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James Shields needed 84 pitches to get 6 outs in his White Sox debut

91oigplffzl-_sl1500_I don’t remember the last time a big-ticket pitcher was booed off the mound in his home debut (not that I’ve done any research to that end), but that’s what greeted James Shields on Wednesday night in Chicago. I don’t quite find the pleasure or purpose in booing poor performance, but Shields sure didn’t leave those who are so inclined any other choice.

Two-plus innings, eight hits, seven runs (all earned), two walks, two strikeouts, three home runs and one wild pitch.

It was a long night for Shields made even longer thanks to a bevy of lengthy at-bats. Nine of the 16 hitters he faced saw at least three balls. That led to the rapid ascension of Shields’ pitch count.

He threw 32 pitches in the first inning, 47 in the second and finally five more to Anthony Rendon before he singled to open the third.

Eighty-four pitches. That’s the second-most pitches ever needed to record no more than six outs. And when I say “ever,” I mean “since no later than 1947, when pitch count data became the norm via Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool.”

Shields actually joins three other starters who spent 84 pitches to get six outs. Russ Ortiz in 1999, Steve Parris in 2000 and Chris Young in 2007 all accomplished as little with as much. The “record” belongs to 23-year-old Matt Moore, who dialed up 86 pitches in his six-out stint in 2013.

Everyone knows this marriage between Shields and the Southsiders isn’t always going to be a smooth one. Since the start of 2015, Shields has made the majority of his starts in some cavernous National League venues, including Petco Park, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park, and he allowed 42 home runs in 269.2 innings during that time. Bartolo Colon took him yard.

Now he moves to one of the game’s most homer-friendly pads. Including Wednesday’s thrashing, Shields has given up 12 homers in 74 career innings at U.S. Cellular Field. Rough outings are going to be on the menu. But the White Sox will deal with that as long as Shields eats up innings, preferably more than two per night. If there’s a silver lining to this for White Sox fans, it’s that they have probably seen the worst Shields has to offer.

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Matt Albers: Laser show

gettyimages-537081332-e1464820646317I have a certain affinity for Matt Albers, mostly because he is the closest thing I have to a doppelganger in today’s game. His every-man body, the way his jersey sags on him … that could be me out there! I mean, if I could throw a mid-90s fastball with sink or had strong legs or could walk. Oh, whom am I kidding? Compared to me, Matt Albers is this generation’s Jim Thorpe.

Albers will also assuredly be forgotten by most baseball fans shortly after he retires. He has played for six teams in 11 mostly nondescript seasons. He hasn’t started a game since 2007, doesn’t have a save to his credit and doesn’t throw extraordinarily hard. Nothing about him is exciting. In a line of work where you have to be pretty special just to make it to this level, Albers is all parts ordinary nonetheless.

However, he accomplished something Thursday that I and many others who adore quirky baseball will remember. In the 13th inning of Wednesday’s game versus the Mets, Albers led off the inning by rocketing a double to left-center field.

Let’s stop there for a moment. Matt Albers doubled. A well-hit, opposite-field, honest-to-goodness double. Well, it would have been reduced to a single with Albers being thrown out at second base if Neil Walker hadn’t been there to act as Albers’ personal backstop. He definitely would have fallen off the bag if no one had been there to help him slow down all of that momentum.

Regardless, it was Albers’ first hit and only second at-bat since 2007, when he was with the Astros (He has made all but eight of his appearances since then with American League clubs). AL relievers roping out extra-base hits isn’t as rare as I imagined, as the last person to do it was the Yankees’ Branden Pinder just last year. It has happened five times in the past decade.

With this kind of odd feat, there are so many angles you can cover, but let’s just go way down the rabbit hole. After his double, Albers moved to third on a wild pitch, scored on a Jose Abreu sac fly, and then went on to close out the game in the bottom of the 13th. So who was the last American League relief pitcher to score a game-winning run in extra innings and get the win? 

That would be Ryan Hancock for the 1996 California Angels. He singled with one out in the 13th inning and scored on J.T. Snow’s two-run homer off of Julian Tavarez as the Angels beat the Indians, 8-6. While you probably won’t remember Albers, you definitely don’t know who Ryan Hancock is, unless you share a blood relation.

That’s because 1996 was Hancock’s only MLB season. He had a 7.48 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP over 11 appearances. But on the bright side, he had only one career plate appearance, so Hancock will forever own a 1.000 average and a 2.000 OPS. 

Before Hancock, you have to go back, understandably, to Sparky Lyle in 1972 to find the last pitcher who achieved the hit-run-win trifecta in extras. One year later, the DH was upon us, and AL pitchers becoming offensive heroes have been rarely seen in the wild. Thank you, Matt Albers

Here’s a glass-half-full thought for fans of bad MLB teams

hang_in_there_baby_cat_motivational_posterOne of the reasons why I’m hyped for the 2016 MLB season — other than the fact that baseball is awesome at all times — is the wealth of seemingly competitive teams in the league. They won’t all be competitive by the end, of course. But put another way, there is a very small number of teams I think we can safely rule out of the playoffs right now. That’s exciting.

In the American League, I’m pretty certain the Athletics will be missing out on October. I feel similarly about the Angels and White Sox, but one of those teams has Mike Trout. The other has the duo of Jose Abreu and Chris Sale. With those talents in tow, anything can happen. So, perhaps the entire AL has only one team that seems probable to miss the playoffs.

In the National League, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is wide and crystal clear. The Marlins are the NL’s purgatory team, somewhere between heaven and hell. Beneath them are six that are simply looking toward the future right now. And then everyone else, all eight other teams in the NL, have legitimate World Series aspirations. Not only do they believe they can make it that far (most every team believes that or wants to believe that right now), those guys have the pieces to get there. 

I am simply fascinated by the National League this year. The American League has a lot of potentially good teams, but would you be shocked if a specific one of them didn’t make the postseason? Perhaps it would be surprising if the Blue Jays or the Astros were left out, but there seems to be a fine line between division winner and third-place finisher throughout the AL.

However, in the National League, I see eight teams that are not just good; if everything goes right, they can be overwhelmingly great. Between the Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Mets and Nationals, it’s difficult for me to comprehend just how at least three of those squads are going to be left on the outside looking in when the regular season closes. Yet, that’s going to happen, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

While those teams are vying for their spot atop the mountain, a handful will be left at the base. 

Well, no matter how bleak it looks, you can never rule out a ’69 Mets or ’14 Royals-esque turnaround. But the odds are that the Athletics, Phillies, Braves, Padres, Rockies, Brewers and Reds will be bad this season. At times, embarrassingly so.

Instead of dwelling on that high failure rate to come, think this way if you pull for one of those also-rans: 

Your favorite team may win only 60 games this year. Maybe 65. You know what that means? That means there will be 60-65 days over the next six months where you will have something to smile about. At least 60-65 days where you will be happy. Maybe for no more than a fleeting moment, but happy nonetheless. And no matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of happy days

In sheer numbers, no other major team sport comes close to offering as much joy for the hapless. The worst teams in the NFL may win two or three times over a four-month span. The Philadelphia 76ers have won nine games since late October and just twice since Groundhog Day. The NHL’s downtrodden could win only 25-30 games in a full season.

In Major League Baseball, you get double that. And that’s only if your team is exceptionally awful. Your boys make work their way up to 70 or even 75 victories. So. many. smiles. 

Just something to keep in mind as the season officially begins this Sunday. Only 10 teams can make the playoffs, and some teams have no realistic postseason hopes. But baseball still gives rooters of the most inept plenty of occasions to feel good from now through Oct. 2. All you’ve got to do is make sure you don’t take them for granted. Then find your own way to make those other 90-100 days enjoyable. 

Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

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Just Another Reason Why Baseball Is Crazy

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

If you attended a Major League Baseball game on Tuesday, you had a 33 percent chance of seeing a current great on the mound.

Yeah, how did that turn out?

Jered Weaver: He allowed four earned runs to a recently gutted Red Sox offense. He was bailed out from getting a loss because apparently Bobby Valentine wanted to watch Alfredo Aceves burn.

Stephen Strasburg: Apparently unaware of what month it is, “Pardon the Interruption” had an idiotic debate earlier in the day about whether this would be Strasburg’s most important start this season.

Washington certainly hopes not. Strasburg turned in his worst start in a month, allowing seven runs — five earned — over five innings to a similarly vacant Marlins lineup.

Chris Sale: He made his shortest start this season, allowing four runs over four innings to the Orioles. Seeing that Sale just didn’t have it, manager Robin Ventura pulled him after 75 pitches.

Justin Verlander: Most shocking of all, the reigning MVP had already been tagged for seven runs in Kansas City by the end of the second inning. Overall, he gave up a career-high eight earned runs and 12 hits in 5.2 innings. Going by game score, his 16 on Tuesday night rates as the second-lowest score of his career (He has scored a 15 three times). Verlander gave up eight runs for third time in his career, and it was against the Royals, a team he has had a lot of success against.

Of course, Verlander has success against everyone, and many teams have success against the Royals, but that’s missing the point …

Meanwhile, Ricky Nolasco, with his 4.21 FIP, was busy shutting out one of the best team’s in baseball.

It happens every night, and that’s why we love this game. But damn, just when you think you have something figured out, baseball lets you know that you know absolutely nothing.

*I should have rightfully included Matt Cain in this field of aces. But he pitched kinda good and just so my slant works, he was excluded.

Perfect Game Baby? I Don’t Like Him

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I try hard to see as much live baseball as possible with the money I have. It’s not easy, but I’m able to attend about 15-20 games a year, 90 percent of them at Dodger Stadium. When I was in high school, I went to about 30 games a year, 90 percent of them at Angel Stadium — or rather what was Edison International Field of Anaheim.

I think I’ve been in attendance for 3oo-4oo MLB games in my 28 years. I did see a one-hitter way back in the early ’90s, but I have never seen a no-hitter. As I’ve said here before, the closest I came was in 1995when Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell went into the eighth without giving up a hit to the Angels. Then the Angels got their act together.

I know I’m still young and that there are people who have been at thousands of games but have never seen a no-no. I hope those people are just as angry as me that this freaking baby can come along and have two perfect games handed to him in the span of four months. At the age of five months, he was probably sleeping when Philip Humber was flawless against the Mariners. At the age of nine months, he was probably drooling when Felix Hernandez did his thing against the Rays.

Really cute story, yes. But why, fate? Why do you have to waste something so special on a brain that is still months away from having any autobiographical recall skills? I’m a good person. I love baseball. What do I have to do? I’ll throw up all over myself and defecate in my pants without a care; you seem to favor those types. I don’t care what it is, just tell me!

(sigh)

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The Yankees Lead Baseball In Home Runs. If They Keep It Up, You Can Forget About Them Winning The World Series

Curtis Granderson leads the Yankees with 21 home runs. If he knew what’s good for him, he’d stop that nonsense right now.

When you predict that a team isn’t going to win the World Series in June, there’s about a 97 percent chance you are going to be correct. So I’m not really going out on a limb here with the Yankees, and I’m using only one simple statistic from which to draw my conclusion, but here it is.

In 1983 and 1984, the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers went back-to-back, winning those respective championship after leading Major League Baseball in home runs during the regular season. From 1985 forward, only one team who set the mark in home runs has gone on to win the World Series. Bashing ballclubs don’t usually end their final postseason game with a win.

It’s not the current playoff format, but since the most recent format began in 1995, the top team in homers ….

1995: Cleveland Indians (207): Make the Series, lose to the Braves in 6. Albert Belle led the way with 50. He finished second that year in the MVP race to Mo Vaughn, which made no fucking sense. It must have been those six extra steals. Oh, and the fact that everyone in the media hated Belle, and because baseball is covered by 17-year-old girls. And from where did Mo Vaughn find the speed to steal 11 bases?

Digressing from that, the Braves were second in the National League, eighth overall, with 168 shots.

1996: Baltimore Orioles (257): That broke a 35-year-old record for team power, but the Orioles lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. The Yankees won the World Series with 166 home runs, the third-lowest total in the AL. Brady Anderson launched 50 homers for the O’s, and no one cared to ask if something illegal was going on.

1997: Seattle Mariners (264): Hey, whadiya know! It took just one year for that Baltimore record to fall. Oh, these boys of summer, everybody’s just having fun! And looking huge. But the Mariners have never won a World Series, of course. They lost in the first round to those Orioles in four games. Paul Sorrento, who hit 25 home runs for that ’95 Indians squad, had 31 home runs for the Mariners this year. He’d then hit 28 through the final two seasons of his career.

The Marlins shocked the much more powerful Indians to win the Series. A week after that celebration ended, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga publicly lit every player he had on fire. Read more…