Showing posts with label Texas Rangers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Texas Rangers. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2017

White Sox score 14 runs in ninth inning to beat Dodgers

Leury Garcia
Let's be honest: Most spring training games are not worth much analysis. However, it gets your attention when a team scores 14 runs in one inning.

While most of the world was sleeping late Sunday night, the White Sox entered the ninth inning trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1. They ended up winning the game, 15-5, after one of the most bizarre half-innings I've ever heard on the radio. (The game was not televised.)

The Sox batted around twice -- sending 18 men to the plate -- and scored 14 runs on only seven hits. A few highlights:

  • Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder who was acquired in the Chris Sale deal, had a two-run single to put the Sox ahead, 5-3.
  • Yoan Moncada, the team's top prospect, had a two-run double. Previously in the game, he had struck out in four consecutive plate appearances.
  • Longtime minor-leaguer Jason Bourgeois had five RBIs in the inning. He had a two-run single in his first AB of the rally, and he capped the Sox's scoring with a three-run homer. 
  • The Dodgers committed four errors, walked three men and hit two batters. So, the Sox were gifted nine baserunners, in addition to the seven hits they had.
The Dodgers probably could not have done any worse in that inning if they had just gone out there and lit themselves on fire. Sure, it was a collection of Double-A and Triple-A players on the field, but no professional team should be giving up that many runs in one inning.

That rally capped an interesting Sunday for the Sox, who also lost, 10-8, to the Texas Rangers in the other half of a split-squad day. In that game, the Sox scored all eight of their runs in the sixth inning.

So, to recap, the Sox had 18 offensive innings Sunday. They scored 23 runs, but they did it in the most bizarre fashion possible -- a 14-run inning, an 8-run inning, an inning with a single run scored, plus 15 innings with no runs at all.

I have to admit, I'm getting a little worried that Leury Garcia is going to make the team. He's got a slash line of .419/.500/.919 in 30 spring plate appearances. He had four hits against Texas on Sunday. But he also made two egregious mistakes on the basepaths, and at shortstop, he butchered a rundown play that allowed the Rangers to score a gift run.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing about Garcia's "versatility" being an asset. Sure, he plays multiple positions, but he plays them all poorly, so who cares? And, yes, he has speed, but he makes dumb outs on the bases, so who cares?

We know that Garcia feasts on Triple-A pitching -- he hit .313 at Charlotte in 2016 -- and that's what he's doing in this spring camp. Here's to hoping the Sox are not fooled. This is a player who makes mental mistake after mental mistake and does not belong on the roster. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It will be Cleveland vs. Toronto in the ALCS

Corey Kluber
Expect the unexpected in the MLB playoffs. How many of you had both Cleveland and Toronto advancing to the ALCS this year? Be honest. I sure didn't. I think most people picked Boston and Texas. Guess what? Both the Red Sox and Rangers got swept, and everything we assumed about the American League going into the playoffs was wrong.

Cleveland finished off a three-game sweep with a 4-3 win Monday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had their chances, but they left two men on in both the eighth and ninth innings. Indians closer Cody Allen was able to shut the door in both innings.

I didn't like Cleveland's chances coming into the playoffs because its starting rotation was beat up. Two of its top three pitchers -- Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco -- are on the disabled list. The Indians' ace, Corey Kluber, had a groin strain that kept him out the final week of the regular season and caused him to not be able to make a Game 1 start in the ALDS.

Kluber proved he was healthy, however, with a brilliant performance to win Game 2. In Games 1 and 3, the Tribe got just enough out of back-of-the-rotation starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and manager Terry Francona used his underrated relief corps brilliantly to secure those two wins.

Francona brought relief ace Andrew Miller in during the fifth inning of Game 1 and the sixth inning of Game 3. He's got three good high-leverage relievers in Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen, and he showed he's not afraid to use them for the last four or five innings of a game to protect a precarious lead.

When your starting pitching is beat up, but your bullpen is strong, that's precisely what you have to do to chart a course for victory. Give the Indians credit for pulling this off. They knocked out the team that many perceived as the favorite in the American League.

David Ortiz's brilliant career with the Red Sox is now over, but spare me the stuff about how he "deserved a better ending." Ortiz has three World Series rings, and he had many fine moments with Boston. No one is promised the chance to go out on top, and most athletes do not. He'll get over this loss, I'm sure.

In the other ALDS, how about Toronto knocking the stuffing out of the 95-win Rangers? The Blue Jays scored 22 runs in the three-game sweep, and if you buy into the theory that the "hot team" wins in the playoffs, well, the Blue Jays look like the hot team.

Two things to look for in the ALCS: First, will Kluber be healthy enough to make three starts? He should be in line for Game 1. With all the other injury problems, does he start Game 4 and Game 7, if necessary, as well? In my opinion, he should.

Secondly, can the Blue Jays overcome the fact that the Indians have a far superior bullpen? Toronto closer Roberto Osuna is good, and he toughed it out through some shoulder discomfort in the ALDS, but I don't know that I trust Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini and the other assorted mediocre options the Jays have in the bullpen.

If games are close in the late innings, it should be advantage Tribe.

Of course, the first round of the American League playoffs taught us that things that should be aren't necessarily so. The more you watch, the more you realize that you really know don't much of anything.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Here's why Boston might not beat Cleveland in the ALDS

Rick Porcello
Most of the experts are anticipating a Boston-Texas ALCS this year, so of course, Cleveland and Toronto both won Thursday in their respective ALDS Game 1s.

The Red Sox have become the popular pick to win the AL pennant going into the playoffs. Maybe it's just sentimental -- I think media members root for the story -- they want that Cubs-Red Sox World Series; they want that "David Ortiz retires on a high note" narrative.

But picking Boston is not without merit. The Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball. They scored 878 runs this season, the most in MLB. The second-highest run total in the AL belongs to Boston's first-round opponent, Cleveland, which scored 777 runs.

Here's the problem with the Red Sox: Their top two pitchers have a track record of stinking it up in the playoffs.

Rick Porcello is a Cy Young candidate this year. He went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. It was the best year of his career by far. Nobody can take that away from him.

But, he was awful in a 5-4 Game 1 loss to the Tribe on Thursday. He allowed three home runs in the span of nine pitches in the bottom of the third inning. Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor all took him deep. Porcello pitched just 4.1 innings, allowing five earned runs on six hits. He put the Red Sox in a hole their powerful offense could not quite escape.

Porcello has no track record of postseason success. He's 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA lifetime in nine playoff games. Granted, only three of those nine appearances are starts, but he's yet to show he can do the job when the bright lights come on.

Boston's No. 2 starter, David Price, is in a similar boat. His regular-season numbers this year were quite respectable, 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA. But in the playoffs, he's 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 14 games. And, oh yeah, both his two wins came in relief. In eight playoff starts, Price is 0-7 with 5.27 ERA.

These two guys have got to come through for the Red Sox if they have hopes of winning their fourth World Series title since 2004, and it needs to start Friday when Price takes the ball for Boston against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in Game 2.

Also, maybe we should be taking the Blue Jays more seriously. They throttled the Rangers, 10-1, on Thursday, and while Marco Estrada is not a household name, he's starting to build a resume as a clutch pitcher. He tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball for Toronto in Game 1, and he's 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in four playoff starts over the past two seasons.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

White Sox trade Scott Carroll to Texas for cash considerations

Scott Carroll
The Texas Rangers have two starting pitchers (Derek Holland, Colby Lewis) on the 60-day disabled list, and injuries have limited Yu Darvish to only four starts this season.

Things have gotten so bad in Texas that the Rangers have turned to washed-up Kyle Lohse to make a couple of recent starts (Lohse has a 12.54 ERA in two games).

So, it comes as no surprise that Texas has reportedly called the slumping White Sox to see if they are going to make All-Star pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana available in a trade.

According to a recent tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox are looking to keep their starting rotation intact, instead choosing to make all position players except for Tim Anderson available in a deal.

In any case, a few hearts might have skipped a beat yesterday when a story called "White Sox-Rangers trade" moved across the AP wire. Alas, it was not the rumored blockbluster.

Instead, the Sox sent right-handed pitcher Scott Carroll to Texas for cash considerations.

Carroll, 31, started 14 games for the Sox two years ago and has a lifetime mark of 6-11 with a 4.60 ERA in 47 games (19 starts). Carroll has toiled at Triple-A Charlotte (2-8, 5.55 ERA) for most of this season, and the Rangers are sending him to Double-A Frisco.

He could eventually make a spot start for Texas, but I'll take a guess and say this isn't the impact trade Rangers fans want. We'll see if they get the starting pitcher they need in the coming days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Todd Frazier's batting average is low, but his clutch stats are impressive

Todd Frazier (right) has 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 33 games.
For years, White Sox fans have listened to TV announcer Ken Harrelson recite one of his favorite cliches: "Don't tell me what you hit. Tell me when you hit it."

Third baseman Todd Frazier is an interesting case study.

Frazier's .215/.290/.477 slash line through 33 games isn't overly impressive. He's endured two weeklong slumps already this season that have driven his overall numbers down. However, nobody can say they are unhappy with Frazier's team-leading 10 home runs, or his team-leading 27 RBIs.

The hits have come at key times, too, including Monday night when Frazier went 4 for 6 with two home runs and six RBIs. The veteran hit a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning to lift the South Siders to an 8-4 win over the Texas Rangers. The victory is the Sox's fourth straight, and they own a 23-10 record with a six-game lead in the AL Central entering Tuesday's play.

As for Frazier, his numbers spike significantly once the seventh inning arrives. In the late innings of games, he's had 44 plate appearances, during which he's hitting .273 with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

Let's take a look at his leverage stats:

Low-leverage situations: .204/.316/.724, 3 HRs, 5 RBIs, 10 Ks, 8 BBs
Medium-leverage situations: .164/.200/.344, 3 HRs, 6 RBIs, 14 Ks, 2 BBs
High-leverage situations: .400/.478/1.050, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs, 3 Ks, 3 BBs

So, in the biggest spots, Frazier's batting average goes up. Way up, in fact. His power production goes up. His strikeouts go down. Sixty percent of his RBIs have come with the game hanging in the balance.

"Don't tell me what you hit, tell me when you hit it."

Monday, April 25, 2016

White Sox put John Danks on notice (finally)

We're three weeks into the season, and the White Sox are coming off a sweep of the Texas Rangers that concluded a 5-2 homestand.

The South Siders have surprised even the biggest optimists by posting a 13-6 record through the first 19 games -- that's the most wins in the American League entering Monday's play.

That said, there was some roster juggling necessary over the past week. Catcher Alex Avila pulled a hamstring during Saturday's 4-3 win over Texas, and Kevan Smith was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte as Avila was placed on the disabled list.

More notably, Erik Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte after going unused on the homestand, and Miguel Gonzalez was called up to start Monday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays -- the first of a weeklong, seven-game road trip.

Ace Chris Sale's start was pushed back to Tuesday. Jose Quintana will start Wednesday's game. For the second time this season, John Danks had his turn skipped, and he will pitch either Thursday or Friday against Baltimore.

It appears the Sox are (finally) sending a message to Danks that his spot in the rotation is not secure. The Sox are 0-3 in Danks' three starts this year, and 13-3 behind their other four starting pitchers.

Obviously, there will be some regression in those numbers as we go along, but Danks has earned his 0-3 record, which is coupled with a 6.23 ERA, a 5.52 FIP, a 1.65 WHIP and a 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His struggles cannot be attributed to a small sample size, either, given his high ERAs in the past three seasons (4.75, 4.74, and 4.71). Right-handed batters are hitting .309 against Danks this year, after hitting .294 against him last year. Sending him to the mound against Toronto would be akin to raising the white flag, given the strong right-handed hitters in the Blue Jays lineup (Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki).

Toronto hitters had a 1.021 OPS in two games against Danks last year. In contrast, Danks had one of his best starts of 2015 -- seven scoreless innings -- against Baltimore, so from a matchup perspective, this Toronto series is a great time to skip Danks.

And, in case you were wondering, here are Gonzalez's numbers against the Blue Jays since 2012:

7-3, 2.61 ERA, 76 IP, 56 H, 7 HR, 21 BB, 54 K

Having played in Baltimore, Gonzalez has seen quite a bit of the Blue Jays, and he's won his share of the battles. That doesn't mean he'll win Monday -- there's a reason Baltimore released him. The Orioles let him go because his fastball velocity had dipped from 90-92 to 86-88. The Sox say Gonzalez's velocity came back in the two starts he has made at Charlotte, and that's why they are giving him a chance.

If nothing else, it's encouraging to see the Sox are considering other options for the No. 5 starting job beyond Danks, who has simply not pitched well enough to have a firm grip on the spot. We might learn that he's still the best option they have (for the time being), but it's clear the longest-serving, highest-paid member of the Sox is now officially pitching to keep his job.

Monday, April 18, 2016

April 18: the nine-year anniversary of Mark Buehrle's no-hitter vs. Texas

Mark Buehrle
I've long since lost count of how many baseball games I've attended in my lifetime. It's well up into the hundreds, I'm sure.

But the only no-hitter I've ever seen in person occurred nine years ago today, on April 18, 2007, when Mark Buehrle beat the Texas Rangers, 6-0, at U.S. Cellular Field.

I have my ticket stub and newspaper accounts from the game framed on my wall. I could live another 40 years and maybe not see another no-hitter in person, so that night in 2007 remains one of my most cherished baseball memories.

That game was a unique one in baseball history. It still is the only game ever to feature a multi-homer game, a grand slam and a no-hitter. Think of all the games that have been played over a century-plus in Major League Baseball. What I witnessed that night has happened just once -- Jim Thome hit two home runs, Jermaine Dye hit a grand slam, and Buehrle tossed a no-hitter, all in the same game.

I was very, very close to seeing a perfect gamet. Buehrle faced the minimum 27 hitters. The only blemish came with one out in the fifth inning when he walked the washed-up Sammy Sosa, then promptly picked him off.

Sosa was 38 years old at the time, in his last season in the big leagues. He was not a fast runner in the latter stages of his career. I don't know where he thought he was going. In any case, it was a funny moment because, well, Sox fans hate Sosa. He was a bum when he was with the Sox, then made his name with the Cubs (with the help of chemical enhancements), and it was always somewhat infuriating that he was wrongfully considered a better player than Frank Thomas in the city of Chicago. Time has proven that to be false, but it was great to see Buehrle embarrass the perpetually overrated Sosa with the pickoff.

The other image in my mind from that night was the final out -- a weak tapper up the third-base line by Texas catcher Gerald Laird. You heard a groan come up from the crowd as the ball left the bat; it definitely crossed my mind that the ball would die on the grass for an infield single -- it was that weakly struck. But fortunately, Sox third baseman Joe Crede still was in his pre-injury defensive prime at the time, and Laird was a slow runner.

Crede made the play easily, making it an historic and unforgettable night on the South Side of Chicago.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Ian Desmond signs with Texas Rangers, will move from shortstop to left field

Ian Desmond
The last remaining free agent who turned down a qualifying offer earlier this offseason finally has a job.

Former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond agreed to a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $8 million over the weekend.

Settling for this deal probably is not one of the finer moments of Desmond's career. He will be making only slightly more than half the salary he would have been making had he accepted Washington's $15.8 million qualifying offer. In addition, the Rangers already have a shortstop -- Elvis Andrus -- so that means Desmond will be moved to left field.

For Texas, it's a good deal -- other than the fact that they have to surrender a draft pick to the Nationals for just one year of Desmond. But, the Rangers have a hole in left field with Josh Hamilton (left knee injury) expected to be out until at least May. That means Desmond will have at least a month's worth of games to show he can handle the position.

It's not unreasonable to think Desmond is a candidate for a bounce-back offensive season. He's coming off a down year in Washington, one that saw him hit .233/.290/.384 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles and 62 RBIs.

However, from 2012-14, Desmond posted a combined slash line of .275/.326/.462 while averaging 23 home runs, 32 doubles and 81 RBIs. He won National League Silver Slugger awards at shortstop in each of those three seasons.

If he approaches those numbers in 2016, this is a nice bargain for the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Desmond will try to rebuild his value after he "bet on himself," passing up the seven-year, $107 million offer the Nationals made to him two years ago.

As fans, we never feel sorry for millionaire ballplayers, nor should we, but Desmond should probably fire the agent who told him to pass on that deal -- if he hasn't already.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gordon Beckham stinks as a starting player, but plays well off the bench

White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday for a solo home run, lifting the South Siders to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers in the rubber match of a three-game series.

Beckham entered the game in the 10th inning for defensive purposes and started a 5-2-3 double play in the top of the 11th inning that got the Sox out of a bases-loaded jam. The home run was his fourth of the season, and three of the four have come in games where Beckham has come off the bench.

There is little doubt Beckham is a more useful player in a reserve role. He can provide decent-to-excellent defense at third base, second base or shortstop, and it's clear his bat is better when he enters late in the game. His overall .220 batting average is not impressive, but check out his splits this season:

Beckham as a starter: .198/.263/.264, 1 home run
Beckham off the bench: .333/.375/.810, 3 home runs

Obviously, Sunday's home run won the game for the Sox. Beckham also came off the bench May 29 to hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings. An eighth-inning home run on April 12 took a 4-2 Sox lead to a more comfortable 6-2 margin in an eventual victory.

With third baseman Conor Gillaspie's inconsistent performance both with the bat and the glove, Sox manager Robin Ventura has given in to the temptation of starting Beckham more often in June. It hasn't worked. Beckham has started 13 of the Sox's 19 June games, and he has hit .143 with just one extra-base hit and one RBI in those games. He gets exposed as a weak hitter playing every day. In a bench role, he can be spotted in matchups more favorable for him, and that's where he's been able to contribute to the team this year.

The Sox are having struggles at second base, as well, where Carlos Sanchez has made all the plays defensively, but has floundered to a .155 batting average. It would be easy for Ventura to be tempted to try Beckham at second base. He shouldn't give in to that one, either. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he's 22 years old and learning at the big-league level. He can still get better, and a little patience might pay dividends.

Beckham, however, is not a kid anymore. He turns 29 this year, and this is his seventh year in the big leagues. He is who he is at this point, and he's a utility player. He can do that role and do it well, so the Sox would be well-advised to leave him there.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dan Jennings is still not a left-handed specialist

Let's get this out of the way first: The White Sox did not lose Thursday night because of manager Robin Ventura's bullpen choices. The Sox lost, 2-1, to the Texas Rangers in 11 innings because they cannot hit. They managed just six hits and failed to take advantage of four Texas errors.

That said, Ventura's continual misuse of left-handed reliever Dan Jennings continues to be a point of frustration for me.

We've been over this before: Jennings is better at getting right-handed hitters out than he is against lefties.

2015
RHB vs. Jennings: .233/.404/.395
LHB vs. Jennings: .326/.354/.391

Career
RHB vs. Jennings: .237/.340/.390
LHB vs. Jennings: .296/.354/.401

This is not a new trend for Jennings, nor is this an example of groundbreaking analysis. But in the bottom of the 11th inning Thursday night, with a man on second and one out, Ventura had Jennings intentionally walk right-handed hitter Delino DeShields Jr., a rookie, to face veteran left-handed hitter Shin-Soo Choo.

Naturally, Choo got a base hit to win the game because, well, Jennings has problems getting left-handed batters out, despite his left-handedness. And even if Jennings had retired Choo, another left-handed hitter, Prince Fielder, was waiting on deck.

Fielder, incidentally, is leading the league in hitting at .358. Which combination of hitters would you have chosen to face in that situation? DeShields and Choo? Or Choo and Fielder? I think it's a no-brainer to face the former. DeShields is a rookie and might get himself out, and again, Jennings fares better against right-handed hitters. Then, you take your chances with Choo and pray Fielder doesn't get to the plate.

Ventura chose the latter option. He lost. It's frustrating, and it's too bad the Sox let this one get away. Carlos Rodon went six innings and posted a career-high 10 strikeouts. The Rangers were committing errors left and right, and they were just begging the Sox to take this game, win the series and come home with a winning road trip. Instead, the Sox pushed it away and finished the 11-game trip with a 5-6 record.

Next up, a weekend home series with the Detroit Tigers. Here are the pitching matchups.

Friday: Jose Quintana (2-6, 4.33 ERA) vs. Kyle Ryan (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
Saturday: John Danks (3-4, 4.81 ERA) vs. David Price (4-2, 3.15 ERA)
Sunday: Jeff Samardzija (4-3, 4.68 ERA) vs. Alfredo Simon (5-3, 2.97 ERA)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chris Sale's slider returns, and so does his dominance

The White Sox evened their record at 5-5 on their current 11-game road trip Wednesday with a 9-2 trouncing of the Texas Rangers.

First baseman Jose Abreu returned to the lineup after missing three games with a finger injury, and his two-run home run capped off a six-run rally in the top of the second inning that sent the Sox on their way to victory.

But the big story was ace left-hander Chris Sale, who has not been scored upon in his last 19.2 innings. Sale worked seven shutout innings on Wednesday, allowing just three hits. He struck out a season-high 13 batters and walked only two. Sale has now reached double-digit strikeouts in each of his last three outings.

Check out the difference in his numbers from his first five starts of the year to his last five starts:
First 5: 2-1, 5.93 ERA
Last 5: 3-1, 1.40 ERA

In those last five outings, Sale has worked 38.2 innings. He has struck out 53 men and walked but six, a ratio of almost 9-to-1. He's also allowed just 19 hits.

What changed? Well, Sale has rediscovered his slider, and he's throwing it more each and every time out. Jim Margalus noted this in a recent blog on South Side Sox.

Sale's number of sliders thrown in his last five outings:
May 12: 12
May 18: 14
May 23: 18
May 28: 28
June 3: 32

Remember, Sale missed most of spring training with a broken foot and started the season on the disabled list. His first five outings, he was basically a two-pitch pitcher - fastball and changeup. When he did try to throw his slider, he hung it and it got hit hard.

When a pitcher misses time with an injury that is not arm-related, as was the case with Sale this spring, rediscovering fastball velocity is usually not the main issue. It's finding the release point on the breaking ball, and building up enough arm strength to snap it off the way a pitcher needs to. The breaking ball is more of a "feel" pitch than a fastball, and it takes time and repetition for a pitcher to get that right.

Most pitchers in MLB went through that process during spring training. Sale didn't get that chance because of injury. He had to figure it out on the fly, in real games against major league hitters, and that's the reason why he struggled the way he did early in the season.

Now, his "spring training" is over, so to speak. He's in regular-season form, and we see the difference in results. He's a three-pitch pitcher now, and he's much harder for opposing hitters to handle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jeff Samardzija is having problems early in games

I'm not going to spend too much time breaking down the White Sox's 15-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night.

The Rangers are hot. They've won 10 out of 12 games to pull their record over the .500 mark (27-25). They jumped on Sox starter Jeff Samardzija for four runs in the first inning after two were out Tuesday, and the rout was on from there.

The bad first inning continued a season-long trend for Samardzija, who has had a lot of problems early in games.

Check out Samardzija's ERA by inning this year:

1st inning: 11.45
2nd inning: 6.55
3rd inning: 4.09
4th inning: 4.09
5th inning: 2.45
6th inning: 2.00
7th inning: 1.50
8th inning: 0.00
9th inning: N/A

You hear about pitchers getting stronger as the game goes on, but Samardzija's numbers are an extreme case. He's given up a total of 38 earned runs in 11 starts this season -- 22 of them have scored in the first two innings of games, including 14 in the first inning.

Overall, the Sox (23-27) have been terrible early in games this year. They've been outscored 45-14 in the first inning, and 104-60 in innings 1 to 3.

That's an awful lot of playing from behind, and Samardzija has been one of the main culprits in digging the Sox a hole in the early innings.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adam Wainwright done for the season; Josh Hamilton returns to Rangers

There have been a couple big stories from around the league the past couple days. Most notably, the St. Louis Cardinals have lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Does this injury torpedo the season for St. Louis? Of course not. You may recall the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, despite Wainwright missing the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. If there's an organization that can adjust and sustain a loss like this, it is St. Louis.

Wainwright's absence gives hope to both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cubs, both of whom are off to good starts in the NL Central. But, I still think the Cardinals are the team to beat in that division even without their ace. St. Louis still has two reliable rotation veterans in Lance Lynn and John Lackey. Two of their young arms, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, are off to good starts this season, and they have options to fill that fifth spot.

Marco Gonzales is probably the best bet to get a call-up - eventually - but he's on the Triple-A disabled list with shoulder tightness right now. Jaime Garcia has major league experience and is another option, although he also has had some shoulder problems. You may see a guy like Tyler Lyons in the Cardinals rotation in the short run. I wouldn't bet against St. Louis piecing it together and remaining atop the division.

That said, if the Cardinals are going to get to the World Series and win it this year, I think they will need to go outside their organization and get some help. Wacha has never thrown 150 innings in a season, let alone 200. Martinez has never thrown more than 108 innings in a season, and he worked as a reliever for the Cardinals both last year and the year before. Both pitchers are just 23 years old, and it's just plain unrealistic, if not silly, to expect them to throw 220 to 240 innings this year -- regular season and, presumably, playoffs combined.

The asking price for Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels may be high, but the Cardinals may need to consider paying it -- not only to stabilize their rotation for this year, but for the future as well. This is Wainwright's second major injury, and he'll be 34 years old by the next time he takes the mound for the Cardinals. It might be time for St. Louis to acquire another veteran for the top of their rotation, while these younger guys such as Wacha, Martinez and Gonzales develop.

Aside from Hamels, there doesn't figure to be a premier starter on the midseason trade market, so don't be surprised if the Cardinals shop the middle tier for a starting pitcher, as well. Would Kyle Lohse be an option? He was formerly with the Cardinals, he's in the last year of his deal in Milwaukee, and the Brewers are off to such a bad start (4-16) that they might already be out of the race.

Wainwright has averaged 226 innings per year over his last five healthy seasons. Even though you expect a smart organization like the Cardinals to find a way to fill that void, that doesn't mean it will be easy.

Hamilton back to the Rangers

Josh Hamilton is less than halfway through a five-year, $125 million contract, but that didn't stop the Anaheim Angels from trading him to the Texas Rangers on Monday for nothing more than a player to be named later and cash considerations.

Hamilton, 33, was with Texas from 2008 to 2012. He was an All-Star in each of those five seasons and won the MVP award in 2010. However, he did not play well in two injury-plagued seasons with the Angels, and an offseason alcohol and drug relapse was apparently the final straw for the ownership group in Anaheim.

The Angels are eating most of the $80.2 million still owed to Hamilton, who is slated to make $23 million this year and $30 million in each of the final two years of the deal. Reports indicate Texas will be on the hook for only about $7 million of that.

Given Hamilton's .741 OPS over the last two years and personal problems, it's pretty clear the Angels simply wanted him gone. We'll see if Hamilton can regain his stroke in Texas, where he had a .912 OPS during his previous stint.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What do we make of Tyler Flowers' recent surge?

It's no secret I'm not a Tyler Flowers fan, but I'm also not afraid to give credit where credit is due.

The White Sox catcher has been red-hot over the past month, and he was the player most responsible for Chicago's rain-shortened 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.

Flowers went 3-for-3 with a triple, a game-tying home run and two-out, two-run single that put the Sox ahead to stay in the bottom of the sixth inning. Heck, if the rains hadn't come, he might have gotten one more at-bat with a chance to hit for the cycle. He fell a double short of accomplishing that feat.

As recently as July 8, Flowers was posting a miserable .219/.278/.302 slash line. He was striking out at absurd rates and was providing almost no power -- at that point of the season, he had just five home runs and five doubles. In the past, Flowers' ability to hit the long ball was one of his few selling points, but even that was noticeably absent the first half of this season.

But on July 9, Flowers switched from contact lenses to glasses. Coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, he's been the second-best hitter on the Sox since -- behind only July's AL Player of the Month, Jose Abreu.

Since that date, Flowers has posted an impressive .390/.438/.695 slash. The power has returned as well. During that same span, he has hit seven doubles -- more than he hit the first three months of the season combined -- three home runs and the aforementioned triple.

He is striking out 23.4 percent of the time during this current hot streak, which doesn't seem like much until you consider Flowers has struck out in 34.3 percent of his plate appearances during his major league career. That 23.4 percent figure represents a significant improvement over his career rate.

Over his last 12 games, Flowers is hitting .452 with a .738 OPS. We all know he won't continue at this rate -- nobody can sustain that pace over the long haul, not even Abreu. The question is whether Flowers can become more consistent and eliminate the pathetic cold streaks where he can't even put the ball in play.

Have the glasses been a difference-maker for him? Only time will tell, and Flowers' recent run has made him one of the storylines to watch for the final two months of the season.

Just a month ago, Flowers was well on his way to playing himself out of the starting job, and perhaps out of the Sox organization entirely. His recent surge, hitting for both average and power, is enough to give Sox' brass pause. Has Flowers finally figured it out at the plate?

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has a lengthy shopping list for this offseason. Up until this point, you would have to say catcher would be on it, along with about four bullpen arms, a starting pitcher, a second baseman, a left-handed power bat and a corner outfielder.

Flowers' season slash of .252/.309/.379 with 115 strikeouts in 328 plate appearances is not good enough to guarantee him a spot on next year's club. However, if Flowers can hit .260 or .270 with some pop and a reasonable K rate over a "prove it" final two months, Hahn might be able to justify taking a chance on him again for the 2015 season based upon a trend of improvement.

If Hahn can cross catcher off his offseason shopping list, he can focus more of his available resources on revamping a Sox pitching staff that has holes in it like Swiss cheese. When you think about it from that perspective, it sure would be nice if those eyeglasses really are the difference for Flowers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler

How is this for a trade nobody saw coming? The Detroit Tigers have agreed to send first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The particulars are still being finalized, but it's a one-for-one deal. There are no prospects involved, and that's the thing that makes this trade so intriguing. How often do you see two established major league players traded straight up for each other? Not too often. Most trades nowadays involve veteran players being dealt for future considerations. That's not the case here.

So, which team got the better of this deal? It's an interesting debate, and I've heard good arguments made for both sides. My vote goes to Detroit, even though I acknowledge that Fielder will likely be more productive for Texas in 2014 than Kinsler will be for the Tigers.

To me, Detroit wins this deal because of the money it just freed up. Fielder's contract is an albatross. The 29-year-old slugger has seven years and $168 million remaining on his deal, and his numbers have slipped. You can make a case Fielder's production in 2013 did not justify his hefty paycheck. If he's overpaid now, he's really going to be overpaid three or four years down the road when his skills further erode.

Here are Fielder's statistics over the last three years. Note the downward trend in on-base and slugging percentage:

2011: .299/.415/.566, 38 home runs, 120 RBIs
2012: .313/.412/.528, 30 home runs, 108 RBIs
2013: .279/.362/.457, 25 home runs, 106 RBIs

To be fair, the 31-year-old Kinsler's numbers have slipped as well:

2011: .255/.355/.477, 32 home runs, 77 RBIs
2012: .256/.326/.423, 19 home runs, 72 RBIs
2013: .277/.344/.413, 13 home runs, 72 RBIs

However, Kinsler is owed just $62 million over the next four years, a much more manageable figure, and he plays a premium defensive position. Reports indicate the Tigers are paying the Rangers $30 million to take Fielder off their hands. So, instead of paying $168 million for Fielder, Detroit is coughing up a combined total of $92 million for Kinsler and the payout to the Rangers.

That provides the Tigers with a net savings of $76 million, which is huge because Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season. Two-time league MVP Miguel Cabrera hits free agency after the 2015 season. Suddenly, Detroit has a lot more money to play with if it desires to extend the contracts of those two players, both of whom have been more important to the team's success than Fielder.

In addition, the Tigers will be able to bolster their defense by moving the immobile Cabrera away from third base and back to first base where he belongs. Kinsler solidifies second base for them. Third base is an open question, but prospect Nick Castellanos seems poised to get a look. Detroit could also sign a defense-first infielder like Juan Uribe to provide some insurance at the position. With Victor Martinez as the designated hitter, Cabrera still should have adequate protection in the lineup. Even without Fielder, the Tigers will look like favorites in the AL Central, and they'll have money to spend to retain key pieces like Scherzer and Cabrera.

What about Texas? Well, the Rangers needed a middle-of-the-order bat, and they got one. Fielder is a clear upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Texas could pursue Robinson Cano to take Kinsler's place at second base, but more than likely, the Rangers will slide highly regarded prospect Jurickson Profar into that spot.

I tend to believe Fielder will help the Rangers in the short run, maybe another two decent-to-good years, but players with Fielder's body type don't tend to age well. By the time 2017 rolls around, Texas is going to be stuck with a bad contract for a portly first baseman who can't play anymore. Better win now, Rangers.

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.


















Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tyler Flowers' disastrous 2013 is thankfully over

It's no secret I was never on board with the White Sox decision to make Tyler Flowers their starting catcher.

Yes, I wanted to keep A.J. Pierzynski for another year or two, and it wasn't because of 2005 nostalgia. It was because Pierzynski is still a far superior player to Flowers, even at his advancing age, and I didn't think it took a brain surgeon to figure that out.

I understood the reasons the Sox cut the cord with Pierzynski. He's a 36-year-old catcher. He wasn't going to duplicate the 27-homer season he had in 2012, and there was talk that he wasn't on the same page with manager Robin Ventura and the coaching staff last season.

That said, if you are going to jettison a productive player, you better have a replacement lined up. And that somebody needs to be better than Tyler Flowers. I knew going into the season Flowers was incapable of being anything more than a backup at the big-league level. He has tantalizing power, but that's his only real plus. He has holes in his swing like Swiss cheese, strikes out way too much and isn't as good defensively as Sox brass claims he is. I figured given a whole season, Flowers might bat .220. Actually, he batted .195 in 84 games this year before going on the disabled list this week to undergo right shoulder surgery.

Reports indicate Flowers first tweaked the shoulder about a year ago. The pain intensified before spring training, and he found out a couple months ago he would need the surgery.

So, the Sox knew before spring training Flowers wasn't healthy, yet they were willing to start the season with him and career minor-leaguer Hector Gimenez as their two big-league catchers. Given what we know now, it's even less of a surprise that the catching position has been a complete disaster for the 2013 White Sox. An injured Tyler Flowers was considered the best option in the organization. That's brutal.

Meanwhile, Pierzynski (.280 avg., 16 HR, 58 RBIs) continues to display competence as the starting catcher on a Texas Rangers ballclub that is tied for first place in the AL West entering Tuesday's action. Thud.

The Sox are left to hope and pray rookie Josh Phegley shows them something the last month of the season. Since an electric first week that included three home runs, Phegley has slumped to a .214 average. His defense has been poor. He dropped a routine pop up Monday against the Yankees, and I've been unimpressed with his receiving ability. Too many wild pitches and not enough pitches being blocked. Phegley will need to hit a lot to overcome his defensive shortcomings. While I'm more optimistic about his offensive abilities than I was about Flowers, the Sox need to see more before they can comfortably go into 2014 thinking Phegley is their catcher.

No matter what, the Sox would be smart to cut their losses with Flowers. He's damaged goods now, and I wouldn't want him in even a backup role. If they want to give Phegley a full-time shot, fine, but sign a serviceable veteran this offseason just in case Phegley fails as well.

I know the list of potential free agent catchers isn't exciting (except for Brian McCann, who is likely out of the Sox price range), but think about it: Anybody who can hit .230 and catch the ball is an upgrade behind the plate over what the Sox have right now. The standard for improvement at that position is not high.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chris Sale strikes out 12 Houston hitters, quiet concerns -- for now

White Sox ace Chris Sale had his worst outing of the season -- and perhaps the worst performance of his career -- last Friday against the Texas Rangers.

He gave up eight runs over seven innings. Four different Texas batters hit home runs. Naturally, that caused a great deal of alarm among the meathead division of the Sox fan base. "Shut down Sale! He's tired!" they cried. It seems like every time Sale has a bad outing, it's a sign of impending doom. Some people are just paranoid that Sale is an injury waiting to happen.

My thoughts on this matter are simple: You can't predict the future. You never know when a pitcher might get hurt. Every pitcher in baseball at times takes the ball while feeling less than 100 percent physically. That's the nature of the game. I would take a guess that most guys around baseball are feeling a little tired these days. It's late August. It's hot outside. These are the dog days. But so what? If a guy is healthy, he should pitch. If he's not healthy, he should take a seat. It's really no more complicated than that.

And right now, there's no sign that Sale is laboring physically. His stuff looks sharp. He was dominant Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He struck out seven of the first 10 Houston Astros he faced and finished with 12 Ks over eight innings in a 6-1 White Sox winner. I know it's just the Astros, but anyone who watched this game saw Sale at his very best. The fastball was in the mid- to high-90s. The breaking ball was biting. The changeup was well-located, except for one mistake to Chris Carter in the seventh inning. It was just the kind of bounce-back outing you would expect from an ace pitcher.

Sale does not look tired to me. Sure, he could get injured his next start for all I know. There's a risk of injury every single time a player takes the field. You accept that as part of the sport. What is the point in coddling guys? That said, you have to be smart and reasonable. The Sox are out of the race and have been for two months. They don't need to be leaving their starters out there for 120 and 130 pitches an outing trying to win these late-season games. That goes for Sale and everybody else on the pitching staff.

But as long as Sale is feeling good and throwing well, there's no reason he shouldn't take the five or six scheduled starts he should get between now and the end of the season.