Thursday, April 27, 2017

Royal Blue, Red Wedding - vs. Royals (W 12-1, W 10-5, W 5-2)

                Revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge.  There’s nothing nasty about the Royals, sans a minor odd blow up featuring lip service and Jeff Samardzija’s only contribution to the Sox that year. There’s never been a tight division race between the two recently to cause some bad blood. The stadium’s gorgeous, the paid their dues fans got their long overdue title, the team is still talented and fun to watch (though soon to be victims of free agency).
                So why does it feel so damn good to sweep the Royals?
                Years and years of them having our number, years and years of “The Royals are my Daddy”, it finally went the other way around this week. Went to the game Monday, self-upgraded our upper level seats to first row first base line (Comiskey Park- for the working man!), and stayed standing early on with Davidson’s shot to right center.  The “start every day” takes are beaten to death by now, but I’d like him for the reps at playing third as much as the at-bats.  Gives him practice and allows Frazier to get back to form at the plate (next day as a DH seemed to help).  Todd seems to be adjusting his approach at the plate for hard liners over homers, at least for the time being.  Those hits were things of beauty this series.
                Believe Monday was the most runs I’ve seen in person.  The eight run sixth felt like an especially huge statement after what this lineup was supposed to be, and what it has been some games so far. The pessimist in me wants to replay it on a loop constantly for upcoming blowouts and two hit affairs, the optimist in me sees it as a sign of life and playing in the now. The potential’s here, the tank not as tankish (tanky? tank-like?) as expected. For the Royals, a flat-out stinker that happens a couple times a year. For us, a worn out home plate, another gem by Miguel Gonzalez (keep keep KEEP. A low risk signing turned innings eater worth his weight in gold).
                The first game was personal satisfaction (finally owning the Royals is a looooooooooong time comin’). The second game was absolute bliss. Back-and-forth early, Leury Garcia made for another case for starting every day, a regicide at the plate and a monster in the outfield. Think May needs some time in the pinch runner/fourth outfielder role for his own sake. Yolmer’s hustle on the triple and infield single also a very good sign (the latter giving us two extra at-bats and two extra runs. 10 spot and a Sox winner. (And I don’t want to say this again: DON’T THROW THE GODDAMN HOME RUN BALLS BACK.)
                The first game was personal satisfaction. The second game was absolute bliss. The third game was a script changer. Had all the makings of a “score a ton of runs the day before a Quintana start and tap out once he hits the mound” game, but a nice little sequence from the top of the order gives Q his long overdue early lead. Not sure which is better, our big guns seeming to turn it around, or finally giving Jose a chance to contend. After the 1st, he was a man possessed, racking up strikeout after strikeout and showing the “much appreciated” by mowing down the Royals roster. They came back after a tough break with Abreu’s injury: considering how he was basically dragged off the field wanting to stay in, I’m assuming day-to-day will actually mean day-to-day, but probably the worst time of the year for him to go down. Tie game, Quintana likely done after six innings of work, Avisail HAMMERS one to center to put some distance late (I’m guessing the death glares he got from Q across the dugout were more than enough to get him to swing for the moon).

                Best of all, and owner of the dagger dinger in the 7th, Leury not only solidified his case to play every day but has given us, at long last, a Royals killer. What a series from him.  The biggest surprise of this team has been the hot start from players who clearly didn’t like the label of rebuild filler guys and wanted to change that as soon as possible. Suddenly, both age 26, we may have a great asset through 2020 in Leury and a more stressful arbitration than anticipated in Avi. Overly optimistic for a month in, sure, but these could be interesting pieces to be played out going forward. Leury won’t stay over .300, and Avi won’t keep up Ted Williams pace, but both will play out their cases for being part of the plan the rest of the season. In the meantime, onto Motor City to keep this winning war against the Central rolling.

"If the White Sox can score ten runs you can have your first Bomber, Junior"

Sunday, April 23, 2017

They Are Who We Thought They Were - vs. Indians (L 0-3, L 0-7, W 6-2)

              Enough with the hangover, apparently. Whatever Pedialyte and greasy food combination worked for Cleveland, the flip's switched from team that lost the Fall Classic to team that won last year's pennant. The real Indians were in town this weekend.
              The equilibrium leveled for us, as well. Not much to be said here besides not having a roster ready to hang whiff 'em yet.  We go where the heart of the order takes us, be it the good like today's three runs or the bad like Friday's three total hits. It's intentional, it's part of the plan, it's a reminder that we like the idea of a rebuild more than the rebuild itself.
               Another tough one for Jose to kick off the series, but not quite the "easier to walk through the eye of a needle than it is to score a run for Quintana" loss to make us hang our heads. He only threw three bad pitches, but those pitches happened to let up a run via wild pitch and set up and lift off a two run homer. Same with Tanaka last series, it's more to gauge how we stack up against top pitchers on contending teams. Answer's the same.
               Pelfrey with the par for the course first White Sox outing on Saturday. 4 runs, 2 officially his fault. It's a tough spot for a relatively quick call-up, suit-up turnaround. Offense not much help, though the long awaited Jacob May first hit provided a nice enough bright spot. Pretty forgettable loss otherwise.
               Hitters got going today to avoid the sweep, courtesy of a rough Salazar outing, Melky's "don't worry my finger's fine" two RBI day, and Avisail postponing the "fluke" critics a series longer. A "bigger fish to fry" kind of day for the opposing perennial contender. Holland great, six runs are fun, come on down for our next Family Sunday Mom and Dad! Nice to be heading into the Kansas City series with the bats going.

                                     The look of a man too busy for your dirt bike ride

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Empire State of Rebuilding - at Yankees (L 4-7, W 4-1, L 1-9)

                My frustration in previous makeshift competitive years of not winning the division was always seemed to boil down to just how damn winnable the division was.  Rebuilding and being competitive for longer than an oddball division title turned one playoff win is a move I’d rather get behind, but boy did this series show the gap between the AL Central and everyone else. With teams that include a World Series hangover, two teams in the twilight of a competitive roster, and a 100 losses squad, it’s really the Indians controlling their own destiny as everybody else replans and rebuilds.  The East, meanwhile, is a different kind of rat race. To the Bronx to see how the other half lives.
                It’s hard to get frustrated at a game like Friday’s when they’re the losses you expected to happen this year.  Getting runners in scoring position in continues to be probably the most aggravating thing, but aside from Anderson through Abreu there really wasn’t a sequence in the lineup I thought could get consistent consecutive hits (and with those two slumping it’s tough to rely on sequences like Wednesday’s fourth inning as much). Continued to be an issue tonight with six left on.  Aside from a run off Chapman for the truest Cub haters, not too much to draw from in this. Five unearned runs and more sloppy play at first (Jose getting DH duty the next night probably a good move).
                “Live by the long ball” still seems to be the theme here. Red hot Avi has a late three run homer to cut most of the tension, Gonzalez long cruising by then. Both teams seemed impatient this series in their own ways, Yankees by swinging at a lot of early count pitches and White Sox by looking the part most of the bat then tensing up and swinging at bad late pitches. (Overall we’re having less really bad at-bats, but we’re still striking out a LOT). Games like these are where I like Miguel as a pure innings eater- not expecting numbers like 60 pitches through 6, but there’s more upside than not to keeping a pitcher like him around for the rebuild (have only heard a handful of rumors that say otherwise, anyway).  The ninth was more stressful than it needed to be, but I’m chalking that up to Gonzalez trying to figure out his limits and Robertson being out of place in a non-save situation.
                Going into the rubber match, all that really mattered to me was looking competitive against Tanaka, though that didn’t pan out aside from some nice consecutive hits capped off by an Abreu RBI double (hopefully the three hits gets him going).  These aren't the “I’m just trying to find myself” Pinstripes anymore: Bronx bombers unloaded on us, the death punch being Aaron Judge hitting the farthest home run in human history. It’s probably the pettiest thing possible to pick apart one play in an eight run loss, let alone a no-call strike, but it’s tough for a young pitcher to have to adjust the approach then adjust after giving up a leadoff triple. It didn’t open the floodgates, but it doesn’t make life any easier for a pitcher whose second major league start is at Yankee Stadium when a win takes the series. The momentum never comes back the Palehose’s way, Yankees win, thuhhh-uhh-uhh Yankees win.

                Would definitely not want to be in the AL East this year (can’t think of a season I ever would have). Any series against their teams will be great to gauge our progress. Right now, progressing as expected. 

                       I'm not proud of the title but it's late and I can't think of a Rangers pun fast enough

                                                 (Credit Chicago Tribune, please don't sue)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Who's On First, Garcia In Left Right Center - at Twins (W 2-1, L 0-6, W 3-1)

                Seemed to be about that time that the rain would find us again.  Lucky it wasn’t snow this time of year, puzzled that they went ahead with a stadium in Minnesota without a retractable roof. (Ask us if we’d prefer the Metrodome back.  We’ll wait. Through a rain delay of any length just so we don’t have to).
                But who am I to judge our friendly neighborhood Central opponents. History made on Friday with the three Garcias- congrats to Melky and welcome to the show Willy. Per Phenomenal Source, supposedly he’s looking really, really good down in Charlotte. Absolutely roped a ball to the gap his first at-bat, getting the now displayed forever souvenir but getting beaned at third trying to stretch it out. Didn’t take long to catch the “doin’ too much” Sox clubhouse fever.  The aggressive hustle fits in well with the young players this year, and has me excited about his potential here. Hit the ball harder in one at-bat than Jacob May in all of his, for a “maybe we should be thinking about this now” comparison- without hindering Willy’s development, might be worth it for Jacob to have a brief rendezvous Carolinas before his confidence bottoms out. Davidson homers late, Sox take it 2-1.
                Quintana’s troubles continue Saturday- I’ve been waiting for this other shoe to drop, if we’re being honest.  He has more grace and mental toughness than the oldest monk at the temple, but after months and months of trade talks and nonexistent run support, I can’t imagine you’re throwing every day like it’s your last. (And if it is, well, it probably means he’s going to a team that’ll score some runs for him). Sox never really in this one with five runs coming early.
                Sunday, rubber match. Not sure if I’m just more free-spirited in an anything goes year and redundant already in a ten day old site, but yet again, this felt like a win that we didn’t get often last year. Sending Abreu on that sac fly was pretty damn aggressive, and some great small ball that’s fun to watch, if nothing else. Proving to becoming more trend than fluke, Shields looks great again (still think the strikes should be there by now, but whatever gets the win) and Garcia continues the hot streak at the plate with the game-ending bomb. I was pretty well into the “no” camp for Avi last season, and had the tent really pegged down to the ground when he was resigned in the offseason. It makes more sense in the context of the plan- who else are we gonna play in the outfield and why would a bad year matter in a rebuild season- but the low risk signing is really paying off so far. Robertson solid once again (trade THAT), we take the series.  I could get used to winning in the division. And we’ll have to once our Bronx work week is over.

                                            Thanks Chicago Sun Times, and please don't sue

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tales of a Promised Land - at Indians (L 2-1, W 2-1, W 10-4)

               The Tribe. The team I’ve always thought should be more of a rival than they are. Definitely more than the team that bested them in the Fall Classic, but for some reason not as much of the spite that our other neighbors in the Central bring to the table. It should have the same logical hate (like the Royals being co-owners with Jerry since 2011) or that weird, no reason “I’m not sure why, I just do” rival every team seems to have (Why is beating Detroit more fun? Some weird post-Magglio bias? Blue collar-ish? Hockey carryover?). Likely a baseball purgatory thing, the division slump panic attack from ’05 and the big brother complex from now don’t add up to the same neighborly spite, even in moments such as “DEREK HOLLAND IS THROWING A NO HITTER WE PUT IT ON THE BIG SCREEN AND IT AIN’T FAKE NEWS”. (Yes, I actually think the same message at Kauffman would have bothered me more.)
                But division rivals they still are, and their pennant party doled out our first bitter headshaker loss of the year.  The big takeaway, especially compared to previous years, was just playing good baseball against good baseball teams. My favorite little thing thus far has been the contact to right with a runner on second, something Rick had mentioned at SoxFest and that I had filed away in the “say something smart the fans will like” with everything else. It’s been a pleasant theme already, Asche getting it done today early and advancing the runner. No score on the play, but a tougher out for the next guy than last year.
                The double plays late in the game were plays that seemed few and far between last year, certainly not in duplicate, and certainly not against teams like Cleveland. The relief pitching looks solid, different as well from last year, not just in our bright spots (they have “Putnam” on the back of their jerseys) but in getting themselves out of jams, inherited or otherwise. Robertson looked solid in the ninth, Davidson gets a double pinch hitting (might have been really good in a similar situation Friday, but that’s none of my business).    
                Arguing balls and strikes remains the most useless contribution to baseball, though I don’t quite understand umpires that don’t call the outside corner.  My logic when behind the plate was always that a good hitter can still drill those pitches, and a good pitcher can hit that spot. Kahnle did, twice in row, to no advantage. Later brings it to a full count, and Brantley takes advantage.  The “should’ve had ‘em” losses are worse in a trying-to-contend year- I’m just happy to hang with a division rival in the last gasps of their pennant hangover. Still, man, nothing brings you back to reality more than the first loss like that of the year.
                Next day, same story, different result. Checking more off the “finally we’re doing these” fundamentals, working the count has been beautiful so far, especially the first batter of the inning. Davidson works the walk, Garcia doubles, Davidson singles. When the aggressiveness in past compromised on smarts, and patience turned into a mental stamina battle we’d usually lose, the refreshing mix of both done right is something I hope stays consistent.
                The pitching, as well: Holland and Shields have been nothing short of spectacular, though Holland’s day was one I’d take every single time, no hitter through five notwithstanding. Shields in strikeout mode is the trade return we’d hoped for and are getting now, but it’s quality starts the hard way: high pitch counts, battling back on batters, a twenty-turn roller coaster compared to the Monorail ride that was Derek today.  May need him to stick around that third man spot as a cool down. A smooth ride to Holland’s first win, now even for the tough loss to swallow from last week.  Only bumps: a blink and it’s over sixth for Salazar (though coming about five innings too late), and Abreu’s bobble at first (doesn’t seem as sharp at first, but, you know, game number eight).
                Rubber game? Blackhawks Christmas admittedly took priority (if I had a million dollars and had to pick either game to have a 1-0 score…), so I really shouldn’t comment too much… and a “manage your expectations” year… #TankForBeer… defending pennant champs…
                Aww hell, we beat the Indians by six runs. Crooked numbers. Lost to the Cubs last year because of an alleged grown men crying speech by Heyward. We’re not that far in, but that had to feel good, right? With our revolving door fifth starter on the mound (swear to God if we still somehow get shutout for Q tomorrow…)? After the frontwards Ks from pitches in the dirt, the losses either 2-1 or 8-7, the Central opponents being obviously better, this was a fun series. I’ve yet to watch the highlights, but the tweets from the first inning are enough to bring that weird early season joy to this team. Next stop, the team that just took the last series from us, and a couple stops later I’m sure the Tribe will regress to the mean and probably sweep us in the last four games of the year in their ballpark and clinch the division at ours earlier that month but…
                This was a fun series.
                Onward to Minnesota. In whatever weird “trying to tank but looking pretty good doing it” thing we have going on right now. 

                                                           Credit MLB, please don't sue

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ace In The Hole - vs. Twins (L 1-3, W 6-2, L 1-4)

        Comiskey in April: all the optimism of the start of the season, just harder to find this time of year. You get to Comiskey/U.S. Cellular Field/Guaranteed Rate Field/The Arrow/#FlyTheArrow to take in the start of the year, get the first look out at the industrial revolution themed outdoor venue.  You head down to the trenches for a quick drink at the Bullpen Bar/Craft Kave/Miller Lite WonderBar/Casa de especial de Modelo de los White Sox, you and the handful of other patrons. You chat up the bartender about the closest Buona to claim your winning Juicy Spicy Beefy Italian Beefy Beef game card, and she gives you five more to help your odds. You grab a Lite to go and walk up- ALL the way up- to the upper deck, no other fan making the steep pilgrimage with you in either direction. You get irrationally annoyed when someone claims the empty seat next to you, thinking you’d beaten the odds. You deal with an odd mix of windburn and frostbite, the crisp lake effect showing its productive offseason.
       Somedays I miss the crowds of late 2005 and the years following, not missing the dwindling numbers and seeing the mass of black and white turned sea of plastic green. The impatience is apparent, though purposeful now: it’ll be interesting how crowds shake up in a rebuilding year, though “exciting prospects” don’t bring families of four to the park. You get used to the half empty stadium, find something oddly homey about it: you and the game becomes an interesting vibe, the extra amenities not too distracting when the noise meter peaks at a 4.2. You freeze, you cheer, you moan, you cheer again, you think about summer’s dog days and a time where those games may matter again.
      For now, the growing pains. Sox pick up a quick run early on three straight singles, but that’d be the last of the spark. Holland’s intro to the team proved sadly appropriate, the tying run coming in on an error and the night ending with four hits in support. The dagger was fan interference to put the Twins up two (for the sake of our fragile team, let’s put those beer googles away until Mullet Night), though a faux rally in the bottom of the ninth kept things interesting. Loud fans in the section behind the dugout seemed to distract Kintzler for two straight walks (first seemed to be coincidence, second seemed like a genuine distraction). May, seemingly overeager to get his first hit, swings at a low first pitch and the game ends on a groundout. Not putting Davidson in this spot seems a little puzzling.
     Weather warmer and team fresher, the next game showed shades of the future. Saladino doubles. Two groundouts to the second basemen get him over and get him in- 1-0. Frazier works the walk in a long at bat, on two strikes for what seemed liked forever. Garcia triples but gets caught in a rundown- a bad throw brings him in. 3-0 early. He makes it easier for everyone in the sixth, launching one to center before Soto follows to left. Mejia gets chased early, and the Sox pick up a solid 6-2 win.
     Quintana takes the rubber match, and less than a week in we’re at “say the word and I’ll do the wellness check” territory. First start gets delayed a day, second yields two hits of support. The writing’s on the wall by the time Polanco homers to center: two starts, two losses for our cursed bat silencer of a trade asset. It’s another winnable game slipped through the cracks, less infuriating in a throwaway season but no less frustrating for our ace.  Someday, law of averages, gambler’s fallacy, what have you for or against, he has to get run support consistently, here or St. Louis/Houston/Washington/insert contender to be named later here.
    No optimism means no reason to show up, be it a cheap April ticket or another day of no run support. Blind faith, an interesting view.

Who'll Stop The Rain? - vs. Tigers (L 3-6, W 11-2)


           I’m more used to Bear weather Opening Day- “wrath of spring” seems more like a late April/early May phenomena.  In a rain delay brought to you by Ford Mustang (featuring the Tigers’ faces with all of the collective enthusiasm of parents in the last ten minutes of a preschool recital) and by Modelo (“Rainy Opening Day- throw a lime in that beer and pretend it’s Memorial Day!”), baseball Christmas would have to wait until 26th (May, that is, Friday doubleheader) to get going.

           Continuing the trend of basically every season since ’77 (cutting Thunderstruck on the 40th of the Hitmen is a bigger unforgivable sin than the handling of the weather), but it looks like another “live by the longball die by the longball” kind of squad: Quintana had the odd poor outing (cue the “trade value looks like the Guaranteed Rate logo” reference here). Verlander on Opening Day is admittedly a rough draw, and the delay turned postponed throws off the first game jitters and adrenaline. Jose misses his spots to the tune of 3 home runs, Verlander hits them to the tune of 10 Ks.

          The next day is a different story: playing to a crowd of “aww, good for you”, the Sox open the floodgates in their first win of the year. Botched throw home on a Jacob May bunt attempts sets the tone and stage for a two run second, before home runs by Soto (pair of ‘em) and Davidson (halfway up the bleachers, clanks and rolls down to the first row) put it out of reach halfway in. James Shields smiles heading to the dugout. Closed off upper deck and ignoring Skilling be damned, these are the games you dream of.

          Rebuilding, retooling, possibly tanking, it’s the little things that count. .500 on the year, dingers a-plenty, and beating Detroit the fun way taking us into the next series. Take it while we have it.

"Baseball, hot dogs, Ford Mustangs and rain delays"