Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Astros 7 – White Sox 1

Game 2: Astros 1 – White Sox 10

Game 3: Astros 0 – White Sox 4

 

Much better.

It’s pretty amazing how good the Sox record is when they hit 2+ home runs in a game. After this weekend they’re now 21-2 with multiple long balls in a single setting, and yet the team overall is 23rd in the league in that category with a measly 99 dingers. I don’t quite know as a hitting coach how you can preach hitting the long ball more, but maybe it’s something they should…look into? Or maybe not, since the team is 3rd in the league in overall offensive WAR. Whatever, just keep winning.

By taking 2 of 3 over the weekend, the Sox salvage what could’ve been a complete disaster of a season series against the cast of Stomp. Things looked pretty bleak Friday evening, as it was more of the same against the Astros with Dylan Cease pitching pretty well, but the offense completely shut down by Lance McCullers. Throw in some seriously boneheaded defense by Leury Garcia, and it sure did feel like the Sox were gonna lose all 7 games.

BUT!

The Sox bats came alive the next night, and Lucas Giolito did his best Gandalf impersonation by tossing a complete game 1-run win.

Carlos Rodon picked up the sword and staff on Sunday and did the same, slaying the Balrog of Mordor (Texas) in 7 solid innings of 1 hit ball. Nothing but praise for the performance of the team Saturday and Sunday, and a great start to the back end of the season. Oh, and the Sox extended Our Beefy Boy Lance Lynn by 2 years with a team option on a 3rd. WOOT.

TO THE BULLETS!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

GAME 1

-Dylan Cease deserved a better fate than what he ended up with on Friday night, but sometimes that’s how the glorious game of baseball treats you. I’ll take 5 2/3rds of 10K ball against one of the best offenses in the league 10 out of 10 times, and even the 3 runs he gave up were aided and abetted by Leury Garcia. Keep getting this kind of production from him and the rotation is looking even more dangerous than it did in the 1st half.

-Things actually started out pretty awesome in this game, as the Sox were up 1-0 after the first two pitches from McCullers. Timmy smoked a triple into the corner, and was brought home next pitch with a double from Yoan Moncada. Alas, you could’ve turned off the game at that point and not missed anything else as McCullers owned the Sox for the rest of the evening.

-Leury Garcia did not exactly smother himself in glory in this game, failing to cover 2nd base for a force out that could’ve ended the 3rd inning. Later on he cut in front of TA on a grounder, biffing the play and allowing the inning to continue. He also managed to go 0-3 with a strikeout, hammering home the point that an everyday second baseman should be a priority for Rick Hahn in the next few weeks.

-Tough night for Brain Goodwin as well, wearing the Golden Sombrero for the first time this season. He’s still the best move (other than DFA-ing Adam Eaton) that Rick Hahn has made so far this season, and it’s not like anyone else looked great in this game either.

-Not a great first night back for Aaron Bummer, as he was all over the fucking place. Then Jose Ruiz came in to “clean up” the mess, and instead threw a packed baby diaper into a lidless blender. Unless something changes in the next 3 months, there should not be a postseason roster spot for him.

GAME 2

-Lucas Giolito was fantastic in this one, fluctuating between economical and strikeout heavy depending on the situation. His fastball still didn’t have the movement it did last season, but the overall accuracy was back at a premium level. He even threw his curve a few times, which we haven’t seen in awhile. The Astros hitters were completely off balance, and Lucas never let them get a sniff of getting back into the game.

-Almost everybody showed up to hit tonight, and Jake Odorizzi paid the price for it. He didn’t help himself by losing control of the strike zone in the 3rd inning, but by then the damage had already been done with back to back dingers by Zack Collins and Tim Anderson. It only got worse from there for the ‘Stros pitching as Jose Abreu and Gavin Sheets piled on.

-Really the only person who didn’t join in on the hit parade was Andrew Vaughn, but he made great contact all night, and was just barely missing barreling up a few pitches. He’s SOOOO close to exploding all over this league (phrasing).

-Jake Burger hit his first career home run, and it was a BOMB. What an awesome story, and I couldn’t be happier for the guy.

GAME 3

-Carlos Rodon woke up Sunday morning and chose violence. The Astros hitters could not get a bead on what he was throwing, with poor Yordan Alvarez in particular regretting leaving the hotel room in the morning. All told ‘Los struck out 10, averaging 97 on his 4 seamer, topping out at 100.5 in the 6th inning. He now has 14 starts this season with 8 or more K’s, with nobody else (including Pitching Jesus Jake deGrom) having more than 11.

-Oh look, another dinger by TA. The power is showing up now, with 14 total bases on the weekend (1 1B, 1 2B 1 3B 2 HR). His BABIP is now at a hilarious .397 on the season, but if you still think the regression monster is coming for him you haven’t been paying attention. He’s just a special hitter with amazing plate coverage.

-Yoan Moncada went yard from the right side of the plate in the 4th inning, firing a laser beam into the 4th row in LF. Keep elevating that ball, and the damage will only grow.

-If it wasn’t hard enough for the Houston offense to deal with Rodon, the next 2 up for them were Michael Kopech and Liam Hendriks to close out the afternoon. Hilarious.

-Awesome catch by Billy Hamilton in the 8th to allow a 1-2-3 inning for Kopech. When it’s crunch time in the playoffs and the Sox need someone to save their bacon in the OF, he’s the guy.

 

Next up is another 4 games against the goddam Twins. I hate them and I’m sick of them. Grind their bones into dust and bury them at the bottom of the AL Central. Fuck Josh Donaldson and his stupid face.

 

Let’s Go Sox!

 

 

 

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: White Sox 2 – Astros 10

Game 2: White Sox 1 – Astros 2

Game 3: White Sox 3 – Astros 7

Game 4: White Sox 2 – Astros 8

 

Not much you can say about a series where everything that could possibly go wrong did. I suppose the only bright side is the Sox made it through 4 straight games without anyone’s soft ligament tissue bursting into flame on the field. Huzzah.

I think the worst part about all of it is now I have to wear an Asstros jersey in September because I lost a bet to the guy in the above picture, who is a physical representation of every single Houston fan on the planet squished into one tiny body. Don’t ask me why he looks like a homeless Ric Flair, there’s no good answer.

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

Game 1

-Dylan Cease just did not have it in this one. 3.1 Innings with 7 runs given up, and 2 walks somehow still doesn’t convey just how little he was able to command his stuff. Everything was up in the zone, but not up enough and it was getting pounded. Hopefully this is just a hiccup, but the fact that he has yet to defeat a team with a winning record is less than confidence inspiring.

-Yoan Moncada is hurting from whatever is currently ailing him, and it shows. I know the Sox desperately need his bat in the lineup, but if he’s going to be dragging ass perhaps it might be best to just bite the bullet and rest him.

-4 hits ain’t gonna get it done against ANY major league lineup, let alone one of the top teams in the AL.

-That being said, Jose Urquidy looked to be at the top of his game with 69 of his 92 pitches going for strikes. The Sox had a barrel rate of 0.00%, which is pretty unheard of outside of Jake deGrom. Not a great night all around.

-We’re gonna need to put Yermin’s face on some milk cartons, because he’s completely disappeared.

Game 2

-As much as Dylan Cease didn’t have it in game 1, Carlos Rodon made up for it in game 2. The only difficulty he ran into was in the 5th, where he walked in the only run he gave up. Until that point he was cruising through the Astros lineup, averaging a mere 10 pitches thrown per inning. He deserved a better fate.

-While the Sox offense was able to muster a few more hits this game, they managed one less run due to their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Grandal, Lamb and Vaughn all stranded multiple runners in their at bats, and none of them looked good doing it.

-Cody Heuer finally put together a solid inning of relief, striking out 2 while keeping the game tied in the 8th. More please.

-Not much Garret Crochet could do about Alvarez’ game winner, as he poked a very good slider on the outside corner down the line past Moncada. Sucks, but it happens. Still think that Crochet’s ultimate destiny is a high-leverage reliever a la Josh Hader.

-Scoring 1 run and stranding 8 runners won’t win any awards in the majors, and that’s two stinkers in a row for the offense. Not a trend yet, but it’s getting close.

Game 3

-Lance Lynn finally had a stinker, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. He didn’t make it to the 5th inning for the first time since his opening start this year in Anaheim, but in that one it was the defense that let him down. In this start he was just caught throwing too many pitches to a too-patient Astros team that got him into situations where they could simply sit on his fastball.

-Two extra base hits ain’t gonna get it done 9 games outta 10. This game was not The One. Only Moncada and Vaughn were able to make it to 2nd base, with everyone else pretty much flailing at what Framber Valdez was offering up.

-On the positive side of things Ryan Burr had another quality outing, going 2 strong innings, only giving up one walk and a hit before giving the ball to Jose Ruiz, who promptly gave up another run.

-Another game, another 0-fer for Yermin who looks completely lost at the plate now.

Game 4

-Some piss-poor defense in this one, which saw two plays (only 1 of which was called an error by the official scorekeeper, who must have been more shitfaced than I was on Saturday night) that extended the inning for the Astros and forced Dallas Keuchel to throw far too many pitches. Yoan’s throwing from 3B has looked off since he came back from his NOT COVID stint on the bench.

-Speaking of Dallas Keuchel, he was clearly pretty amped up to return to the Juice Box in the first two innings, as he’d alternate beautifully placed cutters and sinkers with pitches that were nowhere near the zone. Unfortunately he never completely settled down and was done by the 3rd inning.

-Lance McCullers had the Sox number on Sunday, as outside of the Jake Lamb 2-run shot in the 2nd he was never in any danger at all.

-Not much else to say other than the fact that the team sucking early in this game allowed me to switch over to the US Open earlier than I thought I would. Unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement in that either, so a pretty boring Sunday afternoon sports-wise.

 

Ultimately, this series is fairly meaningless in the long run. The Sox had just taken 2 outta 3 from two of the top teams in the East, and they caught the Astros right as they were heating up. Scoring 8 runs in a 4 game series is never going to end well, and all we can really do is hope this is merely a bump in the road.

Next up we get 2 Nights In Pittsburgh as Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease draw the starts for the midweek series. As far as pallet cleansers go, the Pirates are the perfect option being 20 games below the .500 mark. It’ll be a good test for the offense to see if the Astros series was merely a fluke, or a portent of something far more sinister.

Moving on.

Baseball

Spring training used to be a time of relief and happiness. Even those of us stuck up in the north, under mud and snow (though not for much longer. Thank you Global Warming!) would gleefully check sports sites and Twitter just for a glimpse of the sunshine and players taking batting practice in it. There would be 743 stories per day about someone being in the best shape of his life (this will be roughly 10 less than the number about Seabrook come September. Prepare now). Soon games will be on TV, and you would have tuned in merely to watch the warmth. You’ll probably soon start swearing at your friends’ photos on FB from Arizona or Florida at some ballpark. This is a Sarah Spain Special (luv u, Sarah. It’s ok, we’re honestly friends. No, seriously, we are!).

These days however, the only thing coming out of every spring training site is a bunch of vitriol, angst, frustration, and veiled threats directed at one team, the Astros, or one man, Rob Manfred.

I want to join in on calling Manfred a total dope. But the thing is, the commissioner of just about every sport is supposed to be a dope. Baseball killed having a real commissioner when they knifed Fay Vincent in the back and installed one of their own as commish. Really, ever since then, the job of a commissioner has been to maximize the owners’ profits and nothing else. And that pretty much has gone from every sport. Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue (arguably) were actual commissioners. They gave way to the Ginger Doofus. David Stern to Adam Silver has been about as close to a clean transition as you can get, and both Silver and Stern have their issues. The NHL has always been run by an idiot, because it’s formed by idiots.

So Manfred is essentially unequipped to deal with this. His job is TV and internet deals and squeezing players for money. Any rule changes we’ve seen is only to cater to TV, or at least it is in their own mind. He doesn’t have any idea how to run the actual game, and whatever he handed down to the Astros is only meant to have the appearance of doing something. He doesn’t have any idea, because it’s not in the job description anymore.

Which sucks, and perhaps this will cause the players to try and change the Commissioner’s job or role in the next CBA. But I doubt it.

And I think we all get it It does feel light that the only people to really pay for this were a manager or the GM. Perhaps in a just world, world class nincompoop Jim Crane would have to give up the team even for just his inattentiveness. But as we discussed when this came down, what are the logistics of suspending the players? You could justify suspending every single one on that 2017 team, either for participating or not speaking up. Look at what’s happening to Man City with UEFA right now (suck it, Hess). But then would the Astros have to play a couple weeks, a month, half a season, the whole thing with their AAA team? Formulate a team from what’s left on the free agent scrapheap? Maybe these are questions they should have had to answer and not have the commissioner do it for them, but here we are.

As far as stripping them of the title or give the rings back…does that really matter? Are the Dodgers going to have a parade now then? Do they get rings? Would they really want them? Do they feel like they “won” now? It feels good to say in the moment, but it doesn’t really do anything. I still remember the Fab Five, perhaps my favorite basketball team of all-time (only other contender were the Glove-Reign Man Era Sonics), going to the Final Four, even if the history books say they didn’t.

Still, it’s hard to believe that every player is blindsided by this. There’s footage of a couple pitchers in 2017 looking quizzically or worse at the Houston dugout in 2017 when they heard the song of the garbage can. Players move on, players talk. Where was the outrage then? Feels like this is all making up for something now.

Maybe it’s the hinting at the buzzers that’s really pissing players off, because that’s perceived as way over the line. As I wrote back when this broke, I don’t think the Astros themselves think this is a huge deal. You can steal signs from second base. You can from the dugout if the catcher drops them too low. You can study a pitcher tipping his pitches. You can see where just stealing them from the centerfield camera would be considered not that far from those, at least by some players. Although if a pitcher catches you stealing signs from second base, your friend at the plate is likely to end up with a Rawlings in his spine. So maybe it’s more of a no-no than I think.

Maybe it’s just because it’s the Astros, whom everyone hated before this anyway. And they are the hilt of new baseball thinking, that they’re the smartest guys in the room and they know better than you. It’s why they can cut huge numbers of staff and scouts because they have a “system” that you can’t conceive of. It’s why they can taunt female reporters about Roberto Osuna because they’re not bogged down by “ethics” or “morals” and happily so.

This is what happens when the business-bred hedge fund bros that have taken over MLB front offices over the past couple decades realize their true form. Because there’s no out of bounds where they come from. Mostly because those in charge are the same as they are and are only going to help them, which is what Rob Manfred is, isn’t he? There are no consequences, and they have too much money to face them anyway. Everything is fair as long as you win.

Perhaps this is where the wave breaks and rolls back. I hope it is, because baseball seems pretty sour these days. I don’t know how much more sour it can get before even more people stop caring, including those like me who used to really care. Baseball may never admit it due to the amount of money still in the game, but it would not be so hard for it to go the way of horse racing and boxing as sports of yore. It should be a time of boom, given the drop in participation in football and those athletes needing to go somewhere. But baseball is unmatched in fucking that up royally.

Baseball

I’m hardly the first or only to point this out about Cheating Scandal ’20, but it’s hard to get past the fact that no players were suspended as a result. Which makes you wonder just how much the actual players care about this sort of thing.

Yes, there are complication with the MLBPA that suspending players would come with that punting a manager and a GM don’t have. It would also have made things very awkward for at least half the Astros to be missing for a month, as well as suspending players now on other teams. It probably should have happened anyway, but I can at least see where Rob Manfred didn’t want to step into that muck.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if given the chance to do so off the record, wouldn’t players point out the following: every game, they get thorough and massive reports about what pitchers like to throw and when. About how much those pitches move both with runners on base and not. What they do various trips through a lineup. What he might do with his glove before throwing a break pitch. And that if you pick up the signs from the catcher from second base and relay that to the hitter, that’s considered the fault of the pitcher and catcher. There are 20 pairs of eyes at least in every dugout looking for tips to pitches from either the catcher or pitcher. Basically, hitters are prepped to suspect what might be coming every pitch in just about every way.

So how much farther is it to what the Astros, Red Sox, and I’m sure we’ll find out other teams, did? If everything else is right up to the line, is this so far out over the horizon? Or is it a mere few steps onto the other side?

Because if the players themselves thought this was such a huge violation of things, you’d have to believe at least one clubhouse leader–say an Altuve or Correa or Verlander or the like–would have put a stop to it. We know Hinch made some half-assed efforts to do so, and they were pretty much rebuffed. Clearly the Astros players either never thought they’d get caught, or they didn’t think it was such a big deal if they did. At least Tom Brady had the awareness to bust up a phone, and that was just over footballs.

And I’m sure what the players would tell you, at least the hitters, is that there are just as many reports and scouts on them, nailing down what they can and can’t hit and where they can and can’t get to and the defense is allowed to line up seven guys in accordance with all of that while they’re trying to hit a small rock hurled at them at 97 MPH. Perhaps it’s not such a great imbalance of knowledge?

The argument is of course that the Astros and Red Sox must’ve gleaned a huge advantage from it because they won two of the last three World Series. Except that’s going to go away when we find out just how many other teams had their own scheme in place. And also, what the hell happened to the Red Sox last year, then? I would still bet their success was more predicated on having more good players.

Not that this should have been swept under the rug or not even addressed, because clearly it’s a violation of rules. And perhaps you could solve a good portion of this by getting rid of the still idiotic challenge system of replay so that dugouts wouldn’t even have monitors anywhere near them. You’ll always have video rooms because hitters check that mid-game, but you could easily run those on delay for that purpose. It wouldn’t solve all, but it would solve some. Sure, VAR in England has shown us the problems with a non-challenge system, but baseball is different than everything and I will always be convinced that a fifth ump in the pressbox with radio communication to the other four umps could solve close calls in less than 30 seconds.

At the end of the day, I don’t see Correa or Altuve or Springer or Bregman hitting .228 next year.

In his letter, Manfred made comment how the Astros had made everything about winning at all costs, and results were all that mattered. Yeah, and? That’s the idea of every sports organization, or so I thought. There is something even more soulless about how the Astros went about things, going through their Taubman/Osuna grossness and their streamlining of their scouting department, and we could keep doing. I suppose there’s a part of all of us that’s the “Can’t we do better?” question when it comes to how much winning means and what we’re willing to put up with to see our team do so.

Again, haven’t the Patriots answered all of this?

It really feels like the Astros and Red Sox tried something, they got caught, and they’ll get punishments that might or might not affect them on the field. And maybe other teams will either be found out or stop doing whatever they were doing for fear of getting thwacked themselves. And then some other team will come up with something new. Others will follow. Cycle probably repeats itself.

It’s a violation. It doesn’t feel like a major crime. And it doesn’t feel like one that MLB has solved now, or will anytime soon. And that’s fine. There’s always shit like this.

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Sox 2 – Astros 6

Game 2: Sox 4 – Astros 1

Game 3: Sox 13 – Astros 9

 

 

Raise your hand if you thought the Sox would win the season series against the best team in baseball by taking 4 out of the 7 games and scoring 33 total runs against them. Bullshit, put your arm back down and go sit in the back. Well, if nothing else the Sox like to make me look stupid (not a hard thing to do, but still) after I fretted about the Astros raining death down upon them this series. Granted the Sox got a little lucky with Gerrit Cole exploding his hammy in the bullpen before game 2, and Alex Bregman not being able to go at all on Tuesday night, but you know what? Credit where it’s due, the Sox took advantage of all of that and came away with a pretty solid series win all told.  Sometimes baseball is weird, sometimes it’s stupid, and sometimes it’s pretty damn fun. Then sometimes it’s all 3 of those things and the Sox take the season series from the AL’s best team.

LET ME IN

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

-Let’s start with the Sox pitching, shall we? Dylan Cease went game one and took the only loss of all the starters, which includes Ross Detwiler (remember when I said baseball was stupid?). Despite getting hung with the L and walking more people than he struck out, this might have been his best outing in awhile. He gave up a leadoff bomb to George Springer, then a single to Altuve and a double to Michael Brantley (remember when the Sox didn’t want him in the off season?) to bring up Yordan Alvarez. Renteria got all galaxy-brained and issued the intentional pass to him, bringing up Yuli Gurriel, who bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. He gave up another solo shot in the 3rd to Altuve, then proceeded to retire 11 Astros in a row before Wellington Castillo did his best Benny Hill impersonation behind the plate, allowing 12 passed balls and letting the game get out of hand. I don’t mind the 5 walks Cease issued (2 of which were of the intentional variety), as nobody works the zone better or strikes out less than the Astros. This was a building block start for Cease, no doubt about it. I’m excited to see where he goes from here.

-Ivan Nova went the distance and gave up 1 unearned run to the best offense in baseball (remember when I said baseball was weird sometimes?). He kept the ball down all night, threw first pitch strikes, and kept the Astros hitters on their heels. This will probably last long enough for Hahn to give him an extension, then he’ll turn back into a pumpkin. For now though, I’m gonna enjoy the ride in the new Chevy Nova.

-Tim Anderson had a Tuesday night to forget, going 0-8 and committing 2 errors in the field, one of which was the only run the Astros scored in the second game. Tim tried using his athletic ability instead of setting his feet and threw the ball about 8 rows deep over Matt Skole’s head. He didn’t let it get him down today, however. He went 4 for 5 with 2 doubles and a triple. More please!

-Eloy hit a ball 6,000 feet today and knocked a dude unconscious who was drinking a Modelo on the fan deck. The best part was Jake Marisnick going back to the wall and making a jump at the ball, only to have it land about 40 feet past and 20 feet up from him. Smooth.

-Don’t look now, but Jose Abreu may be heating up again, going 6-11 with 4 RBI and more importantly 2 walks. Just in time for Yoan Moncada to come back and give him some space. It also helps when…

-James McCann decides to drop it like its May again, going 4-9 with the series clinching grand slam on an 0-2 count from a hanging slider off legit shutdown reliever Ryan Pressly. He doesn’t make mistakes to right handed hitters very often, and McCann made him pay dearly for it. Awesome stuff.

-Ryan Goins can stay when Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert finally get called up. I’m kinda done with Yolmer.

-Next up is a 4 hour plane ride out to sunny California to visit Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels of Disneyland. Bastards will probably get to ride all the new Star Wars rides before I do. Let’s see if the Sox can build on this great series or if they slide right back into the Sarlacc Pit.

ONWARD

 

 

Baseball

  VS       

RECORDS: Sox 52-64  Astros 77-41

GAMETIMES: Mon/Tues 7:10, Wednesday 1:10

TV: Mon/Tues NBCSN, Wednesday WGN

Houston, We Are A Problem: The Crawfish Boxes

 

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game 1:  Dylan Cease vs. Zack Greinke

Game 2:  Chevy Nova vs. Gerrit Cole

Game 3:  Ross Detwiler vs. Wade Miley

 

PROBABLE SOX LINEUP

Jon Jay – RF

Tim Anderson – SS

Jose Abreu – 1B

James McCann – C

Eloy Jimenez – LF

Wellington Castillo – DH

Yolmer Sanchez – 2B

Ryan Goins – 3B

Adam Engel – CF

 

PROBABLE ASTROS LINEUP

George Springer – CF

Jose Altuve – 2B

Michael Brantley – LF

Alex Bregman – 3B

Yordan Alvarez – DH

Carlos Correa – SS

Yuli Gurriel – 1B

Ronny Chirinos – C

Josh Reddick – RF

 

This one could be ugly. The Astros come to town having just dropped 33 runs on the hapless Orioles this past weekend. Granted, 23 of those runs came in the Saturday matinee where they pounded out 25 hits against the O’s but still. That’s like 43,000% more runs than the Sox scored against the A’s this past weekend (Math is not my strong suit). Yet despite those gaudy offensive numbers, the Orioles still managed to escape with a win on Sunday 8-7 after closer (and noted shitbag) Roberto Osuna threw up all over himself in the 9th inning. You hate to see it.

The Astros are currently the best hitting team in the majors, topping a majority of the offensive categories created by man. Just behind them are (unsurprisingly) the Dodgers and then (BARF) the Twins. Just looking at the lineup the Astros are throwing out against the Sox this week should be enough to give Ross Detwiler night terrors. Honestly, the worst person in that lineup is hitting 9th, and he would be the 3rd best hitter were he on the Sox roster right now. They don’t strike out very much, they have the best walk rate in the majors, and they hit the living shit out of the ball. If they had been healthy through June instead of missing monsters like George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve their numbers would be even more bonkers. Alas, for the rest of the league they ARE healthy now and have been pummeling opposing pitchers into the fetal position.

Making things even worse is they managed to get better at the trade deadline, adding Zack Grienke to an already pretty impressive starting rotation. Grienke brings his 12th best pitching stats to a rotation that already included the 5th best (Gerrit Cole) and the 8th (Verlander). Greinke doesn’t have the pure K stuff he had in his days with the Royals and Dodgers, but has learned to rely on his fastball less and refined his change, which he’s almost doubled in usage since he moved to the bandbox that was Chase Field in AZ. The Sox get both him AND Cole, then get the respite of Wade Miley, except Miley has reinvented himself this year using Astros Pitching Voodoo Magic. He’s posted career best numbers in K’s and cut his walk rate considerably, making him if not as difficult as the other two, still overkill for what the Sox have been bringing to the plate.

Speaking of which, after scoring a whopping 3 runs against the A’s this past weekend the Sox have seemingly shaken the roster up by doing…absolutely nothing. As of writing this it looks like the same lineup Renteria trotted out yesterday. While the Sox 1-5 hitters on paper look pretty solid, their production (Outside of Tim Anderson) has been sorely lacking the last 10 games. If they’re going to have a prayer of winning anything against the ‘Stros, Jose Abreu and James McCann need to stop looking like they’re double parked in Wrigleyville and work the counts a little more in their favor. Moncada is still a few days away from returning, so we get more of Ryan Goins and his Interpretive Dance Defense at the hot corner. Sox pitching has it’s work cut out for it, and I’m interested to see how Dylan Cease handles this unholy terror of a lineup. His control needs to be precise, and the walks need to be nil, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ups his game. The bullpen has been pitching well, which is good because they’re gonna be needed on Wednesday with Detwiler scheduled to start.

Let’s Go Sox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball

The Houston Astros and the LA Dodgers are the league model from building their teams from within, there’s just no way around it. Even when they have players going down with week to week or month to month injuries there’s a seemingly endless pile of high end prospects clamoring over each other to get playing time at the big league level. The most recent of these for the Astros is Yordan Alvarez, who has been nothing short of astounding for them since they called him up in mid-May of this season. Through 170 at bats so far this season, he’s slashing a gaudy .355/.431/1.164(!!!) with 17 dingers and 41 RBI.

Alvarez was traded to the Astros at the 2016 deadline from (SURPRISE!) the Dodgers for Josh Fields. The Dodgers had signed Alvarez to a $2 million signing bonus when he defected from Cuba, but had yet to play a single game for LA at any level. At the time, the Dodgers were looking to shore up their bullpen for an extended postseason run, and Fields fit the bill. Alvarez was an unknown quantity at the time, and the need was immediate. Now, Fields is a journeyman AAA pitcher, and Alvarez seems destined for Rookie of the Year honors.

So far, Alvarez has scored rookie of the month honors in June and July with these nutty numbers. The question everyone who didn’t pick him up off the waiver wire in their fantasy leagues wants to know is: are they sustainable? Looking at the advanced stats as they sit now Alvarez has has an ISO of .378, BABIP of .407, wRC+ of 204, and a wOBA of .469. Just at a very quick glance, every single one of those seem completely unsustainable were it not for the small sample size. His wRC alone would be one of the best in the history of the stat. So we can assume that some regression is due for young Mr. Alvarez, the question being just how much?

Taking a peek at some of the other stats available to us that might give a hint at how much regression is due shows that Alvarez has an excellent eye for the strike zone. His current 11% walk rate is above average, and his K rate is what you would expect from a rookie (24.4%) seeing MLB pitching for the first time. Looking at his whiff rate, it’s about what you would expect from a rookie as well, vulnerable to low and away and the high and outside pitches:

Nothing too crazy here. What about his slugging percentage vs the whiffs?

Oh my. Well what about just his batting average?

Yeesh. So apparently Yordan has the ability to cover the entire plate with pretty impressive power. He has to have a weakness somewhere, every Death Star has an exhaust port. Well his 33% fly ball to HR ratio isn’t gonna last. His .400 BABIP is pretty unsustainable, though even if he regresses .050 that still would probably project out to a 40 HR/100 RBI season in that juggernaut of a lineup. The kid has a good feel for the zone, and can get to pitches out of the zone with power and frequency. All this says to the Sox pitching for this series is they need to tread very lightly when Alvarez is up. Nova and Cease in particular need to work the top of their zone with the hard stuff, away if able. If they aren’t going to be precise with that stuff and leave some over the plate, Alvarez is going to hurt them. Though to be fair, that goes for pretty much the entire Astros lineup.

 

 

Baseball

A few caveats before you wade into the following muck. One, losses to the Cardinals make me irrationally angry. Losses to the corpse of Adam Wainwright make me more irrationally angry. This piece’s purpose is to show how two things can be true at once. It very well might not make any sense. It could also be completely wiped out contextually by the Cubs winning the next five games. Yeah, well, life is strange, said Slim.

Ok, to it.

I’ve been thinking about the ’85 Bears a lot lately, which you know if you follow me on Twitter. The parallels are getting too hard to miss with the Cubs. A life-defining, long-overdue championship. A manager/coach that is seemingly on every ad, and seemingly more interested in celebrating his style than actually managing the team. At odds with the front office. An ownership that seems content with the one. Follow-up seasons that are short of expectations. Competitors passing by and seemingly for good. Trying to balance the elation of that one night and how much it meant, that season meant, with the disappointment of what’s come after. Do I have a right to be disappointed? Am I disappointed enough? Am I erasing 2016? Did it mean too much?

It is hard to not be infuriated with this team right now. This was/is the biggest road trip of the season. They’ve fallen on their face so far, pretty much. They haven’t played like a team that even wants to win the division, much less can. The offense has simply gone away at the worst time, and there haven’t been any Scherzers or Strasburgs or deGroms doing the disappearing. It would be next to impossible to not be frustrated. How did this happen?

I keep looking at this lineup. Is this really the best we can do not even three seasons after having the best offense in baseball? Should it fall this far this fast? You’re pinning your hopes on Robel Garcia, a tinder-swipe of a hope if there ever was one? Ian Happ?

It’s much more fun and much easier to yell at the Ricketts, and they would deserve it. But let’s cut through to the heart of it. The cash the Ricketts aren’t opening up for Theo and Jed is for them to buy their way out of the holes in the team the system they made hasn’t filled. Since 2015 and basically Javier Baez’s recall (who wasn’t their draft pick, remember, though that doesn’t mean they didn’t develop him), who has come up through the Cubs system and proven a piece? You can search all you like, you won’t find one.

But is that fair? Because after a stretch of developing or acquiring Rizzo, Arrieta, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Hendricks, Rondon–all at least unproven before arrival–is it really the expectation you can keep at that pace? Well, yeah, because others are doing it, but that is two Cy Young finalists/winners and two MVP finalists/winners.

Still, it feels like from standing on top of the baseball world not yet three seasons ago, the Cubs have been passed by the Dodgers, Astros, possibly Braves now, Yankees, Red Sox, and you might even convince yourself or me to throw one or two other teams on there. They deservedly beat the Dodgers in six games but from that October night, the Dodgers have added Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo, rehabilitated Joc Pederson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and still were able to trade for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado in that time, and still have one of the best systems in baseball, with Gavin Lux just twiddling this thumbs waiting for a spot.

It feels like the Dodgers have sprinted miles ahead, with their better records in ’17 and this year…except the Cubs won more games last year in a tougher division. But they didn’t beat the Rockies at home, the Dodgers did. Am I really going to hang that conclusion on a coin-flip and the small sample size of the playoffs?

This team won 95 games last year with half a Bryant, basically no Darvish, and bullpen crumbling as the season went along like it was sent from the Acme Co. We bitch and moan about Maddon now, but sure that was actually excellent managing, no?

The Astros created their super team, swung trades for Verlander and Cole, and still have Yordan Alvarez punching holes in the sky, and Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley waiting. Now maybe the latter two will turn out to be nothing…but with their track record, is that what you’re betting on?

Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, it’s Ian Happ being rightly demoted. It’s the stock in Kyle Schwarber they kept telling us they had to buy that has yet to produce 1 WAR this year in his nearly fourth full campaign. It’s whatever iteration of sadness Albert Almora is today. It’s Carl Edwards being wheelbarrowed to the zoo. It’s Addison Russell hopefully being locked in a dungeon to never see the light of day. It’s ANY pitcher that doesn’t actually exist.

And what’s on the way? Nico Hoerner? The 12 minutes Alzolay will be healthy? Miguel Amaya three years down the line when everyone may have left by free agency already?

Am I going to be that guy in 25 years (no, I’ll be long dead but go with this) barking at some poor kid about how he missed out on 2016, just like I’ve heard about 1985 a zillion and a half times? Yes, I absolutely will be, because 2016 was that worth it and also very well might be all we have. And that kid will long for the season he remembers just as fondly, only so he or she can stop hearing about 2016 again. And if that season also should end for them with Rex Grossman fumbling away the World Series, boy wouldn’t the symmetry be complete?

Should there be more money? Of course there should be. They’re worth $2 billion, after all. But that doesn’t absolve the front office either. The trade for Aroldis Chapman was “necessary,” (only convinced of this after Strop and Rondon both got hurt that year, but had they stayed healthy also think they would have been enough). The Quintana trade was worth it. But as stated above, your rivals were trading for All-Stars and top of the rotation pieces. And their systems survived those culls. Yours hasn’t. Why?

And yet…we’re talking about two seasons? 2017 and 2019? Because 2018 saw them win the most games in the NL. Can we really be that upset about that? And 2017, it was kind of understood it was going to be a slog from the get-go. Then again, that’s when they told us their “second wave” would start. Well, I’m still sitting on my board in the sun, and it’s getting hot and I’m getting burned.

It’s not good enough. It was more than good enough. And here we are, stuck in the middle with this.

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Astros 6, Cubs 5

Game 2 Box Score: Astros 9, Cubs 6

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 2, Astros 1

Earlier today, Sahadev Sharma on The Athletic wrote a piece about the contrast about how the Astros pitching staff, rotation and pen, is built on missing bats and striking everyone out, and the Cubs is built on soft contact and grounders. And he stated how the difference was the ‘Stros “outclassing” the Cubs. Which I objected to at first, because hey, the Cubs could have easily won both of the first games and once they revamp the pen later in the year they’ll be more set to do that.

But then you remember the Astros were running out the B-team, and it feels a lot more apt. No Springer, no Altuve, no Correa, missing Verlander, and you realize the Cubs didn’t come close to seeing the real force of this team. Which hurts. Maybe it’s a bad stretch, and doesn’t mean anything. That’s generally how baseball works. And did we learn anything new? The Cubs offense is good, but when the rotation goes odd colors in the sun the pen isn’t anywhere near in a condition to pick up the slack. You knew that going in.

But hey, there’s Kyle Hendricks.

Let’s clean it up:

The Two Obs

-Let’s get it out at the top. I am heavily tempted to blame the lack of netting from foul pole to foul pole on the richest, asshole-iest customers who would say something like, “Well I pay the most money so I don’t want a net in my view!” for the kind of abomination that Albert Almora, and really both teams as a whole, had to go through tonight. But the thing is, if that kind of thing had been stated by season ticket holders in the first few rows, or corporate entities as they mostly are today, I feel like we’d have heard more about it. I think this is something ticketing departments around the league assume would happen but really don’t that often.

I know there are plenty of industries where it takes a disaster for things that seem so simple to change actually to change. I can’t say hockey got this right, because it took a little girl dying for them to do so. But with the netting behind the nets in hockey arenas, it’s the same reaction as the extended version in parks now. You walk in, see it, and say, “Oh, that’s new.” Then you sit down and don’t notice any difference in the view you had before after two minutes. My season tickets at the UC for the Hawks has been behind the netting, and I’m in the 300 Level where I would be in next to no danger without it. I’ve never noticed it making any difference in my viewing experience, and I honestly only think about it when something like this happens.

If there’s honestly any collection of ticket holder who throws a bitch at the idea of netting in front of him (and I’m sure it’s a male if they exist), do us all a favor and put cayenne pepper on his balls and leave the rest of us alone. Players have been screaming for this for decades now, and it’s specifically so they don’t have to go through what Almora went through tonight. Think about why this happened, and how truly stupid it is at its base level, and then wonder about how anyone goes about their day.

-All right, to the baseball. We’ve been through Hamels and Lester’s problems already, which makes it all the more impressive that Hendricks stood there and turned everything away in a place where every baseball looked like a Top Flite. The Cerebral Assassin has been sprinkling in his curve more and more as the season has gone on, and tonight he dropped his coup-de-grace when he put Marisnick down in the 7th with two on and two out on an 0-2 count. He’s never thrown that pitch in a big situation before, and if this is a new thing he can count on…well, the mind reels. It’s time Cubs fans accept that if the Cubs don’t have an ace. Hendricks is as close as they’ll get right now. He’s the stopper for sure.

-Javier Baez had a rough series, and he’s going through that phase where he’s pulling off everything. It’s frustrating to watch, because when he was leading the league in opposite field hits and homers he’s been an MVP candidate. So why try to pull everything?

-I’ve had enough of Alex Bregman, thanks.

-While I wasn’t looking, Addison Russell suddenly has representative offensive numbers. It doesn’t make anything ok, but as we live in a world where Daniel Descalso died, Russell probably is gong to get the majority of starts at second now.

-Unless David Bote can, who might actually be a major leaguer which I never would have guessed.

-Brad Brach is not going to happen.

-Me, I’m pounding Dillon Maples until it works. Because he’s my guy, he’s got the best stuff, and this is his now-or-never. He either gets it now or he’ll never. Fuck, Chatwood got there, maybe, right?

Onwards…

Baseball

You would think a lot of Pirates would benefit from escaping Pittsburgh. It’s only worked out so-so for Andrew McCutchen, the offensive centerpiece for those playoff Pirate teams. Gerrit Cole, on the other hand, has found salvation in Houston after being punted from The Confluence.

Upon arriving in Houston, Cole saw his strikeout jump up a third, to the point that he’s now striking out over 13 hitters per nine innings, after gather 12 per nine last year, or over a third the past two years. That leads the league both years and combined. Basically, nothing happens when Cole is on the mound, except the occasional home run when he finds someone’s bat. That’s been the only bugaboo this year so far.

So how was Cole able to boost his strikeouts so fantastically in Houston after flashing this stuff in Pittsburgh? Cole was the one pitcher who chafed under the Pirates cutter-heavy, and shift-heavy ways. He was pushed to give up grounders that their infield could gobble up instead of just sending hitters back to the dugout having never made contact in the first place. It wasn’t that Cole wasn’t effective in black and yellow, as his ERA was below 4.00 every year except his last.

Well, the Astros saw his 95-MPH fastball and figured he should just throw that as often as possible. They also got him to ditch his sinker/two-seamer, and haven’t worried about what ground balls he is or isn’t getting. Cole upped his fastball usage 10 percent as an Astro, and has completely cut his use of the sinker to nothing. He’s also bumped up his use of a curve and slider, which are just the same side of the coin depending on velocity, and dumped the change-up he was trying in 2017 that led to nowhere.

As you get with the Astros, there are always whispers about how exactly they improve the spin-rate of their pitchers. Cole has added a mile or two an hour to his fastball in Houston, and his curve has added three inches of drop each of the past two years. Which makes it quite the weapon, and also something you wouldn’t have seen coming. But with that smoke and then a curve that drops off the table, you can see why hitters are just waving at anything he’s serving up there.

All of it must have Cole looking at the upcoming winter and getting awfully big eyes, because it’ll be his first dip into free agency. Or he would have been if the free agent market hadn’t completely disappeared thanks to not collusion for sure. Still, top end starters have been able to get theirs. If Patrick Corbin was able to get six years at $140M, then Cole must be thinking about a $30M per year deal somewhere. deGrom just signed for a little south of that, that’s where teammate Verlander is, same for Scherzer, and those are the names Cole’s numbers have him hanging around with.

The Astros have some of the same concerns as the Cubs, locking in the players they’ve produced to make this unholy monster of a team. Jose Altuve’s salary jumps $20M next year. Bregman’s $13M. George Springer enters arbitration. So does Carlos Correa. Houston had $121M committed to next year before those two get what they have coming to them. They might have enough room for $27-30M for Cole, but it’ll be a squeeze.

Until then, they’ll just take the avalanche of strikeouts.