Showing posts with label Toronto Blue Jays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Toronto Blue Jays. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Here's why David Robertson has plenty of trade value

David Robertson
For all the trade talk swirling around White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana, it's possible closer David Robertson will be more coveted by pennant contenders when we hit July's trading deadline.

Robertson, 32, is having a good season that will mostly go unnoticed because he pitches for a losing team. The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA, with 11 saves in 12 opportunities, a 0.868 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.

A closer look at Robertson's numbers reveals that he's been at his best in save situations this year. Check out his splits for save situations and non-save situations:

Save situations: 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 21 Ks, 4 BBs, 13.1 IP, opponents slash of .091/.167/.182
Non-save situations: 2-2, 5.25 ERA, 16 Ks, 2 BBs, 12.0 IP, opponents slash of .217/.294/.391

The cliches about closers being much better in save situations seem to apply with Robertson this year. This thought occurred to me when I considered the two appearances Robertson has made in the past week.

He pitched Thursday in a 5-2 Sox win over the Baltimore Orioles, and he was not sharp. He entered with a 5-1 lead in the ninth -- a non-save situation -- gave up a solo home run to Welington Castillo and needed 31 pitches to navigate a laborious inning. Even though Baltimore never got the tying run to the plate, it was somewhat irritating to watch.

Contrast that with Robertson's performance Saturday, when he closed out a 5-2 Sox win over the Toronto Blue Jays. This was a save situation. Toronto's 3-4-5 hitters were due, and Robertson carved them up on 14 pitches. He got Jose Bautista to fly out, struck out Kendrys Morales swinging and struck out Justin Smoak looking.

The Blue Jays had no chance.

I realize that by writing this blog entry, I have likely ensured that Robertson will blow a save the next time he steps on the mound. But in the bigger picture, Robertson has proven this season that he can still shut the door on the opposition in high-leverage spots.

Some team out there has to want a reliever who is holding opponents to an .091 batting average in save situations, right?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?

Wrong.

Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his finger shut

Trevor Bauer
Here's something crazy: According to a FOX Sports report, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his grotesquely injured pinkie finger shut.

“I even had a soldering iron in my hotel room,” Bauer said in the report. “Instead of going to the ER, I probably should’ve sealed it closed myself.”

Bauer has always been a different kind of guy. Among other idiosyncrasies, he has this long-toss warmup routine that few other pitchers would ever try. He clearly has some diverse interests, given that he managed to tear his finger open fixing one of his drones just days before he was scheduled to make the biggest start of his life in the ALCS.

And, if he was willing to whip out a soldering iron to deal with the injury, then I guess we shouldn't be surprised he tried to pitch Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night with six stitches in his finger.

That didn't work so well. He lasted only 21 pitches and two-thirds of an inning before his finger, his uniform and the mound in Toronto were covered with his blood.

The thing that's so incredible about this is the Indians won the damn game anyway, 4-2. They now have a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS going into Tuesday's Game 4, because relievers Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller combined to throw 8.1 innings of two-run ball.

Shaw, Allen and Miller gave up nothing over the final 4.2 innings, and combined to strike out seven batters.

With the Cleveland starter leaving in the first inning, you would think the Blue Jays would have things going their way, especially playing at home. Denied.

Otero had only pitched once since Sept. 30. Manship hadn't pitched in 16 days. McAllister had a 19-day layoff. Didn't seem to matter much. Otero and McAllister each gave up a run, but none of these guys looked rusty or ineffective.

The Indians are not making any excuses for injuries, and they are finding ways to get things done. Even though they are a rival of the White Sox, I find myself rooting for them to win the whole thing.

If Cleveland makes the World Series -- and it is just one win away -- it would represent the fourth time in five years the AL Central has produced a pennant winner. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2012. The Kansas City Royals advanced that far in 2014 and 2015, and they won it last year.

The AL Central is a stronger division than many think, and the Indians' success provides additional supporting evidence. As Sox fans, we can take this information to SoxFest and point out to team brass that it is long past time to step up.

You're not going to build an 85-win-caliber team and luck your way into the playoffs by managing 88 wins in this division any longer. The AL Central is now producing 90-plus-win juggernauts that win in the postseason. Adjust your expectations accordingly moving forward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Blue Jays better start scoring some runs against the Indians' starting pitchers

Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista believes "circumstances" are favoring the Cleveland Indians thus far in the ALCS.

The Indians have taken each of the first two games, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, and the Toronto hitters apparently are getting frustrated.

“All you gotta do is look at the video and count how many times (Cleveland pitchers) throw pitches over the heart of the plate,” Bautista said Sunday, as reported by Mike Vorkunov. “They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances -- that I’m not trying to talk about because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do, but you guys don’t really want to talk about that either.”

It sounds as if Bautista believes the umpiring is going against Toronto, and perhaps he's trying to get some calls to go his way and his teammates' way in Monday night's Game 3. Some have suggested the Blue Jays believe the series is "rigged" in favor of the Indians. That's a reach.

I personally don't think MLB rigs games, and I don't buy into the notion of curses or conspiracies. What motivation would MLB have to tell umpires to make calls favoring the Indians? Cleveland is a small-market team, and it isn't like the league stands to get a big ratings bump if the Indians advance.

All of this is foolishness, and the only circumstance working against the Blue Jays right now is their inability to hit the quality pitching being run out there by the Indians. Toronto is a dead fastball hitting team, and Cleveland has a bunch of pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- who can make quality pitches with their breaking balls.

The Indians' bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular. As a group, they've allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 IP this postseason, and they've been facing good offenses, too -- Boston and now Toronto. That will pencil out to a 1.10 ERA. And, oh, Cleveland relievers have struck out 27 men in those 16-plus innings.

Left-hander Andrew Miller, of course, has been the main reason for that. He's struck out 17 and is unscored upon in 7.2 postseason innings this season. He's formed an unhittable bridge between the Cleveland starters and closer Cody Allen, who has pitched four scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Manager Terry Francona has shown he's not afraid to go to Miller as early as the fifth or sixth inning. He can do that because he has another dominant option in Allen, and two other pretty good middle relief options in Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero. Cleveland has the deepest bullpen of the remaining four teams, for sure.

As we've mentioned before, the Indians' shortcoming is the injuries to their starting pitchers. Corey Kluber is the ace, and he's been tremendous: He's allowed nothing in the postseason. But with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco sidelined, Cleveland is forced to rely more upon Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer than it would like.

But Tomlin was really good in Game 2, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings. He's a breaking ball pitcher, and he used that pitch effectively against the Toronto hitters. He's not overpowering, and he sure as heck wasn't going to give Toronto too many fastballs to hit. Smart pitching.

The Blue Jays will face Bauer in Game 3, and I'd recommend they think less about the umpiring and figure out a way to score early -- before Miller, Shaw and Allen, et al., become involved in the game. Wouldn't hurt, either, if someone from that lineup could do some damage against a curve ball or a slider. The Indians are going to keep throwing them until the Blue Jays show they can hit them.

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, October 6, 2016

'You don't use your closer in a non-save situation'? Nonsense

Buck Showalter (left) and Terry Collins
Biggest takeaway from the wild-card playoff games this week: One manager lost because he failed to use his closer in a non-save situation; another manager lost because he did use his closer in a non-save situation.

Countless times through the years, I've heard fans and even some media members remark that you're not supposed to use your closer in non-save situations. The argument for this is the idea that closers are successful only because of the adrenaline rush that goes along with a save situation, so they can't pitch effectively if that carrot isn't dangling in front of them.

Nonsense.

I'm of the school of thought that it's never a bad play to bring your closer, who is presumably your best or second-best reliever, into a tie game. Does it make sense to save your closer for a save situation that might never present itself? I don't believe so.

That means I will join the chorus of people who have criticized Baltimore manager Buck Showalter for bringing in Ubaldo Jimenez to face the top of the Toronto batting order with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie Tuesday in the AL wild-card game.

Jimenez, he of the 5.44 ERA, needed just five pitches to blow the Orioles' season. Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson singled for Toronto, setting the table for Edwin Encarnacion to hit a three-run homer and send the Blue Jays to the ALDS with a 5-2 win.

Meanwhile, Zach Britton sat unused in the Baltimore bullpen. Britton is the best reliever in baseball this year, and he's a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. He was 47 for 47 in save opportunities, has a ridiculous 0.54 ERA, and has held right-handed batters to a .155 average this season. Travis, Donaldson and Encarnacion are all right-handed.

In the face of these facts, does anyone want to argue that Jimenez was the right choice? Does anyone want to argue that you don't use your closer in a non-save situation? I wouldn't think so.

Incredibly, Showalter's move is now conventional wisdom in the game. MLB Network's Brian Kenny had a useful discussion on the air Wednesday, where his research showed that managers used their closer in situations such as Baltimore's on Tuesday just 27 percent of the time in 2016. We're talking about spots where you're on the road, the game is tied in the ninth inning or later, and you need your pitcher to put a zero up in the bottom of the inning to force an extra inning.

So, 73 percent of the time, managers are using non-closers in those spots. That seems like a very high number, and to me, that's not smart baseball.

In contrast, I cannot blame New York Mets manager Terry Collins for his club's 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Wednesday's NL wild-card game.

The situation was a little bit different, of course, because the Mets were playing at home. The game was scoreless into the ninth inning, and there was no chance at that point for a save situation to arise for New York closer Jeurys Familia.

With everything on the line in the ninth, Collins wisely went to his best reliever, Familia, who screwed the pooch. Familia gave up a double to Brandon Crawford, a walk to Joe Panik and a three-run homer to former White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

That was all San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner needed, as the left-hander continued his postseason mastery by throwing a complete-game, four-hit shutout.

From the Giants' perspective, credit goes to Bumgarner and Gillaspie, and from the Mets' perspective, Familia is wearing the goat horns. Collins made the right move. It didn't work.

You see, I like to judge a manager's moves on the philosophy and logic behind the decision more than the result. Baseball is a game where the right move still can lead to a bad result, and sometimes a move that makes no sense comes up aces.

Philosophically, from my perspective, it's never wrong to use your best reliever with the game on the line. If that reliever fails, it's on him. However, it is wrong to leave your best reliever sitting in the bullpen while a lesser pitcher flushes your season down the toilet.


Monday, June 27, 2016

White Sox take two out of three from Blue Jays

Todd Frazier (21)
Since when did Toronto Blue Jays fans start traveling well?

I feel like U.S. Cellular Field was overrun with Toronto fans this weekend -- especially during Saturday's game.

I blame White Sox management for the large quantities of visiting fans that have been populating the Cell this season. Seven years without a playoff appearance has led to fewer Sox fans wanting to come to the park and support the team, so that makes more tickets available for fans of the visiting club.

I get that, but that didn't make it any less annoying when I had the Toronto version of Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers seated to my left on Saturday.

I have little patience for fans who excessively celebrate mundane things, such as major league players executing routine defensive plays. On Saturday, I heard more "Wooooooooooo!" than I care to discuss. This fan seemed pretty excited every time a Blue Jays fielder successfully caught a pop fly.

Even though the Sox lost Saturday, they took two out of three in the series, and Mr. "Wooooooooooo!" can go back to Canada secure in the knowledge that his beloved Jays went 1-5 against the Sox this season.

Here's a look back at the weekend that was:

Friday, June 25
White Sox 3, Blue Jays 2: Todd Frazier's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Tim Anderson with what proved to be the winning run in a game that was nip-and-tuck throughout.

It's been an interesting season for Frazier, to say the least. His batting average has been hovering around the Mendoza line -- he's at .201 through Sunday's play -- and that has led to fans drawing comparisons between him and past Sox busts such as Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche.

Thing is, Frazier has 21 home runs and 49 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit about 44 homers and knock in 104 runs if he keeps this pace over 162 games.

LaRoche had only 12 homers and 44 RBIs for the entire 2015 season, and I struggle to come up with any key hits he had for the Sox.

Frazier needs to get more hits, no question about that, but at least he has provided some key hits at important times that have produced victory for the Sox. Friday night was the latest example.

Closer David Robertson escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth to preserve this win. He struck out Edwin Encarnacion on a 3-2 pitch, then got Michael Saunders to pop out to shortstop to end a heart-stopping inning.

Saturday, June 26
Blue Jays 10, White Sox 8: Now I've seen everything. The Sox out-homered the Blue Jays, 7-1, in this game, but still managed to lose, thanks to poor starting pitching by Miguel Gonzalez.

Toronto had a 5-0 lead by the time it finished hitting in the second inning. The Sox fought back -- Brett Lawrie's inside-the-park home run was the first of back-to-back-to-back home runs that brought the South Siders within two runs at 5-3.

Dioner Navarro and J.B. Shuck went deep during the barrage against Toronto starter R.A. Dickey.

Lawrie would go on to become the first Sox player since Ron Santo(!) to hit a inside-the-parker and a conventional homer in the same game. Santo accomplished that feat June 9, 1974, in a loss to the Boston Red Sox at Comiskey Park.

Shortly after the Sox got back into Saturday's game, Gonzalez put them back in the hole by coughing up a three-run top of the fourth inning that extended Toronto's lead to 8-3.

The Sox chipped away, mostly with solo home runs. Lawrie went deep in the fourth and added an RBI single in the sixth. Anderson homered in the seventh. Alex Avila's blast in the eighth made it 8-7.

But Toronto scored two insurance runs in the top of the ninth to go up 10-7, which proved important when Adam Eaton hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to cap the scoring.

Sunday, June 27
White Sox 5, Blue Jays 2: Chris Sale once again showed why he is the best pitcher in the American League with another masterful performance in the rubber match.

He shut the Jays out through the first seven innings, and needed only 99 pitches to get through the eighth. Sale struck out seven, walked only two and allowed five hits to pick up his major league-best 13th victory of the season.

The Sox got a three-hit day from Melky Cabrera and another home run from Anderson to build a 4-0 lead through seven innings.

Toronto finally chipped away at Sale with two in the eighth on solo home runs by Troy Tulowitzki and Junior Lake.

Shuck, of all people, answered with a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth that made the Sox lead a little more comfortable at 5-2.

There would be no drama from Robertson on this day. He needed just 10 pitches to retire Josh Donaldson, Encarnacion and Saunders, all on lazy fly balls to the outfield. The Sox closer is now 20 for 22 in save opportunities this season.

The Sox have won two consecutive series and have pulled their record back to .500 at 38-38. Next up, three games at home against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Efficient Chris Sale carves up hard-hitting Blue Jays

Chris Sale is 5-0.
ESPN senior writer David Schoenfield made a bold prediction Wednesday. He foresees White Sox ace Chris Sale winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2016.

Of course, it's only April, and it's way too early to draw grand conclusions about any team or any player just 21 games into a 162-game schedule. But Sale (5-0) has won each of his first five starts and has more wins than the Atlanta Braves, who enter Wednesday's play with a 4-16 record.

Sale latest victory was a 10-1 masterpiece against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. The left-hander went eight innings, allowing a run on four hits while striking out six and walking two. His ERA is down to 1.66, and his WHIP is just 0.68.

Most impressively, Sale needed only 100 pitches to get through eight innings against a hard-hitting Toronto lineup that led all of baseball with 891 runs scored last season.

That pitch efficiency is not a fluke, either. Sale has yet to reach 110 pitches in any of his five starts, but he has gone at least seven innings in all of them. Sale's strikeout rate has dipped from 32.1 percent in 2015 to 23.2 percent this year, but opposing batters are hitting just .186 on balls put in play. Anyone who watched Wednesday's game saw the Blue Jays hit an array of lazy fly balls and infield popups that landed harmlessly in the gloves of Sox fielders.

Sure, Sale set the team strikeout record last season with 274, and that was awesome, but he wasn't nearly this efficient. He had 15 starts last season with 110 pitches or more. He's won five games this year without needing to do that. He's getting quicker outs and getting deeper into games, and obviously, the more innings Sale throws, the better things are likely to be for the Sox.

A rough second half last season might have been the best thing for Sale's career. He had an un-Sale-like ERA of 4.33 after the All-Star break in 2015. Moreover, his September numbers were terrible. He gave up 45 hits, including eight home runs, in 37 September innings.

As Schoenfield notes, six of the eight home runs Sale allowed in September came off fastballs, and batters hit  .363/.407/.638 against his fastball for the month.

Basically, Sale was trying to throw his heater by everybody as he chased that strikeout record in September, and hitters were ready for it. This offseason, it was clear Sale needed to make an adjustment to take the next step. Now, he's not throwing as hard as he has in the past -- the 97 mph heat is still there when he needs it -- but he's adding and subtracting off his fastball and mixing in his outstanding slider and good changeup effectively. Even good hitters such as those in the Toronto lineup are having their timing totally disrupted.

The high strikeout totals probably won't come as often for Sale if he sticks with this game plan, but the wins will come. At the end of last year, Sale was a thrower instead of a pitcher. He's back to being a pitcher now, and he's performing as well as he ever has in his career.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Miguel Gonzalez gamble fails; White Sox offense rallies

Former Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd gave up Toronto's lead Monday.
Miguel Gonzalez did not distinguish himself Monday in his first start in a White Sox uniform. His fastball velocity was decent enough -- 90-91 mph -- but his command was not precise.

And a pitcher without overwhelming stuff can't afford to be imprecise against the powerful Toronto batting order.

The Blue Jays No. 2 through No. 6 hitters -- Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders -- went a combined 7 for 13 with a home run, three doubles and five runs scored against Gonzalez.

Gonzalez lasted 5.1 innings, allowing five runs on 11 hits. He struck out six and walked two. The Sox trailed 5-1 after six innings, and the Blue Jays had their ace, Marcus Stroman, on the mound.

Game over, right?

Well, maybe it would have been over last year. Not this year. The Sox rallied for five runs in the seventh inning, all after two were out, and ended up beating Toronto, 7-5. It was probably the most satisfying win of the Sox's 14-6 start. 

Stroman left with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, still leading 5-1. But Toronto lefty Brett Cecil could not get anybody out. Adam Eaton singled up the middle on a 1-2 pitch to drive in two runs and bring the Sox within 5-3. Jimmy Rollins followed with an RBI single to make it 5-4, and then the Blue Jays tried to coax Jose Abreu to get himself out by swinging at bad pitches.

Abreu is in a terrible slump. He has been swinging at sliders in the dirt routinely as of late, but this time he laid off Cecil's low breaking pitches and took a walk to reload the bases.

The Blue Jays then summoned former Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd to face Todd Frazier. I have to say, Toronto is unlikely to defend its AL East title this year if it doesn't have anybody better than Floyd to bring in with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh inning.

Frazier got a 0-1 cut fastball and lined it down the left-field line for a two-run double that put the Sox ahead to stay at 6-5. The South Siders added an insurance run in the ninth, and the bullpen did the rest.

Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings, Matt Albers and David Robertson combined for 3.2 innings of scoreless relief. Robertson converted his eighth save in nine chances. Albers is unscored upon in his last 30 appearances, breaking the previous team record of 29 -- set by reliever Jesse Crain in 2013.

Useless stat of the day: The White Sox have scored 17 of their 68 runs this season in the seventh inning. Go figure.

Getting back to Gonzalez, we'll see if the Sox give him another shot. We were told velocity was the reason the Baltimore Orioles let him go after spring training, but it seemed like command was a bigger problem for him Monday than velocity. Did Sox brass see enough to believe he might be a better fifth starter option than John Danks?

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, February 8, 2016

Blue Jays stock up on former White Sox pitchers

David Aardsma
David Aardsma still plays baseball for a living. Can you believe that?

It was a slow news weekend around MLB, so I was just going through the recent transactions to see if I could find anything interesting. Sure enough, I saw Aardsma's name on there.

He signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, and will report to big league spring training.

Aardsma was terrible nine years ago when he was young and healthy with the White Sox. He compiled a 6.40 ERA in 25 appearances with the South Siders in 2007. He's since played for five different teams, and has a 4.27 career ERA in 331 appearances.

He's pitched in only 77 games total over the past five seasons after having Tommy John surgery in 2011. Last year, he had a 4.70 ERA in 33 relief appearances with Atlanta.

This year, he'll try to stick in Toronto.

He'll be joined in Jays camp by former Sox starting pitcher Gavin Floyd, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with Toronto on Monday.

Unlike Aardsma, Floyd did some good things on the South Side, winning 10 or more games for five consecutive years from 2008 to 2012. His best year was 2008, when he went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA for the Sox's last division winner.

Floyd blew out his elbow in May 2013, and the Sox let him walk the following offseason. He pitched for Atlanta in 2014, then for Cleveland last year. Both of his last two seasons ended with elbow fractures, so that's three straight years of elbow problems for Floyd.

I'd say he's a long shot to make an impact in Toronto this year.

So, the perpetually mediocre (at best) Aardsma has a contract, and the oft-injured Floyd has a contract. Meanwhile, former Sox reliever Matt Thornton, who was actually decent last season, sits by the phone and waits.

Baseball is a strange business sometimes.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who closes in Toronto: Roberto Osuna or Drew Storen?

Drew Storen
There was one interesting deal made over the weekend, with the Washington Nationals trading former closer Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

Storen was put in a difficult situation in July. He had 29 saves and a 1.73 ERA to that point in the season, but he lost his closer's job when the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies in a midseason trade. Storen was shifted to an eighth-inning role, where he struggled the rest of the year. His ERA ballooned to 3.44, and he did not record a save the rest of the season.

It was clear one of Storen or Papelbon would be dealt this offseason, and it appears the Nationals have chosen to keep Papelbon -- despite his late-season dugout altercation with NL MVP Bryce Harper.

Now Storen heads to Toronto, where he's once again in an interesting position. The Blue Jays are the defending AL East champs, and they won the division last year with 20-year-old Roberto Osuna closing games. Osuna's 20 saves, 2.58 ERA and 0.919 WHIP are solid, if not impressive, for any reliever who toils in the AL East. That performance is especially good considering Osuna's age and relative inexperience.

Does Osuna deserved to be replaced as closer? I would say not. There's no question the Blue Jays needed to acquire another reliever. Aaron Sanchez's high ceiling was being wasted as a short reliever last year. It's time for Toronto to move Sanchez into the starting rotation and see what he can bring. So, from that perspective, it's a good move for the Jays to add Storen.

But can Storen deal with an eighth-inning role if Osuna pitches better than him and keeps the closer's job? Or will he fall apart mentally like he did in Washington?

Either way, I'm not sold on Storen closing big games. His postseason meltdowns in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS against San Francisco are part of the reason the Nationals have never fulfilled their potential. I suspect that's why the Nationals chose to keep Papelbon, despite the potential clubhouse problem he creates. Even though it's been a while, Papelbon has proven he can close in the postseason. The right-hander is unscored upon in 17 of his 18 career playoff appearances.

As for Revere, he takes the spot in the Washington lineup vacated by Denard Span, who signed with San Francisco last week. The Nationals had been players in the Jason Heyward sweepstakes earlier this offseason, but they were beaten out by the Chicago Cubs.

It didn't seem as though Washington was interested in any of the right-handed power-hitting outfielders on the free-agent market. The Nationals wanted to add a left-handed hitter who can cover center field, and they obviously feel Revere is a more cost-effective option than Span would have been.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Marco Estrada saves the Blue Jays in ALCS Game 5

Marco Estrada was waived by the Washington Nationals in 2010. As a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, he gave up more home runs (29) than any starting pitcher in the National League. After being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason, he started 2015 as a relief pitcher.

So, of course, Estrada has been Toronto's best starting pitcher during these playoffs. He turned in the start of his life Wednesday, going 7.2 innings and allowing just one run on three hits as the Blue Jays beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-1, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

Estrada featured precise fastball command and a changeup that had Kansas City hitters off balance all afternoon. He faced just one batter over the minimum through 7.2 innings, before Salvador Perez finally got to him with a solo home run to the opposite field. Alex Gordon followed the home run with a single that ended Estrada's day, but the 32-year-old journeyman had done his job.

With the win, the Blue Jays cut Kansas City's series lead to 3-2. Game 6 is Friday night in Kansas City.

This is the second time this postseason Estrada has come up big in an elimination game. He pitched Game 3 of the ALDS, an outing where he allowed just one run over 6.1 innings in a win over the Texas Rangers. He is now 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in three postseason starts.

The best news for the Blue Jays: Estrada got deep enough into the game to where they only had to use two relievers: Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. Toronto ace David Price warmed up during the game, but did not pitch.

That is key, because now Price is available to start Game 6. His mound opponent will be Kansas City's Yordano Ventura, in a rematch of Game 2, which was won by the Royals.

Kansas City is in terrific shape in this series. The Royals play well at home, and they've got two chances to win one game to advance to their second consecutive World Series. But, thanks to Estrada's performance on Wednesday, the Royals still have a little work ahead of them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kansas City Royals unsung hero in Game 4 win: Kris Medlen

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know about the Kansas City Royals: Through the first four games of the American League Championship Series, Kansas City starting pitchers have thrown a grand total of 18 innings.

That's right: Royals starters are averaging less than five innings per outing, yet Kansas City owns a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after its 14-2 thumping of the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. That should tell you how much the Royals rely on their bullpen and how good those guys really are.

You're probably wondering why I'm declaring Kansas City pitcher Kris Medlen the unsung hero of Game 4, when he didn't even pitch in the game. But reflect back to Monday's Game 3 -- Kansas City's lone loss of the series -- when Medlen came on to replace the ineffective Johnny Cueto in the third inning. The Royals lost, 11-8, but Medlen ate up five innings and saved the rest of the Kansas City bullpen for critical Game 4. Other than Medlen, Franklin Morales was the only Royals reliever to appear in Game 3.

That kept Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis rested and fresh for Tuesday. You figured those guys would be needed, with journeyman Chris Young getting the start for the Royals.

As it turns out, Hochevar recorded the most critical out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Royals were up 5-2 at the time. Young had done a respectable job to that point, but it probably would not have been a good idea for him to face the middle of the Toronto batting order for a third time.

Ben Revere was on first base with two out. The potential league MVP, Josh Donaldson, was at the plate for Toronto. Here was the Blue Jays' chance to get back in the game. A fresh Hochevar came in from the bullpen and induced a weak foul out off the bat of Donaldson. Inning over.

Hochevar, Herrera, Madson and Morales went on to toss 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Toronto did not get a runner into scoring position against the Kansas City bullpen until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. And by then, the Royals had scored four runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two in the ninth against a far weaker Toronto bullpen to put the game out of reach.

The Royals bullpen is the best in the game. They are always tough, but they are even tougher when they are all fresh. They had Medlen to thank for having the rest of the relief corps primed and ready for Game 4. Cueto's short outing could have had an impact on the rest of the series had it not been for Medlen, but after Tuesday's result, that is long forgotten by most people.

Just in general, I think many of us forgot how good the Royals are coming into the playoffs. We all were impressed by the Blue Jays and their big bats and their plus-231 run differential. We installed them as a clear favorite. We pointed to the Royals' 11-17 September and figured Kansas City was a tired team, much like the St. Louis Cardinals were in the National League.

Not really. The Royals were probably just bored in September. They were basically unchallenged in the AL Central this summer. They won their division by 12 games. Now that the lights are on, the Royals are turning up their game again, just as they did last October when they won the AL pennant.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chris Sale makes All-Star team, bests Mark Buehrle in quick-moving game

For White Sox fans, there was little drama in the announcement of the American League All-Star team. We all knew the South Siders were only going to get one representative, and we all knew it would be the very deserving Chris Sale.

Sale's record may be a good-but-not-great 7-4, but it's solid when you consider he pitches for the 37-43 White Sox. He leads the league in strikeouts with 147, and he recently became just the second pitcher in MLB history to strike out 10 or more men in eight consecutive starts. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is the other.

For Sale, it is his fourth All-Star selection. In case you were wondering, the record for All-Star appearances by a White Sox pitcher is held by Billy Pierce, who represented the South Siders in the Midsummer Classic seven times.

Coincidentally, Sale's mound opponent on Monday night, Mark Buehrle, also represented the Sox in the All-Star game four times.

Hours after his selection, Sale bested Buehrle in one of the better games played at U.S. Cellular Field this season. Both left-handers tossed complete games as the Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2.

Sale had "only" six strikeouts, ending his streak of double-digit strikeout games. The Toronto hitters did a lot of hacking early in counts in this game, which kept Sale's strikeout total down, but perhaps contributed to him being able to go the distance on 108 pitches.

But despite Sale's effort, he was trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Home runs by Chris Colabello and Josh Donaldson had staked Buehrle and the Blue Jays to a one-run lead.

However, the Sox capitalized on some shoddy Toronto defense in the bottom of the eighth inning. Gordon Beckham reached base after Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes let a routine grounder go right between his legs. Two outs later, Adam Eaton singled, putting runners on the corners with two outs for Jose Abreu. The Sox first baseman didn't hit Buehrle's first-pitch changeup hard, but it found the grass in center field. Beckham scored to tie the game, 2-2.

That brought up Melky Cabrera, a longtime Buehrle nemesis. The Sox left fielder smashed a two-run double down the left-field line to score Eaton and Abreu and make the score 4-2. Cabrera is now 19 for 34 lifetime against Buehrle.

Sale gave up a pair of singles in the top of the ninth, but he got out of trouble by inducing Danny Valencia to ground into a game-ending double play.

The game lasted just 1 hour, 54 minutes. No bullpens needed; no walks issued by either pitcher. What fan wouldn't enjoy that kind of baseball?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quantifying the White Sox offensive woes

Toronto starting pitcher Drew Hutchison entered Monday night's game against the White Sox with an ERA of 6.06. Naturally, he fired a four-hit shutout in the Blue Jays' 6-0 win over the South Siders. While not feeling well.

Right now, the Sox offense is enough to make you sick to your stomach. They've lost six out of their last eight games to fall to 19-23 on the season. They've scored just 15 runs during that stretch, and have not scored more than three runs in any game during that time.

You look around the league, and you'll see that most teams have a hitter or two performing under expectations. That's baseball. Sometimes guys have slow starts, or bad years. That's just how it goes.

But the Sox? Well, they've got seven of their nine regulars performing below their career norms and below the numbers they posted in 2014. Avisail Garcia is the lone exception. For purposes of this discussion, we'll just exempt second base, because the Sox have played two rookies with little or no track record there throughout the season.

Let's take a look at the on-base plus slugging (OPS) numbers for the eight Sox regulars who do not play second base -- biggest drop-offs listed first:

Only Avisail Garcia has swung the bat well for the White Sox this year.
Melky Cabrera
2015 OPS: .558
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.250
Career OPS: .747

Jose Abreu
2015 OPS: .964
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.156
Career OPS: .929

Adam Eaton
2015 OPS: .621
2014 OPS: .763
Diff: -.142
Career OPS: .721

Adam LaRoche
2015 OPS: .682
2014 OPS: .817
Diff: -.135
Career OPS: .808

Tyler Flowers
2015 OPS: .559
2014 OPS: .693
Diff: -.134
Career OPS: .660

Alexei Ramirez
2015 OPS: .614
2014 OPS: .713
Diff: -.099
Career OPS: .715

Conor Gillaspie
2015 OPS: .683
2014 OPS: . 752
Diff: -.069
Career OPS: .714

Garcia
2015 OPS: .821
2014 OPS: .718
Diff: +.103
Career OPS: .746

So, there are basically six players in the Sox everyday lineup whose OPS is down 100 points over where it was last season. That's two-thirds of a lineup that could be characterized as severely underachieving. Remarkable.

Only Garcia is better than he was last season. Only Garcia is performing better than his career average. Everyone else is under career norms, some significantly so.

You would think these guys would eventually come back to their career levels, wouldn't you? There's no sign of that happening right now.