Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jorge Soler sidelined with stress fracture in tibia

Cubs prospect Jorge Soler will be in a walking boot for the next 4-6 weeks after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia, the team announced Thursday.

Soler, who is hitting .281 with eight home runs in 55 games, hasn't played for high-Class A Daytona since June 13 after fouling a ball off his shin.

The Cuban outfielder has had a bit of a rough go this season. He's already been benched by his manager for failing to run hard, and he also served a five-game suspension in April after approaching the opposing team's dugout while wielding a bat.

I call attention to this news for two reasons: First, it's a sad day for any organization when the status of players who are in the deep minors is more newsworthy than the activities of players currently at the major-league level. That's the case for the Cubs right now. If you listen to The Score's "Talking Baseball" program on Sunday mornings, you are likely to get extended discussion on the progress of assorted Cubs prospects, but little will be said about the current roster. That goes to show there is not much to discuss with the Cubs, at least until they trade off the handful of useful veterans they have before the July 31 deadline.

Secondly, I also point out Soler's issues to make note that you just never know with prospects. Sometimes I hear Cubs fans and even some media talking with great certainty about how Soler is a future star. Maybe he is. I don't know. The kid is only 21 years old. I do know it's much too early to make judgments on this guy. It's certainly too early to anoint him for greatness, especially since he's having a tough year. No question, it's a setback to lose at least two months of development time to an injury. Soler will play winter ball, I'm sure, but there's a real possibility his season at Daytona is over. He'll never get those at-bats back.

This turn of events is a reminder there are risks when an organization ties its future to prospects. Some guys pan out, but most guys don't. The Cubs have about ($)30 million reasons to hope Soler pulls it together, but if indeed this is the end to his 2013 campaign, it can only be described as a disappointment.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Congratulations, Chicago Blackhawks!

Today is not a day to talk about baseball. Let's celebrate the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks!

Here is a radio call to savor.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jose Valverde designated; Tigers to make a deal soon?

The Detroit Tigers have designated veteran relief pitcher Jose Valverde for assignment, once again making everyone wonder if they have anyone in mind for their closer's spot.

Valverde, who struggled in the 2012 postseason, was brought back to the Tigers two months ago after failing to generate interest from other teams in free agency. Since rejoining Detroit, he failed to regain his form, converting just nine of 12 save opportunities and posting a 5.59 ERA.

The Tigers have 10 days to make a move with Valverde, and GM Dave Dombrowski indicated he hopes the veteran will accept an assignment to Triple-A.

"We have asked him if he would go to Triple-A for us, and try to work with him there, try to get him straightened out," Dombrowski said. "He did not give us an answer on that. It really doesn't make a difference at this point, since we would still have to get waivers at some time. He was open-minded to it. He didn't say no to it, but he needed some time."

It's possible Valverde will end up in Triple-A, just because I can't see any other team wanting him. The Tigers, however, are built to win now and can't screw around hoping Valverde will get his act together.

For now, Detroit says it will use Joaquin Benoit in the closer's role. Benoit has four saves this season, to go along with a 1.80 ERA. The long-time setup man has only 17 career saves, so it's unlikely the Tigers look at him as their solution for the rest of the season. Plus, even if Benoit fills the ninth-inning void for Detroit, they still need someone to replace him in the eighth inning.

Could that someone be White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain? The veteran setup man is the best relief pitcher in baseball right now. He earned the win in Saturday's 3-2 Sox victory over Kansas City. It was his 29th consecutive scoreless appearance, a franchise record. Crain's ERA is down to 0.53, and he has 44 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. His contract is up at the end of the season, and with the Sox sitting 10 games below .500, Crain is likely on the trading block.

He'd be a perfect fit for the Tigers, if they are willing to make a trade within their own division. The Sox need not have any reservations about moving Crain to an AL Central rival. If Crain comes back to haunt them in the second half of this season as a member of the Tigers, so what? The Sox aren't going anywhere anyway. The question is whether Detroit would be willing to give up a useful young player, like outfielder Avisail Garcia, or a young pitcher like Drew Smyly or Kaneland High School product Casey Crosby. Trading any of those guys to a division rival could come back to bite the Tigers over the next five years. But, if you're Dombrowski and you're looking to win right now, wouldn't you take the risk?

Another option that's out there for Detroit: Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon. The veteran closed out a World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He's a proven postseason performer. But, he is making some bucks -- a guaranteed $13 million this year, next year and in 2015 as well. That's a big financial commitment, but the Tigers seem to have deep pockets -- a payroll soaring up near $150 million for this season.

Right now, Detroit has more than enough to win the lousy AL Central. The question is whether they have enough to get back to the World Series and win it. My answer is no, unless they fix that bullpen. Crain and Papelbon would be excellent solutions to their problem, if they are willing to take on even more payroll AND trade with a division foe.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jeremy Guthrie has White Sox to thank for saving his career

Kansas City right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is a journeyman pitcher. He has the numbers to prove it.

In 10 years in the big leagues, he's pitched for four different teams and compiled a less-than-spectacular 62-81 record with a 4.24 career ERA.

Two times, Guthrie has led the American League in losses. He dropped 17 games as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in both 2009 and 2011.

That said, Guthrie seems to have been a decent pickup for Kansas City. The Royals acquired him July 20, 2012, from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez. Guthrie finished the year strong, going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts. That was good enough for the Royals to sign him to a three-year, $25 million contract over the offseason.

So far this season, Guthrie has gone 7-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 14 starts. In 28 total starts with the Royals, he's 12-7 with a 3.44 ERA -- well above his career norms.

Career renaissance? Maybe, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll notice that Guthrie's sudden improvement in a Kansas City uniform is based solely upon his dominance of one team: the White Sox.

Of Guthrie's 28 starts with Kansas City, six of them have been against the Sox. Here are his pitching lines for those games:

Aug. 8, 2012 - Kansas City 2, White Sox 1
8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 Ks, 0 BBs - W

Aug. 19, 2012 - Kansas City 5, White Sox 2
7.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 8 Ks, 2 BBs - ND

Sept. 9, 2012 - Kansas City 2, White Sox 1
8 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 Ks, 0 BBs - ND

Sept. 20, 2012 - Kansas City 4, White Sox 3
6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 4 Ks, 1 BB - ND

April 4, 2013 - Kansas City 3, White Sox 1
6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 9 Ks, 1 BB - W

May 4, 2013 - Kansas City 2, White Sox 0
9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 Ks, 1 BB - W

Guthrie has started 197 games in his career. The game on May 4 of this year was his first and only complete-game shutout. In 44.2 innings against the Sox over the last two seasons, Guthrie has allowed just two earned runs on 30 hits. He has struck out 34 and walked just five. He is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in the six starts listed above.

Here are Guthrie's numbers since joining Kansas City:
vs. White Sox: 3-0, 0.40 ERA in 6 starts
vs. all other teams: 9-7, 4.42 ERA in 22 starts

Take away his numbers against the Sox, and Guthrie is the same mediocre bum he's always been. I can't believe the Royals wasted $25 million on him, but give them credit, they do have almost an automatic win every time he pitches against the Sox.

Guthrie will pitch Friday night against Chicago. The Sox have fallen on hard times lately. They've lost 17 of their last 22 games. I dare say Guthrie is about the last pitcher they want to face at this time. But that's the situation the South Siders find themselves in Friday in Kansas City.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chris Sale gets the shaft in loss to Astros

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale struck out 14 Houston Astros Friday night. He allowed no earned runs on five hits over eight strong innings.

And he lost.

Only the Sox could find a way to lose a game like this. In fact, Sale became just the third pitcher since 1912 to strike out 14 batters in a losing effort. When a guy accumulates 14 Ks and still loses, that's proof positive he's got a crap team playing behind him.

How could something like this happen? Well, Alexei Ramirez isn't a good shortstop anymore. That's how.

Ramirez committed two errors in the same inning. Those errors were sandwiched around a walk and an infield single, giving the Astros the only two runs they would need in a 2-1 victory.

The Sox could have overcome those two errors if they could have managed three runs off journeyman left-hander Erik Bedard, whose ERA was up over five until the Sox rolled into Houston. Bedard fired six innings of one-run ball and earned the win. Yet another opportunity for the Sox to "tip their cap" to a pitcher that everybody else in the league hits.

These days, it seems White Sox offense is the cure for whatever ails bad pitchers. Bring the Sox your tired and your poor, and they'll lower his inflated ERA with no problem at all.

In a season like this, you get used to losing. The Sox are 28-36. They've probably got another good 50 or 55 losses in them before the year is over. But every now and then, a loss galls you more than some of the others.

This loss Friday night was an example of a galling loss. When a starting pitcher turns in the kind of effort Sale turned in, that should be an easy win -- especially playing against a Houston team that owns the worst record in the league.

But that's not the way it works for the Sox. This season, they have put on a clinic in beating themselves. Perhaps Friday's loss was the worst one of all.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Here's why the Tigers won't be challenged in the AL Central ...

... they avoid long losing streaks.

It seems simple enough. Right now, Detroit is the only team in the AL Central with a record above .500. Here are the standings entering play on June 12:

Detroit 36-27
Cleveland 31-33, 5.5 GB
Kansas City 29-33, 6.5 GB
Minnesota 28-33, 7 GB
White Sox 28-35, 8 GB

Would you believe the Tigers are the only team in the division that has not suffered a losing streak of eight games or more? Detroit's longest skid this season is four games. They haven't shot themselves in the foot like other clubs in this division:

Cleveland had an eight-game losing streak that started June 2 and ended Tuesday night with a 5-2 win over Texas. During that stretch, the Indians got swept by Detroit. They were just a half-game out of first when that slide started. Now, they are 5.5 back. The flaws in their pitching staff have really shown up recently. The Tribe allowed 51 runs, over 6 runs per game, during that eight-game skid. The Indians rank 13th in the AL in pitching. That's not a recipe for season-long contention.

Kansas City had an eight-game losing streak from May 22 to May 29. The Royals offense swirled right down the toilet during that stretch. They scored only 14 runs in those eight games and fell a season-worst 7.5 games off the AL Central lead. The poor hitting has caused KC to turn to a franchise legend, George Brett, as hitting coach. It remains to be seen whether he can help Mike Moustakas get out of a season-long slump, or figure out what happened to Eric Hosmer's power stroke. The Royals have hit a league-low 32 home runs this year. Hosmer has just one home run as we approach mid-June. 

Minnesota was the consensus pick to finish last in the division this year, and I won't be shocked if that comes to pass. The Twins are ahead of the White Sox for now, but I think the Sox will pass them by before all is said and done. Minnesota lost 10 games in a row from May 14 to May 24. That long losing streak won't be the Twins' last. This team has four starting pitchers with an ERA over 5. Opening Day starter Vance Worley has been a complete bust, going 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA. P.J. Walters is the Twins' best pitcher right now. Ick.

The White Sox briefly got back to .500 on May 26 after completing a three-game sweep of the hapless Miami Marlins. Just when you thought it was safe to wear your Sox cap with pride again, the team tanked, losing eight straight from May 27 until June 4. The main culprit was the offense. The Sox are 14th in the league in runs, batting average and slugging percentage. They are dead last in on-base percentage.They were shut out three times during the losing streak and scored only 15 runs during those eight games. Sadly, it looks like longtime star Paul Konerko's career is all but over. He's got only six home runs. He's basically a 37-year-old singles hitter with no speed and a .647 OPS. The Sox have built their lineup around Konerko for years, but Father Time is knocking loudly for the team captain.

Meanwhile, the Tigers keep humming along at a consistent pace. They are winning roughly four out of every seven games they play. They probably won't hit the 100-win mark, as many people expected them to coming into the year, but they don't need to. They'll likely finish between 92 and 95 wins, and that will be more than enough to win the division.

Back in the mid- to late-1990s, the AL Central was called "The Comedy Central." Cleveland had dominant teams and everyone else stunk. We're back to that point now, except that Detroit is now the team dominating. Every other team in this division has significant work to do before it can call itself a legitimate contender.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why wasn't John Lackey ejected for plunking Matt Joyce?

It's always interesting how umpires handle the assorted bean ball wars that break out from time to time in Major League Baseball.

On several occasions, I've seen pitchers unfairly tossed for hitting a batter. Other times, a pitcher plunks a guy intentionally and somehow gets away with it.

Such was the case in Monday's game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox won 10-8 in 14 innings, but the contest was marred by a bench-clearing scrum in the sixth inning.

The principle combatants were Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (pictured) and Rays outfielder Matt Joyce.

Joyce homered off Lackey in the first inning. In a later at-bat, he lined a 3-0 pitch deep and foul into the right-field stands. After hitting the foul ball, Joyce dropped his bat and appeared to admire the blast as it landed harmlessly in foul territory. Lackey took exception to the display. After retiring Joyce, he had some choice words for the Tampa Bay hitter on his way off the field.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Joyce came to the plate again with two outs and nobody on. If you're ever going to hit somebody, two outs and nobody on is the ideal situation. Lackey took advantage, drilling Joyce in the back, right between the numbers. Anyone with an IQ over 15 knows it was intentional after the events that had taken place earlier in the game. The benches emptied. Order was eventually restored, yet for some reason Lackey was allowed to stay in the game.

I've seen pitchers get ejected for far, far less than that. If you were umpiring this game, how could you not know that inside pitch was intentional?

Now, to be fair, you can make a good case Joyce had it coming to him. It's dumb to stand in the batters box and admire a long foul ball. In addition, Lackey faced only one more batter after the plunking, so his being allowed to stay in the game had zero impact on the outcome of the game.

That said, if umpires are supposed to eject pitchers for intentionally throwing at hitters, Lackey should have been tossed. The enforcement of these rules seem to vary from umpiring crew to umpiring crew, and that shouldn't be. There's gotta be a better way to handle these situations, right?