Showing posts with label Tyler Saladino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tyler Saladino. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Monday, April 10, 2017

White Sox lose two out of three to Minnesota Twins

Avisail Garcia
The Minnesota Twins lost a league-worst 103 games last season, but they've surprised the American League with a 5-1 start this year. Minnesota starting pitchers have racked up quality starts in five of the team's first six games, and not surprisingly, all five of those games resulted in wins.

The Twins took two out of three from the White Sox over the weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are some observations from the series:

Friday, April 8
Twins 3, White Sox 1: If we're being honest with ourselves, we know the Sox are going to struggle offensively. They don't have much power, and they were limited to seven hits (six singles, one double) by Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (1-0) and two relievers in this loss.

Poor defense cost Sox starter Derek Holland (0-1) a gift run in the fourth inning. He tried to pick Robbie Grossman off second base and tossed the ball into center field, allowing Grossman to advance to third. The Minnesota runner later scored when Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped a shallow fly ball that was not nearly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly.

Grossman also scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a double by Miguel Sano. In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Eduardo Escobar bit Holland, as a double by Chris Gimenez off Sox reliever Nate Jones scored Minnesota's third run.

This game featured Rick Renteria's first glaring managerial mistake of the season. With the Sox trailing 3-1 after eight innings, he put Jacob May in center field in place of Leury Garcia -- presumably for defensive purposes. Naturally, May ended up at the plate after Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto drew two-out walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie, who is hitless through five games, was seemingly unaware that the previous two hitters had walked. He swung at the first pitch from Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and grounded out to second base to end the game. Fail.

Saturday, April 9
White Sox 6, Twins 2: The Sox executed pretty well offensively in the game, knocking Minnesota starter Adalberto Mejia out of the box early with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.

In both innings, the Sox placed a runner on second base with no outs. Both times, they brought the runner around to score. Tyler Saladino doubled to start the game, advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Tim Anderson and scored when Melky Cabrera grounded out to short with the Minnesota infield back.

Todd Frazier walked and stole second base in the second inning. Avisail Garcia did the right thing -- he looked to hit the ball to the right side -- and he drove one off the right-field wall for an RBI triple. Garcia scored later in the inning when the Twins botched a rundown off a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Soto.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-0) protected the lead through six innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Jason Castro in the sixth, but walked off the mound with a 3-2 lead. Garcia and Soto hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth to account for three more runs, providing the final margin of victory.

Garcia finished a double short of the cycle. He went 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

Saturday, April 10
Twins 4, White Sox 1: Again, the big hit was lacking for the Sox. They had 11 runners reach base and stranded 10 of them. The good news: They took five walks and had one man reach on an HBP. The bad news: They had only five hits, and all of them were singles.

The lineup had no punch against Minnesota's best pitcher, Ervin Santana (2-0). The right-hander went six innings, and he allowed only two hits.

Sox ace Jose Quintana (0-2) pitched much better than he did in the home opener. He had his typical quality start, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. Alas, he left with the Sox trailing 2-0, and had nothing to show for a respectable effort.

Minnesota increased its lead to 4-0 in the eighth when Sano got a not-high-enough fastball from Jones and knocked it over the center field wall for a two-run homer.

The Sox had their chance in the bottom of the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Minnesota reliever Matt Belisle. But, Matt Davidson basically struck himself out by swinging at a Belisle fastball that was up and out of the zone. It was a rally-killing at-bat, to say the least.

Kintzler entered the game and plunked Avisail Garcia with a pitch to the give the Sox their lone run, but then he struck out Yolmer Sanchez, who flailed helplessly at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

One area the Sox must improve: They need to cut down on their strikeouts. They are letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the zone in RBI situations. It's a long-standing problem, and part of the problem is they need to get better players. Davidson and Sanchez likely will never be good hitters at the big-league level. But in the meantime, Renteria and his staff need to preach more patience at the plate.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Observations from the first White Sox game of 2017

Jose Quintana
White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana has a reputation for being able to keep the ball in the yard, but he couldn't do it Tuesday.

The Detroit Tigers hit three home runs off Quintana in the first game of the 2017 season, accounting for all their runs in a 6-3 victory over the Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Detroit scored five runs in the top of the second inning, three on a homer by JaCoby Jones and two more on a homer by Nick Castellanos.

Quintana uncharacteristically failed to put hitters away -- Jones hit his home run on a hanging curveball on the seventh pitch of the sequence, and Castellanos hit a fastball out on the sixth pitch of his at-bat. The two long balls turned an early 1-0 Sox lead into a 5-1 deficit.

Detroit's Ian Kinsler added a solo home run in the fourth inning to complete the Tigers' scoring.

Obviously, Quintana's rough outing and Detroit's home run power were the difference in the game, but here are a couple early observations on new Sox manager Rick Renteria's lineup construction:

1. I like that Tyler Saladino is batting leadoff. The second baseman reached base three times Tuesday, going 2 for 4 with a pair of singles, a walk and a run scored. The Sox do not have an ideal No. 1 hitter on their roster, but for the time being, Saladino represents the best choice. He's been in the league for a year and a half now, he has some speed, and it doesn't seem as if he'll change his approach based upon where he hits in the lineup.

2. I'm glad Renteria resisted the temptation to put rookie Jacob May in the leadoff spot. May was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts Tuesday in his big-league debut, although he did collect his first RBI on a groundout in the ninth inning. Past Sox managers (Ozzie Guillen, cough, cough) would insist upon putting a slap-hitting speedster at the top of the lineup, even if that speedster has a low on-base percentage, strikes out a lot and shouldn't be getting the most at-bats of anyone on the team. In May's case, he should be batting ninth until he gets acclimated to facing major leaguers on a daily basis. Tuesday, he was right where he belonged: batting ninth.

3. That said, I'd like to see Tim Anderson batting a little lower in the lineup for the time being. He strikes out too much to be batting second, and he went 0 for 4 with three Ks in Tuesday's opener. The strikeouts all followed the same pattern -- Anderson fell behind in the count and ended up swinging and missing for strike three on fastballs up and out of the zone. I hope Anderson doesn't get the label of "can't hit it, can't lay off it" when it comes to high fastballs, because that is not a recipe for success. He can ask another ex-Sox infielder who was once highly touted about that (Gordon Beckham, cough, cough). I'd rather have Anderson hit sixth right now. Move Melky Cabrera, who had two doubles off Justin Verlander on Tuesday, up to the No. 2 spot. The good news for Anderson? That high fastball is not a strike, so he doesn't need to be able to hit it. He does, however, need to discipline himself to not swing at that garbage.

Friday, March 3, 2017

White Sox release infielder Brett Lawrie

Brett Lawrie
In a surprise move Friday, the White Sox requested waivers on infielder Brett Lawrie for the purpose of granting him his unconditional release.

Lawrie, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million in December, was projected to be the team's starting second baseman. However, he hasn't played in a game since last July 21 because of a mysterious left leg injury that was reportedly caused by the use of orthotics.

The 27-year-old did not appear in any of the Sox's first seven spring training games this past week after informing the team Feb. 24 that he still wasn't feeling 100 percent ready to play.

Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 384 plate appearances last season, and played serviceable defense, but the Sox have other options at second base and apparently decided that they don't have the patience to wait around to see if Lawrie gets healthy.

 Most likely, Tyler Saladino is going to be the Opening Day second baseman. Saladino hit .282/.315/.409 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs in 319 plate appearances last season. The offensive numbers are similar to Lawrie's, and just about everyone agrees that Saladino is the superior defensive player. The Sox have other utility infield options with Yolmer Sanchez and Leury Garcia, and most people think top prospect Yoan Moncada is going to be called up to be the Sox's second baseman by midseason anyway.

The front office must believe that some combination of Saladino/Sanchez/Garcia can hold down second base until Moncada is ready, and it's hard to argue with that thinking.

Cutting ties with Lawrie now also saves the Sox a bit of money. Arbitration contracts are not guaranteed until Opening Day. The Sox are only on the hook for 30 days' termination pay, or about one-sixth of Lawrie's salary. That's about $574,000.

Friday, February 3, 2017

White Sox position players: There are roster spots available

Todd Frazier -- still here
As we stated Wednesday, for a rebuilding team, the White Sox's pitching staff looks surprisingly set going into spring training. Position players? That's another story.

Looking over the 40-man roster, you can find about eight position players -- maybe nine -- that would be considered roster locks for Opening Day, and most of them are infielders. I'm assuming the Sox are coming north with 13 position players, so that means there are jobs to be won when the team convenes this month to begin workouts in Glendale, Arizona.
Melky Cabrera -- still here

Let's take a look at how things stand right now, while at the same time acknowledging that more trades are possible between now and April:

Infielders
1. Jose Abreu
2. Todd Frazier
3. Tim Anderson
4. Brett Lawrie
5. Tyler Saladino
6. ?????

The infield might have been considered a weakness for the Sox as recently as two seasons ago, but if this rebuilding club has a strong point, this is probably it. The Sox are set with Abreu at first base, Lawrie at second base, Anderson at shortstop and Frazier at third base. Saladino is a solid utility player. His glove won't hurt you at any of the four positions, and his bat is league-average.

Abreu and Frazier combined for 65 home runs and 198 RBIs last year at the corners. Anderson is an emerging young talent, and Lawrie is a league-average player who should be serviceable if he can stay healthy.

The hope is Lawrie will eventually be replaced by Yoan Moncada, the highly regarded prospect who was the Sox's marquee acquisition in the Chris Sale trade. It's unlikely we'll see Moncada make the team out of camp, but it's possible he'll make his Sox debut sometime in 2017.

Others in the mix for a roster spot include Matt Davidson and Carlos Sanchez. If Davidson hits during spring training, he'll probably make the club and get some starts at third, first and designated hitter. Davidson is entering his age 26 season, so I'm thinking the Sox want to find out once and for all what they have with him, if anything.

If Davidson stinks it up in Arizona, that might open the door for Sanchez to make the club, although he'd be redundant on the roster with Saladino, and he's not as good in the utility role as Saladino is.

Leury Garcia still is hanging around as a rostered player. I'm not a fan, so I'm hoping he'll be enjoying the sights and sounds of Charlotte, North Carolina, once again this season.

One other thing to watch: There's no obvious choice for a backup first baseman here, so look for non-roster invitees Nick Delmonico and Danny Hayes to get some spring playing time. Injuries limited Hayes to 55 games at Charlotte in 2016, but the left-handed hitter did put up 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 184 at-bats. Delmonico tore apart Double-A last year, hitting .338 with 10 home runs in 38 games. But he was so-so after a midseason promotion to Charlotte (.246 with 7 home runs in 72 games).

Other non-roster invitees in camp include former Philadelphia third baseman Cody Asche and former San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera.

Outfielders
1. Melky Cabrera
2. Avisail Garcia
3. ??????
4. ??????
5. ??????

Here's where it gets interesting. Cabrera and Garcia are probably going to play left field and right field, respectively, although both are candidates to get some DH time, as well. The starting center fielder and the backup outfield spots are open questions.

At SoxFest, GM Rick Hahn expressed a preference to see Charlie Tilson get an extended look in center field. Tilson was acquired mid-2016 from the Cardinals in the Zach Duke deal, but he suffered a serious groin injury in his Sox debut and was not seen again for the rest of the season.

If he's healthy, he's going to get the first shot in center, but I'm not going so far as to make him a roster lock. Prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May are both on the 40-man roster. A strong spring could put either man in the mix for a roster spot. They are similar players, however -- speedy, good defensively, and questionable with the bat.

Engel has had an interesting past 18 months. He was the 2015 MVP of the Arizona Fall League, but he struggled at the start of the 2016 season in Birmingham. He got demoted to High-A Winston-Salem, but by the end of the year he was at Triple-A Charlotte and ended up getting added to the 40-man roster. Senior Director of Baseball Operations Dan Fabian told me at SoxFest that he believes the trip to Winston-Salem allowed Engel to iron out some issues with his swing. We shall see.

The Sox also will have three busted outfield prospects in camp. Rymer Liriano, who was a waiver claim from the Milwaukee Brewers, and Willy Garcia, who was a waiver claim from the Pittsburgh Pirates, are both on the 40-man roster. Neither man seems like a good bet to do anything, but sometimes rebuilding teams need roster filler.

And, yes, Courtney Hawkins still is hanging around the organization. He's only 23, blah, blah, blah, but the reality is he hit .206/.255/.349 in his second season at Birmingham last year. Injuries have hindered his development, and there's nothing going on with him that suggests progress. Oh well.

Catchers:
1. Omar Narvaez
2. ???????

Narvaez essentially made the 2017 club last year with a respectable performance in 34 games at the big league level. He hit .267/.350/.337 and seemed to be a calming influence for left-hander Carlos Rodon, who enjoyed his best two months of the season with Narvaez behind the plate in August and September.

The Sox invited Geovany Soto to camp, and if the veteran is healthy, he's going to be the second catcher on the roster. That's a big if, however, as knee injuries limited the 34-year-old to 26 games with the Los Angeles Angels last year.

Other rostered catchers include Alfredo Gonzalez and Kevan Smith. Hahn was asked about the catching situation at SoxFest, and perhaps tellingly, he did not mention Smith's name. He talked about Narvaez and Soto, and he praised Gonzalez as a good defensive catcher. So, perhaps those three men are in the mix for the two roster spots, and Smith is headed back to Charlotte.

Position players report to camp Feb. 18. There won't be any shortage of intrigue as they guys work to make the team.

Monday, September 12, 2016

White Sox lose two out of three to Kansas City

Carlos Rodon
Nothing brings out the worst in the White Sox quicker than the sight of Kansas City Royals uniforms in the other dugout. The Sox dropped two out of three at home to Kansas City over the weekend. They have lost all five series they have played against the Royals this season, and are now just 4-11 against Kansas City this year.

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

Friday, Sept. 9
White Sox 7, Royals 2: The late-season surge continues for left-hander Carlos Rodon, who settled down after a shaky first inning to win his fourth consecutive start and fifth straight decision.

Rodon (7-8) went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits. He struck out nine and walked two while lowering his ERA to 3.80. He punctuated his outing by striking out Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando on a nasty slider with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Rodon is now 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA since Aug. 1, a period spanning seven starts. He continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise miserable second half for the Sox.

The Sox offense did have a good showing Friday night, seven runs without the benefit of a home run. The South Siders pounded out 13 hits, and all nine players in the starting lineup either scored a run or drove in a run. Tyler Saladino continued a prolonged hot streak, as he went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

Saturday, Sept. 10
Royals 6, White Sox 5: Can anyone explain to me why the Sox are suddenly using Chris Beck in a high-leverage role? The right-handed reliever has appeared in five of the last seven games, despite a 7.41 ERA and no real evidence of major league competency.

After a rare decent start by James Shields, Beck was summoned to protect a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning and did not get the job done. He gave up a one-out single to Christian Colon, who was pinch run for by Terrence Gore. The speedy Gore spooked the Sox bench and Beck by his mere presence on the bases. The Sox called for two consecutive pitchouts. Gore stole second base anyway, and Beck walked light-hitting Jarrod Dyson after the "brain trust" foolishly ran the count to 2-0 with the useless pitchouts.

After being issued the free pass, Dyson scored the go-ahead run on Whit Merrifield's two-run double (#typicalWhiteSoxnonsense), and Kansas City never trailed again.

The Sox were behind 6-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. They scored one run off Royals closer Wade Davis, but Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau struck out consecutively with runners at first and third, ending the comeback attempt.

Sunday, Sept. 11
Royals 2, White Sox 0: Ace Chris Sale struck out 12 and became the first Sox pitcher in 20 years to throw eight or more innings in five consecutive starts.

Didn't matter, because for all of Sale's brilliance, the rest of the team stinks.

The Royals got solo home runs from Kendrys Morales and Eric Hosmer, and starting pitcher Ian Kennedy and three Kansas City relievers combined to limit the Sox to just two hits -- both singles by Adam Eaton, one in the first and one in the ninth.

The Sox had another crack at Davis in the ninth, who allowed Eaton's second single and walked Melky Cabrera to put the potential winning run at home plate. But once again, Abreu lined out to right field and Morneau struck out swinging, allowing Kansas City to escape town with another in a long line of series wins over Chicago.

Here are some interesting splits on Sale:
Before the All-Star break: 14-3, 3.38 ERA
Since the All-Star break: 1-5, 2.82 ERA

Sale was chosen to start the All-Star game because of his strong first-half performance. He's been even better the second half, but you'd never know it based upon the won-loss statistics.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why is David Robertson pitching four days in a row?

David Robertson
I don't much care for the Detroit Tigers, so I was happy the White Sox recovered from a Labor Day loss to take two out of three games at U.S. Cellular Field this week.

The Sox won, 2-0, on Tuesday as Miguel Gonzalez came off the disabled list to fire 6.1 innings of shutout ball. Jose Abreu backed him with his 23rd home run of the season.

A fourth-run eighth inning Wednesday lifted the Sox to a come-from-behind 7-4 win. The Sox trailed, 4-3, entering the inning. Abreu singled and scored the tying run on a double by Justin Morneau. Avisail Garcia delivered a go-ahead RBI single, and Tyler Saladino and Adam Eaton tacked on RBI hits.

But here's what I didn't like about this series: Closer David Robertson pitched four straight days.

What is the point of that?

This is September. The rosters are expanded. There are plenty of other relievers available. The Sox are out of the pennant race. While Robertson is one of the few reliable relievers the Sox have, there's no reason to be pushing him this hard in relatively meaningless games.

Robertson blew a save Sunday in an extra-inning win over the Minnesota Twins. He pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning in Monday's loss to the Tigers. And he picked up his 34th and 35th saves of the season in games Tuesday and Wednesday, although he was shaky in both outings.

Knowing that Robertson has two years and $25 million remaining on his contract, I would not be doing anything that puts extra wear and tear on his arm. If the Sox were pushing for a playoff spot, you could justify the workload. However, that's just not the case here.

The Sox need to protect their assets and make sure they have a healthy Robertson going into the offseason.

This overuse is yet another reason the Sox need to move on from manager Robin Ventura. He just doesn't seem to have a feel for what is going on.

Monday, August 29, 2016

White Sox take three out of four from Seattle Mariners

Jose Quintana
The Seattle Mariners this weekend became the latest American League contender to lose a season series to the White Sox.

The Sox took three out of four over the weekend at U.S. Cellular Field and finished 4-3 against Seattle this year. Chicago (63-66) also has prevailed in the season series against AL-West leading Texas (4-2), AL-East leading Toronto (5-1) and AL wild card-leader Boston (4-3).

Too bad the Sox can't win against their own division, where they are 20-29. Too bad 27 of the 33 remaining games are against AL Central opponents. It could be a rough road ahead, but today, let's reflect back on the weekend success against the Mariners:

Friday, Aug. 26
Mariners 3, White Sox 1: The day began with news that the Sox traded disappointing catcher Dioner Navarro to Toronto in exchange for pitcher Colton Turner.

Navarro somehow managed to be a downgrade from previous Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. We knew coming into the year that Navarro was a subpar pitch framer, and there would be defensive shortcomings. But Navarro couldn't even clear the low offensive bar set by Flowers in previous years. Good riddance to Navarro and his .210 batting average.

With Omar Narvaez behind the plate Friday, Chris Sale (15-7) pitched a complete game. He retired the last 16 batters he faced --10 by strikeout - and finished with a season-high 14 strikeouts.

Of course, he lost, because the Sox are not a good offensive team. At least this time they could say they got shut down by an elite pitcher. Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (9-4) fired 7.1 innings of one-run ball to earn the victory.

Hernandez did leave, however, with the bases loaded and only one out in the eighth. But Seattle reliever Edwin Diaz got a force at home and a popout to third to extricate the Mariners from that mess. Diaz went on to strike out the side in the ninth to earn his 11th save.

Saturday, Aug. 27
White Sox 9, Mariners 3: Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino both went 3 for 4 with a homer as the Sox pounded 15 hits to make a winner out of Jose Quintana (11-9).

The Sox scored two in the first and one more in the fourth against Seattle starter Ariel Miranda (1-1), who was removed after four innings in just his sixth career game and fourth career start.

The Mariners brought in middle reliever Vidal Nuno, and he fooled nobody. He gave up six runs on 10 hits, including three home runs, over three innings. The Sox scored four runs off him in the fifth, highlighted by back-to-back home runs by Garcia and Alex Avila. Saladino added his two-run homer in the seventh inning.

Quintana had to be overjoyed to pitch with a big lead. He went 7.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits. He struck out eight, walked one and lowered his ERA to a team-best 2.77.

Jacob Turner made the ninth inning somewhat annoying when he loaded the bases with nobody out. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into that inning, so the outcome was not really in doubt, and the Mariners scored only one run out of that situation anyway. Nate Jones came on to induce a game-ending double play off the bat of pinch-hitter Seth Smith.

Sunday, April 28
White Sox 4, Mariners 1: The Sox managed only five hits in this game, but they bunched them and made them count.

They went nine-up, nine-down against Seattle starter Taijuan Walker the first three innings, but two HBPs and a double loaded the bases in the fourth inning. Justin Morneau's two-run single put the Sox on top, 2-0.

The Sox did not get another hit until the eighth inning, but they added to a 2-1 lead with two more runs on three hits. Tim Anderson singled and scored on triple by Melky Cabrera. Jose Abreu followed with a sacrifice fly to account for the final margin of victory.

Carlos Rodon (5-8) continued his red-hot August with six innings of one-run ball. He allowed only a solo home run to Robinson Cano, and improved to 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA over five starts this month.

Anderson and Saladino turned a slick double play to extricate the Sox from a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh inning. Nate Jones worked a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, and closer David Robertson secured his 33rd save by pitching over two soft singles in the top of the ninth inning.

The Sox are off to Detroit to start a three-game series Monday. Will they be able to sustain this momentum from a good series win and a 6-3 homestand?

Well, James Shields is starting the opener against the Tigers, so don't bank on it.

Friday, July 29, 2016

White Sox settle for split in crosstown series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is running out on the 2016 Sox.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

James Shields leads White Sox to shutout of Cubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miguel Gonzalez outpitches Jake Arrieta in crosstown series opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

White Sox take two out of three from Astros

Chris Sale
The Houston Astros had won 11 out of their previous 12 games through Friday, so it was impressive to see the White Sox come back and take the final two games of a three-game series this weekend.

The Sox (42-40) are now two games over .500 for the first time since June 4, and they have won four consecutive series -- including three against winning teams (Boston, Toronto, Houston). Here's a look back at the weekend that was:

Friday, July 1
Astros 5, White Sox 0: The Sox's offensive inconsistency reared its head again in the opener of the series. The South Siders had scored 15 runs in their final two games in the previous series against Minnesota, but they couldn't get anything done Friday against Mike Fiers -- who is nothing more than a league-average starter -- and three Houston relievers.

The Sox were limited to just five hits and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

It was a shame, because one of Miguel Gonzalez's better starts went to waste. He went seven innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits. Through the first six innings, the Astros managed only one run against Gonzalez, and that came on a cheap infield single in the fourth.

An error on Tyler Saladino opened the door for Houston in the seventh, and Carlos Gomez homered off Gonzalez to make it 3-0 Astros. That was essentially the final nail in the coffin, although Houston tacked on two more in the eighth against Sox reliever Chris Beck for good measure.

Saturday, July 2
White Sox 7, Astros 6: Sox ace Chris Sale collected his league-leading 14th victory on a day where he had less than his best stuff.

Jose Altuve homered for Houston in the first inning, and the Astros touched Sale up for three runs in the third to take a 4-2 lead.

The Sox would rally. J.B. Shuck homered in the fourth, and then Dioner Navarro delivered a two-run single in the fifth to put the South Siders ahead to stay at 5-4.

Shuck added an RBI triple in the eighth and came around to score on a double by Tim Anderson. That increased the Sox lead to 7-4, and those two runs would prove to be the difference.

Perhaps the biggest sequence of the game came in the bottom of the eighth. Sale allowed a base hit to George Springer, and Todd Frazier committed a two-base error that put Houston runners on second and third with nobody out.

Sox reliever Nate Jones was summoned, and he got the next three hitters out, allowing only one of the inherited runners to score. The Astros missed perhaps their best opportunity to get back in the game right there.

Closer David Robertson retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth before giving up a home run to A.J. Reed that made the score 7-6. Robertson then fanned Colby Rasmus to secure his 22nd save of the season.

Sunday, July 3
White Sox 4, Astros 1: There has been a lot of talk about a lack of run support for Jose Quintana, and much of that discussion is justified. However, that narrative obscured the fact that Quintana had a lousy June. He went 0-3 with a 5.51 ERA in five starts for the month.

On Sunday, the good Quintana (6-8) made his triumphant return. The left-hander earned his first win since May 8 with a brilliant seven-inning performance. He gave up a home run to Springer on his second pitch of the game, but allowed no runs after that.

Quintana allowed just two hits over seven innings, and he retired the final 15 hitters he faced.

The Sox got two runs in the third and two more in the eighth. They went 3 for 8 with runners in scoring position, with Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie and Navarro all collecting RBI singles in the clutch.

Jones was once again strong, working a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth with two strikeouts.

Robertson was a bit shaky in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff hit to Marwin Gonzalez and walked Gomez. That brought Reed to the plate representing the tying run with two outs.

During Saturday's ninth inning, Reed took Robertson deep on a cut fastball. He did not see that pitch this time. Robertson threw him four straight breaking balls, the last of which was a nasty knuckle-curve that Reed swung over the top of for strike three.

Robertson is now 23 for 25 in save opportunities this season.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Are the White Sox phasing out Avisail Garcia?

Avisail Garcia
Here is a little-noticed detail from the White Sox's weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays: Avisail Garcia was not in the starting lineup Saturday or Sunday.

As I was driving to the ballpark Sunday, I heard WLS radio host Connor McKnight say Garcia was "getting another day off." That's a charitable way to say it. If a player is sitting for one game, that's a "day off." If a player is sitting for consecutive games, that player is either injured or the manager is looking for better options.

We saw a couple of interesting lineup constructions from Sox manager Robin Ventura over the weekend. Garcia played Friday as the designated hitter, but we saw Todd Frazier at first base -- Jose Abreu got the day off.

In Saturday's game, Ventura had both of his catchers in the lineup with Alex Avila serving as the designated hitter, and Dioner Navarro behind the plate. The move actually worked. Avila had a home run and a double, and Navarro also homered.

Tyler Saladino got a start at third base Sunday, with Frazier moving to designated hitter. This move also worked. Saladino walked and scored the first run of the game, and he started two slick 5-4-3 double plays that helped Sox ace Chris Sale pick up his 13th win of the season.

There are two conclusions I can draw from these moves: First, Ventura and staff have no use for Jason Coats. And who can blame them? Coats is 1 for 15 in 21 plate appearances since his recall from Triple-A Charlotte. He hasn't shown anything in limited opportunities, and it seems as if he's a waste of a roster spot at this point.

Secondly, Garcia is taking a seat because he has been providing next to nothing in terms of extra-base pop in the designated hitter role. He's a lousy defensive outfielder and a poor base runner, and he's not getting any better with the bat:

Garcia in 2015: .257/.309/.365 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs in 601 plate appearances
Garcia in 2016: .247/.309/.358 with 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in 236 plate appearances

These are similar slash lines, and even though Garcia is still relatively young at age 25, after 1,334 plate appearances in the majors, you start to believe that he's never going to be much better than he is right now.

And what he is right now is not good enough to be an everyday designated hitter. Garcia's slugging percentage for the month of June is a pathetic .265. He has one extra-base hit (a double) in 75 plate appearances this month. His last home run came May 28, and that's the only long ball he has hit since May 6.

We're talking about a hitter who is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and he still hasn't shown he can drive the ball with any consistency, despite receiving more than enough opportunities from the Sox.

It seems as if Ventura has seen enough, and I can't blame him.

Saladino has a .394 slugging percentage this season -- that's 36 points higher than Garcia's slugging percentage. And Saladino provides strong defense at any position on the infield, and he's a threat to steal a base when he gets on. If Garcia is not going to hit the ball off the wall or over it as a designated hitter, then the Sox are a better team with Saladino taking Garcia's spot in the lineup. Quite simply, Saladino can do more things.

The Sox can play Saladino at third and use Frazier as the DH. The Sox can play Saladino at second base and use Brett Lawrie as the DH. The Sox can put Saladino at third, shift Frazier to first and use Abreu as the DH.

Any of these lineup combinations seem more appealing that Garcia as DH at this stage. The Sox, obviously, intend for Justin Morneau to be the DH against right-handed pitching when he comes off the disabled list sometime after the All-Star break. But until that happens, Ventura is probably better off going with a rotating DH, and he showed signs of going in that direction with his lineup construction against Toronto.