't completely wrong. Opposing pitchers will change their pattern to try to slow Abreu down, and he will have to adjust.

But, let's also remember that Abreu is putting up these monster numbers in the miserable, cold April conditions at U.S. Cellular Field. The ballpark plays smaller and becomes more hitter-friendly when the weather warms up in the summer. Abreu isn't going put up 10 homers and 30-plus RBIs every month. That's just not realistic, but I'd wager he has a pretty fair chance of continuing to produce runs when the ball starts flying in June and July.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bunting with two strikes ... sometimes that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buerhle turns back clock in first start of season  

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Joe Maddon talks about practice, not a game, practice

When I was at The Beacon-News, I never missed an opportunity to post Allen Iverson's infamous practice rant on my blog.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon was spoofing on that rant at one of his recent press conferences, so I figure it would be fitting to link to it here.

I was initially going to post the video itself, but I think it's copyrighted by MLB, which could get me busted.

In any case, it's too bad Maddon didn't ask, "How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?" That's the best part of the whole Iverson rant.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clayton Kershaw to get record-setting deal; David Price also signs

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the new richest man in baseball -- at least for now.

According to reports, the left-hander agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the National League, becomes the first player with a $30 million average annual salary.

Previously, the most lucrative deal for a pitcher was the one the Detroit Tigers gave Justin Verlander, $180 million over seven years.

In other pitching news, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The contract is the richest one in Tampa Bay franchise history. Price, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation. Since he did not sign a long-term deal with the Rays, I would expect that speculation to continue in the coming days and months.

After seeing the dollars these guys are commanding, it's comforting for me as a White Sox fan to know the team has its All-Star left-hander, Chris Sale, under control through 2019. Sale's five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019 is a tremendous bargain in this marketplace.

I'll be interested to see what the Kershaw contract means for international free agent Masahiro Tanaka. No, Tanaka is not going to command $30 million a year, but the Dodgers have reportedly been major players in that sweepstakes. Are they still major players after committing such a large dollar figure to Kershaw? Or is it now a given that Tanaka is going to the New York Yankees, who are the team most in need of a top-flight starting pitcher?

After Tanaka signs, we should see the other dominoes start to fall among the free-agent starting pitchers. All the major free-agent position players have already signed. Meanwhile, you've still got three high-profile starting pitchers still on the market in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Look for those three players to be consolation prizes for the teams that lose out on Tanaka.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Headley not worth Quintana for White Sox

Most rumors that pop up around baseball's Winter Meetings aren't worth paying too much attention. Especially this one that Dan Hayes at CSN Chicago reports: The White Sox are interested in Chase Headley, but not for Jose Quintana.

Hayes does a good job of shooting this one down almost immediately after he presents it, pointing out Headley is a free agent after next season, while Quintana won't be a free agent until after 2018.

It's worth remembering for a minute how good Quintana is. The left-hander just tossed 200 innings with a 3.51 ERA. He did that during a sophomore season where he saw in increased workload (only 136 1/3 innings as a rookie), improved his K-rate (5.3 to 7.4 K/9), his walk rate (2.8 to 2.5 BB/9) and kept his home runs allowed in check (0.9 HR/9 in 2012, 1.0 HR/9 allowed last year).

Among left-handed starters in the American League, only teammate Chris Sale (3.07), the Rays' David Price (3.33) and the Rangers' Derek Holland (3.42) sported better ERAs. If you measure by a statistic like ERA+ that tries to account for Quintana's offense-friendly home ballpark, his adjusted figure of 122 is still way behind Sale (140), but surpasses Price (114) and Holland (120).

Or by a stat that tries to measure pitcher success independent of fielding like FIP, Quintana (3.86) still finishes near Holland (3.44), and a bit farther from Price (3.03) and Sale (3.17), if you can believe any White Sox pitcher was aided to a better ERA by the team's awful defense last year.

Basically in Quintana, the Sox have one of the better left-handed starters in the AL. That's easy to forget because in Sale, the Sox have the best left-handed starter in the league. And Quintana did seemingly come out of nowhere with the Sox acquiring him as a minor league free agent after he washed out of the Mets and Yankees organizations.

Quintana having never thrown more than just over 100 innings during any season in the minors might have been a cause for concern. At this point, I don't think it is -- not after throwing more than 380 combined innings the last two years.

And lets not forget that the last 336 1/3 of those frames all came in the big leagues, where Quintana has shown the last two seasons that he can make adjustments and thrive.

Given that, it's hard not to think Quintana would garner more in trade than a free agent third baseman going into his walk year.

In fact, given the five years of cheap team control remaining on Quintana's contract, the Sox should be aiming for something similar to what the Rays will seek for Price this winter while their lefty has only two years of team control before free agency.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

White Sox receive a couple of nobodies to complete Jesse Crain trade

The White Sox have acquired minor leaguers Sean Bierman and Ben Kline plus cash from the Tampa Bay Rays to complete the July trade of relief pitcher Jesse Crain.

Bierman, a 24-year-old left-hander, went 6-5 with a 2.55 ERA in 18 appearances (14 starts) for two teams in Tampa Bay's organization this year. The University of Tampa product had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and was a 10th-round choice of the Rays in the 2012 draft.

Bierman's fastball tops out in the high 80s, but he doesn't walk many people. In 150 minor league innings, he has registered 123 Ks and walked just 23. His career ERA is 3.00. However, he'll be turning 25 on Sunday, and he's never pitched above A-ball. Sounds like an organizational arm to me.

Kline, a 24-year-old infielder, was the Rays' 32nd-round pick in the 2012 draft. He played first base, second base and third base this past season for three different A-ball teams. He hit .246 with 15 RBIs in 40 games. My guess is you will never see him in a White Sox uniform.

Truthfully, as Sox fans we should be happy the team got anything for Crain, who was on the disabled list at the time he was traded and never threw a single pitch for the Rays. More than likely, this trade will go down as one that helped neither team, and it will be nothing more than a footnote for the 2013 season.

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.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nick Swisher fails Indians in the clutch

I'll admit it: I can't stand Nick Swisher, and I was cheering against the Cleveland Indians in Wednesday night's American League Wild Card game for just that reason.

Swisher is one of my all-time least favorite White Sox players. He was only on the South Side for a year (2008), and that was one year too many in my book. He batted .219 and got benched in favor of Dewayne Wise late in the season.

The national media likes to portray Swisher as "always laughing, always smiling" and "great in the clubhouse." Maybe he is, and I don't pretend to know what goes on in any major league clubhouse. What I do know about Swisher is he is overmatched against upper-echelon pitching. His weaknesses always come to the forefront in the playoffs. In 47 career postseason games, he is hitting .165 (26 for 158) with 48 strikeouts.

Swisher cemented his reputation with another lousy playoff showing Wednesday night as the Tampa Bay Rays advanced to the ALDS with a 4-0 win over the Indians. Swisher went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and looked pathetic during a critical at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Indians were trailing 3-0 at the time and had two men on with two men out. Tampa Bay summoned reliever Joel Peralta from the bullpen to replace eventual winning pitcher Alex Cobb. Peralta easily struck Swisher out on three pitches, and Cleveland's best and final chance to get back in the game went by the boards.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Indians had a golden opportunity -- runners on first and third with nobody out. They failed to score after Michael Bourn struck out, Swisher grounded out weakly to first and Jason Kipnis grounded right back to Cobb for the final out.

All told, Bourn, Swisher and Kipnis went 0 for 12 with 12 baserunners stranded. That's not what you want from your 1-2-3 in the lineup. For Swisher, failures in the playoffs have become all too common. He just can't do anything against quality pitchers from quality teams. I have to say I don't feel the least bit sorry for him.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dale Sveum fired as Cubs manager

In two seasons as manager of the Cubs, Dale Sveum was handed a Triple-A roster. To the surprise of no one -- not even his own bosses -- he produced Triple-A results.

Sveum was fired Monday after posting a miserable 127-197 record. But to hear Cubs' brass tell it, that lousy .392 winning percentage had nothing to do with Sveum's dismissal, nor did the fact that the Cubs (66-96) finished the 2013 campaign by losing 41 of their final 59 games.

Rather, Sveum was canned for not creating a friendly enough environment for the young players on his roster.

''It's absolutely imperative that we create the best environment possible for young players to come up here, continue to learn, continue to develop and thrive at the big league level and win, ultimately,'' Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said during a Monday afternoon news conference. ''And that's not an easy thing to do. A big part of the reason why we're here today is because we took a good hard look at that and we decided that we needed to try to get it right before they come up.''

The "core pieces" of the Cubs -- Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and, to a lesser extent, Darwin Barney -- all took steps backward in 2012. Sveum is taking the fall for them.

With this decision, Epstein is making it clear he doesn't want Sveum to manage the "crown jewels" of the Cubs' farm system  -- Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant -- if they make it to the big leagues in the near future.

''There were some good results this year, some young players emerged, but there were other young players who didn't continue to develop this year,'' Epstein said. ''That's a collective issue, but it's my responsibility to get it right.''

What goes unsaid there is Epstein is admitting he made a mistake in hiring Sveum. This was his guy, and now he's shoving him out the door a mere two years into the rebuilding process. If indeed Sveum is to blame for the regression of guys like Castro and Rizzo, then the Cubs are better off cutting ties and putting a fresh face in charge of the team. Better to admit a mistake than to compound it.

But what if Sveum isn't to blame? What if the Epstein and the other members of the Cubs' front office blew it with their player evaluations and the aforementioned group of young guys simply isn't as good as they were made out to be? That's one possible scenario here.

No one can say definitively at this point, and we won't have an answer for that until the next manager comes to the North Side and tries to solve the enigma that is Starlin Castro. If the next guy fails as well, then Epstein's seat will be the one getting hot.

Tampa Bay advances to AL Wild Card game

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price hadn't had much luck against the Texas Rangers coming into Monday night's Game 163. He had a 6.62 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers, and his numbers at Rangers Ballpark were even worse: a 10.26 ERA in four starts.

Some people might have wondered if Tampa Bay should start someone other than its ace it this winner-take-all contest to decide which club would make the AL Wild Card game. Rays manager Joe Maddon stuck with Price and was rewarded, as the left-hander fired a complete game in Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory.  Price struck out four, walked just one and threw 81 strikes out of his 118 pitches. He looked like he did last year when he went 20-5 and won the AL Cy Young.

The Rays next travel to Cleveland for a winner-take-all wild card game against the Indians on Wednesday.

The Rangers, meanwhile, will be left to wonder what could have been. Texas finishes 12-16 in September, and that's with a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season. No doubt the Rangers will lament the stretch from Sept. 1 to Sept 18 where they lost 14 out of 18 games. That, more than a single loss to Price on Monday night, is what cost Texas its season.

Given the high expectations in Arlington, you can't help but wonder if Rangers manager Ron Washington will soon join Sveum on the unemployment line.
 

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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

American League wild card race will be a wild one

With roughly a dozen games to go in the 2013 baseball season, the division winners in the American League are all but decided.

The Boston Red Sox lead the AL East by nine games. The Oakland A's are up 6.5 games in the AL West, and the Detroit Tigers lead the AL Central by 6.

That said, nine of the 15 teams in the American League still have legitimate pennant hopes entering play on this, the 17th day of September. Six teams are fighting for the two wild card spots, and all of them are within 2.5 games of each other. This must be exactly what commissioner Bud Selig had in mind when he added that extra wild card position.

Take a look at the wild card standings entering Tuesday's play:
1. Tampa Bay  82-67 (+1.0)
2. Texas 81-68  (-)
3. Cleveland 81-69 (0.5 GB)
4. Baltimore 79-70 (2.0 GB)
5. Kansas City 79-71 (2.5 GB)
6. New York 79-71 (2.5 GB)

Only two of the six can qualify, and for the longest time, it looked like Texas would be one of those teams. No more. If you thought the White Sox were struggling, take a look at what the Rangers have done this month. They are 2-12 in September, and their starting pitchers have gone 1-12 in that time frame. Former Cub Matt Garza was the latest to get knocked around. He lasted only 4.1 innings Monday in a 6-2 Texas loss to Tampa Bay. This is a real critical time for the Rangers. They have three more games in a four-game set with the Rays before heading to Kansas City for a crucial weekend series against the Royals.

Speaking of Kansas City, the Royals got a big game from James Shields (pictured) in a 7-1 victory over Cleveland on Monday night. The Royals and Indians meet again Tuesday and Wednesday in the other big, head-to-head series between wild card contenders. Kansas City will send 22-year-old prospect Yordano Ventura to the mound to make his major league debut Tuesday night. No pressure, kid. Nothing at stake except Kansas City's first legitimate chance to make the playoffs in nearly three decades.

Even with Chicago teams dead and buried, there is still some good baseball left to watch. This AL wild card race could end up as one for the ages.