Baseball

VS

Records: Sox 33-17/Reds 25-26

Start Times: Fri 6:10/Sun 12:10

TV: NBCSN/FOX/NBCSN

Redreporter.com

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Friday: Tyler Mahle (1-2, 4.31 ERA) vs. Jonathan Stiever (0-0, 2.45 ERA)

Saturday: Tejay Antone (0-2, 2.76 ERA)vs. Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.19 ERA)

Sunday: Trevor Bauer (4-3, 1.71 ERA) vs. Dylan Cease (5-2, 3.20 ERA)

PLAYOFFS, BABY!

The First Place White Sox travel to Cincinnati this weekend having clinched the first playoff berth the franchise has seen since 2008. TWELVE YEARS! Much has changed…

The team clinched an overuse of the term “Soxtober” by coming from behind to beat the hated MinneHOta Twins Thursday afternoon, securing postseason representation by taking three of four from their closest pursuant in the Division. Not much time for celebrations, though, as the team heads to the Queen city for three with the resurgent Reds, winners of five straight and thinking about a postseason trip of their own. The Reds have gone 7-3 in their last 10 to take over Second place in the NL Central and an automatic playoff berth – for now.

The exciting Sox bats weren’t exactly on full display against the Twins, but their 14 runs across the four game set were enough to buoy strong pitching performances from the pitching staff in the mid-week series. One would think they’d like to see more from the supporting cast around Jose Abreu and the timely Eloy Jimenez, and especially while visiting the notoriously hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Sox hitters will look to do so against a few RH SP, none of which instill much fear outside of the polarizing Trevor Bauer. Bauer is hated by many, and rightfully has earned much of that hate, but us haters have to acknowledge the stellar campaign he’s put together in this most odd of seasons – 9 GS, 4-3, 1.71 ERA, 12.88 K/9, 2 CG shutouts, 2.1 WAR. The douche is making himself some money for his mercenary FA plan on the horizon and you can bet some time in the MLB playoff limelight would only improve his position, as would a dominant performance against the potent Sox lineup.

The Sox will also look to the bats to ease what looks to be an all-hands-on-deck type of weekend for the pitching staff. Jonathan Stiever takes his second, and possibly final, turn in the rotation and will look to go a bit further than the 3.2 innings he gave his team on Sunday against Detroilet. Dallas Keuchel makes his return from an IL stint on Saturday and the series wraps with escape artist Dylan Cease, so the bullpen is going to need to be as good as ever to hold down a surging Reds offense. That task is made even harder by the announcement of Setup Man Evan Marshall hitting the IL, with recent draftee Garrett Crochet getting the call to take his spot on the roster. He’ll almost assuredly make his MLB debut in relief this weekend, possibly in a big spot against the likes of veteran Joey Votto or powerful Jesse Winker. Votto boasts three homers in his last seven games, a stretch that’s seen the Reds go 6-1 while claiming sole possession of second place in the pillow fight that is the NL Central. Cincinnati finds itself a half game ahead of St. Louis and one ahead of Milwaukee as all three are under .500 overall.

We as fans get a glimpse as one of the “what could’ve been” scenarios when Nick Castellanos steps in to face Sox pitchers and patrols RF. I guess one of the positives of this truncated schedule is we haven’t been subjected to too many of the ones that got away in the offseason RF search, but it’s going to be hard not to focus on the Mazara/Castellanos comparisons all weekend. The Sox won’t be paying that situation much mind, though, and will need to show they’re focused on more than just this playoff berth as they have a chance to solidify their lead in their own Division and set up to clinch the AL Central next week in Cleveland. It’s easy to look ahead to that four game series and see Lucas Giolito on Monday and get excited, but the Reds are in a fight of their own and cannot be overlooked. My feeling is we’re going to see some high scoring games, likely with a lot of bullpen usage from the White Sox regardless.

The magic number for the Central Division crown is officially 7; the Sox have 10 games to play. This is entirely in the team’s control and a strong showing in Cincinnati while the Twins deal with the Cubs at Wrigley will give this fanbase even more to celebrate. Maybe even a whole ass AL PENNANT.

Don’t Stop Now Boys!

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Twins 1 – White Sox 3

Game 2: Twins 2 – White Sox 6

Game 3: Twins 5 – White Sox 1

Game 4: Twins 3 – White Sox 4

 

In a series that defined their season thus far, the White Sox took 3 of 4 from Minnesota to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008. With the top 2 offenses in the American League going head to head one would be forgiven to expect dingers galore were inbound. While the 4 games didn’t deliver anything jaw dropping in the box score department, each game had more than enough tension in it to give the series a definite playoff feel. More importantly, the Sox pitching staff was able to answer the call and provide the kind of innings that the bullpen sorely needed while the Twins pen crumbled in the end.

While the work isn’t done for the Sox, now is not the time to worry about what comes next. Now is the time to celebrate and be happy for Jose Abreu, a guy who has given everything asked of him by this team and now finally gets to reap the rewards. This tweet from James Fegan hits you right in the feels:

 

 

TO THE PLAYOFF BOUND BULLETS:

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

-As I mentioned above, the Sox starters (with the exception of Dylan Cease) were able to give the bullpen the kind of break they so sorely needed. Dane Dunning in particular was impressive in the 2nd game, adjusting his delivery halfway through his start and cutting the walks completely out of the equation. Even the much-maligned Reynaldo Lopez gave the Sox some quality innings today, making only 3 mistakes, and striking out 6. Maybe he should just avoid Byron Buxton from here on out.

-Speaking of Dylan Cease, his tightrope act continued as he walked 5 and allowed the leadoff runner to reach in every inning he pitched in, yet somehow only allowed 1 earned run. He’s like Keanu Reaves in the first Matrix movie, dodging a hailstorm of bullets for the first time. Basic statistics assumes that he’s going to crash and burn at some point, but maybe he really is The One and he’s immune to math. Either way, if you had to choose a 3rd starter for the first round of the playoffs at this moment…Dane Dunning would be that guy.

-Tim Anderson continues his assault on the AL batting title by banging out 7 more hits this week…and yet he lost ground as DJ LeMahieu went nuts the last few days. This one is gonna come down to the wire, but regardless you have to think TA has put the theory that last year was a fluke in a shallow grave.

-Eloy Jimenez is hitting the ball to the opposite field with power. When he starts doing that and pitchers can’t go low and away on him anymore, shortly thereafter they start flying out of the park to dead center. Wear your hardhats if you drive on the Dan Ryan.

-Nomore Mazara please.

-Adam Engel pulling back the bunt and slapping the go-ahead run through the infield was something the Twins routinely did to the Sox in the early aughts, and I fucking loved every second of it. VENGEANCE.

-Josh Donaldson is a fucking pudwhack and I hope his teammates dunk his head in a used toilet.

-Alex Colome’s numbers speak for themselves, despite him not looking like a nails closer. I’m just going to have to come to grips with the fact that he’s never going to have a 1-2-3 inning and just deal with it. That said, he wasn’t fucking around this week and deserves all the kudos.

-Cody Heuer, Jace Fry and Evan Marshall. They’re not exactly the shutdown bullpen you pictured in your mind when the season began, but they’ve turned the 7th and 8th inning into their playground and solidified what I thought could be a weakness going forward. They’ll get even more deadly when Bummer comes back, which by all accounts could be fairly soon.

-Next up is a three game stint against the Reds, which should also contain the 2nd career start of Jonathan Stiever which I am very much here for.

-That’s all for now, and I leave you with this #blessed image. Don’t stop now, boys!

Hockey

It was always going to shake out this way wasn’t it? In a year where the Hawks finally tried to fully supplant Corey Crawford in net with noted asswipe Robin Lehner, or at the very least cover themselves against more Crawford injuries, the Hawks were out of it by the deadline, and decided to get what they could for Lehner after he very publicly started demanding to finally be paid what he’s worth, even as Crawford was outplaying him and had been for a couple of months. He was shipped to Vegas who could no longer rely on Marc-Andre Fleury despite giving him a huge contract after harnessing the Reality Stone in the 2018 post-season, and now with the wacky return to play tournament format, the two teams find themselves squaring off against one another for the fate of all humanity.

Hockey

While this country has in no way earned the right to begin discussing the resumption of team professional sports in the way that South Korea has with baseball, or Germany has with Bundesliga soccer given the ghastly disparity in how the pandemic has been handled in the those places versus the United States, the NHL at least got out in front of any of the other team sports by formally announcing how the playoffs and draft are going to work. It’s quite dense, but it’s hockey so it can’t be THAT convoluted.

 

Now to the big takeaways from the announcement:

  • The 2019-2020 regular sseason is officially over, and as such, the top 12 teams via points percentage in each conference are now in this tournament, meaning…..your Chicago Blackhawks have once again qualified for the playoffs, if only by the hair on their ass as the 12 seed in the west.
  • The divisional playoff model has been abandoned, and top four seeds will play a round robin to determine their playoff seeding with regular season rules OT rules, concurrent with the remaining bottom 8 teams playing best of 5 series for the right to advance to one of the top four. Bettman notes in the announcement that it has not been determined yet if the first two rounds will re-seed or follow a static bracket, not to mention that the NHL managed to make overtime even more of a clown show by having two different flavors of it conceivably being played on the same day in the early goings. Even at its most competent, there is no circumstance under which the NHL can’t manage to look like dipshits.
  • That being said, the Hawks are now locked into a best of 5 series with the Edmonton Oilers when and if play takes place. So that means a matchup in a series against the league’s top two scorers in McDavid and now-Ross winner Leon The Ladies’ Man with a defense that had no structure to begin with, and in general when teams break camp raw skill tends to win against systems. But there’s always the chance that there could be revenge of known method actor Mike Smith. Stranger things have happened.
  • Also of local interest is that Chicago is mentioned as one of the potential hub cities, presumably for the Western conference, given the amount of hotels and rinks that are available in the area (the UC, RoseMizon, Sears). Given that there would be multiple games a day concurrently at least in the first two rounds, the time zone issue for starting games past 8:00PM locally here probably wouldn’t loom too large, but it should be considered. Of course, this is operating under the presumption that the city and suburbs have the COVID situation under control, which they absolutely do not right now. But this is the sort of thing the city and state usually trips all over their dicks to incentivize for big business at the expense of common citizens, and during the pandemic things have been no different.
  • Bettman made basically zero mention of the medical safety protocols that are going to be enacted during this, such as full cages/facemasks, celebrations, bench spacing, shared towels, water bottles, dressing room procedures, or any number of other things that need to be figured out and will almost certainly be disregarded by players immediately because they’re by and large minimally educated self-declared Sovereign Citizens. He did mention “extensive testing”, which seems like an absolute bare minimum, and limiting traveling parties to cities to a total of 50 people per team, so after 23 players and 3-4 coaches, teams are going to have to be judicious on their staff selections. And taxi squads (since the AHL season is DONE-done) will likely have to be kept remotely.
  • With regard to the draft, it’s even more convoluted. Basically, they’re going to hold an initial lottery at the end of June, and then if any team that is going to resume play jumps in order, or “wins” the first round lottery, there will be a second re-draw after the conclusion of the round-robin, best of 5 round.

It was made clear numerous times during the video that none of this is etched in stone and the situation is completely fluid from a lot of different angles. Bettman gave July 1 as the absolute earliest camps could open if everything broke right, but didn’t specify if those would be in hub cities or home cities. There’s still time for all of this to go completely balls up again as states start to re open and cases are likely to spike again after the incubation period. But it’s a start, and now the Hawks can say that Jeremy Colliton got this rag tag group into the playoffs and justify keeping him around until the NEXT pandemic.

Baseball

We discussed this on the Desipio Podcast, but I wanted to delve into it a little more. It’s the actual aim of this proposed playoff system in MLB.

First off, it has to be said again that this leaking out of the idea, the trial balloon as it were, is almost certainly an attempt to get people talking about anything else than the Astros, or Jim Crane, or the Red Sox or Cubs simply raising a white flag. While baseball did hand out some contracts this winter and had some stories other than that, nothing has been as big as the sign-stealing scandal or the Betts trade, and as excited as Dodgers fans might be to have Mookie Betts, the optics of it still stink. This is some Wag The Dog tactics by MLB, I’m sure of it.

And we also know the real reason that MLB wants to expand the playoffs is more television money for more playoff games. I don’t know where the saturation point is for that, where people stop caring about playoff games because the number of them don’t make them special anymore. The NBA and NHL would be examples of MLB being a long way off from that, though that’s always been basketball’s and hockey’s system and maybe the perception or feeling is different when you’re changing to get to that. I guess we’ll find out one day.

The cover reason is to give more teams something to play for throughout the season. That’s what they’ll tell you, though. I would argue that the real reason is to give more teams more reason to just aim for 86 wins instead of 95.

That’s why, in hockey and baseball, you see front offices always pumping the idea, “You just have to get in.” With the Nationals being defending champs, it would appear that a champion can be somewhat random. Except that’s the exception. Look at recent history:

2018 – Red Sox: 108 wins

2017 – Astros: 101 wins (legitimate or not)

2016 – Cubs: 103 wins

2015 – Royals: 95 wins

2014 – Giants: Wildcard winners

2013 – Red Sox: 97 wins

So two of the last seven were “outside the box,” as it were. More than a quarter of the time, but still hardly anything like a 50-50 shot.

Now, perhaps with an expansion of middling teams getting a shot, you’d see more and more upset winners. Sheer numbers would tell you that, especially when the system isn’t really weighted to the better teams other than the top one, and they still would have three rounds to negotiate to win the World Series.

This is just an expansion of the “just get in,” theory, which really is just a justification for not putting in the work and resources to build a truly great team. What really is the reward under that system to build a team capable of winning 100 games when winning 88 only requires you to play three more games, and quite possibly all at home? And if more teams under this system come from the clouds to win a World Series, it would only justify staying in the middle more.

The counter to this is that the old, four-divisions-four-playoff teams left too many teams out of it by July and hurt interest and attendance. And I realize we’re never going back to that. But the landscape is so different now. For one, baseball teams aren’t nearly as beholden to their attendance figures for profit as they were. There’s far more avenues pouring into their coiffeurs now. Do they really care if they aren’t drawing that well in August?

Hell, right now we can safely say that Seattle, San Francisco, Colorado, Texas, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh have exactly dick to play for. That’s nearly a third of the league. You might be able to put Arizona and Cleveland on this list before a couple months in the season are played. So what’s an unacceptable number of teams not playing for anything? Hasn’t it always been this way? Do we think things would change there with four more playoff spots available? Curious.

But really what they want is not to be held to such a high standard. If you only allowed division winners into the postseason, then everyone would have to aim to get to Dodgers or Yankees or Astros-level (fairly or not). In order to sell excitement to your fans, you’d have to threaten that you’d actually threaten those teams one day soon.

I don’t know that I completely buy the idea that fans won’t show for a team that’s not going to the postseason completely. A good marketing a team along with at least a vision shown by a front office that had demonstrated a desire is enough for most fans to enjoy a day out at the park. It’s still baseball in the summer, isn’t it?

But that would require more work than these assholes are willing to put in. Why pay for a 100-win team when it’s easier to rig the system so you only have to pay for a 86-win one?

They’re all Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

 

Live From The Five Hole

This week, The Oracle Of Humboldt Park Fifth Feather, The Colorado Heartthrob John Pullega, Queen Of The NW Suburbs Rose Rankin, and myself discuss the Hawks immediate future, their chances for the playoffs, a hockey trade of Robin Lehner, what is Jeremy Colliton, and will Feather ever give in to his White Sox excitement. Join in!

Hockey

Fair warning, I’ve just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy so anything referencing a road might cause me to throw myself out the window in the middle of this blog. You’ll get to trace it though, so that’ll be fun.

The Hawks will return to practice tomorrow and then to game action on Saturday, and they really won’t get much of a chance to play their way back into top form. They’re still three points out of a playoff spot, with only Winnipeg to leap, but basically everyone in and around the wild card spots will play another game before the Hawks get back to it on Saturday night. Which means the Hawks will have games in hand on most, but those only matter if you win them.

So how does it stack up? Right now, the West’s last wildcard holder is on a 90-point pace (still very sad). The Hawks are on about an 87-point one, and it took them winning 11 of 16 to even get to that. So to get to 90 points, the Hawks will need 36 points from 31 games, which would be a 95-point pace. And that’s if you believe that the target won’t arc up a bit, which you would think it would just a touch.

You would be tempted to go through the schedule, but that’s kind of folly for hockey because individual games come up weird. Your goalie has a bad night or theirs has a great night or you hit three posts in a period or something. As you look at it now, February does look like it’s a good runway, as the only games against the league’s glitterati are one against St. Louis, one against Boston at home, and one against Tampa. The rest are either against teams the Hawks are around in the standings are also-rans like the Ducks or Rangers. Essentially the Hawks have it all in front of them this month. They can play their way right into the thick of it or they can play themselves right out of it.

March looks even tastier, with the Ducks, Wings, Sharks, Senators, two against the Wild, Kings, and Canadiens all on the docket mixed in with tougher games. That’s the kind of slate you’d like when you’re competing for something, especially as some of those teams if not all will be stripped for parts by then.

So can the Hawks keep this pace up? We’d like to see things trending that way, so let’s et graphical!

Here are the rolling five-game averages for their CF% (blue) and xG% (red):

So those are going up. Their xG% ends at 53% and has been in the upper 40s for the last seven, but have been under 45% most of the season. Their average Corsi has been over 50% for the past nine. Again, small samples but at least trending the right way in five-game averages. They’ll have to keep going to get to the 90-point mark.

Of course, with the Hawks it’s about their defense. So here’s their five-game rolling average of Corsi against per 60:

And their xGA/60 rolling five game aveage:

Again, trending down, which is good. Still, since December 1st, when the Hawks have picked up their games somewhat, they rank 26th in Corsi against at evens and 30th in xGA/60 against. So their trendlines might just be part of a league-wide belt-tightening, which we see every season as scoring goes down as the season goes on and people don’t care as much. The numbers are no better from January 1st on, so it’s hard to see how the Hawks can be this bad defensively and remain competing for the playoffs. They’ll need those trendlines to continue to go the ways they have been the past couple weeks, let’s say.

Still, as we said before the break, there’s probably a Debrincat binge waiting, and the power play will spasm a good couple weeks you’d think for no reason other than HOCKEY! So it’s hardly out of the question the Hawks can defy their defensive averages or rates a little longer.

Hockey

-We’ve commented in the past year that when the Hawks have played in games against teams that are fighting directly for the playoff spots the Hawks claim to be after, they’ve fallen flat on their face. This can be a big fudge-y to determine, as some teams are in for automatic spots, some teams should be but aren’t, and others definitely are in the wildcard chase.

But this harkens back to last year. And going over the actual records, it’s kind of funny that we thought the Hawks were so in it, and they were, as they were under .500 at the time when this started. That’s more on the Western Conference than the Hawks, but the standings said they had a chance. And here’s what they came up with:

2/22/19 – Colorado: lost 5-3

2/24/19 – Dallas: lost 4-3

3/9/19 – @Dallas: won 2-1

3/11/19 – @Arizona: won 7-1

3/23 – @Colorado: lost 4-2 (this pretty much ended things)

3/24/19 – Colorado: Won 2-1 in OT

3/26/19 – @Arizona: lost 1-0, definitely ended things

So my claims that they’ve never taken a point is an exaggeration, but 3-4-0 with one of those wins in OT isn’t exactly impressive either. And the win in Arizona was before the Coyotes had made their last charge toward the playoffs, and the OT win over Colorado was basically after the horse was out of the barn. Still, you get it.

It could be argued that the win over Calgary on Tuesday was over a fellow playoff competitor, as the Flames are in the wildcard mess at the moment. We can go back and forth on that. My wager would be on the Flames eventually joining Vegas and some other random third team in the automatic spots, and rather easily as well. Time will tell on that one.

It’s hard to know what games that came before have the same meaning, but now that we’re in the second half we’ll definitely get sharper context for some. They’ll have games with the Flames, Predators, and Jets in the next couple weeks (all at home) so that will be a good start. Next month is rife with them as well.

-One thing we know the Hawks simply aren’t equipped to do is protect a lead, and a big one. They might hang on desperately and let their goalies bail them out, but they can’t shut down a game. We saw it last night, we saw it in Calgary, we saw it in St. Louis earlier in the year.

Looking back over the schedule, a lot of wins were the Hawks coming from behind or catching a team cold. The Islanders were clearly out to lunch. Their one authoritative effort of late was against the Jets, and even then they had to survive an utter onslaught in the second period when leading. The win against the Wild saw them take the lead with six minutes left. The Bruins were able to storm back to get to OT. You have to go all the way back to their win at home against the Stars, which was Dallas’s third game in four nights for another “easy” win.

This isn’t much of a surprise, given the state of the Hawks defense. They can basically only toss out Keith and Murphy to keep things “calm,” and even then Keith was a culprit for the winner last night. Keep them separate, and you’re still asking Adam Boqvist and Erik Gustafsson to see things out in later minutes. There’s just no way.

It’s been a constant complaint around here, but the Hawks blue line is the prime example of how there’s just no plan. If they had any idea that Seabrook wouldn’t be part of the every day lineup, and they should have, then the minutes going to Dennis Gilbert right now would be going to Henri Jokiharju (who’s no genius but he’s a hell of a lot better than Gilbert and wouldn’t you look but the Sabres just moved along an overpaid vet to keep him in the lineup. What’s that like?). Instead they have a winger who is deservedly sitting behind Matthew Highmore. After being given literally every chance and boost to succeed.

At this point, there is no downside to letting Phillip Holm or even Nicolas Beaudin take those minutes. They can’t be anymore helpless than Gilbert, who is Brandon Manning bad, and perhaps they would respond better to the NHL game than the AHL one which has happened before. Gilbert is definitely meant for the AHL game. Fuck, you’ve scratched and clawed to keep Fetch on the NHL roster, perhaps it’s time to give him one last stretch of games to see if anything can be salvaged here. The Hawks were so convinced of it earlier.

Or maybe you can just keep throwing things at the wall. It’s going great so far.

-Also it’s time for MY GUY Philipp Kurashev to get a look over John Quenneville, who doesn’t really do anything. The Hawks are still far too infatuated with plugs who “work hard” instead of those with actual skill. Quenneville is never going to be more than a fourth-liner. Again, you have nothing to lose.

-I feel like two or three times a game I marvel that Zack Smith always seems to be in a good spot but then completely undoes that by having no feet or hands.

-John mentioned it last night, but there’s no excuse for coming out of a TV timeout and having Gus, Strome, and Top Cat out for a defensive draw, no matter how much you trust Carpenter to take it. This is base-level NHL coaching, and Colliton gets it wrong far too much.

I have spoken.