Tuesday, September 19, 2017

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson surging in second half

Tim Anderson
There is nothing White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson can do at this point to make his overall 2017 statistics look impressive. He struggled both offensively and defensively throughout the first four months of the season, and his numbers reflect that.

There is no greater example than his error total. Anderson has committed 26 errors this season, the most by any shortstop in the American League. There's no getting around it -- that's a high number.

But here's something that is encouraging: Anderson has committed only four errors in his past 53 games. He committed his 22nd error of the season July 16, in his 80th game.

The average fan is going to look at those 26 errors and declare that Anderson is a poor defender. But aside from a two-error game in Texas on Aug. 19, a closer look reveals that Anderson has been playing a mostly clean shortstop for a good two months.

Corner turned? We'll find out next year, and we can hope.

When Anderson was struggling, I suspected he was taking his poor at-bats into the field with him, which is a tendency among many young players. His improved defense coincides with a late-season offensive resurgence.

Entering Tuesday's play, Anderson is riding a nine-game hit streak in which he has gone 18 for 43 (.419 average) with three doubles, a triple and a home run. He also has stolen six bases in his past nine games, nearly doubling his season total from seven to 13.

Anderson has hit in 12 of his past 13 games, and he has posted a .418/.426/.612 slash line in September.

Garbage-time heroics, you say? Well, perhaps, but Anderson has been trending in the right direction offensively since about Aug. 1, and given the choice, wouldn't we rather see a garbage-time surge than another two months of Anderson flailing about?

Here are Anderson's slash lines by month for the season:

April: .204/.237/.301
May: .319/.319/.500
June: .213/.242/.298
July: .198/.207/.296
August: .259/.272/.500
September: .418/.426/.612

June and July were a wasteland for Anderson, and his overall slash line (.262/.281/.414) suffers as a result of those extended struggles. The September performance is not sustainable, of course, but his performance has looked more like it should now for an extended period.

Some fans will point out that Anderson still is not taking many walks, and his on-base percentage is suffering for it. True enough, but I think we all need to get over the idea that Anderson needs to walk more. He isn't going to walk more. That's not who he is as a player. Accept that as reality.

Anderson has good bat-to-ball skills. He has speed and athleticism. Those tools should allow him to get hits, steal bases and play good defense. We've seen him do those things recently. If he can do that with more consistency next season, I'll be content with him as the Sox's starting shortstop, low walk totals be damned.

White Sox avoid infamy, split four games with Detroit

Matt Boyd
The White Sox scored 29 runs through the first three games of their four-game weekend series against the Detroit Tigers.

So, naturally, on Sunday, they went out and nearly got no-hit by one of the worst starting pitchers in the American League -- Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd.

Boyd retired 26 of the first 27 hitters he faced in a 12-0 victory, with Rob Brantly being the only man to reach base on a walk with two outs in the top of the third inning.

Alas, Sox shortstop Tim Anderson broke up the no-hit bid with a two-out double in the top of the ninth. The Sox are lucky the Tigers had a third baseman (Nick Castellanos) playing right field, because a good outfielder might have run down Anderson's liner into the right-center field gap.

Boyd finished with a one-hitter, and that will be forgotten about by next week -- if it hasn't been forgotten about already. No-hitters live forever, and it would have been embarrassing for the Sox to be no-hit by Boyd, who is 6-10 with a 5.33 ERA this season.

Crazy thing is, Boyd had been 0-4 with a 6.13 ERA in eight previous career starts against the Sox. Normally, I look forward to seeing Boyd on the mound, so I have no idea how he managed to pitch a one-hitter in Sunday's game.

Here's a look back at the rest of the series:

Thursday, Sept. 14
White Sox 17, Tigers 7: The Sox pounded 25 hits, including 21 singles, and forced the Tigers to use eight pitchers.

It was a career day for right fielder Avisail Garcia, who went 5 for 5 with a three-run homer and seven RBIs. The top five hitters in the Sox lineup combined for 19 hits. Yoan Moncada had four hits, including a home run, and scored five runs. Jose Abreu had four hits, three runs scored and two RBIs. Anderson went 3 for 7 with two runs scored and two RBIs, and Matt Davidson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs. It was quite an offensive display.

And, Tyler Saladino went 0 for 6. Hey, somebody has gotta make the outs, right?

The Sox got a decent outing from James Shields (4-6), who allowed four runs over six innings and struck out seven. With that kind of run support, even the erstwhile Shields is a good bet to pick up a victory.

Friday, Sept. 15
Tigers 3, White Sox 2: There were two positive signs the Sox could take out of this loss. First and foremost, they got a second consecutive good start from Carson Fulmer.

Fulmer went six innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five and walked only one. The right-hander allowed only one run in six innings in his previous start against the San Francisco Giants, so it's possible Fulmer has found something after struggling for much of the year at Triple-A Charlotte.

Or, perhaps Fulmer just capitalized on pitching against two bad teams in San Francisco and Detroit. His next scheduled start should be against AL West champion Houston, so that might provide a better measure of Fulmer's progress.

The other positive sign? Moncada homered for the second straight game. The prized prospect has been swinging the bat better of late.

The bullpen combination of Al Alburquerque (0-2), Aaron Bummer and Juan Minaya coughed this game up by allowing a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, but what else would you expect from that group?

Saturday, Sept. 16
White Sox 10, Tigers 4: The Sox scored six runs in the first two innings and went on to total 17 hits in a lopsided win.

Anderson went 4 for 5 with two runs scored, Moncada collected two more hits, Nick Delmonico connected for his eighth home run of the season, and Abreu is up to 97 RBIs after he knocked in two more runs in this game.

The run support was useful for right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (2-3), who struggled early but settled in to throw seven innings. The Tigers got three off Lopez in the second inning, but only one the rest of the way.

Lopez, Fulmer and Lucas Giolito all have two wins each since being called up from Charlotte. All of them are at least contenders for rotation spots in the 2018 season.

Sunday, Sept. 17
Tigers 12, White Sox 0: We already talked about this terrible game, so can I just say Dylan Covey is NOT a contender for a rotation spot in the 2018 season and move on?

Thanks.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

White Sox damage Kansas City's wild card hopes

The 2012 White Sox lost the AL Central by three games. And from Aug. 7 until the end of that season, the Sox lost nine out of 11 games to the Kansas City Royals.

The 2012 Royals were a 90-loss team, but the Sox couldn't do anything against them coming down the stretch, and I've long felt the inability to beat Kansas City was the reason the South Siders missed the playoffs that year.

The Sox haven't played meaningful September games in the five years since, while the Royals have won two American League pennants and the 2015 World Series. Kansas City has tortured the Sox for most of this decade, and frankly, I will probably carry the scars from this 2016 loss for the rest of my life. It is the worst loss I've ever endured as a Sox fan.

So, given all that history, it is with great joy that I report that the last-place Sox (58-87) damaged Kansas City's 2017 playoff hopes this week by taking two out of three at Kauffman Stadium.

This was a series the Royals (72-73) needed to win. They didn't win it, and now they are four games out of the second wild card with three teams to pass as they embark on an 11-game road trip that starts in Cleveland against an Indians club that has won 21 games in a row.

Good luck, Royals. There isn't a Sox fan alive that has any sympathy for you.

Here's a look back at this week's series:

Monday, Sept. 11
White Sox 11, Royals 3: Jose Abreu almost hit for the cycle for the second time in three days. He came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning needing a home run, but he ended up drawing a walk from Kansas City reliever Trevor Cahill.

The Sox's first baseman went 4 for 5 to lead a 17-hit attack. Adam Engel and Yoan Moncada added three hits each, with Engel capping off a six-run sixth inning with a three-run home run.

The offensive outburst allowed right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (1-3) to pick up his first victory with the Sox. Lopez allowed three runs in the fifth inning, but he got through six, allowing eight hits. The Sox are hopeful it will be the first of many wins for the hard-throwing 23-year-old.

Tuesday, Sept. 12
Royals 4, White Sox 3: Dylan Covey had a miserable first inning. He walked the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Brandon Moss to put the Sox in an early 4-0 hole.

But Covey (0-5) settled down and retired 14 out of 15 hitters at one point, and the Sox had their chances to come back and win the game. They outhit the Royals, 13-4, but left 10 runners stranded.

The Sox had runners at first and third with nobody out in the top of the ninth inning, but could not get the tying run home against Kansas City reliever Scott Alexander.

Moncada struck out, Abreu popped out and Matt Davidson grounded out, ending an unsatisfying offensive day for the Sox.

Wednesday, Sept. 13
White Sox 5, Royals 3: The Sox solved Alexander in the rubber match of the series with two runs in the top of the ninth inning that broke a 3-3 tie.

Tim Anderson singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third as Moncada walked. That put runners on first and third with one out for Abreu, who delivered a sacrifice fly for his 93rd RBI of the season and 4-3 lead. Avisail Garcia's two-out RBI single plated Moncada and capped the scoring.

Juan Minaya (3-2) sealed the win with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. It's too bad Lucas Giolito didn't get the win after he pitched 6.1 innings of one-run ball. Alas, Danny Farquhar allowed two runs in the eighth to give up the lead, and the Sox starter got a no-decision.

But Giolito can take the positives out of the start. He allowed only four hits despite not having his best stuff. His ERA is down to 2.56 in five starts, and he's positioning himself for a job in the 2018 Sox rotation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jose Abreu becomes first White Sox player to hit for the cycle since 2000

Jose Abreu
What are the odds that slugging White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu will hit a triple in any given at-bat?

Not high, you say? Well, you are correct.

Abreu has appeared in 596 career games through Sunday, and he has made 2,582 plate appearances. He has 11 career triples, which means he triples once in every 235 plate appearances.

So, when Abreu stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night needing a triple to complete the cycle, I doubt too many people thought he would actually do it. His odds got even worse after he fouled a ball off his leg in that at-bat, and the game had to be delayed briefly while manager Rick Renteria and trainer Herm Schneider checked on him.

Wouldn't you know, Abreu got back in the box and lined the very next pitch into the right-center field gap. Sore leg and all, the race was on, and somehow the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Abreu lumbered into third base to complete the cycle.

He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs in the Sox's 13-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

I had the good fortune of attending Saturday's game, and it was the first time I've seen a Sox player hit for the cycle in person. That part is really not surprising, because cycles have been rare in club history. There are only six of them, and Guaranteed Rate Field isn't what you would call a triples park - with its short power alleys and symmetrical design.

Here are the other cycles in Sox history:

Jose Valentin: April 27, 2000 vs. Baltimore
Chris Singleton: July 6, 1999 vs. Kansas City
Carlton Fisk: May 16, 1984 vs. Kansas City
Jack Brohamer: Sept. 24, 1977 vs. Seattle
Ray Schalk: June 27, 1922 vs. Detroit

I think the Sox should give free admission to an upcoming home game to anyone who was actually alive when Schalk hit for the cycle.

As for Abreu, he continued his torrid hitting Sunday with two home runs in an 8-1 win over the Giants. The Sox took two out of three in the series after losing 9-2 on Friday night.

The .300/30/100 watch continues for Abreu. He's got 31 home runs now, so the "30" part is secure. He's at 90 RBIs, which means he needs 10 more in the remaining 20 games. The batting average sits at .302 entering Monday's action.

Friday, September 8, 2017

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon headed to the MRI machine

Carlos Rodon
Carlos Rodon was on the disabled list for the entire first half of the season, and I couldn't help but wonder whether the White Sox were lying about the severity of his shoulder discomfort.

My concerns are growing once again after Rodon was scratched from his scheduled start Thursday with "shoulder stiffness" just minutes before he was to pitch against the Cleveland Indians.

Mike Pelfrey (3-11) made an emergency start and gave up four runs before he recorded an out. The Sox went on to lose, 11-2, but really, who cares about that at this point? Pelfrey's doing all he can, which isn't much.

The story of the night was Rodon. He's an important piece to the Sox's rebuilding puzzle, and he's headed to the MRI machine Friday to get his shoulder checked out.

This is not good news. I'd rather a pitcher have elbow trouble than shoulder trouble, because velocity comes from the shoulder. It seems as though most pitchers make it back from elbow surgeries, whereas shoulder surgeries tend to ruin careers (John Danks, Johan Santana, Mark Prior).

Hopefully, whatever is troubling Rodon will not require him to go under the knife. But whatever this is, it's nagging, it's been present all season, and it was never completely healed, regardless of what the Sox said publicly about the matter.

Rodon's season likely is done. The Sox are 31 games below .500, and I can't think of a single good reason to send him to the mound again in 2017. He'll have made only 12 starts this season, and he'll finish 2-5 with a 4.15 ERA.

He had hit his stride as of late -- his ERA was 3.00 in his past seven outings -- so it's really frustrating to see him sidelined again.

I'm not concerned about Rodon's stuff at this point. From my perspective, his three-pitch mix is right where it should be. He can dominate a good lineup on a given day. But at some point, he needs to provide some consistency and show he can make 30 starts in a season and get close to 200 innings.

He has not done that, and until he does, we can't look at him as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, even though that's what all Sox fans want him to become.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reynaldo Lopez was good; the rest of the White Sox were bad

Carlos Carrasco
The White Sox are 54-84 with 24 games remaining. That's a lot of losses, and it's hard to say any one single game is the worst I've seen this team play this season.

However, Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians has to be on the short list.

Yes, the Indians are good. They've won 14 in a row for a reason. And Carlos Carrasco is a good pitcher. He's 14-6 this season for a reason.

But there were some pretty pathetic at-bats turned in by Sox hitters Wednesday, as Carrasco needed only 97 pitches to sail through a complete-game, three-hitter. The Cleveland right-hander was one out away from a shutout, and he faced the minimum 26 batters through 8.2 innings. Adam Engel hit a meaningless solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to save the Sox from complete disgrace.

As bad as the Sox offense was, their defense was even worse. Rookie right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (0-3) has three quality starts in his four outings with the Sox, and this performance was probably the best of the bunch. He deserves a handshake for making it through six innings and allowing only one run to the red-hot Indians, especially given the horrible play behind him.

In the first inning, first baseman Matt Davidson booted a grounder that should have been an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play. Lopez bailed him out by getting Edwin Encarnacion to pop out and Carlos Santana to fly out. No runs allowed.

Shortstop Tyler Saladino kicked a ball that should have been a double play in the second inning. The official scorer inexplicably ruled it a "double." Lopez faced a second-and-third, one-out situation for the second inning in a row, and he again escaped with a strikeout and a popout.

In the fourth inning, the Indians loaded the bases with nobody out on a walk and two "singles." One glanced off the glove of Nick Delmonico after the rookie left fielder took a bad route to the ball. The other "single" should have been turned into an out by second baseman Alen Hanson but was not. Lopez was forced to get five outs in the inning. He allowed a sacrifice fly and nothing more, and that was a good job of pitching.

When Lopez left the game, the Sox trailed 1-0 in a game that could have easily been 5-0 or 6-0. The Indians broke it open late against the Chicago bullpen, and the Sox received a well-deserved loss, even though Lopez deserved a better fate.

The Sox are outmanned against the Indians, so to some extent you can live with losses to this Cleveland team. But there was a sloppiness to Wednesday's game that cannot sit well.

Carlos Rodon will get his shot at ending the Cleveland winning streak Thursday night, and with his stuff, he always has a puncher's chance against any lineup. But he's going to need his teammates to catch the ball for him. The Indians have their ace, Corey Kluber (14-4), scheduled to pitch, so Cleveland has good reason to like its chances of extending this win streak to 15. If the Indians are successful, it will be a new franchise record.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chris Beck is terrible all the time, but especially against the first batter he faces

Full disclosure: Chris Beck is probably my least favorite 2017 White Sox player. I cringe every time he comes in from the bullpen. You're never going to hear me say a nice word about him.

And there's really no arguing with the fact that he's a bad relief pitcher. He's made 51 appearances for the Sox this year, and he's got a 6.42 ERA. Somewhat remarkably, he had a 3.41 ERA as recently as July 5, but he's allowed at least one earned run in 16 of his past 20 relief outings.

That's remarkable incompetence, given that relief pitchers often are asked to pitch only one inning. You would think a major league reliever would be able to provide a scoreless inning more often than four times out of 20, but Beck's horribleness defies logic.

Here's the thing that really bothers me about Beck: He cannot retire the first man he faces to save his life. In Monday's 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the first man he faced was Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez homered.

In Tuesday's 9-4 loss to the Indians, the first man Beck faced was Yan Gomes.

Gomes hit a three-run homer.

This is not a new trend. Beck has allowed 14 home runs in 54.2 innings this season. Seven of those homers have been surrendered to the first man he faces.

In 51 games, Beck has allowed the first man he faces to reach base 25 times. Those 51 hitters have gone 15 for 40 with the aforementioned seven home runs, eight walks, two HBPs and only three strikeouts.

The slash line for those 51 hitters: .375/.490/.950. That's a 1.440 OPS!

This is not an acceptable level of performance for any reliever, even one on a rebuilding team.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

White Sox release pitcher Derek Holland; Yoan Moncada coming off the disabled list

Derek Holland
Derek Holland's services as a veteran placeholder are no longer needed.

The White Sox on Tuesday requested waivers on the left-handed pitcher for purposes of granting him his unconditional release.

The Sox have purchased the contract of left-hander Jace Fry from Double-A Birmingham, and he will be called up to the majors to take Holland's spot on the roster.

Holland appeared in 29 games (26 starts) for the Sox this season and finished 7-14 with a 6.20 ERA. Would you believe it if I told you that Holland's ERA on June 1 was 2.37?

He was perhaps the Sox's best starter the first two months of the season. Regression was inevitable, but there's regression, and then there's falling off a cliff. This was falling off a cliff.

Since June 1, Holland was 3-10 with a 9.32 ERA. These were three of the sorriest months I've ever seen put together by a Sox starting pitcher.

The Sox tried to throw Holland a lifeline by giving him an opportunity to work as a situational left-hander out of the bullpen. Holland entered Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the eighth with the Sox leading, 6-1, and he promptly walked .194-hitting Brad Miller leading off the inning.


Naturally, that walk came around to score, although Greg Infante successfully minimized the damage, and Lucas Giolito picked up his second career win in a 6-2 Sox victory.

But that outing showed that Holland can't be trusted to do the job even when he's being given a favorable matchup against a light-hitting left-hander. When you reach that point, it's time to hit the bricks.

As for Fry, he's made it back from Tommy John surgery after missing the entire 2016 season. He pitched 33 games out of the Birmingham bullpen this year and went 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA and three saves.

Why not give him a taste of the majors and see what he can do as a situational left-hander? His odds are better than Holland's at this point, I would say.

And, oh, I buried the lead again. Second baseman Yoan Moncada is coming off the disabled list after missing time with a shin bruise. So, let the prospect hype continue!

Friday, September 1, 2017

White Sox trade Miguel Gonzalez to Rangers for Ti'Quan Forbes

Miguel Gonzalez
Hours after he received a no-decision in the White Sox's 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, right-hander Miguel Gonzalez was traded to the Texas Rangers for minor league infielder Ti'Quan Forbes.

Forbes, 21, was the Rangers' second-round pick in the 2014 draft. He has played both shortstop and third base, and he has split time between Class-A Hickory and High-A Down East this season. His slash line is not that impressive: .236/.283/.345 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs combined in 131 games between the two levels.

I've read that Forbes is described as a "slow developer," and he's still a young player -- having been drafted out of high school. In fact, he just turned 21 on Aug. 26, so he would have been one of the younger guys in his league at age 20 for most of this season.

This kid is pretty much a lotto ticket, and it will be at least a couple years before we know whether he amounts to anything. Hell, for all I know, this will be the last time I ever write about him on this blog.

But, really, you can be expecting much return for Gonzalez, who is a free agent at the end of the season. There are about 30 games left to go, so the Rangers are looking at getting five, maybe six, starts out of Gonzalez, who is nothing more than a league-average starter.

What is that really worth? Apparently, it's worth a longshot prospect such as Forbes.

Credit Gonzalez for pitching well enough the second half of the season that he had some value to a contender. He allowed three runs over six innings Thursday, which represented his fifth consecutive quality start, and eighth quality start in nine second-half appearances.

Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA over his past five starts. If you're the Rangers, and you're four games out of the wild card on Sept. 1, and you're getting increasingly desperate for pitching, you could do worse than Gonzalez in the middle or at the back of your rotation.

From the Sox perspective, well, this probably keeps the struggling Derek Holland in the rotation the rest of the year. Reynaldo Lopez is coming off the disabled list to start Friday night, and now he'll take Gonzalez's spot instead of Holland's.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Michael Kopech named Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher

White Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech has been named the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher for 2017.

Kopech, 21, recently was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte, but this recognition is for the right-hander's season-long dominance at Double-A Birmingham.

In 22 starts for the Barons, Kopech went 8-7 with a 2.87 ERA. Among qualified pitchers, he led the Southern League in strikeouts (155), batting average against (.184), hits allowed (77) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (11.69).

Kopech becomes the first Sox farmhand to win this honor since Mark Buehrle in 2000. In that season, Buehrle went 8-4 with a 2.28 ERA before receiving a July promotion to the Sox. Buehrle never returned to the minor leagues after that. The following year, in 2001, he won 16 games for the Sox, and the rest is history. The Sox retired his No. 56 in June.

I doubt Kopech will be on any fast track to the major leagues. He's thrown 129.1 innings this season combined between Birmingham and Charlotte, and that is by far a career high.

So far for Charlotte, he's 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two starts. He's scheduled to pitch for the Knights on Friday night, and I'm guessing that will be it for his year, since the minor-league regular season ends within a week.

There have been rumblings that Kopech will compete for a rotation spot in spring training next year, but the smart money has him starting in Charlotte in 2018. Even if everything continues to go well, I can't see Kopech coming to Chicago until after the Super Two service time issues are no longer an issue.

Keep in mind, we didn't see Yoan Moncada or Reynaldo Lopez get a call to the majors until the second half this year. Kopech is one prospect we could see in the second half of next year, but most likely not before then.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jose Abreu: the .300/30/100 watch is on

Jose Abreu
For the fifth consecutive season, the White Sox (52-78) will finish with a losing record, and games in September won't mean a thing in the standings -- at least not to the Sox.

So, it's that time of year where we look for reasons to watch and reasons to care. How about first baseman Jose Abreu's sustained excellence?

Abreu went 4 for 4 with a double, a walk and two RBIs on Tuesday in a 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins. The perfect night raised his batting average to .303, and he has 26 home runs and 80 RBIs on the season.

He is on pace to finish with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs right on the nose.

Yes, indeed, the .300/30/100 watch is on.

Abreu already is the first Sox player to hit at least 25 home runs in each of his first four seasons in the major leagues. He also is seeking his fourth consecutive 100-RBI season. Last year, he had exactly 100, reaching the milestone on the final day of the season. His career high is 107. Abreu's career-best batting average is .317, set in his rookie season of 2014. He hit .290 in 2015 and .293 in 2016.

It's remarkable that Abreu puts these sorts of numbers up playing for bad teams. He probably does not get the credit he deserves -- locally or nationally -- because of some of the dreck that is playing around him.

But, he's a player who gives us a reason to watch, and we'll see if he can attain some of these individual milestones again this season.