Thursday, December 31, 2015

Scott Kazmir signs 3-year deal with Dodgers

It's always been comical to me the past couple years listening to people complain about the White Sox having "too many left-handers" in their starting rotation.

If you think the Sox have too many lefties, take a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' projected rotation for 2016.

The Dodgers signed free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir to a three-year deal reportedly worth $48 million on Wednesday, adding him to a group of starting pitching options that includes ace Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and Hyun-jin Ryu.

Yes, all five of those pitchers are left-handed.

The Dodgers whiffed on their two right-handed starting pitching targets. They failed to retain free agent Zack Greinke, who eventually signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and their deal with Hisashi Iwakuma fell apart after a failed physical. Iwakuma eventually re-signed with the Seattle Mariners.

That left the Dodgers desperate for starting pitching, and they ended up signing the guy who was probably the best available arm remaining on the market at this point. Kazmir had a 3.10 ERA in 31 combined starts with the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros last year. His stuff should translate well as he switches over to the National League.

The only "problem" for the Dodgers here is that Kazmir is left-handed, just like all their other starters. But to me, that's really no problem at all. I think you have to find five guys who can pitch and go with them, regardless of what hand they use to throw the ball.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Twittersphere full of rumors linking White Sox to Yoenis Cespedes

It wasn't a surprise when FOXSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal tweeted Tuesday that the White Sox remain active in trying to sign a free-agent outfielder to fortify the middle of their batting order. Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon were named as possible acquisitions.

No new information there, really. That was more confirmation of what we already suspect.

But then there was this tweet from national baseball reporter Jesse Sanchez, which has the Sox and the Baltimore Orioles as the front-runners for Cespedes. The Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers also are in the mix.

An article published Tuesday on Yahoo! Sports has the Sox listed as the No. 2 team (behind the Giants) most in need of signing Cespedes.

There's been so much discussion surrounding Cespedes this week that it feels like he could be making a decision within the next few days. As it stands right now, the Sox's payroll is in the $115 million range for 2016 with the additions of Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro this offseason.

Will they be willing to stretch a little farther to close a deal with Cespedes?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Yankees acquire closer Aroldis Chapman at a bargain price

The New York Yankees made an unexpected trade Monday, acquiring closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for four minor-league players.

The move is surprising because Chapman is under investigation by Major League Baseball for an alleged domestic violence incident that involved gunshots and the choking of his girlfriend. No criminal charges were filed, but that does not mean Chapman will not be suspended under MLB's domestic violence policy. One might argue a suspension is likely, in fact, and that cloud of suspicion nixed a trade of Chapman to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early December.

Given the circumstances, it was assumed that Chapman would be impossible for the Reds to trade, but the Yankees are willing to take the risk. There are three reasons why New York would make this deal:

1. The price in prospects was not high. The Reds acquired right-handed pitchers Caleb Cotham and Rookie Davis, plus infielders Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda. Raise your hand if you've heard of any of them. I have not. These are not blue-chippers. The Yankees did not have to give up any of the crown jewels of their farm system to acquire a 27-year-old closer who has accumulated 145 saves over the past four seasons.

2. The Yankees now have a devastating back end of the bullpen that rivals, and perhaps betters, that of the world champion Kansas City Royals. Baseball's top three relievers in strikeouts per nine innings during the 2015 campaign were Chapman (15.74 Ks. per 9 IP), Andrew Miller (14.59) and Dellin Betances (14.04). All of them now play for New York. If all three of those guys are healthy and effective, how many games do you suppose the Yankees are going to blow in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning? Probably not too many.

3. New York also might luck into an extra year of team control with Chapman. Right now, the left-hander is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. But, let's say he is suspended for 40 games for the domestic violence incident. He would lose that service time, and accordingly, his free agency would be delayed until the conclusion of the 2017 season. Sure, the Yankees would lose him during the suspension, but they'd still have him closing games for the next season and a half once the suspension is over.

This trade isn't the most PR-savvy thing for the Yankees to do. They will be rightfully criticized for acquiring a player with as much off-the-field baggage as Chapman, but you can see why this move could be a steal from a purely baseball perspective.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What would the White Sox's 25-man roster look like if the season started today?

Today is Dec. 28, so there still is a long way until the White Sox open the season April 4 in Oakland. But, some offseason moves have been made, and we're a little less than two months away from pitchers and catchers reporting. So, let's take a look at what the 25-man roster might look like if the season started today, which, of course, it does not:
Todd Frazier

Starting pitchers:
1. Chris Sale
2. Jose Quintana
3. Carlos Rodon
4. John Danks
5. Erik Johnson

Relief pitchers:
1. David Robertson
2. Nate Jones
3. Zach Duke
4. Zach Putnam
5. Jake Petricka
6. Tommy Kahnle
7. Dan Jennings

Catchers:
1. Alex Avila
2. Dioner Navarro

Infielders:
1. Jose Abreu
2. Todd Frazier
3. Brett Lawrie
4. Adam LaRoche
5. Tyler Saladino
6. Carlos Sanchez
7. Leury Garcia

Outfielders:
1. Adam Eaton
2. Melky Cabrera
3. Avisail Garcia
4. J.B. Shuck

The catching situation and the infield look a lot better than they did at the end of last season. Avila and Navarro figure to be upgrades over Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto.

If Frazier comes anywhere close to duplicating the 35 home runs, 43 doubles and 13 stolen bases he posted with the Cincinnati Reds last season, he's a huge upgrade at third base for the Sox. Heck, if he does even half that, he's a huge upgrade. Lawrie's defense could be hit or miss, but his bat will almost certainly be an major improvement over Sanchez at second base. Right now, it looks like Sanchez and Saladino will compete for the starting shortstop position in spring, unless another move is made.

What do the Sox still need? Well, they need outfield help. Another middle-of-the-order bat is required. Frazier will help provide protection in the lineup for Abreu, but the Sox need another guy to help them push the declining LaRoche to the bench and to the margins of the roster. There has been talk of the Sox being interested in free agent Alex Gordon, who is an elite defensive outfielder, but he's probably not a solution as a middle-of-the-order bat. Two other free agents, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton, are power-producing outfielders, but it's unclear if the Sox are willing to open the pocketbook for a home run hitter this offseason. They better, if they are serious about winning in 2016.

One other thing the Sox need to do: Add an innings-eating veteran to help the rotation. It's been exciting to watch Rodon's development over the past year and half since the Sox drafted him, but he's still never thrown 200 innings in a big-league season. He'll probably still have an innings limit in 2016. Johnson also is unproven, so it would behoove the Sox to have a fallback option who can make spot starts and work in long relief. There's no need to look for a high-priced pitcher or an ace, just someone who can be signed on a one-year deal. Some pitchers who fit this profile might include Doug Fister, Ross Detwiler, Bud Norris, Kyle Kendrick and Colby Lewis.

We'll see what other moves the Sox might have in store as the calendar turns to January.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Christmas White Sox poem from Tom Braxton

A tribute to Clement C. Moore's iconic poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas."


‘Twas the night before Christmas as evening wore through,
We two fans debated what Rick Hahn should do.
The offseason wish was that springtime would yield
Players who could hit but who also could field.
The cranky South Siders were snug in their thoughts,
Certain that Rick had to fill several spots.

My friend in his hoodie and I in my toque
Had just settled down with a rum and a Coke.
When out on the web there arose such a surge,
My monitor’s pixels all started to merge.
I sprang to my keyboard, preparing to read
And saw that the rumor mill ran at full speed.


The glow on the face of the LCD screen
Gave the luster of late nights with too much caffeine.
When what to my cynical eyes should appear
But suggestions that Cespedes might be next year.
And another outfielder as we collect names,
I saw Justin Upton, among other claims.

But rapid as eagles some names fell away,
And we whistled and shouted and called them by name:
“On Flowers! On Beckham! On Soto! On Shark!
Don’t let the gate slam as you leave the ball park!
Avila! Navarro! Now show off your powers
To make us forget that out-machine, Flowers!”

“To the top of the race! To the wall that is green!
Your numbers will shine on the high-tech new screen!”
So up on my Android the names they all flew,
With holes still agape at base three and base two.
As I drew back my finger and lay off the keys,
Two more names appeared that would cause me to freeze.

A wink of the screen, with its refresh begun
Soon gave us to know that Rick Hahn was not done.
He spoke but few words, quotes just for the press,
And turned to fill third base, and second, we’d guess.
First it was Lawrie, that high-octane scamp,
Then it was Frazier, Home Run-Derby champ.

And laying a finger on top of the screen
And giving a nod, we reviewed what we’d seen.
We sprang to the bar, to the place gave a shout,
And ordered two beers, one lite and one stout.
And they heard us exclaim as we drank and we said,
“Who needs Cespedes? Sign Buehrle instead!”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

White Sox remake their catching situation

Alex Avila
When the 2016 season opens, the White Sox will have two new catchers.

Tyler Flowers' three-year reign as the Sox's No. 1 backstop ended Wednesday when the team opted to non-tender him. Last year's backup catcher, Geovany Soto, signed Nov. 24 with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Sox will turn to longtime Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila as their main guy behind the plate next year. Avila signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million on Nov. 25.

When Sox GM Rick Hahn announced the non-tendering of Flowers on Wednesday, he said the move was "part of a plan," and that the club saw an opportunity to upgrade the position offensively.

Reports indicate 12-year veteran Dioner Navarro is set to sign a one-year deal with the Sox to be the second catcher.

What do we make of this? Well, assuming Avila is healthy (he played only 67 games last year because of knee issues), this is a platoon system that should work.

Avila, 28, a left-handed hitter, can't hit lefties at all. But if he achieves his career slash of .251/.358/.423 against right-handed pitching, this is a good pickup for the Sox. I don't think anyone would complain about a .781 OPS from a platoon catcher.

Even in a generally lousy, injury-plagued 2015, Avila had a .355 OBP against right-handed pitching. In case you were wondering, Flowers never posted an OBP over .300 in any of his three seasons as a full-time catcher.

Avila can't hit lefties, which brings us to the switch-hitting Navarro. The 31-year-old is a lifetime .255 hitter with a .688 career OPS, but check out the splits:

Navarro vs. LHP: .270/.336/.439
Navarro vs. RHP: .249/.305/.353

So, Navarro has a career .775 OPS against left-handed pitching. Avila has a career .781 OPS against right-handed pitcher. Platoon these guys in matchups favorable for them, and you might see some good things offensively from White Sox catchers for a change.

Flowers has a career .665 OPS, so the bar for improvement is not high. If used properly, Avila and Navarro have a good chance to clear it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

White Sox decline team option on Alexei Ramirez

The White Sox on Wednesday declined to pick up a $10 million option on shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

The club instead opted to buy out Ramirez's contract for $1 million. The veteran will become a free agent on Saturday, and the Sox could still bring Ramirez back in 2016 on a smaller contract.

Ramirez has spent eight years on the South Side, and he enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 2014. During that year, he hit .273 with 15 home runs and 74 RBIs and won the Silver Slugger Award. He also was a finalist for the Gold Glove.

However, Ramirez regressed in 2015, hitting just .249 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. His OPS dropped from .713 in 2014 to .642 this year.

Despite that regression, this move comes as a bit of a surprise, because top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson is considered to be about a year away from breaking into the big leagues. Many observers, including me, thought Ramirez would return for one more season as a stopgap, keeping the spot warm for Anderson in 2017. Instead, the Sox appear to be moving in a different direction.

The other internal option is Tyler Saladino, who is a capable defensive shortstop, but figures to struggle with the bat. Saladino hit just .225 with a .602 OPS in 254 plate appearances after the Sox called him up in July.

The list of free-agent shortstops this offseason is not a strong one. The best names out there (besides Ramirez) are Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins and Asdrubal Cabrera. Desmond is probably the most attractive option of that group, but he will probably get more than a one-year deal, which wouldn't make much sense for the Sox.

It's impossible to judge this move without seeing how the decision fits into the bigger picture of the offseason. There are only two conclusions we can draw today:
  1. The Sox saved themselves $9 million, which could allow them to be bigger players in free agency; and 
  2. The Sox have added shortstop to their list of offseason questions marks. 
The hot stove season is just beginning, and as always, it promises to be interesting. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

White Sox claim Jacob Turner off waivers from Cubs

Remember when Jacob Turner was a top-30 prospect and one of the jewels of the Detroit Tigers farm system? Well, now he's a White Sox reclamation project.

The South Siders claimed the 24-year-old off waivers from the Cubs this week. Turner did not pitch in the majors in 2015, spending most of the year on the 60-day disabled list because of a strained right flexor tendon and right shoulder inflammation.

The Tigers took the right-hander with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. In July 2012, Detroit made Turner the centerpiece of a deal with the Miami Marlins that netted them pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante.

Turner made 20 respectable starts for the Marlins in 2013, going 3-8 with a 3.74 ERA in 118 innings. But he imploded in 2014, compiling a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts). Miami designated him for assignment, and he eventually got traded to the Cubs for two minor leaguers.

Turner pitched even worse for the Cubs the last couple months of 2014 (6.49 ERA in 34.2 IP), and hasn't been seen in the majors since.

This is a classic example of the Sox taking a flier on a guy who is still young. He obviously has some talent, based on draft position and previous prospect rankings. It is more than likely he is just a bust, but if that's the case, the Sox will simply cut him next March. There is no harm in taking a look at a guy such as Turner in spring training.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happy 10th anniversary, White Sox fans


As White Sox fans, we focus a lot on the final three outs of the 2005 World Series. Sometimes, it gets lost what a great game Freddy Garcia pitched on Oct. 26, 2005. This video captures his performance nicely.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Would Manny Acta be the right bench coach to work with White Sox manager Robin Ventura?

We mentioned earlier this week that former Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta is one of the candidates for bench coach of the White Sox.

Below are some Acta quotes taken from this FanGraphs interview in 2012. I'm posting this because I agree with most of Acta's remarks here, and I think some of these ideas could be beneficial for White Sox manager Robin Ventura 

Lineup construction

"The main thing is scoring runs, so you need to stack up your best hitters up front. You forget about trying to put a guy in the second spot just because he can hit-and-run and bunt. After the first six hitters, you should put your best hitters in front of the [lesser] hitters. The bottom of your order should be the bottom. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of having a second leadoff hitter. I don’t like putting a guy in the nine-hole who should be hitting in the seven- or eight-hole. To me, you have to maximize at bats. Your better hitters should have a shot at getting that extra at bat." 

The top of the order
"Speed at the top is important, but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get on base. It’s been proven over the years. Guys like Wade Boggs had no speed, but if you have a high on-base guy, you have a better chance of scoring runs than if you have a guy leading off who can’t steal first base. The guy who hits first obviously has to be an on-base-percentage guy. Then you go from there." 

The middle of the lineup
"Like I said, I’m not a big believer in the second hitter being a guy who can just put the bat on the ball. I think that spot is one of the most important parts of your lineup. Then I believe that the third hitter should be your best hitter in your lineup. Period. I’ve never been a big advocate of having your best hitter hit cleanup. I think he should hit in the first inning and not sometimes lead off the next inning with nobody on.

"Your cleanup hitter has to hit for extra bases. That’s a big part of his job. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to tell you that I don’t want to put a singles hitter there just because he can drive in some runs with ground balls. He has to carry some fear with him when he comes to the plate, so that my best hitter sees some pitches." 

The sacrifice bunt

"I’m not big on bunting guys from first to second. I don’t think it’s a secret, because the facts are out there. It’s been proven that a guy has a better chance of scoring from first with no outs than from second with one out. I have to have way too much of an advantage late in the game, bullpen-wise and great hitters lined up, to do that. At first and second with no outs, I usually only do it with the bottom of the order, or maybe the top guy in the order, depending on how he’s swinging the bat. It guarantees me a runner on third with less than two out and another runner in scoring position. But I probably won’t if we need multiple runs. If it’s the heart of my order, it won’t happen."

Think back to some of the lineup decisions Ventura made in 2015, and in previous years, that made you scratch your head. It would be nice if Ventura had someone on his staff to tell him the second hitter in the lineup shouldn't be a strictly a hit-and-run or bunt guy. It's not a good idea to have weaker hitters such Tyler Saladino or Gordon Beckham hitting second, yet we have seen that lineup construction over and over again under Ventura.

Also, Jose Abreu should never hit cleanup. Ventura would sometimes put him in that spot against left-handed pitching, and it always made me cringe. Like Acta, I'm a big believer in making sure the best hitter gets an AB in the first inning. Abreu should not be hitting lower than third in the Sox batting order.

Avisail Garcia also should never hit cleanup, albeit for a different reason. Garcia had only 32 extra-base hits in 601 plate appearances in 2015. He had no power to speak of, so why did he start 40 games in the cleanup spot? You got me.

I've never been able to get my mind around Ventura's philosophy on bunting. He often bunts when I think he shouldn't, and he often doesn't bunt when I think he should. I'm generally not big on giving away outs, so Acta's philosophy is agreeable to me overall.

One other thing I'll say about Acta: His record as a manager stinks. His .418 winning percentage in six seasons is pathetic, but the main criticism of him is he doesn't know how to relate to players. We've been told that player relations is a strength of Ventura's, and I have no reason to doubt that is the case. Ventura has his clubhouse under control. What he needs is some help when it comes to in-game strategy. Whether that comes from Acta or somebody else, that needs to be the point of emphasis for the Sox in hiring a new bench coach.

Mets complete NLCS sweep of Cubs

Daniel Murphy is the first player in baseball history with at least four total bases in six consecutive postseason games. That's probably because he's first player to hit a home run in six consecutive playoff games. The New York second baseman took Cubs reliever Fernando Rodney deep in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday night to set that record, as the Mets beat the Cubs, 8-3, to complete a four-game sweep of the National League Championship Series.

New York will face the Kansas City-Toronto winner in the World Series.

It's getting late, so I'll just offer a few bullet points from this game:

  • Why on earth did Cubs manager Joe Maddon start Jason Hammel in a do-or-die game? Granted, Jon Lester on short rest is no sure bet, but nobody should be surprised that Hammel got pummeled. He gave up five runs, all earned, in just 1.1 innings. The Cubs were behind 4-0 just six batters into the game, and the crowd at Wrigley Field was full of long, ashen faces. That was a nightmarish start for the Cubs, and a dream come true for anyone cheering for the Mets. Maddon is considered a genius by many in the Chicago media, but starting Hammel is this game was a terrible move, an indefensible decision.
  • Power pitching will always beat power hitting. The Cubs have a lineup full of dangerous hitters, but they can't score if they don't hit home runs. The Mets outhomered the Cubs, 3-1, on Wednesday and 7-4 in the series. The Mets have four quality pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Those power arms in the New York rotation gave up a grand total of six runs to Cubs hitters in four games. For the most part, they kept the Cubs in the park and off the scoreboard. As a team, the Cubs hit just .164 in the four-game series.
  • Enough with the silly Cubs narratives, man. A lot of people ask me why so many White Sox fans (such as myself) refuse to cheer for the Cubs. Well, there are a couple reasons, but most of all, I'm weary of the storylines that seem to follow the Cubs. I'm tired of hearing about omens and curses and black cats and "Maddon magic" and various other hocus-pocus. Movie scripts that were written decades ago should not be taken as prophecy. The Red Sox rallying from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS has nothing to do with the 2015 NLCS. Nothing. There are no dead people looking down from heaven to make a ball disappear in the ivy. None of these extraneous factors have any impact on the outcome of ballgames.
Remember, the Cubs did not lose to the Mets because they are cursed. They lost because New York is a better team than they are. In fact, the Cubs are not cursed at all. They haven't won the World Series in 107 years because they've never fielded a good enough team to get the job done. 

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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

White Sox search for new bench coach continues

Manny Acta
The White Sox are searching for a new bench coach after relieving Mark Parent of his duties during the last week of the regular season.

According to a report by Scott Merkin of MLB.com, sources say former managers Manny Acta and Rick Renteria are on the Sox's list, along with Raul Ibanez, who played with five teams during a 19-year career in the major leagues.

The Sox also talked to former catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who is currently the first-base coach for the Cleveland Indians, but multiple sources are confirming Alomar Jr. is not a candidate for the position.

My guess is we won't see the Sox move real quickly on this. There's always a chance the team is waiting to speak with a coach whose team is still participating in the playoffs. In addition, there are four managerial openings around MLB (Florida, San Diego, Seattle, Washington). Potential bench coach candidates for the Sox also could be candidates for those managerial openings. More dominoes could fall once those hires are made.

Yoenis Cespedes' steal of third base: Most overlooked important play in NLCS Game 3

The Cubs played a lousy defensive game Tuesday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The New York Mets took advantage of most of their opportunities and got strong pitching from Jacob deGrom to earn a 5-2 victory at Wrigley Field. The Mets now have a 3-0 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.

Here in Chicago, some of the postgame laments are focusing on a couple misplays in left field by Kyle Schwarber, and a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill in the top of the sixth inning that allowed New York's Yoenis Cespedes to score the go-ahead and eventual winning run. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez made an error on the first play of the game, and right fielder Jorge Soler also had a horrible misplay in the sixth inning, so there were no shortage of defensive gaffes by the Cubs.

But the most overlooked important play in the game proceeded Cahill's wild pitch. With Cespedes on second base and one out in a 2-2 game, the Cubs' middle infielders, Baez and Starlin Castro, fell asleep. They were not holding Cespedes close, and he got a huge jump on Cahill and stole third base with ease.

The Mets successfully stole third base just five times during the regular season, but this is the fourth time one of their baserunners has swiped third in the postseason. New York is being more aggressive in the playoffs. The Cubs should have caught on to that by now, but apparently not.

That stolen base put Cespedes at third with just one out, which is always crucial. As it turns out, Cahill made the big pitch he needed to get the second out. Travis d'Arnaud grounded out to third base, and Cespedes could not advance. Michael Conforto then struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt, but the ball skipped past Cubs catcher Miguel Montero all the way to the screen. Conforto reached first safely on the dropped third strike, while Cespedes raced down the line to put the Mets up 3-2.

They tacked on two more in the seventh, with help from a Schwarber misplay, but do you think that steal of third base was crucial? You bet it was. That wild pitch means nothing if Cespedes is still standing on second base.

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.

A White Sox fan's reaction to the Cubs playing in October

My good friend, Tom Braxton, has penned this poem in the same verse as Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."

As always, it is brilliant work:

Once upon a barstool dreary, while I pondered, dim and beery,
Over many a tired and tedious volume of old Bill James lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a yapping,
As of someone just recapping, flapping gums about some score.
“’Tis some blusterer,” I muttered, “flapping gums about some score.
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was far beyond September,
And each bumbling Sox defender left me with an open sore.
Eagerly I wished the springtime; vainly I had missed the pastime
That provided dreams of bigtime – bigtime games in South Side lore –
For the rare, triumphant Series when the champagne dared to pour –
Ten years past, and nothing more.

And the distant sound of boasting as the revelers were toasting
Thrilled me – filled me with the memory of joys I’d felt before;
So that now, to stop the bruising of my ears, I tried deducing,
“’Tis some family just boozing down the hall and through the door –
Some crowd just came a-cruising late tonight and through the door –
That it is, and nothing more.”

Finally my nerves got stronger; wasting time not any longer,
“Folks,” said I, “or family, may I ask what lies in store?
The fact was I was drinking, and all the while was thinking,
And your happy glasses clinking, clinking gaily through the door,
Brought me to a mind to join you” – here I walked on through the door;
Cub fans there, and nothing more.

Deep into their blankness staring, long I stood there, lost, despairing,
Baffled, building thoughts I’ve thought of many times before.
But their cheer was unrelenting, none among them were dissenting,
As they spoke of Schwarber sending homers further than before.
And I wondered as their chorus mumbled back the words, “He’ll score!”
Dreams of madness, nothing more.

It was then I saw no mystery, pointing out their dismal history,
As I reminded them of crashes that had gone so long before.
Not the least attention paid they; not a set of facts had made hay
With the stern conviction they say that would bring them safe to shore.
And my stronger stern conviction naming one they all abhor –
“Think of Bartman, nothing more.”

Then the Cub fans were beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the vapid, empty manner of the countenance they wore.
“Though thy jersey may say ‘Bryant,’ I don’t think that if you tried it
You could not maintain a scorebook as was done in days of yore.
You must understand the balk, the bunt, the meaning of ball four.
Quoth the Cub fan, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, fan or fake,” I cried, upstarting.
“I’ll go back into the South Side and the black hats we adore!
Leave no T-shirt as a remnant of those guys who’ll miss the pennant!
Leave me be in my resentment! I leave you through that barroom door!
Take thy ivy from my face, and take thy phony Cub d├ęcor!”
Quoth the Cub fan, “Nevermore.”

And the Cub fan, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the greenish planks of bleacher high above the grounds-crew door.
And his eyes have but the interest of a picture dumped in Pinterest,
And the iPhone light that’s simplest casts his shadow on the floor.
And my soul from that long shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija turns in the worst performance of his career

The end of the 2015 regular season is less than three weeks away. It can't come soon enough for White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is enduring a baffling terrible second half.

Samardzija turned in the worst start of his career Tuesday night as the Sox absorbed a 17-6 pounding at the hands of the Oakland Athletics.

The right-hander put the Sox in a 5-0 hole in the first inning. He failed to make it through the fourth inning -- he didn't record an out in that fourth, in fact -- an inning in which the Athletics would score 10 runs.

Samardzija's final line: 3 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BBs, 3 Ks.

From June 7 through July 28, Samardzija posted 10 straight starts of seven innings pitched or more. His season highlight came July 9 when he threw a four-hit shutout against the best offensive team in the league, the Toronto Blue Jays.

But since Aug. 1, it has all gone very wrong. Samardzija is 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA since that date. On Tuesday, he became just the third pitcher in MLB history to allow nine or more earned runs in a game three times in the same season. The others are Jaime Navarro (1997) and Brett Tomko (2003).

Sox fans are all too familiar with Navarro, and he's unfortunately become a convenient comparison to make with Samardzija.

Navarro, like Samardzija, pitched for the Cubs before joining the Sox and had a respectable amount of success. Navarro went a combined 29-18 with a 3.62 ERA from 1995-96 on the North Side. In 1997, he moved eight miles south to the White Sox and put up poor numbers that rival those of Samardzija this season.

Navarro (1997 White Sox): 9-14, 5.79 ERA, 1.622 WHIP
Samardzija (2015 White Sox): 9-13, 5.27 ERA, 1.354 WHIP

Of course, Navarro was a free-agent acquisition who was making some bucks with the Sox, so that meant his spot in the rotation remained secure no matter how poorly he performed. From 1997-99, he made 87 starts for the South Siders, went 25-43 with a 6.06 ERA and stole $5 million a year from Jerry Reinsdorf. That was big money in late 1990s dollars.

The good news for Sox fans is the Samardzija train wreck won't continue on for three years like the Navarro disaster did. Samardzija's contract is up at the end of the season. You have to believe both the player and team are eager to move on.

Position players pitching in September

Another sign of White Sox mismanagement: Two position players pitched in Tuesday's debacle. Utility man Leury Garcia worked a scoreless eighth inning, while shortstop Alexei Ramirez pitched a scoreless ninth.

Sure, the Sox bullpen has been used a lot this week. Chris Sale lasted only three innings in a Sunday loss to the Minnesota Twins. Monday's game lasted 14 innings, and as we've chronicled, Samardzija was knocked out early Tuesday. But with the September roster expansion, a team shouldn't need to resort to risking the health of position players to eat up innings on the mound.

I'm baffled as to why the Sox didn't allow a Quad-A innings-eater such as Scott Carroll or Junior Guerra to join the roster for the last month of the year. Either of those two men could have saved the Sox some embarrassment in this latest loss.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

John Danks has the lowest WHIP of any White Sox starter in the second half of the season

An absurd ninth-inning meltdown by Tyler Flowers and David Robertson prevented White Sox left-hander John Danks from picking up his eighth victory of the season Monday night, but it didn't change the fact that Danks turned in a quality outing in the Sox's 8-7, 14-inning win over the last-place Oakland Athletics.

Danks went seven innings, allowing just three hits. Granted, all of them were solo home runs, but can anyone really complain about the so-called No. 5 starter giving up three runs over seven innings? I don't believe so.

The overall numbers don't look great for Danks; he's 7-12 with a 4.56 ERA this year. But I'll bet you didn't know he has the lowest WHIP of any Sox starter since the All-Star break. His ERA is the second lowest over that same span, behind only Jose Quintana, who has been the Sox's best pitcher over the last two months.

Here are the second-half numbers for each member of the Sox rotation:

1. Quintana: 5-1, 3.28 ERA, 1.369 WHIP
2. Danks 3-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
3. Carlos Rodon 4-4, 4.10 ERA, 1.298 WHIP
4. Chris Sale 4-5, 5.00 ERA, 1.302 WHIP
5. Jeff Samardzija 3-8, 6.46 ERA, 1.450 WHIP

Not sure what to make of all this, other than to say this isn't the way the Sox drew it up. Quintana has done his job, but Sale and Samardzija are supposed to be the two best pitchers. Samardzija has been consistently terrible. Sale has been up and down, mainly because he keeps inexplicably getting roughed up by the Minnesota Twins.

One thing we can say: Danks is not responsible for the Sox's inability to make a second-half push. He stunk the first half, yes, but he's routinely done his job in more recent outings -- including Monday night.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Carlos Rodon makes fourth straight quality start

I've heard comments from a lot of White Sox fans who feel the team "rushed" rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon to the big leagues. Some believe the Sox screwed up by starting Rodon's "service clock" this year during a non-contending season.

Hogwash.

Rodon wouldn't be learning a thing if he were in Charlotte overmatching Triple-A hitters. The best thing for his development is to be challenged by facing major league hitters. And, frankly, Rodon has had a respectable -- if not good -- rookie campaign.

Consider this: Rodon has made 19 starts this year, and the Sox are 12-7 in those games. That's not too shabby when you consider the Sox are 60-66 overall. There have been times where Rodon has been awful, such as this outing on July 31 vs. the Yankees, but more often than not, he's held up well and given the Sox a chance to win on the day he pitches.

In addition, he's trending the right way. Rodon has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last four starts. He's gone 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA during that stretch. His command has been spotty at times. He's walked 11 over his last 28 innings, but he's also struck out 29 during that same span.

But here's the thing that's most encouraging to me about Rodon's recent work: He performed well even when he was facing a team that was seeing him for a second time in quick succession.

On Aug. 11, Rodon turned in the best start of his young career against the Los Angeles Angels. He fired seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits while striking out 11 in a 3-0 victory.

Six days later, he faced that same Angels lineup. A lot of times with rookies, you wonder if they'll trip up "the second time through the league." Whatever adjustments Los Angeles made, they didn't work that well. Rodon's second start against the Angels was the longest of his career, eight innings of two-run ball. Once again, he allowed just four hits. The Sox lost, 2-1, but it wasn't because Rodon didn't hold up his end of the deal.

Next, Rodon faced the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 22. He went seven innings, allowing just one earned run and six hits with eight strikeouts. He got a no-decision in a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings.

Five days later, on Thursday, Rodon found himself looking at the same Seattle lineup. Would the Mariners make adjustments and get to him the second time around?

Nope.

Rodon earned the victory in the Sox's 4-2 win, allowing just two runs on three hits over six-plus innings.

Even veteran pitchers will tell you it can be hard to face the same lineup twice in quick succession. Rodon has been in that situation twice this month and handled himself quite well. That goes to show he's far enough along in his development that the Sox's decision to bring him to the majors when they did was the right one, service clock be damned.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chris Sale closing in on White Sox franchise record for strikeouts

With the White Sox languishing at 59-66 in late August, it can be hard to manufacture much enthusiasm for the remaining 37 games of the season.

That said, Chris Sale's starts should remain appointment TV for Sox fans. Sale got the shaft from his teammates (again) Wednesday night, receiving a no-decision after firing seven shutout innings in Chicago's 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Sale struck out seven Boston hitters Wednesday to increase his season total to a personal-best 229. (He struck out 226 during the 2013 season.) Why does that matter, you ask? Well, Sale is closing in a club record that has stood for more than a century.

Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh holds the Sox record for strikeouts in a single season. He fanned 269 hitters in 1908; that's 107 years ago. Sale's 229 strikeouts this year stand as a modern-era record, and he needs just 41 more to set a new all-time franchise mark.

We'll assume the Sox will not push Sale too hard in September with the team out of the race, but it's reasonable to believe the ace left-hander will start about six of the remaining 37 games. Sale is averaging just more than nine strikeouts per start this season, so if he continues that pace for six more starts, he would end up with about 283 strikeouts. Walsh's record would fall.

As Sox fans, we have no hope of any team glory this year, so use the rest of this season to appreciate the individual greatness of Sale. This is a team record that nobody has come close to touching in our lifetimes. It's possible, maybe even likely, that it will be broken sometime in the next six weeks.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trayce Thompson: The right-handed platoon bat the Sox have been looking for?

It's no secret the White Sox are not a good hitting team, but their offensive woes are particularly acute against left-handed pitching. Here are the Sox's team hitting splits:

White Sox vs. RHP: .255/.310/.394
White Sox vs. LHP: .240/.292/.344

The team batting average and on-base percentages take a dip against left-handers, and there's a significant drop-off in slugging percentage. The Sox could use a hitter or two who hit lefties well, and right now the hope is rookie outfielder Trayce Thompson becomes one of those guys.

Thompson went 3 for 4 and finished a home run short of the cycle Tuesday against Boston lefty Wade Miley, leading the Sox to a 5-4 win over the Red Sox. Thompson's two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning provided the winning margin.

With that performance, Thompson is hitting .522/.560/.957 in 11 games (6 starts) since he was called up. We know, of course, he will never keep up that pace, but his performance thus far against left-handed pitching is worth noting: He's 10 for 17 with two home runs and five RBIs.

It shouldn't be hard for Thompson to keep his roster spot and serve in a platoon role if he can produce above-average numbers against lefty starters.

The Sox lineup is full of guys who struggle against lefties:

Adam LaRoche vs. LHP: .163/.198/.325

Carlos Sanchez vs. LHP: .179/.225/.269

Adam Eaton vs. LHP: .227/.271/.295

Melky Cabrera vs. LHP: .230/.258/.333

Jose Abreu vs. LHP: .240/.307/.375

Even Abreu, the Sox's best hitter, is a mere mortal when he sees a left-handed pitcher. Thompson is a nice luxury for manager Robin Ventura to have, because now he can sit LaRoche on days when the opposition throws a left-handed starter. Thompson can handle any of the three spots in the outfield defensively, so Ventura has his pick of DH'ing Cabrera, Eaton or Avisail Garcia on the days Thompson plays.

We don't know yet how "real" this early hot surge from Thompson is, but it sure is refreshing to see the Sox farm system send a potentially useful position player to the major leagues.

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, June 23, 2015

If the White Sox insist on keeping John Danks in the rotation, they need to give him a shorter leash

White Sox pitcher John Danks is overpaid. Everybody knows that. But this blog entry is not going to be about money. Today we are talking about Danks' poor performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The veteran left-hander had another implosion against an AL Central opponent Monday night. He gave up nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, including three home runs, over 5.1 innings in an embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on national TV. Danks getting rocked by a divisional foe is nothing new. We've chronicled those struggles here in the past.

I've heard some folks argue Danks is a "serviceable" fifth starter. Heck, I think I might have made that statement a couple times in the past. But as time goes on and I gather more information, I've come around to the opinion that this guy doesn't belong in the rotation anymore. His 5.38 ERA ranks 50th out of 53 qualifying American League pitchers. That's not serviceable. It's terrible. It's the kind of performance you can't live with if you want to think of yourself as a competitive team.

It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have other options. For instance, we can complain until we're blue in the face about the not-so-dynamic Sox catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. But the reality is those two guys are the best the team has in its organization at that position right now. You can't do anything else but trot them out there until the front office addresses the issue.

But it's not that way with the fifth starter spot. White Sox farmhand Erik Johnson is pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte. He was just named International League Pitcher of the Week. He has not given up a run in any of his last three outings, striking out 28 batters and walking just four in 22 innings over that span.

Given what we know about Danks and his struggles against the AL Central, and just his struggles in general, wouldn't it be a better play to drop Johnson into the rotation for a week and see how he does? At the very least, he could give teams such as Minnesota and Detroit a different look. The Tigers and the Twins are not fooled by the offspeed pitches of Danks. They've faced him countless times, and they are probably fighting to get to the bat rack, knowing a night against Danks is a chance to pad their personal statistics. Minnesota did a good job of getting fat on Monday night, that's for sure.

If the Sox are going to insist on leaving Danks in the rotation, at the very least they need to give him a shorter leash. Minnesota hung a five-spot on him in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, turning a 2-1 Sox lead into a 6-2 deficit. No, it wasn't all Danks' fault. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a crucial error behind him that opened the door for the big inning, but the Twins scored three runs after two were out, as well. Danks had opportunities to make pitches, pick his teammate up and minimize the damage. He failed to do that.

He should have been removed after that fourth inning. A four-run deficit is not good, but it's not insurmountable. The Sox's long and middle relievers were all fresh and available to use. Manager Robin Ventura should have gone to one of them. You hope a fresh relief pitcher can keep Minnesota at six runs, and then maybe your offense can come back.

Instead, Ventura trotted the ineffective Danks out there for both the fifth and sixth innings, apparently wanting him to "eat innings." Predictable results followed -- a three-run homer by Kennys Vargas in the sixth made it 9-2. Then, the game was over.

The whole thing was disturbing and disheartening. By sending Danks back out after he had been roughed up, it felt like Ventura was conceding the game. And he can't afford to concede games to division foes right now. The Sox are 30-39, 11 games out and in last place. There has to be an urgency to win right now. You can't allow a struggling pitcher such as Danks to go out there and torpedo everything for 24 other guys. There's no rule that says Danks has to stay in for 90 to 100 pitches no matter what. When he's bad, pull him and give the team a chance to come back and win. This isn't rocket science.

On Monday night, it seemed as though Ventura was managing for tomorrow when he needed to win today. The Sox skipper is running out of tomorrows, maybe a lot faster than he realizes.