Baseball

START TIMES

Game 1: Tuesday 9/29 2:08 PM on ESPN

Game 2: Wednesday 9/30 2:10 PM on ESPN

PITCHING PREVIEW

 

Now we move onto the other side of the ball, the offense of the Oakland A’s. Just looking at the surface stats of the A’s offense, you’d be inclined to think that this is a team that’s built to be opportunistic with opponent’s mistakes and then sit back and let their plus pitching shut the rest down. Well dear reader, you’d be exactly right.

The A’s don’t score runs in bunches, sitting exactly in the middle of the pack in runs scored with 274 of them. Comparatively, the top two teams (one of which happens to be the Sox) mashed in upwards of 30 more runs than Oakland did.

The A’s walk more, strike out less, and steal more bases than the Sox. They’re exactly the kind of team we used to despise in Minnesota in the early and middle 2000s, with one major difference this time: they don’t have their one big monster hitter now. Three weeks ago their all star 3rd baseman Matt Chapman came up lame after ranging to his left on a hot ground ball and attempting to make a spinning throw to first. An MRI after the game revealed a strained hip flexor, which required season ending surgery.

Not only was Chapman 2nd on the team with 10 HR at the time, but he also led the A’s in extra base hits. On top of that, he was by far and away the best defensive 3rd baseman in the AL, with Fangraphs having him at 34 DRS last season, with a 14.8 UZR rating.

This is a huge blow to the A’s on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and a disadvantage the Sox should hopefully be able to take advantage of in a shortened series. After Chapman, the primary drivers of the A’s offense are as follows:

Mark Canha – LF/CF

2020 Stats: .246/.387/.795  5 hr, 33 RBI, 32 R, 33 BB, 127 wRC+

On the surface, Canha doesn’t seem to be anything super special here (which you’ll start to see is a pattern). He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, doesn’t knock in a ton of RBIs. What he does do is get on base at a prodigious clip, as his .387 OBP is 15th in the entire league, just behind Mike Trout. He sees a ton of pitches, and forces opposing batteries to show all of their weapons in one plate appearance. He’s like a human video session of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses.

The A’s currently have him hitting cleanup, which seems out of place as you’d normally like to have someone of his skill set hitting 1st or 2nd, but Bob Melvin has made it work consistently throughout this bizarre season. The Sox staff will have to be aware of what he can do, and try and make short work of him when he comes to the plate.

Marcus Semien – SS

2020 Stats: .223/.305/.679 7 hr, 23 RBI, 27 R, 25 BB, 91 wRC+

OLD FRIEND ALERT. Here we have yet another former White Sox prospect in the sweet swinging Marcus Semien. Traded from the Sox in 2014 along with Chris Bassett for Jeff “Not Here Anymore” Samardzija, Semien quickly found a home at short here in the bay area. Last season was his coming out party, as he slashed .285/.396/.892 with 33 HR and 92 RBI. He also scored 121 runs atop the A’s lineup and swiped 10 bags.

While this season hasn’t come close to what he put up in 2019, he’s still a very large threat atop the A’s lineup. Usually leading off, Semien has power to all gaps, and can lay down a bunt and beat it out if the corners are playing too far back. While he only stole 4 bases this season, the speed and ability is still something pitchers need to take account of. Bob Melvin also loves to hit and run when Semien is on base, easily creating a 1st and 3rd situation before the opposing starter has even settled in.

Ramon Laureano – CF/RF

2020 Stats: .213/.338/.704 6 hr, 25 RBI, 23 R, 24 BB, 108 wRC+

Possibly the most intriguing young player on the diamond for the A’s is Ramon Laureano. Bursting onto the scene last year slashing .288/.340/.860 with 24 HR and 67 RBIs, Laureano’s mix of speed and power made the AL west sit up and take notice. Unfortunately for him, his season has kind of gone off the rails since his suspension back in early August after he attempted to fight the entire Astros team to get to slimy shitball hitting coach Alex Cintron. He then had the quote of the year by saying this about Cintron: “I regret charging him, because he is a loser.”

 

Despite his down numbers this year, Laureano is dangerous in any count and can put the ball on the ground and beat it out with his plus speed. In addition, if you hang a piece of cheese in the zone, he has the power to make you pay for it.

Sean Murphy – C

2020 Stats: .233/.364/.821 7 hr, 14 RBI, 21 R, 24 BB, 131 wRC+

Sean Murphy has yet to experience a full major league season. Brought up as a September callup in 2019, he impressed the A’s front office by hitting 5 HR the rest of the way to go along with his 5 doubles. Brought along slowly in the A’s stocked minor league system, Murphy was always targeted as their catcher of the future. Thus far, the returns have been exactly what the A’s were hoping for.

Murphy thus far has shown an innate ability to hit for power, along with the patience that is the hallmark of the Oakland offensive system. The fact that he can hit for the power that he does while maintaining a .364 OBP speaks volumes to the kid’s eye. If he’s able to stay healthy behind the plate (he’s already missed time due to knee issues, which for a catcher is never a good thing), he should be the backbone of the A’s lineup along with Chapman for years to come.

Verdict:

As you can see above, the one tying link between all of those hitters is a sky-high OBP. This A’s team is maddeningly patient at the plate, and is completely willing to take a walk at the expense of pulling the trigger at a marginal pitch.

For the Sox rotation and bullpen to have success against the A’s offense, they need to stay within their game and throw strikes. Keep ahead of the A’s hitters in counts, and force them to make contact. There’s not a ton of pop there, but there IS an extremely high hitter’s IQ. Pound for pound, the A’s don’t match up to the sheer power the Sox can present, but they can drive a starter out of the game quickly if they start to nibble. Go right after them, and success can be had.

We’ve waited a long time for the Sox to reach the postseason, and there’s no reason they can’t make a lengthy run this year. The march starts now…

 

LET’S GO SOX

 

 

Baseball

After taking a night to stew on the sad showing of this past weekend’s series against the Cubs, it’s time to take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and remind ourselves that despite the suckitude of the last week that the White Sox will be playing Playoff Baseball this week, which should be a cause for celebration.

So despite that big ole hunk of fail this last week, the Sox falling to the 7th seed in the playoffs may have inadvertently landed them in a pretty decent spot against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won one more game than the Sox this season, and while that was good enough to score them the AL West crown, those wins came against 3 playoff teams, (Dodgers/Padres/Astros) whilst the Sox wins came against 6 (Cubs/Reds/Brewers/Cards/Indians/Twins).

So let’s take a quick dive into who’ll be opposing the Sox hitters this upcoming week, and what they can expect to see.

A’s Starting Pitching

While Bob Melvin has yet to release his rotation for the upcoming games, one can make at least an educated guess as to who will be starting the first 2 against the Sox. Odds are, Melvin is going to turn to his hottest pitcher of late for Game 1:

Chris Bassitt

2020 Stats: 5-2, 2.29 ERA, 7.86 K/9, 1.16 WHIP, 3.59 FIP

Pitches: 4 Seam (54.3%)/Slider (2.9%)/Cutter (23.2%)/Curve (9.4%)/Changeup (10.3%)

Oh, look. A member of the A’s that was drafted by the White Sox. How weird that so many A’s players started with the Sox organization! (facepalm emoji)

You can see right off the bat that Bassitt is the type of pitcher that would be right at home in the Cleveland rotation. He’s a very patient pitcher that doesn’t have overpowering velocity (his 4 seamer tops out right at about 93 mph), but is very efficient in the zone. His breakout this season has been propelled by almost completely ditching the slider for a cut fastball, which he throws in almost any count.

Once he’s got 2 strikes on you, however, he usually turns to his curveball which is almost excruciatingly slow:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1293662761243869190

As you might imagine, Bassitt is the type of pitcher that could frustrate a younger, more aggressive lineup like the White Sox. The one bright side to him is that his FIP is considerably higher than his ERA. While the A’s have pretty stellar defense, it’s not to the point that there should be 2.00 of difference in his ERA vs FIP. So Bassitt can be gotten to, and with the slow offense of the A’s, he doesn’t have to be pummeled.

Which brings us to our likely game 2 starter and A’s Superprospect:

Jesús Luzardo

2020 Stats: 3-2, 4.12 ERA, 9.00 K/9, 1.27 WHIP, 4.19 FIP

Pitches: 4 Seam (53.5%) Slider (22.4%), Change (23.9%)

After a few setbacks due to injury, the much heralded arrival (at least if you’re in a fantasy baseball dynasty league) of super pitching prospect Jesús Luzardo finally happened. While his first two starts were nothing to write home about, you could absolutely see the stuff was there.

His velocity is the type of stuff that hasn’t been seen in Oakland since the days of Dave Stewart, and his slider has almost the same average velo as his fastball, with the kind of “shit-your-pants” movement usually reserved for knuckleballs. He’s not afraid to throw it at the back foot of a righty hitter either:

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1307418069220888576?s=20

The only thing fairly average about him right now is his change, but when it’s still coming in at 88 mph it can be a devastating weapon. Control can be an issue, though not so much in the walk department (2.76 BB/9), moreso leaving his fastball out over the plate. He has issues with the long ball (1.37 HR/9) which can play right into the hands of the Sox hitters, who I’ve been told can hit the ball a long way when given the chance.

Game 3 would most likely be Frankie Montas, who is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now (and also another former member of the White Sox organization) but here’s hoping we don’t have to get to that point.

If the Sox are able to get to Bassitt and Luzardo, they still face one of the best bullpens in the AL and perhaps the best closer in the league in:

Liam Hendriks

2020 Stats: 3-1, 1.76 ERA, 12.33 K/9(!), 0.67 WHIP (!!), 1.14 FIP(!!!) 15/16 Save Opp

Pitches: 4 Seam (70.3%), Slider (22.2%), Curve (7.0%)

Goofy Face: 100%

Despite looking like a total goober, Hendriks has been nothing but nails this entire season. His fastball has some high heat, as he can reach 99mph, and his slider is wipeout-type stuff. He only blew one save the entire season, and he’s given up a total of 5 runs the whole year. He really just doesn’t break at all, and the Sox would do well to never give him the chance to shut the door, because if he’s in the game it’s pretty much already over.

The rest of the bullpen is all the type you’d expect from a Billy Beane-constructed team. Solid but unspectacular. They were 4th in the AL overall in RP stats, but take out Hendriks and they fall to 8th. The Sox pen currently sits 6th, and that’s with Rodon’s numbers thrown in there. If the Sox can get a lead on Bassitt and Luzardo, I like their chances to take the series in 2 games.

If they head into the later innings tied (or god forbid, behind), the hill becomes much steeper to climb. The Sox strategy against the starters should be the same as it’s been: hit the ball a long way. Home runs are going to be their easiest path to victory this series, as if this turns into small ball, the advantage flips to the A’s pitching and D. Thankfully with the series being played at a neutral site (looks to be LA) which is WAY more hitter friendly then the cavernous OF of Oakland, the edge moves a bit in the Sox favor. Oakland’s team ERA is 4.47 on the road vs. 2.89 at home, so they can be had.

The Sox need to take care of this series in two, as we’d prefer to avoid having to discuss who the Sox 3rd starter will be, things becoming much more urpy at that point.

 

 

 

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: A’s 7 – Sox 0

Game 2: A’s 2 – Sox 3

Game 3: A’s 2 – Sox 0

 

There’s not much you can say when a team gets shut out in 2 of the 3 games over the weekend. The Sox just aren’t scoring runs right now, as any team that starts a combination of Matt Skole, Yolmer Sanchez, Adam Engel and Ryan Goins isn’t going to threaten much at the dish. It doesn’t help that Jose Abreu and James McCann continue their southward slide towards offensive oblivion. Timmy and Eloy can only do so much, and even with Moncada’s imminent return this lineup isn’t super scary at the moment. What can you do but go to the bullets?

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

-Let’s start with a few positives: Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito look like they’re gonna be OK. We can all exhale because the #3 and #5 starters of the Sox Rotation Of The Future seem to have their shit back in order. Lopez looked very good on Saturday, and that’s even with him admitting he didn’t have his changeup working like it normally does. He only struck out 3 batters, but he kept the sneakily powerful A’s lineup grounded, inducing 11 ground balls during his start. This isn’t normal for him, but I think it speaks to his ability to adjust on the fly when he realizes certain pitches aren’t working.

-Giolito on the other hand mowed down A’s like it was going out of style. He struck out 13 in 6 innings, and really only made one mistake to Fatty Olson when he left a 1-0 fastball belt high to him which ended up in the Goose Island of Sadness. That oopsie aside, Giolito had his slider and fastball cooking in the first few innings. After that the A’s made adjustments and sat on his heat and he went to the change to get the punchouts. All in all I’m very happy with what I saw out of those two this weekend.

-Ross Detweiler is not the answer to any questions the front office should be asking.

-3 runs in a 3 game series speaks for itself.  The A’s pitching staff is very underrated, but it’s not like Cy Young pitched all 3 games either. The Sox only managed 4 hits against Mike Fiers, who makes Tim Wakefield look like Nolan Ryan. Seems like they need to hit their way outta this one, just sad news for my retinas while they do it.

-Alex Colome escapes with his ass intact after some…creative D by Ryan Goins. Error aside, Colome seems to be skating by hitters with more than the usual amount of luck. The end of his run may be near, and it’s gonna be ugly when it implodes. Hahn May regret not selling high.

-Life doesn’t get any easier next series, as the unholy terror of the Astros visit the south side. It’s a different look for their offense, as the team the Sox beat in May has added Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez to their now fully armed and operational battle station. This could be ugly…

 

 

 

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: A’s 65-50   White Sox 51-62

GAMETIMES: Friday 2:10, Saturday 6:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: WGN Friday and Sunday, NBCSN Saturday

THE RIGHT GREEN AND GOLD: Athletics Nation

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

A’s Spotlight

The A’s continue their rare week-long stay in Chicago as after an off-day they will decamp to the Southside for the weekend, after a perfectly even series at Wrigley that basically coin-flipped to the Cubs. Each had a blowout, and Monday’s tilt came down to a gust of wind/loud fart from the bleachers to keep Marcus Semien‘s game-winning homer in the park. The Sox meanwhile go from beating up on the remedial class in Detroit to playing a team with real stakes again, a transition that could cause whiplash in some.

Not much could have changed for the A’s in four days, obviously. They still have issues in the rotation, though Tanner Roark and his strike-heavy ways will try and change that again on Saturday. The Sox will see Mike Fiers, whom I will never believe is good but keeps putting up good numbers, including leading the league in batting average against when trailing in the count somehow. Is he the worst pitcher to have two no-hitters to his name? The A’s have two of the names in the discussion, with Homer Bailey still nursing the contusions and lacerations the Cubs put on him on Wednesday.

The pen took a couple bumps too, as Blake Treinen continued his season-long wander through the forest on Wednesday as well. Lou Trivino hasn’t seen last year’s heights either, and it’s mostly on what Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, and especially Liam Hendriks can do. The A’s sit only a half-game behind the Rays for the second wildcard spot, and it feels like if they’re going to make up that game hinges on whether they can find another arm or two out of the pen to be a blackout, or if they can get some more help from the rotation than just five innings of not setting any fires (no pun intended nor welcomed). Again, they’re still hoping that A.J. Puk and/or Jesus Luzardo, two kids that will be in their rotation next year, can recover from injuries and provide help from somewhere in the season’s dying embers. When you’re Oakland, this is the kind of thing you do.

The lineup remains fine, though barely. Matt Chapman is in something of a swoon, with a wRC+ of 0 the past couple weeks. Semien is picking up the slack of late, and Mark Canha has chipped in, but this is not a bash-and-crash outfit. They score just enough, they catch just enough, and the pen generally holds the lid down even if it’s popping up and pulsating. They get through by the skin of their teeth.

For the Sox, it’s basically about maintaining a couple rolls. Reynaldo Lopez has an ERA under 3.00 since the break, and everyone is hoping this is his coming out party. He shut out the A’s over six innings last time he saw them, and while walks have been an issue his past two starts he’s been able to dodge the alarms. Still, the Sox would like to see him complete the sixth instead of just get there as he has the past couple outings. Giolito has found his dominating best in the last two starts as well after getting brained by the Twins. The Mets and Tigers aren’t exactly dynamic offenses, but at the moment neither are the A’s.

Tim Anderson and James McCann had great series in Detroit, and McCann especially needed it. An odd Friday matinee kicks it off, and starts a stretch where the Sox will see a lot of playoff contenders. The Astros are in after this, and they’ll see the Twins twice and Braves once before August is out. Fine test if nothing else.

Baseball

We write pretty extensively about the problems with counting on a bullpen from year to year, They’re just far too volatile, inexplicable, and weird to know exactly what you might get from one season to the next. There might not be a better example than Blake Treinen.

Last season, Treinen was the most valuable reliever in the game. More than Edwin Diaz, more than Josh Hader, anyone. He ran a WHIP well under 1.00, struck out nearly 12 hitters per nine, and ran close to a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He racked up 38 saves to backstop the A’s to the coin-flip game, and anchored a unit that was the backbone to that team as all their starters basically ended up looking like something out Walking Dead.

This year he can’t get anyone out.

He’s lost his closer’s job to Liam Hendriks. His Ks are down by nearly a third, and he’s doubled his walk-rates. His homers-per-nine is up 5x from last year. He only gave up two homers all of last season, and this year he’s surrendered seven that have landed in nachos or beer out beyond the outfield wall. He’s already given up as many hits this year as he did last, and there’s still more than six weeks to go in the season.

So what happened?

It’s not as easy to pinpoint as you might think for such a precipitous fall. Treinen has lost a smidge of juice on his fastball, but it’s only down slightly less than one MPH and is still averaging more than 96 MPH. That’s more than enough to get things done. What he can’t seem to do is throw it for a strike as often, as his strike-percentage with that is down about five percentage points. And that might be due to getting a lot more arm-side run on it, which is making it harder to control:

To go along with that, his slider has lost sweep as well, losing an inch of horizontal movement. We’ve said it before, but even though that doesn’t sound like a lot it’s the difference between a whiff and something fouled off or the latter and solid contact. Last season, Treinen got half the swings against his slider to be whiffs. That’s down to 34% this year. Hitters could only manage to even foul it off a quarter of the time. That’s 40% now, which means more pitches, which means more looks, which means worse results. If you’re StatCast inclined, his slider’s spin-rate went from 2, 735 RPM to 2, 597 RPM this year. He’s even scrapped more often for a cutter, which hasn’t really gotten better results.

Was it workload? Treinen threw 80 innings last year, the first time he had ever crossed that threshold, though he did throw 75 the year before that. Some pitchers can back up 80 innings year-t0-year, but you’d have to say Treinen isn’t looking like one of them. Hell, Hader threw 80 innings as well last year, and while he’s still been very good this year, teams have been able to get to him at points, which they couldn’t last year.

Of course, Treinen could discover something this offseason, get his slider sweeping again, and be the dominant monster he was in ’18. That’s the thing with relievers. Or at 32 next year, perhaps his time in the sun is forever gone. For this year, he’s leaving the A’s pen a tad short, though Hendriks has picked up the slack and Yusmeiro Petit along with Joakim Soria have picked up the slack as set-up men.

You can always think you know what you have in a bullpen. But you never really do. Unless you spend gobs of money like the Yankees. That’s not really an option for the A’s, so they’ll just have to guess again next season.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, A’s 5

Game 2 Box Score: A’s 11, Cubs 4

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 10, A’s 1

I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve been around these parts for any length of time, you’re probably either ready to label me with or for me to project that I’ve motherfucked the Cubs into brilliance with my declaration that they weren’t going anywhere after that beer fart in St. Louis. And it’s close, but the Cubs have to take it on the road before we can officially declare that. We know they’re good at home. They were brilliant this time around, going 5-1 against a division competitor and a playoff contender from the American League. They could have their biggest lead in the division all season when it’s all said and done. Now if they could actually get things moving on this 10-game road trip, with nary an impressive opponent on it, we might be on to something.

Let’s…

-I guess I’ll start with Ian Happ. I’ve never been a huge believer in Colonel Happ, but he always seduces you with that swing and his discipline. At this point, the Cubs don’t have much to lose by playing him at second most. We know Kemp and Bote just aren’t going to hit, and you can mitigate some of Happ’s defense with shifting. Five hits in the series, and even more hard contact. Even when Happ was struggling he still worked an AB, and the Cubs need more of that. If it works over the next month then you don’t have to hinge anything on Ben Zobrist, which we probably shouldn’t be anyway.

-Monday was an adventure, but with this state of the pen I don’t know what else it’s going to be. The Cubs are going to need the rotation to pick it up for a week or two, even more than they have, and get to the 7th inning consistently. From there you can just throw the masses out to get six to eight outs, as messy as it’s going to be.

-Speaking of which, Duane Underwood is going to get himself a couple more looks before Kimbrel comes back. He’s the only one with options so he probably has to go down when that happens. It was a great debut, but some salt grains required. He’s been good as a reliever in Iowa, and he’s another guy who at least throws hard, which the Cubs haven’t had enough of. That doesn’t mean he should be in high-leverage situations tomorrow, but again, what do the Cubs have to lose here? I don’t need more David Phelps in my life, and anything that gets Cishek rest at this point should be welcome.

-As for Jon Lester, there’s not much reason to panic as long as the other four starters keep doing this. As we’ve said, his margin for error is so thin, and now it’s a wonder if he can get inside on righties at all. But as a fifth starter, fine. We’ll deep dive on this at a later date.

-Castellanos is a danger to himself in the field, but he seems to do everything right with a helmet on. And there is something he’s brought to the club with his energy and bounce, which is very welcome in August.

-Anyone bitching about Quintana now?

-Is this Hendricks’s best stretch in his career? Seven starts, 10 earned runs, 37 Ks, 11 walks. He’s almost automatic right now.

-I’ll say I was there the night the Cubs had three catchers on the field, and none of them were Willson Contreras.

Onwards…