Monday, April 4, 2011

Sox Series Preview: April 5-6 at Kansas City

Probable Pitchers
Tuesday - Gavin Floyd (0-0, 0.00) vs. Luke Hochevar (0-1, 4.76)
Wednesday - Mark Buehrle (1-0, 6.00) vs. Jeff Francis (0-0, 1.29)

The Royals have to be happy to see Gavin Floyd making the start, considering how well their current players have hit him. Small sample size, sure, but of the current roster that has seen Floyd before, only Mitch Maier has struggled to hit Gavin hard, posting a meager .200/.182/.200 line against him. Otherwise, just about everyone else has posted strong numbers against Floyd, especially Alex Gordon (.333/.385/.667 in 13 PA) and Melky Cabrera (.333/.400/.778).

More bad omens for Gavin, he is traditionally a slow starter. He walks more (6.09 BB/9), allows more baserunners (1.63 WHIP), and more runs (5.23 FIP) in March/April than any month and way above his career norms at those splits. I don't know if weather is the problem, but Floyd struggles to keep the ball on the ground early in the season. March/April is the only month of the year his ground ball percentage is under 40% and his flyball percentage is above 40%.

Thanks to the off day Monday, Mark Buehrle makes his 2nd start of the year Wednesday on a normal 4 days of rest. Barring a rain out, the first time the Sox will need to use their 5th starter, Phil Humber will be Saturday the 9th vs. Tampa Bay. Oh great, I have tickets for that game.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3: Indians 7, White Sox 1

The WPA graph doesn't lie, Sunday's series finale can basically be summed up in two plays; in the top of the 4th, already leading 1-0 and with the first two batters of the inning on, Alexei Ramirez bunted into a 3-4-6 triple play worth nearly -.14 WPA and reopened the door for the Indians, who guided by Justin Masterson, kept the game close until John Danks finally made one key mistake, an 88 MPH fastball that was left dead over the heart of the plate that Orlando Cabrera crushed over the gigantic LF wall at Progressive Field. That play alone was worth .376 WPA for the Tribe, pushed their win probability north of 70% and they never looked back, bleeding 5 more runs out of Will Ohman and Matt Thornton as they salvaged the finale of this 3-game series.

White Sox MVP: Carlos Quentin is the MVP posting a .061 WPA for the day, though he owes a bit of that to Indians 3B Jack Hannahan whose throwing error on a slow, 75-foot roller off the bat of Quentin turned a tough, but not unrealistic out into essentially a double.

White Sox LVP: Alexei Ramirez, come on down! You can't bunt into a triple play without feeling the repercussions and his -.213 WPA was thanks primarily to the blunder worth -.138 on its own, but the Sox had plenty of chances to break this game open and, unlike Friday and Saturday, just could not convert. Ramirez had a few more key outs, in the 2nd and 6th innings, both times with runners in scoring position and both times inning-ending, but Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios all had opportunities at various points of today's loss to drive in meaningful runs to no avail.

Mystery of John Danks' Run Support Continues: Last season, the Sox scored 4 or fewer runs for Danks in 17 of his 32 starts and 2011 was no different. Danks had a good game today, pitching 6 innings, allowing 6 hits, striking out 8 and only allowing 2 runs. 66 of his 104 pitches were strikes, but the only one that matters was the one he threw to Cabrera, that cost him 2 runs, 1 more than he could afford to allow.

Looking Ahead: The Sox are off Monday before opening a brief, 2-game series in Kansas City. Gavin Floyd makes his season debut against Luke Hochevar for the surprising 1st place Royals.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 2: White Sox 8, Indians 3

Behind another impressive offensive performance, the Sox pushed their record to 2-0 for the 1st time since 2005 (COINCIDENCE?!?). Edwin Jackson was fine in 5 of the 6 innings he tossed and big games by Gordon Beckham and Carlos Quentin paced the Sox to 8 runs. The Sox again put the Indians in an early hole, pushing their win probability over 90% very early for the 2nd straight game, and while this Indian comeback actually had some teeth, in the end, the Tribe barely had more than a 33% chance to pull off the comeback.

Sox MVP: Edwin Jackson just nudged out Gordon Beckham in WPA this afternoon, .114 to .112 respectively. Beckham's games was fueled by one at bat, his 2-run double in the the 2nd the opened up a 2-0 to 4-0 and, in retrospect, gave the Sox all the runs they needed for the W today. Other than that, Gordon's day was relatively quiet, a single in the 1st inning here, a strike out there, a walk there. Jackson was solid, throwing 6 strong innings in his 2011 debut, allowing 3 runs, though 1 was unearned, but walking 4 and laboring through the 2nd inning.

Today's game seemed to be a pretty standard Edwin Jackson game. When he's on, he can be brilliant, but his lapses in command have always held him back from being an elite pitcher.

That is the 1st inning at bat for Michael Brantley, who struck out swinging on a devastating 84 MPH slider down and in. Set up by a pair of mid-90s fastballs called for strikes, Brantley meekly flailed at the off-speed stuff that had a nearly 10 MPH drop off from the heaters. For the entire game, Jackson's 2- and 4-seem fastballs averaged 92-93 MPH while the changeup and slider were down around 84-85 MPH.

Here's Brantley's at bat in the 2nd inning. This is Jackson at his very worst. Already panicking because the Tribe had scored 3 runs, with his defense failing behind him, he relied solely on his fastball and frankly could not find the plate. This is the challenge for Don Cooper and the Sox. Maximize his effectiveness and limit the wildness.

Sox LVP: For the 2nd straight game, Alex Rios draws the collar, 0-4 and a -.047 WPA, although at least 2 of his outs were well hit, the flyout to end the 1st traveled about 345 feet where the wall is 348 feet deep and probably would have left the yard if the wind had been blowing right to left instead. The line drive to end the 2nd was just an excellent defensive play by Jack Hannahan. If this seems familiar, it is, Rios started last year in the same funk, .174/.269/.391 through the 1st week of the year but only a .167 BAbip. No worries.

Indians MVP & LVP: Jack Hannahan posted a .061 WPA, best on the team, even though he only had 1 hit in 4 at bats, but it was a good one, driving in 2 of the Tribe's 3 runs. Carlos Carrasco's 6.2 innings of 7-run baseball earned him a -.280 WPA, by far the worst for the Tribe.

Looking Ahead: The Sox go for the sweep, John Danks takes the mound against Justin Masterson. The national sports media is taking note, Sox fans.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1: White Sox 15, Indians 10

I know everyone is going to piss a fit about the Sox bullpen allowing a 14-run lead melt to 5 over the course of the final 4 innings, but a quick look at the game WPA graph shows the truth, the Tribe were never in this game. Their WPA was under 1% from the 4th inning on, and only hit 0.5% for one at bat, Shin Soo-Choo's inning-ending strikeout in the 8th inning.

Needless to say, the Sox offense looked phenomenal today, mercilessly pounding Fausto Carmona and Justin Germano. While the stats look ugly for the bullpen; 0.2 IP, 3 R for Will Ohman, for example, here's the one that sticks out to me: 1 walk. That's how you pitch when you have a big lead. You throw strikes, you don't mess around the corners, and you force the other team to make a comeback. Give the Indians credit, they made things a lot more interesting than I expected, and the fact that Matt Thornton had to get up and start warming maybe is a moral victory, but in the end, it would have taken a monumental comeback at basically any point in this game after the 4th inning.

White Sox MVP: Adam Dunn may be the traditional storyline today, it was his White Sox debut, and he was classic Adam Dunn; striking out with 2 on in the 1st and hitting a towering home run in his next at bat, but Carlos Quentin quietly had a huge day at the plate, posting a .166 WPA fueled by two of the biggest hits today for the Sox, his 2-out RBI single in the 1st was huge and then his 2-run homer in the 3rd turned this game into a blow-out.

White Sox LVP: Not hard to pinpoint this one, when your team pounds out 18 hits and you account for 0? Sorry, Alex Rios (-.075)

Indians MVP & LVP: Carlos Santana was the diamond in the rough for the Tribe, who went 3-5 with a HR, 3 RBI, and 2 R. How did they get this guy for Casey Blake? Shin-Soo Choo is your losing side LVP, posting a -.056 WPA, almost all thanks to one at-bat, his inning-ending double play in the 1st (-.051). By the time he stepped to the plate again, the Sox had opened up a 14-run lead and anything he did would have been essentially meaningless.

Looking Ahead: The 2nd game of the series is tomorrow afternoon at 12 o'clock Chicago time. Edwin Jackson, who was identified as a break-out candidate by MLB Rumor's Tim Dierkes, totes the rubber for the first time in 2011 against 24-year-old Carlos Carrasco, who will be making his 13th career start.

Sox Opening Series Preview: April 1-3 vs. Cleveland

Probable Pitchers
April 1 - Mark Buehrle (0-0, 0.00) vs. Fausto Carmona (0-0, 0.00)
April 2 - Edwin Jackson (0-0, 0.00) vs. Carlos Carrasco (0-0, 0.00)
April 3 - John Danks (0-0, 0.00) vs. Justin Masterson (0-0, 0.00)

Weather Will be a Factor
The Sox's workout yesterday was notoriously cancelled thanks to several inches of snow that fell in Cleveland. Getting today's game in should be no problem, even if it's a bit chilly, but there are sunny skies today over Cleveland, however, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday are much less pleasant, snow, rain, and cold dominating the forecast.

Key Newcomers Are Hot
Brent Morel and Adam Dunn represent the only turnover in the Sox's Opening Day lineup from 2010 to 2011 and both started out spring very, very cold. The last few weeks of the Spring season have been very friendly to both, Morel especially who finished the preseason hitting .303/.338/.364. The million dollar question with Brent is if his bat will ever be Major League-caliber, but for now, the Sox seem to have enough pop in their lineup to hide the kid at the bottom of the order, so long as he's playing stellar defense at third.

Buehrle Passes Pierce as Sox's Most Prolifict Opening Day Starter
When Mark Buehrle takes the hill today in Cleveland, he will make his 9th Opening Day start for the Sox, breaking the franchise mark that he currently shares with Sox legend Billy Pierce. A look back at his previous Opening Day starts:

April 1, 2002 - White Sox 6, Mariners 5 - Coming off his breakout 2001 season, Buehrle opened the 2002 year by outdueling future teammate Freddy Garcia, pitching 6 strong innings, holding the M's (who won 114 games the previous year) to 1 run on 2 hits. The Sox's offensive MVP was Paul Konerko, posting a .205 WPA on the back of a 3-5 game with a big 2-run double in the 7th. Despite leading 6-1 going into the 8th, the bullpen nearly coughed the win up. Antonio Osuna, Gary Glover, and Damaso Marte allowed 4 runs in the frame and Keith Foulke loaded the bases in the 9th before getting Mike Cameron to fly out to right for the 27th out.

March 31, 2003 - Royals 3, White Sox 0 - A 2-run second was Buehrle's only blemish but ultimately doomed him and the Sox, who could not figure out Runlevys Hernandez en route to the shutout loss.

April 5, 2004 - Royals 9, White Sox 7 - The 1st game of Ozzie Guillen's tenure as Sox manager was a disaster. Buehrle had an OK game, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 8 hits in 6.2 innings, but left as the winning pitcher of record before the wheels fell off. The Sox entered the 9th inning leading by 4 runs, but a 6-run Royal rally off Cliff Pollitte, Billy Koch, and Damaso Marte spoiled the afternoon, with the loss punctuated on a 3-run walk-off homer by Carlos Beltran.

April 4, 2005 - White Sox 1, Indians 0 - In a win that foreshadowed the monumental season ahead, Buehrle outdueled Jake Westbrook for 8 strong innings, allowing just three baserunners. The Sox manufactured the game's lone run in the 7th, on a lead-off double by Paul Konerko, deep fly out by Jermaine Dye advancing the runner, and error on Indians 3B Aaron Boone on a sharply hit ball by Aaron Rowand. Shingo Takatsu pitched the 9th for the save in a game that lasted only 1 hour, 51 minutes.

April 2, 2006 - White Sox 10, Indians 4 - After raising the championship banner in a pregame ceremony 88 years in the making, the Sox showed no signs of a World Series hangover, pounding 10 runs on 9 hits against the Tribe, chasing CC Sabathia in the 3rd inning, and getting introduced to Jim Thome who crushed a mammoth 2-run homer in his White Sox debut. Buehrle had a shaky outing, allowing all 4 runs in 4 innings, but left the game early after a rain delay. Brandon McCarthy pitched 3 perfect innings for the win.

March 31, 2008 - Indians 10, White Sox 8 - Returning to the Opening Day role after a 1-year hiatus, Buehrle sure didn't look like an ace. After a 1-2-3 first inning, he allowed 7 runs before being yanked in the 2nd. Despite his poor outing, Buehrle didn't take the loss, as the Sox steadily clawed their way back into the game, highlighted by a 2-run double by Paul Konerko in the 7th, tying the score at 7. Octavio Dotel, however, served up a 3-run homer to Casey Blake with 2 outs in the 8th to seal the loss.

April 7, 2009 - White Sox 4, Royals 2 - Buehrle himself had a fairly mediocre game, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits in 5 innings and was in line for the loss, however, 4 innings of scoreless relief by Clayton Richard, Octavio Dotel, and Bobby Jenks kept the Sox in the game, who finally took advantage in the 8th inning, courtesy of a 3-run Jim Thome home run.

April 5, 2010 - White Sox 6, Indians 0 - A game that will be forever remember for Buehrle's spectacular, between the legs, falling down in foul territory flip to Paul Konerko in the 5th inning was one of his best Opening Day starts. He allowed 3 hits and walked 1 in 7 scoreless innings of work, as the Sox were again paced by Paul Konerko, who gave the them all the cushion they'd need with a 2-out, 2-run homer in the 1st inning off Jake Westbrook.