Baseball

Game 1 Box Score
Game 2 Box Score
Game 3 Box Score

 

In case it wasn’t made clear by the 7000 times Jason Benetti waxed poetically about how fun it would be for these two teams to meet in the post-season, the Sox and Jays put on quite a series at 35th & Shields over the past few days with the Sox winning two of three, though not without further injury cost. Both of these teams boast some outstanding young hitters, and also a healthy collection of beefy boys on each roster, and all of it was on full display. Though where the Sox were able to separate themselves over the course of three games was most notably the pitching from both the bullpen and the starters was able to outlast the Jays hitters and give the Sox bats enough time in games 1 and 3 to get to the soft underbelly of the Jays’ pen.

Game 1

An early game of the year candidate against Robbie Ray’s pronounced ass crack and Monica-Seles-level grunts, counterpart Carlos Rodon didn’t have the stuff that has become the standard for him through the first part of this season, and seemingly started every inning with a runner on 2nd base. But HARD CARL was able to sweatily wriggle out of almost all of it through the course if his five twitchy innings, and the Notorious TLR had his best game of the season pulling all of the right levers building a bridge to Hendriks in the 9th through Ruiz, Marshall, and Crochet, the pitcher of record. The pen only allowed two hits in their 12 outs of work, and kept the powerful bats of the Jays at bay, and Evan Marshall in particular had a key strikeout of the absolutely terrifying Vlad Guerrero Jr to end the 7th.

At the plate Andrew Vaughn was the star of the evening, finally denting Ray with a solo shot, and then nearly put the game out of reach on his own with a deep bases loaded sacrifice fly. A two run triple from Leury Garcia added some insurance, and it would be more than the back end of the bullpen would need.

Game 2

On Wednesday night Lance Lynn, or as Ozzie calls him “LASS LEEN”, gave his customary efficient 7 innings of his wide variety of different fastballs that kept all but Randal Grichuk off balance, whose solo homer tied the game after the Sox grabbed one in the first on a Yoan RBI single. As a mirror image of the night previous, everything went to hell in soft fashion against Aaron Bummer in the 8th who managed to only get one official out, with a key dropped third strike where rookie Riley Adams was able take first base to keep their rally going. A walk to Vladito and his extremely rude cheeks brought in tying run, and the Jays kept the line moving after that.

More discouraging however, is the fact that Nick Madrigal tore his hamstring while sprinting down to first base on a grounder. Nicky Versteeg has been infuriating at times with his asinine baserunning decisions and occasional stonehandedness in the field, but no one can deny that his bat-to-ball skill has been a definitely plus for this team in keeping innings alive, especially in the era of gunked up balls flying in at a zillion miles an hour specifically designed to miss bats. It appears Dancin’ Danny Mendick will get first crack at the job in Madrigal’s protracted absence, but this might just be one injury too many and Rick Hahn might finally have to find a solution for this season outside the organ-I-zation. But at least Jose Abreu survived having a bat thrown at him by the home plate umpire.

Game 3

In the rubber match last night, the Sox figured out very early on to take lefty Hyun Jin Ryu oppo from the right batter’s box, as he primarly works away and with off speed stuff. Abreu sliced a double into the right field corner to bring home Yermin who had doubled himself just before, and then the extremely fucking moist Yasmani Grandal reached out and sent one over the right field wall. That three run lead would be more than enough for Dallas Keuchel to work with, as he looked vintage in his quick work and accuracy at the edge of the zone, no doubt helped by some Grandal framework. The Jays would get to within one with RBI singles in the 5th and 6th, but Adam Engel connected for his first hit of the season with an insurance dong to left center, and Abreu would double home TA in the 9th for good measure ahead of another Hendriks save.

Up next for the Southside Nine will be a trip to Detroit where they’ll need to sock away some wins over the weekend before a week straight against some sterner stuff in the Tampa Bay Rays (who sadly will not be wearing their neon ass throwbacks here), and then on to Houston after that. That should be a pretty good indication of just how much help they’re going to need.

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

James McCann finds himself in a new world of a different kind in 2020: Backup Catcher, staring at the high likelihood of not reaching 100 games played for the first time in his career since his short debut at the end of 2014. McCann’s 2019 was a pleasant surprise, a torrid start helping to see him to setting career highs with 118 GP, 120 hits, 62 R, 26 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 30 BB, .273/.328/.460/.789 batting line en route to an All-Star nod and a place in Sox fan’s hearts. What did he get for his breakout? a one year, $5.4M deal and a seat on the bench behind new starting backstop/pitch framer extraordinaire Yasmani Grandal. I feel like James isn’t gonna like the dip in GP heading into certain free agency this winter…

2019 Stats

.273/.328/.460, 18 HR, 60 RBI

2.3 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR, 1.0 WARP

6.3 BB%, 28.8 K%

.333 wOBA, 109 wRC+ .789 OPS

5 DRS, -10.2 FRAA, 11th-percentile framing

Last Week On Nitro: James found himself non-tendered by his previous employers in Detroit in the winter of 2018. He’d just come out of the worst season of his short career (57 wRC+) and the the Tigers decided the continued rebuild could do with any other backstop, allowing the 2nd-year arbitration eligible McCann to sign a one year, $2.5M contract with the rival White Sox. McCann sure did go about rubbing Detroit’s nose in it, scorching out of the gates on his way to an All-Star appearance and the aforementioned career marks all over the stat sheet. McCann’s intangibles were also deeply felt at the Arrow, with quick comfort and bonds with Lucas Giolito and others on the pitching staff helping to create some consistency and positive clubhouse culture from a position with a great deal of turnover for the Pale Hose. This all earned him another one year pact, avoiding his final arbitration chance for a cool $5.4M.

The bright lights would fade, though. McCann turned in a 133 wRC+ through the first 61 games and slowly reverted back towards his norm in the final 55 with a 83 wRC+ mark and stark regressions everywhere but in the power department (9 HR in each segment). Stark regression (sick fake band name) to his BB/K ratios and BABIP contributed to the swift end to the party and erased the thin veneer masking his near-league worst framing skills. Rick Hahn and Co., in somewhat of a shocker, decided not to bank on McCann finding a way back to his first half season glory and inked C Yasmani Grandal to the richest free agent contract in team history. Thanks for the good will and early season stat spikes, here’s about 40% of the playing time and double the pay for your troubles.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The good news is we don’t have to try to project what a full McCann follow up might look like on account of having his playing time slashed to pieces. Shortly after the Grandal signing, there were many easily connectable dots to see a fun timeshare to be had between C-1B-DH among those on the roster in the form of McCann, Grandal, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins. McCann likely would have found his way to at least half a season’s worth of games, give or take, or more when you factor in that familiarity with the staff and team already in house. Then Christmas came and Edwin Encarnacion came with it, and any idea of a fun little timeshare with plenty of PT to go around went out the window.

You can safely expect McCann to be more of what he was in Sept/Oct 2019 throughout his reserve role in 2020, and a .250/.315/.460 and a BABIP closer to .300 is a very palatable line to get from your second catcher. Development and the signings of Grandal and EE make relying on McCann’s bat moot, something that even he should be feeling relaxed about, so he can focus on his real deficiencies. The area that McCann can really improve his worth is by becoming something more than literally the bottom of the league in pitch framing.

Those FRAA and 11th-percentile framing ranks are absolutely unacceptable for any team trying to win in the MLB and McCann seemed to realize, whether it was before the Grandal signing or the seconds after it was announced, that he needed to do all he could to improve in this area. He’s taken the steps this offseason to put the time in and work exclusively on his framing, and having a full spring training and season with Grandal will likely help the 31 year old backstop improve his abilities and his market value. Anything he can do to continue to help the development of the young starters and bullpen arms on the pitching staff will help McCann and the team.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Keeping with the theme here, the Grandal and EE signings and overall development within the organization has shielded the team against having to deal with a “worst case scenario” involving James McCann. The Sox don’t need the McCann from the first 60 games last year, they don’t need him to sway nearly 20 homers and drive in gobs of runs and set career marks across his stat line. They also don’t need to worry about what to do in the event he craters to 2018 57 wRC+ levels because they actually went out and got ahead of that exact potential problem.

Is this really the White Sox we’re talking about?? The absolute worst case scenario is Grandal going down with a serious injury, McCann reverting to his non-tender campaign offense and failing to have any of the offseason framing work pay off. That would be a real fucking Rube Goldberg machine worth of catastrophes to get us anywhere close to that kind of scenario. No, this is a rare occasion where the Sox put themselves in position to deal with some sort of awful chain of events without having the bottom fall completely out.

McCann would pretty much have to pout to Chris Sale/Adam Eaton Drake LaRoche-era levels for us to hit a “worst case scenario” on his season. Progress!

BAH GAWD THAT’S McCANN’S MUSIC!: McCann got his island in the sun moments last summer, and he seems pretty damn pleased with it all. The guy has gotten a bunch of PT, albeit on some pretty atrocious teams, and gotten paid to do so, and he finally might be a part of something special. Would he like to keep playing 110 games/year? Sure. But I bet James McCann is pretty excited to be on a team with playoff aspirations for the first time in his entire career, too.

McCann hasn’t complained or shown any attitude with his change in role, at least not publicly. If he can pitch in a solid OBP and show improvement on his pitch framing he might find himself getting closer to 60+ games. Abreu and EE are going to need days off, Grandal can’t catch 140+. McCann still has plenty to prove for another contract and possibly a shot at a starting gig elsewhere in the future, but he’ll be needed this season with this team. Hopefully he can embrace that and succeed with the at bats and innings he’s given, and if not, well, it’s really just not that big of a deal.

Football

Do you hear anything? No? Me either. No noise. No torches and pitchforks. No jobs on the line (yet). It’s pretty boring around here.

Usually in late July we’re all too eager here in Chicago to begin HOT TAKE SZN surrounding the Bears and the NFL. This July, though, feels different. Is everyone just happy to banter about the Cubs division chase and Sox future potential? No, we’ve been doing that every July since 2015. The NBA had a pretty big summer, but the Bulls largely sat that out and everyone is just content they MIGHT make a surprise run at the 8-seed in the East. Hawks prospect camp and convention?? OK, I’m done.

So with nothing new or exciting going on in major sports around the city, why is this late July so different? The Bears, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2010 and second in the last 13 years, have had the quietest offseason in about as long. No new head coach/GM/Front Office personnel. No major signings/high draft picks. Hardly any turnover on the roster/staff, and no real starting positions up for the taking. GM Ryan Pace didn’t even get to make a draft pick until the third day, and there’s been little discussion about the his team or the impending camp since.

The biggest offseason story? Kickers. Cody Parkey long fired into the sun, the talk of both mini-camp and now training camp is the kicking sideshow. Each day’s camp breakdown thus far has started with the accuracy for that day’s kicker; Elliot Fry is 17 of 20 so far! He’s hit from 60 and banged in from 48 and 51 in the driving rain! Eddie Pineiro hit from 63 after doing his best 80s macho movie hunk routine – after his coaches asked him to try from 60 he replied “nah, how ’bout 63”! Suh gnarly, broseph.

The crowds are another HOT story coming out of Bourbonnais. Attendance day one? OVER 8,000!!! Videos tweeted of fans LIGHTLY JOGGING to get front row standing room to see the Midway Monsters strap on the pads and paw at each other! Whoa, did you see that 50-yard bomb from Mitch to Gabriel?? Kahlil Mack and Eddie Jackson are sooooo goood OMFG!!!! I mean, it’s great to see the guys you want to excel succeed in practice, but that’s the bar here, no? To be as good as advertised?

This shit is BORING. But boring doesn’t really mean bad. Consider:

-There was one major coaching change in the offseason, but not the normal refrain of a deficiency in some area. Vic Fangio left to go be the head coach in Denver because his defense was so amazing (while the rest of the team was total ass for most of his tenure). The ensuing hire? Chuck Pagano, a highly regarded defensive mind in his own right that mostly just needs to keep the ship on course. There also are no ‘hot’ seats to speak of at the moment. Weird.

-The players lost to free agency were seen as priced out of their worth at Halas Hall and nary a tear was shed for Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The replacements and other new signings were mostly budget buys met with a collective “meh”.  HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skine swap in for Amos and Callahan. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are here to do something in the backfield. Great, fine. I bet you didn’t even know they signed Ted Larson, again, for O-Line depth or Marvin Hall and Peter Williams. Only one of those guys is made up, but I’m guessing you have to look it up to tell me which one.

-The draft was pretty uneventful as well, unless you count trading up 14 or so spots in the 3rd round “eventful”. Sure, they got their GUY at running back in David Montgomery, or so they’ll tell anything with ears. Even he hasn’t generated much buzz since the draft, a soft spoken type that just does his work and stays quiet off the field. Booooooring. The rest of the draft was all lottery tickets and undrafted free agents because Pace only had five picks to work with. They got a Ridley? No, not the one from Alabama.

-There aren’t any big injuries to get all worked up about, either. Adam Shaheen hasn’t practiced in two days, but that’s basically his whole bag of tricks since being wildly overdrafted three years ago. Someone named Emmanuel Hall is recovering from groin surgery. HaHa is on the PUP list, rehabbing a lower body injury but expected back before too long. Whatever.

So this late July, the start to camp is boring. Embrace the boring, it means that most of us are looking forward to September and could give a shit about what happens between now and then. We don’t even get another open practice for a few days; the team has a shorter, closed practice today and is off Wednesday. There’s a preseason game a week after that, so maybe by the weekend we’ll start to get some real battles for the edge of the roster. Those are the positions that help to define serious championship contending NFL teams from the dregs they beat up.

Boring kinda sucks, but we’ll take it after the last decade worth of summers overstuffed with tough questions. Wait and see how these jokers fighting for their NFL lives fair in game reps in a week or so. If you need your fix the rest of this first week, keep refreshing that twitter account of your favorite beat writer to see where Steady Eddie P tells coach he’s spotting his next kick. HOOOOO BABYYYYY!

@WFrenchman on Twitter