Baseball

Twins VS.

 

Records: Twins 12-20 (LOL) White Sox 19-13

First Pitch: Tues/Wed 7:10 Thursday 1:10

TV/Radio: NBCSN and ESPN1000

Ted Talk: Twinkie Town

 

Probable Starters

Game 1: Kenta Maeda (2-2 5.02 ERA) vs. Dylan Cease (2-0 2.37 ERA)

Game 2: J.A. Happ (2-0 1.91 ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (1-1 3.79 ERA)

Game 3: Michael Pineda (2-1 2.43 ERA) vs. Carlos Rodon (5-0 0.58 ERA (!!))

 

Ahhh the Twins. The Nashville Predators of the AL Central. The team that has the talent to win the division year in and year out, yet is hilariously unable to win even a game in the postseason. It would be even more hilarious if it usually didn’t come at the expense of the White Sox playoff chances. This year things seem to be upside down, however. The Twins record currently sits at an ugly 12-20, good enough for 4th in the division while the Sox sit atop the pile at 19-13. The Twins, known these past few years for pounding the ball out of the yard (earning them the moniker of Bomba Squad) continue to be offensively gifted, sitting 4th in the AL in total offense right behind the Sox. The pitching is where it all starts going wrong for the Twins. They currently rank dead last in the AL for WAR earned by their pitching staff (the Sox sit 2nd behind NY), and are bottom 3 for all the major categories including K/9, ERA, and FIP.

The starters for Minnesota actually haven’t been as bad as the above indicates, as nobody expects Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda to have 5+ ERAs for the rest of the season (though to be fair, nobody expects JA Happ to have a sub 2 ERA for the rest of the year either). It’s when the starters come out of the game that the pitching gets truly horrendous. The Twins bullpen is worth a collective -0.6 WAR, and has the most blown saves of any AL team thus far in the season, most of which came from Sox Sleeper Agent Alex Colome who’s 1-3 record with 3 blown saves has done more for the Chicago cause than anyone else on the Minnesota Squad. Anytime I see those stats, my complaints about the start for Liam Hendriks die a quiet death.

On the offensive side of the ball, the long awaited breakout for Byron Buxton seems to have finally happened. In the month of April he absolutely punished the ball, to the tune of a .370/.408/1.180 slash line and a hilarious 226 wRC+ rating. He also crushed 9 home runs and stole 5 bases, which seems kind of low for him but when all the balls you hit leave the yard stolen base opportunities tend to go down. Unfortunately for Buxton and the Twins, the injury bug that has plagued him his entire career reared it’s ugly head last week when he pulled up lame with a grade 2 hip flexor strain (sound familiar?) and will miss a few weeks at least while it heals up.

Nelson Cruz is still doing his thing, slashing .295/.340/.910 with 8 dingers. For a guy pushing 41 years old, that’s impressive as hell. He no longer plays in the field, so the Twins lose him when they head to NL parks (much like the Sox with the Yerminator) but when he’s at the dish there’s nobody on the Twins who can do more damage with Buxton out.

After Buxton, Cruz and Josh Donaldson (when healthy), the drop in production rate is pretty steep for the Twins. Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler are all under the .250 mark for average, with .480 the highest slugging percentage among them. Prized rookie Alex Kirrillof was called back up a few weeks ago (mysteriously after the service time deadline for another season passed. Weird) and went on a tear for about 10 days before he fucked up his wrist (and my fantasy team). They’re waiting on a second opinion, but season ending surgery is still on the table. Either way, both him and Buxton will be out from this series.

As for the Sox, they look to keep the momentum going on the pitching side of things after the triumphant sweep of the Royals this weekend where Rodon, Lynn and Giolito allowed a combined 4 runs the entire series. The offense did it’s part, banging out 29 hits and plating 21 runs in the series. The Sox jumped all over the Royals prized rookie starter Daniel Lynch by dropping 8 runs on his head and chasing him from the game before he could complete the first inning. The Yerminator had his first career triple on Sunday afternoon, hitting a ball in the gap that Michael Taylor tried to snag with a dive but ended up punting it into the corner. The Yerm ended up a home run short of his first career cycle, but seeing him chug past second for the triple was well worth my time.

Both Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease look to build off their excellent starts last time out against Cincinnati, going a combined 13 innings without yielding a run. Cease had his best outing possibly of his career, going 6 strong innings with 11 strikeouts. More importantly he was efficient with his pitches, only walking 3 (which for him is an improvement) and throwing 96 to finish the day. His fastball had more life on it than in previous starts, and he was accurate with it at the top of the zone. Keuchel was back to his old economical self, only striking out 1 but getting everyone else on the Reds to pound the ball in the dirt with his sinker, which looked the best it has since last season. Both guys are going to need to continue this trend, because despite the Twins being in a rut they still have the offensive weapons to make the Sox arms pay the price for mistakes.

Despite being up 7 games on the Twins, now is not the time to take the foot off the gas. I think we all know that the Twins misery is only temporary, and at some point the sleeping giant is going to awaken and climb back up the rankings. The 6 games the Sox have with them in the next 9 days is the perfect chance to put even more distance between them and Minnesota, and making that hole they have to climb out of even deeper. 4 of 6 would be an excellent start, 6 of 6 would be considered euphoric. Bury these fuckers while you have the chance…no mercy.

Let’s Go Sox

Baseball

   Twins VS.

 

2019 Series Record: Twins 12 – Sox 6

Gametimes: Friday 7:10, Saturday/Sunday 1:10

TV: NBCSCH (Which I guess is the new branding for NBCSN.)

Circle This, Bert: Puckett’s Pond

Probable Starters

Friday: Jose Berrios vs. Lucas Giolito

Saturday: Rich Hill vs. Dallas Keuchel

Sunday: Kenta Maeda vs. Reynaldo Lopez

 

Four months later than it was supposed to be, opening day is finally here. We’ve gone over ad nauseam the threats that COVID still poses to the season, as evidenced by Juan Soto testing positive just before first pitch yesterday against the Yankees. Sam even talked about the insanity of it all over at his new home yesterday. Yet despite all this, baseball really is back for the time being and if there’s Sox baseball to be watched, I’m going to watch it.

Which brings us to their first opponent of the season, and the biggest obstacle standing between them and their first playoff birth in what seems like an eternity: The Fucking Minnesota Twins. As noted above, the Twins pretty much dominated the Sox last season taking 2/3rds of the games in pretty handy fashion. The Twins bats (which had the kind of pop only seen in The Show 2020 while playing the Orioles on Rookie) were way too much for anyone not named Lucas Giolito. The Sox offense, while infinitely improved from the season before, still struggled to get the clutch hits that could’ve leveled the playing field against their hated rivals.

So what’s changed since last season? For the Sox, the addition of Yasmani Grandal should go a loooong way to help the young staff against the plutonium bats of Minnesota. Dallas Keuchel should also help keep the ball on the ground instead of plonking off the side of the giant goose head in right field. Oh, and some kid named Luis Robert will be playing in his first MLB game tonight. You might have heard of him, or seen this ridiculous home run he hit while falling on his ass the other day:

 

For the Twins, their attempt to surround staff ace Jose Berrios with something other than a bunch of reclamation projects ended with adding Kenta Maeda (who is good, but has spent his last few years coming out of the Dodgers bullpen) and Rich Hill (who’s fastball routinely topped out at 72 mph before he had major elbow surgery in the offseason). The Twins also decided that they didn’t hit the ball far enough last season so they added Josh Donaldson to the mix. Donaldson had a nice bounceback season last year after signing a one year “prove it” deal with the Braves, but isn’t exactly the piece that the Twins should’ve been looking for after their rotation was pummeled by the Yankees in the postseason.

Shockingly, Byron Buxton is already hurt after tripping over the mysterious lump in center at Target Field where the Twins may or may not have buried the bodies of Kirby Puckett’s accusers. He appears to have dodged major injury, but it’s probably only a matter of time before he runs into the outfield wall and all his limbs fly off. Miguel Sano had a case of the Rona, but (much like Yoan Moncada) appears to be ready to go this weekend. His move to 1b will certainly help a Twins infield that ranked in the middle of the pack defensively last season. Max Kepler appears ready to make the leap into the upper echelon of American League outfielders, as long as Buxton doesn’t detonate too close to him.

With the season being such a compressed mess, to have any hope of the playoffs the Sox have to start off on a good note. Taking 2 out of 3 against their biggest rival in the division would go a long way to setting the tone. Berrios has ace level stuff, but tailed off drastically at the end of last season. Rich Hill can be gotten to, and if the Sox are patient they can wait out Maeda and make it to a bullpen that at times was pretty shaky last year.

We all know the kind of pop the Twins bats have, so Giolio, Keuchel and Lopez have their work cut out for them. The Sox bullpen is still a work in progress, so the longer those 3 can go the better. Grandal should be able to provide some much needed framing strikes for Reynaldo Lopez, so let’s hope we get the dominant version of him that keeps his fastball at the top of the zone where it’s nigh unhittable.

Questions abound for the Sox this season, hopefully a few of them get positive answers this weekend against the Twins. The sprint to the World Series begins now. Let’s Go Sox.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: White Sox 60-73   Braves 81-54

GAMETIMES: Friday/Saturday 6:20,  Sunday 4:10

TV: NBCSN Friday/Saturday, WGN Sunday

PROBABLY NOT AT THE GOLD CLUB: Talkin’ Chop

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Braves Spotlight

Atlanta in late August wouldn’t be high up the list of places you want to be at this time, but the schedule says the Sox have to descend on the Dirty South. There they’ll get a look at the NL’s second-best team, the Atlanta Braves, and maybe a glimpse at what they hope to be in a year or two’s time.

The Braves have been able to hold off the Nationals’ lava-streak since the middle of May at arm’s length, still maintaining a 5.5-game lead in the NL East. They haven’t been under threat since they themselves turned it on all the way up, in May just like DC. They’ve gone 67-39 since May 1st, after a ho-hum April opening to the season. It’s truly impressive as the Braves don’t get to harvest on the organs of a weak division like the Dodgers do or teams in the AL. The East has four playoff contenders, even if the Phillies and Mets are flawed remain decidedly the Phillies and Mets. And the Braves just got done sweeping the Mets in Queens to exhibit that, which apparently is the hot new trend in the NL. And we’d better get used to this, because the Braves don’t look poised to go much of anywhere else anytime soon.

This is a blistering offense, but most of it is in the top half of the lineup. Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson toss you right into the deep end from the off, but there isn’t much behind that. Austin Riley briefly flashed, but then fizzled and then got hurt. Dansby Swanson has missed a chunk of time and has only been average when he has suited up. Nick Markakis hasn’t been able to back up his All-Star season from last and now finds himself on the IL, and Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are around more for their defense. It’s Elvira top-heavy, though Matt Joyce of late has tried to remedy that.

The rotation isn’t going to wow anyone. Mike Soroka has been really good while doing it through ground-balls and control instead of the Fascist route of strikeouts. Max Fried has the stuff to do a lot better than a 4.08 ERA, but has had home-run problems thanks to a near-20% HR/FB rate. Dallas Keuchel has seemingly gotten around his delayed start to the season thanks to MLB owners’ cheapness, and still gets a ton of grounders (60.7%). But he too has had his home run issues. Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are something of place-holders. It’s not what you’d guess a rotation looks like for a team running away with a very competitive division.

The pen needed some reshaping midseason, which is why they went out and got Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. Both have had their issues since arriving, though Melancon’s numbers are skewed by one ugly outing and has mostly been really good. Greene has some issues to work out still. The rest of the pen isn’t filled with too many names you know, though Sean Newcomb has been placed here after being replaced in the rotation and definitely has the stuff to be a dominating reliever.

If everything goes to plan, the White Sox will want a similar offense behind Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, and Madrigal next season. They have the makings of a more useful rotation than the Braves have gotten, but if you have this man fireworks at the top of the lineup your rotation only needs to achieve “not fucking it up.”

The Sox just got done getting brained by one first place team. They’d like to avoid spending the weekend doing the same against another.

 

Baseball

Whether Billy Beane likes it or not, he’s going to be the face of baseball’s–and perhaps sports’s–analytic movement. That’s what happens when you get a book and movie written about you and you’re the only sports executive to claim that. Though one day there’s going to be a TV movie about Bill Belichik and if they do the whole story, that’s going to be popcorn-worthy.

Beane didn’t even start “the movement” in Oakland, which you already knew if you read Moneyball. Sandy Alderson as Beane’s boss did that. But no one’s really going to care when it’s all said and done, just like no one really cares that technically David Forst is the A’s GM right now with Beane being the vice president. Beane is pretty much the face of the franchise, and that has a huge part to do with the flash mob he has to keep assembling on the field. Do you think more fans know who Beane or Matt Chapman is?

The A’s once again are chasing a wildcard spot, miles behind the Astros but at the moment the best of the rest. It would be their second “playoff appearance” in a row, if you consider the coin-flip game such a thing. For the record books, it does. And this would be Beane’s fourth iteration of a good-to-great A’s team. Fifth if you consider the 2001 and 2002 teams vastly different, though that’s a bit of a stretch considering the rotation of Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were still around (and what Hawk Harrelson would point out immediately). People forget the A’s made the playoffs the year after the movie took place as well, and lost to the Red Sox in five games, again.

The A’s would win 88 and 91 games the next two years but fail to make the playoffs, but finally broke through the Divisional Series glass ceiling the next year behind Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher, Milton Bradley, Big Hurt, Dan Haren, and Barry Zito. But that team couldn’t stick together long as Zito fled across the bay (to comedic results) and others moved along.

Beane constructed another team out of those ashes, mostly via trade, and the A’s made three consecutive playoff trips from 2012-2014, except they kept running into Justin Verlander, which is a problem. Those were the Josh Reddick, Sonny Gray, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson era A’s. When Verlander wasn’t in the way, the Royals’ feet were. And they once again had to be broken up due to salaries and age as all of those players have moved on.

Which leaves us with this group, and it’s easy to see that these A’s eras have all been a bit different. The first one just bashed the shit out of the ball, though the great starting pitching was another factor. The second one mirrored the first, but leaned more on the pen. The strength of the teams in the first part of the decade was that they caught everything along with a lot of homers. And this one currently also catches just about everything, hits a lot of homers, but leans heaviest on their bullpen, with no starter having a name that wouldn’t make you furrow your brow.

Ah, but will any of this matter if the A’s never bring home a World Series? It’s been the white whale for the White Elephants Of The East Bay, and the cudgel that anyone not wanting to listen to the numbers uses to dismiss Oakland. It doesn’t matter the limited resources the A’s have always had, playing in a literal shit-heap of a park. They’re the face of how the game changed, and hence will always be a villain to some.

It’s hard to think of any front office that gets three or four iterations of a team to the playoffs. Brian Cashman arguably is on his third with the Yankees (late 90’s, 2009, and now), but the difference in resources is obvious. The Red Sox have used three different front offices for their four titles. Brian Sabean had two, with the teams that were good with Bonds in the mid 2000s and then their #EvenYear run.

But none of those is four. Sure, some of that is just lack of gumption from multiple A’s owners to do anything with Beane, and the fear that no one else would take the job if he were dismissed. And he had his chance to move along, and he didn’t want it. Still, over 20 years now, you can’t really argue with the work, and with a couple bounces here or there (perhaps Jeremy Giambi learning to slide or Justin Verlander catching the flu), the A’s just might have gotten that World Series.

Beane will probably deserve a Hall of Fame induction when he’s through, considering how the game pivoted around him. And yet, without even so much as an AL pennant, you’ll find strong argument against him. You’d have to say it’s unlikely he gets there. He’ll have to settle for changing how the game is viewed, or at least having a major hand in that. He’d probably tell you that’s fine, because that’s a much more exclusive club than Cooperstown.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 1-2   Braves 0-3

GAMETIMES: Monday 6:10, Wednesday and Thursday 6:20

TV: NBCSN+ Chicago Monday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

DIRTY SOUTH TAKE: Talking Chop

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kyle Hendricks vs. Sean Newcomb

Jon Lester vs. Julio Teheran

Yu Darvish vs. Max Fried

Probable Cubs Lineup

1. Albert Almora Jr. (R) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Javier Baez (R) SS
6. David Bote (R) 2B
7. Ben Zobrist (S) LF (Schwaber against the righty Teheran)
8. Jason Heyward (L) RF
Probably Braves Lineup
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Josh Donaldson (R) 3B
3. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
4. Ronald Acuna Jr. (R) LF
5. Nick Markakis (L) RF
6. Ozzie Albies (S) 2B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
The apparent circus that the Cubs are going to be all season rolls into the ATL tonight, towing the collective raging angina of the fanbase. Just about everything you didn’t want to see go wrong for the Cubs did in Texas, and that’s going to prevent exactly no one from using two games as a symbol for what the whole season will be and as impetus to demonstrate how outraged they can be. If you’re already tired, I don’t blame you. This season has every chance of being The Unblinking Eye for merely the noise around it, not even what’s happening on the field.
Freshly inked Kyle Hendricks (contract, not tattoos, but wouldn’t that be something?) will make his season debut tonight, and seems to be about the only sure-thing on the Cubs. It might fly in the face of modern pitching thinking, but Hendricks is just going to roll up with those hangdog shoulders, his kid-being-forced-to-eat-vegetables expression, and outthink and out-craft lineups pretty much every start.
Thanks to Jose Quintana‘s rescue of Yu Darvish on Saturday, his first start of the season won’t come until the weekend, so Lester and Darvish will remain on regular rest. Darvish has some work to do to earn trust, where his picky, corner-seeking, possibly afraid-of-contact ways will have to be shelved in order for outs. We already did the Chatwood thing and don’t feel the need to relive it.
And the bullpen…you know what? Let’s just not right now.
To Atlanta, who spent their first weekend of the season getting giggy-stuffed by the Phillies in Philadelphia. Not exactly the time you wanted to catch the Fightin’s, with the whole buzz thing going on there. Anyway, this is their home-opener. Considering the Phillies’ splash, the Nationals signing Corbin and being spurned, and the Mets doing Mets things that always gets amplified, you might have forgotten it was the Braves who won this division last year. And this is still last year’s team with Josh Donaldson added to it, essentially.
What the perpetually red-assed Donaldson is anymore is the question. He has had serious injury problems the past two years, but at least flashed his old self in Cleveland for the season’s last six weeks. Then again, he’s only two years removed from a 5-WAR season in Toronto, and three removed from a 7-WAR one. The calf problems he battled are ones you’d like to think he can get past. It’s the shoulder ones that kept him out of the field for long stretches that are worrisome, and knocked nearly 100 points off his slugging last year.
Still, if they can get 75% of what Donaldson used to be, and add that to Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, that’s a hell of a base. Brian McCann will be around to make sure no one has any fun. Markakis had a career season in his mid-30s, and then fell victim to baseball’s war on money for anyone who doesn’t own a team. Inciarte catches everything.
Maybe it’s the rotation that keeps people from getting back to the Braves as the pick to repeat in the East. It’s a little pedestrian, at least until some kids pop. Sean Newcomb walks too many guys. Mike Foihaldkhalns is battling elbow-twang. Julio Teheran missed his window on being something other than “a guy.” Kyle Wright, and especially Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint are the hopes to come up and make it something more.
The pen is also looking more functional than inspirational, with near-Cub Arodys Vizcaino the closer and Chad Sobotka, Jonny Venters and his arm made of puddy at this point, and Not Rocky Biddle forming the hub of it. Again, the kids could be used here later in the year to give it more muscle. Max Fried, who starts the last game, could be someone who does that as well.
The Cubs could use some easy wins after the past two games. Sadly, the Braves aren’t pushovers. Your fatigue will probably last.