Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers - White Sox Spring Training Injuries, By Things You've Seen On Netflix

How can I make these injuries about me today

              The whole point of spring training is to not have to sweat it out unless you’re there. Injuries to Kevan Smith and Jose Abreu today added to the long list of exhibition injuries this month, the only bright spot being possibly getting all this out of the way for the baseball gods before the games really count (since they’ve been so kind to us this last decade). Chalk most of it up to fluke, and thank your lucky stars it isn’t throwing off the timeline yet. The injury bug did hang around rent free in Glendale, though- let’s try to make some sense of it by comparing it to other tough breaks we’ve been through (and by that I mean “categorizing it by parts of Netflix shows that really bummed us out”).

                Jake Burger: Ruptured Achilles Tendon
                Feels like: It’s Requiem For A Dream and Harry’s rolled up his sleeve

Curls 4 The Gurls

                (I actually don’t know if this is on Netflix or not, but there’s never been a more sure-fire film to lose out to Family Guy every time)

                Jake certainly won’t have the same fate with his injury as our heroin addicted D.A.R.E. protagonist (spoiler: bad drugs are still bad). This probably is, though, the worst of the bunch from this spring: Achilles injuries are that much tougher to come back from not matter how you slice it (phrasing!). Development-wise, unless this is bound to be serious, recurring, and the career kiss of death, it’s for now just a trajectory starting a year later than expected. Burger doesn’t have the chip on his shoulder Moncada, Kopech etc. do, making this not as big a setback as it could be.

                But… man, Achilles injuries really just rub me the wrong way. Takes a full year of experience away early and takes a lot of the purpose out of third base this season. As it stands, the hot corner is now essentially Saladino’s one last tryout before arbitration and additions to the sample size of justifying Davidson as a pure DH. It’ll take up space that could’ve been a late season call up for him (I’m probably a little too optimistic here), and will probably just be the hitch where every other position has some sort of developmental purpose. And Harry can tell you what cutting dead weight’s like…

                Eloy Jimenez: Sore left knee
                Feels like: Something bad happened to the Griffin family and we have to wait four minutes for the plot change

Why is Herm not funding this?!

                I honestly forgot this even happened in the midst of what I thought was a pretty early demotion from spring training. Assume if I haven’t heard anything this is just aches and pains of playing major league ball for the first time. Also, remember when Family Guy WAS On Netflix? Pepperidge Farm ah forget it they're not bringing it back.

                Luis Robert: Sprained left thumb
                Feels like: It’s House of Cards and Zoe’s taking the Metro

What have u heard about Bryce Harper to the Cubs

                Didn’t see this one coming. Prized prospect signing from last year done until June, with some progressive baseball activities in between. A “shit happens” injury but a huge bummer nonetheless, especially for what I’m sure playing against major leaguers did for his enthusiasm. Assume it’ll be pretty quick to the minors when he does get back, and I wouldn’t be opposed to a September call up just for the hell of it. (Says the guy who didn’t want Moncada called up last year at all. This is why I just blog about these things).

                Micker Adolfo: Strained flexor tendon
                Feels like: It’s Black Mirror and the technology’s starting to take a turn

I kept my phone on during long toss

                At 21, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of this. We’ve bought pitching prospects in bulk and he wasn’t the regular in conversation that others are. This is coming after a fractured fibula, which doesn’t make me too optimistic with two big injuries this young. At this point I guess we hear about him later or we don’t. The future is bright (glass shatters).

                Nicky Delmonico: Partial shoulder separation
                Feels like: Eleven beats the monster in Stranger Things but there’s still four seasons left

It's this or a trade to Miami

                Definitely the weirdest- any injury with a range of “could miss a few days” to “could be out for the season” is always going to be skeptical when it actually doesn’t wind up being too serious. Nicky’s hellbent on making a name for himself before the outfield gets a lot more crowded soon, but gutting out a more serious injury in the still tanking portion of the franchise is the sort of risky career move that I don’t want to see someone I’m generally high on taking.

                Alec Hansen: Right forearm soreness
                Feels like: It’s BoJack Horseman and some sort of bender is starting

Did Shields start today?

                The road to pitching hell is paved with good intentions, and general soreness. This’d be my trigger warning even when I know it’s just getting back into the swing of things. Actually qualified herm Schneider probably just gave this some R & R. This paranoid blogger? It gets easier every day. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part…

                Tyler Saladino: Concussion
                Feels like: I’ve watched the Blackhawks without Corey Crawford for months

I forgot to pod nap at Google during The Internship and now I never will

                For sure not on Netflix, but we’re down two to Colorado as I’m wrapping this up and that bums me out. Also, concussions apparently happen in baseball post-not being able to make contact with the catcher. I don’t think a week off is going to make or break his upcoming last ditch effort.

                Kevan Smith: Sprained ankle
                Feels like: Sense 8 is becoming a movie or will officially be gone forever

I've never actually watched this show and am part of the problem

                A halfway decent catcher will make it so much easier to keep up with this site.

                Jose Abreu: Hamstring soreness
                Feels like: All my favorite shows keep getting pulled from Netflix but The Office still remains

When u start your ballpark food season with the helmet nachos

                Because I don’t want to worry about something until I HAVE to start worrying about something. I’m not super-stitious, but…

                Hopefully a couple more things posted here before season starts. For now, stretch out and watch your step.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

D-Side: Illini D1 Possibility Reaction

“ The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) has released a comprehensive study completed by Collegiate Consulting into the feasibility of starting a Division I men's hockey program. The study was initiated in June, 2017, and commissioned by the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), and College Hockey, Inc.

"The strong consensus of everyone involved in college hockey is that NCAA men's hockey will flourish at the University of Illinois," said Mike Snee, executive director of College Hockey, Inc. "From the number of native Illinois players currently playing college hockey to the continued growth of youth hockey players in the state, there are many reasons to be confident that the Fighting Illini could quickly become a top national program and sustain it every year.  We are very appreciative of the University administration's willingness to consider bringing NCAA hockey to Champaign."  “

 -       http://fightingillini.com/news/2018/3/8/general-illinois-releases-intercollegiate-hockey-feasibility-study.aspx (please don’t sue I’m still paying tuition)

Big news out of my alma mater today. I'll lead by saying I was a regular at the club hockey games when I was there (I plead the fifth on everything), so I'm probably more intrigued by the initial stages of this than most. We needed some good news, and this is one I wasn't expecting.

Admittedly this study to bring a D1 hockey team to Illinois had been leaked as a rumor for a couple months now, and the big paycheck required to make it happen has been the reality since I was a local resident.  This was actually something I had done some research on for a second semester senior year project, where the answer my group got to the feasibility of this was essentially “we’ve looked at some possible places to build a rink and none of them are happening until a $100 million dollar check comes our way”.

Doesn't take one of those highly coveted business degrees from Champaign to know no one's putting up that kind of cash unless there's a chance of a payoff.  With the NHL's blessing, this got a little (much) closer, as there's not really much of a better "go ahead" unless Patrick Kane decides to use his college eligibility years later. Assuming this study is the catalyst for wallets of alumni becoming lighter, D1 hockey at Illinois is much more of a conversation than it has been in the past couple years (which was basically me talking to myself).

Sort of interesting to have a "study" of this, at least from the NHL's perspective. My best guess, if there really is something the league is trying to find out by doing this, is that they want to grow the game at the college level in areas that don’t have a dog in that fight. If that’s the case, those requirements would probably be:

-          Large school for a high likelihood of many ticket buyers
-          West enough to separate itself from the east coast market, where hockey already has high exposure
-          General area where interest in hockey is high
-          If possible, a similar recent success story as a precedent

Put together a Big Ten school of 45,000 with two surrounding towns, a Midwest location featuring Blackhawks and Blues fans, and Penn State, you have University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Have a lot of thoughts as an Illini, and rushed reactions are as follows:

-         First and foremost, add this to the list of big but somewhat necessary risks that Josh Whitman is willing to take.  I still believe in the regrowth plan for football and basketball, but should revenue sports success become the fickle endeavor it usually is, having a successful hockey program could be a fresh look for this next phase of U of I athletics. And even if it doesn't trend towards immediate success (looking at the competition in the Big Ten, it likely won't), the general mindset of Illini fans for successful sports is "let's try ANYTHING". (Should go to more women's volleyball and men's golf games, but still). As for the high price tag this would take, well...

-        Again, U of I needs something to break up over a decade of non-prominence. Say what you will about Lovie and Underwood’s annual income, and the enormous cost of bringing hockey to the school, but alumni don’t come back and spend money without a reason to, and major revenue sports is the best way to do that. While hockey will almost definitely not turn similar profits (I’ll get to that), there should be enough curiosity at the start and hopefully continued interest following to at least get some alumni talking about Illini sports again, and having more excitement for coming back to campus. And they're not making that trek just to ruin their shoes at Kam's and swap good ol' days stories. It’d be a nice change of pace to have a prominent team in one of the four major sports. (Yes, I know baseball had that run a couple years ago. By law I can’t say anything negative about Carson Fulmer here, so I can’t bring it up.)

-         I’ll start by saying that downtown Champaign is a criminally underrated college town and that every last student should go there purposefully and regularly. That being said… there’s a reason I have to include that last part. It’s not all that far from campus, but if it’s a Friday night in January and the options are walk to somewhere close for fun or spend 20 minutes walking even further then taking the bus, that won’t be a battle you win often. Townies and alumni were always going to be the target for season tickets (money + consistency of being close), and this is most convenient for them as the biggest ticket draw. For the students, really banking on a lot of dedication right off the bat to make those off campus games.

-         The obvious next best would be something on campus.  There are some areas out by Assembly, which would be likely be the best options and make it slightly more convenient for students to get to.  As for the current Ice Arena, no chance of just renovating it: NCAA requires a certain venue capacity for their D1 hockey teams, which that building is too land locked for (Illini tower, a learning center, Armory and fifth street all surround it). It’s also built to be a speed skating rink, therefore is much wider than the average hockey dimensions. This is why it’s called the Big Pond, and why ACHA opponents crawl back to the bench by the third period of the Friday hockey game. (Also, yes we should have just renovated Assembly to fit an ice arena, and no we didn’t have sign off from the National Hockey League for a D1 team at the time)

-         GENERALLY, though, I do think the interest is there and that U of I is the right school to start with, as much bias as I can put aside being put aside.  The study findings reference the Blackhawks as the major driver for hockey interest in Illinois, obvious and accurate (though I imagine it's easier to find a seat a Firehaus for games nowadays than when I was there for the Cup runs).  NHL success doesn't necessarily translate to college hockey interest, but there's a better chance of the Illini demographic wanting something to fill the probable upcoming hockey void than any other group, on top of the already existing void in noteworthy sports. We're also the same school that went viral for the celebration of the U.S. Olympic hockey shootout win vs. Russia, and Lion wasn't the only place at capacity at 6 A.M. that day.  Overall interest is certainly there, certainly to the point of finding 6,500 people for games (at least close to that).

- Brought it up earlier, but in terms of college hockey currently available, U of I does have a club hockey team in the midst of a very successful season. Aside from not being Division 1, or playing other Big Ten/household name schools (Ohio might be the biggest school we play regularly), I think the subpar interest (at least for "should we bring a Division 1 team here" standards) is just that not many know that it's available. Not being a free sport doesn't help with student interest (money earned from tickets does go towards cutting the cost of dues for players), but from the five seasons I went to games, the crowds always got bigger as the season went on as word of mouth spread, even in the less successful seasons. Assuming an NCAA D1 team will get a hell of a lot more marketing, student interest will increase comparatively. Which is a shame: the club team is very talented, the Ice Arena has a great vibe and character to it, and the games are a ton of fun at a convenient location (and I know damn well you kids have the Friday/Saturday 7-10 slot free most weekends). And even though they cost money, they're cheap. Which...

-        The initial cost price tag essentially set it seems, the next biggest step is how to handle operating costs after and possibly make some money for either the university or private investors (or both). Birkhead (@bbirk3) of The Champaign Room brings up the current dilemma of privately owned vs. university owned stadium, with the university’s ideal scenario being having a private company handle the arena's construction and later operations with the school getting the revenue. I dropped Macroeconomics two weeks in, but my three pages of notes seems to agree that that’s pretty ambitious.  I assume if it does go private some sort of deal will be worked out, but either ownership scenario doesn’t change trying to turn a profit on one of the most expensive possible sports to put on. Whoever takes the lead will have to price tickets verrrry carefully- students, local residents and hockey die hards used to club hockey prices will all be very hard sells if the initial tickets costs are too high.

-          The overwhelming success of Penn State’s program had to have been a factor in the NHL deciding to do this, and for good reason: it seems to be the hardest ticket in town after just five seasons. Possibly the biggest piece of good news from this is their jump from the ACHA to D1 NCAA, which would be the move Illini hockey would make. They also finished third place or higher with five national titles from 1994 to 2006 in that league, to our two national championships. But y'know. It's an honor just to be mentioned.

-          Lastly, what are our chances of competing, realistically?  They aren’t lying about the Chicago market for hockey prospects: it’s a great pool of talent that will only get better. And the timing lines up really well for this: where interest in the Blackhawks is dwindling in the midst of a lost season (contradicting my earlier point, but that remaining important for hockey’s resurgence in the Champaign-Urbana area), Chicago's hockey renaissance made a lot of kids want to lace 'em up. Assuming that 2009 and 2010 were the biggest years for a wide population of Chicagoans starting to watch the Blackhawks regularly, and assuming the timeline of a 2020-2021 independent and a 2021-2022 Big Ten start is still the timeline, the freshman coming in would have been 8 or 9 when the Hawks started winning Cups, influencing them to start playing hockey. And this talent pool will have kids who started playing earlier and earlier every year for a very solid stretch. Even if the Hawks window is closed, there’s gonna be a lot of good hockey players coming out of Chicago in the near future. And we’ll be a two hour drive away the whole time.

And, again, have to do my duty as a former season ticket holder of the club hockey team and keep plugging their games. They're just about to drop the puck for a trip to the final four in the ACHA National tournament, and no matter the result, they had an incredible year featuring a 14-5-1 record at home. It's not the D1 level hockey I just spent 2,000 words on, but it's a consistently talented group with a great atmosphere that deserves much more crowd support than the usual Dad's weekend sell out. A $5 student ticket gets you a great above ice view, entertaining hockey, and a fun atmosphere. Enjoy the old, non-D1 dimensional, sweat sock smelling, "we have to ask you not to lean over the railing please" hockey while you can: it could a lot faster and newer in a seat a lot farther away sooner than we think. 


Sunday, February 25, 2018

For Emma, A Week Ago

                True, it’s still not baseball season and this is a big left turn for an obscure sports blog. But I don’t think my ten readers are too worried about me straying from the theme of the site. And sad indie music should fit the theme of White Sox fandom, so stick around if you’d like a show review.
                At 10 years officially, For Emma, Forever Ago is more staying power than nostalgia, certainly compared to most everything else I was listening to at age 15 (Viva La Vida does start to lose it luster once you don’t need to sweat out finding a prom date).  It’s part underdog story, part “it’s his hit album and it’s really only a demo”, part the mystique of Vernon himself, and, for this show, the speculation of what a show emphasizing one album might look like from him.
                Because Justin, until a week ago today, gave nostalgia a passing interest at best: Bon Iver is three rebuilds deep in as many albums, with no song safe from going from the setlist to the cutting room floor. (More than once this tour he’s played Skinny Love one night and Holocene the next. Obviously, for a one-night show in a sold out arena, he obliged and played both.) A mix of humble, a mix of indie, a mix of ego, I always considered him someone to consider full album shows more gimmicky than special. Which can be true: the seemingly recent “famous album start to finish” trend, a safe bet, does seem to have a bit of risk attached. I’ve seen great ones (Thom Yorke doing “The Eraser” with his ragtag team of some of the best musicians out there), I’ve seen duds (“The Soft Bulletin, or “The Flaming Lips do an entire show under 45 beats per minute”).  It all depends on the odd mix of letting fan favorites have their staying power while making old songs everyone’s heard a million times refreshing. In short, not something I’d consider Justin Vernon to be all that interested in, which made the anomaly of a sold out arena show featuring the possibility of For Emma, Forever Ago start to finish all the more intriguing.
                And a possibility is how it stayed: “Lump Sum” opened the show a little before ten to a sleepy up until then crowd (a 10 PM headliner start and a several times loop of old country songs that made Daddy Sang Bass sound like Metallica had made the sold-out BMO a little restless). The subtle high energy track, complete with the harmony intro, made for a great start, and dispelled any possibility of the album being played in sequence. An interesting twist on the single album centerpiece show concept, Justin and his backing band of friends, longtime music partners, and guests alike essentially based the show off of For Emma tracks, unreleased songs written around the time, and covers they associated/played themselves during that era of touring. If playing an entire album would lose its luster after a while, recreating setlists from the tour surrounding it might tap into the nostalgia factor just enough while still keeping things fresh for the band and audience. Could be an interesting concept for other bands going forward.
                Though not the album in order, everything off For Emma did get played, to little surprise. The true worth of the show was seeing the growth of the record right in front of you: a quiet, dense solo album by an unknown artist becoming a wall of sound with several musicians playing in a basketball arena.  Every song felt twice as big in a live setting, most notably Creature Fear’s outro and Skinny Love (yes, it’s meant to be a Justin and his guitar song, but man those kick drums and vocal layers). For Emma was the demo that stayed that way, with no need for the full band treatment- but, live, it was very cool to see what felt like the alternate finished product.
                Covers and missing pieces filled in what the nine-track album could not, some not surprising (a For Emma show had to have Blood Bank), some very surprising (a least coming from this baseball blogger with no concept of how to recreate Woods live). The biggest surprise of the middle section was the never before played Hayward, WI, a familiar acoustic Bon Iver song with a very unfamiliar lyric structure for his normal songs. Detailing what seemed like events surrounding a high school graduation, the very nostalgic fit the vibe of the evening. In the middle of his electronica heavy tour, it will be interesting to see what comes of this song, and if it will see a release anytime soon.
                All out of album material after the main set, the full band returned to the stage and went right into Holocene. I’d halfway doubted it’d get played if they really were just doing For Emma and before songs, but the nod to Milwaukee made for an appropriate exception (you won’t always get Jungleland in Jersey, but being there can’t hurt your odds). Not sure what else might be left, and not expecting a 22, A Million to close out the night, Justin invited Sarah Siskind back onto the stage for one of her songs. “Lovin’s for Fools” ended the scorned lover-based set, one I hadn’t heard before that night but one that was a highlight after (if you’re like me and think “You Are My Sunshine” is a sad song, buckle up for this one). As fitting a song as they could have chosen: even when looking back, don’t get sentimental. Or just be cautious when you do. Commenting that it “felt like the band’s first birthday party”, it was a night that seemed to mean a lot to Justin and his band, but one that would only be that one night. “Gotta be careful with nostalgia”, says Vernon, now back to his regularly scheduled laptop and soundboard tour, the majority of the Emma tracks now going back into the snowed in cabin.
                So the story goes.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Playoff Preview

               I owe you guys for basically the month of September, so I figured I’d do a quick pick ‘em for the baseball playoffs. Pretty refreshing group of teams this year- even the staples like the Yankees have a newer, more exciting feel to them- and I’m more excited this year than in years past. Palehose are in a direction where our turn feels soon, and the root canal of a Cubs World Series win is in post-op: this year will be a fun one. (Hell, next year could be too for us if the Twins made the wild card game)

                Division Series

                Cubs - Nationals
                The only home field advantage factor in this series is the one less time Sox fans will have to take the Red Line north on gameday after work. I can’t imagine any opposing stadium being as nerve wracking for the Cubbies as an away game 7 for the last thing in sports to talk about being crossed off. Strasburg or Scherzer is still being decided for game one (I think they’ll go with Stephen), but I like Hendricks for the experience to keep that one competitive. Bats in the same weight class, it comes down to the pitching, and I think the Cubs’ rotation has the firepower for this series.

                Prediction: Cubs in 4

                Dodgers – Diamondbacks/Rockies
                Wild card game has yet to be decided. The Dodgers 104 wins have. Kershaw, Hill, Darvish take care of whoever wins tonight.

                Prediction: Dodgers in 4

                Astros-Red Sox
                REALLY happy to finally see the Astros make it, and you should be too if you’re a White Sox fan. Hoping for the heavyweight fight this series should shake up to be with the bats on both sides- the day games are just that little bit better when the defy time and logic by still going on when work lets out. Bring on the beautiful, four hours slugfests on days Chris Sale isn’t pitching (Hawks take priority but I will DVR that and watch it start to finish like a proud parent).
                Boston will be a sight to behold tomorrow with Game 1, Pats-Bucs, and Bruins opening night all happening at once. I don’t think Chris Sale’s first playoff start can be hyped enough, and I think Boston has the lineup to do away with the Astroturf’s homegrown efficiently

                Prediction: Red Sox in 4

                It’s odd to question a team as definitively great (see also: played mostly AL Central opponents) as the Indians. They have the make up of the regular season juggernaut, and without coming up tied with the Cubs in the Fall Classic last year, I’d probably feel more confident in axing them here.
                Equally as “I’m not really sure what to think here”, the Yankees are coming in off the shortest rebuild ever and are looking like more of a threat than I’d thought. The Kahnle-Robertson combo will certainly help, but it’s the bats that will have to overachieve for this one. Those Judge and Frazier strikeouts don’t seem as bad when it’s a regular season, but have a danger of adding up fast for five games max. Might be closer than the Tribe would like, but I think they advance

                Prediction: Indians in 5

                Championship Series:

                If you like 13 inning 2-1 games that’ll end at about 1:30 in the morning, boy will this be the series for you. Same teams as last year, different place to start: Wrigley for home field proved huge last year sans a huge night from Kershaw in game 2. As much as I’d like to think the Dodgers are more up for the task this year compared to last, I like the “been there before” pitcher more than the guy who hasn’t.  Cubbies lineup has that little bit more of an edge like the series before, and their rotation is more of a safety net for following bad starts. Cubs make the World Series for the second straight year because why not when it’s the end of days anyway.

                Prediction: Cubs in 6

                Indians-Red Sox
                Yes, a Yankees-Red Sox championship series would be great. The two blatantly best teams in the A.L. duking it out is a nice consolation prize, though.  Two teams in “win now” mode with what should be a good mix of pitching duels and slugfests that’ll likely go the distance.  I’d love to see Houston from a rooting for the underdog standpoint, but this series would be one of the more “must watch” playoff baseball of recent years.
                Both teams pretty much even, I think it comes down to home field advantage. Fenway in October is its own beast for opponents- that being said, Progressive packed with long overdue Indians fans is another Goliath entirely. Regular season fluke or not, if the Indians make it to the clincher this far in I don’t see that opportunity being squandered.  Tribes go 12 rounds to the classic.
                 Prediction: Indians in 7

                World Series
                What would modern sports be if Cleveland didn’t meet the same opponent again in the finals. Parity is baseball’s biggest strength (if you’re a fan of just about any team except the one this site’s about, anyway), and I shouldn’t want to see the divisional rival and the noisier neighbor battle it out again. This game is too fun to watch to not want round 2 with these teams, though. Let’s get the Fall Classic back to the Great Lakes.
                The advantage for the Cubs, no matter who they wind up playing, is Maddon having broken up a lot of the monotony of the hangover season in various ways. The advantage for the Indians is, well, we’re a great team and losing last year still sucks. Changing leadoff hitters every day, switching up pitchers, making the surprise move to make the other team second guess themselves- I don’t think it adds up to beating a starving team.
                The Royals won it after losing the year before, why not Indians.  They won 22 in a row, what’s four out of seven, even against the team that knocked you out last year.  Tribe find themselves on the right side of home field advantage this year and finally get one.

                Prediction: Indians in 6

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Resurrection - vs. Angels

                May as well give some insight into why I started this for this year, last month or so (or more) aside. Life certainly didn’t stop for baseball. I’ll make up for that.

                Tadahito Iguchi had his retirement ceremony on Thursday, the ninth straight year with the last game at home scheduled well in advance in the dwindling regular season. Not much pomp and circumstance, no new number taken of the board for good, just a cool video and a first pitch to a standing O.

                He’s known best, of course, for his home run against the Red Sox in the World Series run, a game 13-year-old me watched from behind the upper deck foul pole in left. “This could be the last game”, I remember thinking when trailing: this was still one game down and a long way to go, and I was still the third generation fan of a team that could never close it out for the previous two.

                Then came the error, the clearest, most vivid baseball memory I have. A dribbler to Graffanino, a 99 times out of a 100 grounder. The fans groan, that then all too familiar “every damn time” groan: a loss at home and two more at Fenway flash through everyone’s mind.

                Through his legs. “UUUUUUUggggghhhhhhh…HRRRRRRRRR-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

                The rest is history. I didn’t watch the home run ball land below me as much as I did the crowd in the bleachers: the hugs, the beer spilling everywhere, the flags waving, the vein-popping shrieks towards the general direction of home plate. We’d pummeled them the game before, but this was the game where it started feeling real: the defending champs were on the brink of getting swept, and the future champs showed everyone they weren’t a quitting team.  The juggernaut moved onward.

                The rest OF history is why the response to me saying I’m on a White Sox is usually “why?”.  The real answer is that my grandpa was an Irish dude that was taught the game of baseball from the pennant winning ’59 squad, and because my mom was the kind of fan that lambasted the TV during Disco Demolition because it meant forfeiting the second game. (She probably thinks I could’ve come up with a better name for this site). It’s not something seen anywhere near as frequently in the city, up year or down year for the Northsiders. Not much coverage, not much sustained success, a stadium usually a barren sea of empty seats- why these guys?

                Games like Thursday are why.

 I’m not gonna do coverage for the Cleveland series- a team coming in with 100 wins and a team out of the playoffs, these games are being played for contractual obligation purposes only. Thursday is the better send off, anyway: scoreless “let’s get this season over with” four innings to start, the Angels move ahead after getting up to speed with Covey. They’d remain ahead for the overwhelming majority of the game: two runs to tie, four outs to do so with.

Why do I like the White Sox? Why do I like the 2017 White Sox, specifically? Why have a whole site devoted to a team that has their heads barely above 100 losses?

The story of the season: never quit. (Coming from someone who had to take a month off the blog, but y’know, it’s the words that count here).

3-2, 2 out, Brantly puts one in the bleachers, one last souvenir for the weekday faithful. A perfect hit-and-run brings in Anderson for the winning run two batters later. The last image of 2017 What’s Our Name Again Field is Anderson to Abreu- a sight we’ll be familiar with. It was a meaningless game at the end of September with no implications on the standings or league whatsoever, but hell if they didn’t steal one last one anyway.

Why the Sox? Because when we’re good, our home runs crack a little louder, go a little farther, hurt the opponent a little harder. Because when we’re good, we scrape, claw, and bowl over anyone for that extra base. Because when we’re good, that’s when the fans come: entire families, multiple generations, tried and true Chicago originals with mustard stains on their Greg Luzinski jersey. And we’re LOUD: the upper deck got moved back when Your Ad Here Park was built, but we’re all still right on top of every batter that comes to the plate, and you’d better be on the home side when you do. And we’ll all be in black, rally towels and Modelos in hand, drowning out Thunderstruck into an absolute battle for the right side of 27 outs. We’re big, bold, eff you Chicago, and you’ll be hearing from us soon.

At least, that’s the hope. Baseball is a fickle mistress, and she’s been away for a while for us Southsiders. But now, the goal feels that little bit closer. That next big Iguchi type at-bat feels a lot less distant. I can almost make out a packed Comiskey, sitting in my actual seat as opposed to wherever I decided, standing next to an actual human being as opposed to the bag of the guy two seats over. I can almost hear a crowd- a CROWD, not people at a baseball game, a full-blown CROWD- deafening the packed house for reasons other than a Noise-O-Meter or a free t-shirt. I can almost feel the games counting for something. I can almost feel the crisp fall air at a baseball game: not the last gasp of winter in April. Not the lake effect on a July night. The nervous, teeth-chattering, sweating under three layers and death-gripping the rally towel for warmth and stress relief… THAT fall weather.

It was a meaningless game at end of September. And we came back and won. And you better believe that if we don’t quit when the game doesn’t count, we sure as hell won’t when it does. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Reynaldo Recap

                 Following the rest of this series is a little up in the air for me this weekend, and I’d like to shake things up in the dog days anyway. The most noteworthy part of the series, barring more Moncada heroics or neighborly spats turned benches cleared (good for the soul sometimes), was the White Sox debut of Reynaldo Lopez last night. Has been inevitable for a while now, and he made the most of his first start last night. Deserves a full breakdown.

                Scouting Report:

                Giolito was the headliner initially for the Eaton deal, but Lopez was the one coming in with actual major league experience.  I thought it was a couple starts and relief appearances back in Washington but didn’t realize until this week that he pitched in the NLDS. The fastball is what you notice first, flirting with triple digits on occasion, and the slider complements that very well- 85 with a lot of movement. Throws a good curve and, on the rare occasion, a change-up (we’ll get into that later).
                1st inning:

                Good first impression on the leadoff batter: Merrifield watches a slider go by for a called third. Fastball coming in at 97 mph pretty consistently, and he’s hitting his spots with it for the most part. He really brings the heat next at-bat, getting Cain swinging at 98 on the gun. Lot of scouts have said we’ll probably be getting used to that.

                Dances around Hosmer a little too much and forces the walk. Standing ovation follows- Melky Cabrera returns to the Southside for his first game as a Royal. (A pretty funny moment when we’re all sitting back down and the guy next to me yells “Now strike him out!” with great comedic timing.) Gets him to fly out to shallow left. Hit 99 and 100 in this inning supposedly- guessing that’s the hometown speed gun talking.

                2nd inning:

                The filthiest thing I saw all night came in the first at-bat against Moose: fouls off four fastballs and is down 1-2. Throws another fastball out of the zone (98) and follows it up with a 78 mph curve to get him swinging. Almost unfair, that bait.

                Have said in a previous post about Rodon that young strikeout-oriented pitchers make me a little nervous: the huge upside for them is outs without a ball put in play, the downside is my three sins of strikeout pitchers. The first sin is catching on to the gameplan right away: eventually the Royals start watching a lot of curveballs, which a strikeout pitcher tends to throw for less accuracy. If trying to just get an out (usually a groundout), it has to be in the zone enough for the batter to swing at with enough movement to negate solid contact. A strikeout pitcher will want much more movement with less intent to throw a strike: doesn’t matter if it’s in the zone or in the dirt if the outcome is the batter swinging and missing. Royals catch on and adjust accordingly.

                Lopez walks one and strikes out the next two- slider working early. Four change-ups supposedly thrown to Gordon, which would surprise me.

                The second sin of strikeout pitchers? Pitch count. Five strikeouts, 42 pitches through 2.

                3rd inning:

                Butera lines out on the first pitch, which is the best thing that could’ve happened to Lopez. He needs a quick inning if he’ll make it through six.  The next at-bat doesn’t help: he walks Merrifield, luckily not wasting many pitches in doing so. I’m curious to see how he adjusts his gameplan for a situation where I’d assume he’d look to forcing a double play.  He does no such thing: baits Cain with an off speed then blows him away with a fastball. Gets a first pitch pop up the next at-bat, and he’s out of the inning on ten pitches.

                4th inning:

                The first sin of strikeout pitchers: the hitters adjust accordingly

                The second sin: high pitch counts

                The third sin: you miss your spot, you’re in trouble. Home run trouble.

                It happens to every single strikeout pitcher, most obviously with Rodon and Shields. It was also my one critique of Chris Sale: a lot of lines featuring 10 K’s, 1 home run. The more you dance around batters and the more bait pitches you throw, the more pitches they hit the living snot out of when you miss your spot. Case in point: Moustakas.

                I thought it was a change-up Lopez threw there, apparently it was a hung slider. He wasn’t using it as a bait pitch so much as he did the curveball, but sometimes your slider doesn’t- well, slide. Moonshot to the right field bleachers, lead cut in half.

                The Royals get more aggressive at the plate this time through the order, following the homer with two hits on two pitches. Now I’m really curious to see what he does in a less implied double play situation. The foul out to hold ‘em was probably the highlight of the inning (another good outcome for strikeout pitchers).

                5th inning:

                Great diving catch by Engel saves Lopez the runner on nobody out trouble. Slider still coming in at around 85, but the fastball is losing some of the heat. (More of a fastball pitcher problem than a strikeout pitcher problem, but those overlap more often than not). Not sure if it’s necessarily a result of this, but Cain had a collision with the wall earlier in the game that it looked like his wrist took the brunt of. Lopez, that in mind or me looking to far into it, jams him for the foul out to first. If so that’s a great pitching mindset.

                Tim has trouble with a ground ball and Abreu saves him with a pick. Seemed to catch him off guard, and understood: it was Lopez’s first groundout of the game.

                6th inning:

                Lopez likely done after this. Was likely done before the Moose home run, but that probably sealed the deal (and unfortunately cost him the win). Homer came on a change-up, which going in I’d heard Lopez throws very sparingly. Like, four change-ups a game sparingly. He can get outs on his regular pitches, and it’s rare to be really, really good throwing five different pitches. Eventually we might be forcing the issue on those change-ups.  Gets a groundout and a pop out to close it out.

                Overall there’s a lot of potential here for him. When he’s on he’s filthy: some of those 98’s on the corner and late moving sliders were absolutely unhittable. Six K’s are nice, but the wins are better, and unfortunately only two mistakes were enough to cost him that victory. Have a feeling he’ll have a couple more of those games before this rebuild moves to phase two. So it goes here. 

Pray for the league

Friday, August 11, 2017

Big And Bright - vs. Astros (W 8-5, W 7-1, W 3-2)

                Series like this for Houston must be why college admissions require second semester grades from seniors. For the White Sox, awesome, sweeping from a great team. For the Astros… work week series against a last place team? Not a red flag in the dog days. Doesn’t seem like we saw the best of Houston this homestand.

                Don’t always get to talk about a series win here, though, so let’s dive in. Avi didn’t miss a beat coming back from the DL, putting us on the board right away Tuesday. More small ball follows for three more runs. Safe to admit that Keuchel didn’t have his best stuff- again, weekday game, last place team. ‘Stros tie it up right away before Kevan Smith takes over with a double and a homer respectively. I boil the good from this game down to consistent good starts from Holland, who definitely needed a win after getting cheated out of one last start, and the young guys getting it done, which was a very pleasant theme all series. Bullpen rocky, but that’s old news.

                Wednesday was a clear mission for me to retire the “live by the long ball” rhetoric. Sans the Tim Anderson (thank God) home run, all runs scored on singles or doubles, a great sign of moving the chains in the batting order. Love Beloved Son Moncada’s walks and Delmonico’s hot start, especially the middle of the order. Gonzalez back to his solid self, lasting eight with little difficulty, a tough feat against a team where half the lineup’s around .300. 

                Thursday. The Moncada game. Why I said give it a full month before actual concerns about him. Why the average doesn’t mean much. Why this guy has all the makings of the real deal. Welcome to the show, companero.

                The obvious before last night: dude gets on base. I’ve already brought up his vision at the plate here, but he has a knack for picking his pitches. It’s a great tendency to have compared to prospects who get impatient at the plate and swing at bad pitches, which leads to seeing less pitches, which leads to never really figuring out pitch sequences in major league at bats. Yoan’s seen a lot of pitches so far and seems to be getting the hang of how they’re pitching to him.  He also only has trouble with one pitch, change-ups, which means fouling those off in favor of other pitches. Different story if two or more pitches are a weakness. 

               Taking a 99 mph fast ball to the opposite field bleachers in the bottom of the ninth is a very, very good thing, with winning it on a base hit to boot. He’s here to stay, folks.

Credit Chicago Tribune

                 EDIT: Thanks to u/ChromiumSulfate for reminding me how days of the week work