Important stuff from a 6-0 game the Sox lost to the Blue Jays because scoring was required

After Adam LaRoche read the riot act on the White Sox offense Sunday, calling their performance "embarrassing" and acknowledging that they had been making "good pitchers look great," the White Sox squared off with the Blue Jays and....really showed everyone what he was talking about.

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Important stuff from another 8-1 loss to the Twins on the darkest timeline

The Astros and the Royals are the American League's very best, the Twins are hitting with vigor and purpose again, and the Sox can't find anyone who can even slug .500, or catch line drives hit right at them, or string hits together off No. 6 quality starters from the Minnesota Twins. Or anything.

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State of the Offense: Still A Tire Fire

I last addressed this issue on May 2nd. At the time the White Sox had played 20 games and they were sitting at 8-12.  The offense was vying with the comical tragedy that is the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies for the title of Worst Offense in MLB. At the time they were hitting .242/.292/.345 as a team. It's been another 20 games since then, and we've seen a streak that included the best baseball they played this year, Carlos Sanchez has replaced Micah Johnson, and well...let's check it out.

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Why can't Melky Cabrera hit right-handed anymore?

The selling point for bringing Melky Cabrera on board over the off-season was simply that he was a left fielder with a pulse, but a fringe benefit was that his switch-hitting abilities provided the Sox with a reliable everyday solution. Instead, they have gotten this rarefied craziness (Through Thursday).

Vs. RHP: 127 PA, .307/.362/.351

Vs. LHP: 40 PA, .081/.103/.081

That's uh, a little skewed. Is this sort of thing normal?

CAREER Vs. RHP: 3549 PA, .291/.341/.416

CAREER vs. LHP: 1475 PA, .271/.329/.398

No, it's not normal. If a switch-hitter regularly OPS'd under .200 from one side of the plate, you would take it upon yourself to calmly and courteously inform him that he is not, in fact, a switch-hitter. And it's a measure that isn't out place even this early in the season, if someone is coming this close to literally giving at-bats away.

The problem with this, as with Adam LaRoche's intense platoon struggles, is that the White Sox roster is ill-prepared to make this sort of adjustment or accommodation for Melky. We don't know how good he would be hitting left-handed all the time, and the bench is almost entirely composed of guys just trusted to field the position well. J.B. Shuck, a lefty, had reverse splits that one moment in time he was a decent regular, which is looking particularly far off at the moment. Trayce Thompson is the presumptive next outfielder up in the farm system, and is right-handed, but is also Trayce Thompson, and might never actually be ready to produce in any way against MLB pitching. There is no lefty-killer waiting in the wings.

And all this is coming without any real understanding of the why. Again, as with LaRoche, while Cabrera is still a worthy starter with the platoon advantage due to on-base ability, but he's been struck with the same baffling power outage affecting the entire roster. This is a guy who hit 18 home runs while playing Kauffman Stadium four years ago, who is now currently sitting on three extra-base hits on the season. Dodgy batted-ball data that I don't trust and certainly don't have enough familiarity enough to determine what is a fluke, has 10% of Cabrera's hard hit balls becoming medium hit. What this means for his long-term prospects, is a more hard to pin down concept.

Injury would be a fun all-encompassing explanation--he played like a ghost of himself in 2013 too before a tumor was discovered--but there's been no hint of rumor on something like that. Age is likely why LaRoche can't hit lefties anymore, and it would make sense that Cabrera's non-dominant hand is what would slip as he begins to decline in his 30's, but "decline" typically does not equate to "instantly disappears."

Bad luck has been a specter on all of the Sox early-season offensive struggles and there's a risk to overreacting to everything that's going in, but a problem so specific and extreme can be a test case for how Robin Ventura, Todd Steverson and Co. are addressing and responding to things they have a power to change. With a veteran with a baseline for performance is wildly failing to meet expectations, is he replaced or aided in recovery, or does he languish as a lesser value than what the Sox front office paid for? The question has a lot of applications beyond this one.

Important stuff from a 3-2 coming out party for Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija had Torii Hunter struck out in the first inning, he had fooled him with a tumbling sinker that looked like it had slid under his desperate lunge, only to have it dribble out between Geovany Soto's legs and was called a foul tip. Two batters, and maybe five minutes later it was 2-0, after Samardzija had blown his two-strike count to Hunter, allowed him to score when he blew an 0-2 count to Joe Mauer for an RBI double, completely fell asleep as Mauer got a running lead and stole third, which allowed him to score on sacrifice fly.

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Important stuff from a 5-2 loss to the Indians that at least wasn't a shutout

Kudos to you if you walked out of work or school Thursday, let the wind hit your face and thought "It's be a while since John Danks got hammered in dispiriting fashion and took the Sox out of the game from the jump." You live a life chased by the constant shadow of doom, but damn if you're not perceptive. Danks got gobsmacked for back-to-back home runs from the normally tepid pair of Nick Swisher (homerless until tonight) and Mike Aviles, and the Sox were down 4-0 before they took an at-bat, which I suppose provided ample excuse to bypass taking any good ones all night.

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Important stuff from another run-starved 4-3 loss to the Indians

Things are just a little too back to normal for the White Sox. They struggled to make contact against a marginal starter, they biffed away a lead with defensive miscues, they will not win the series for the first time out of the last five, and they're a losing ballclub again. It's familiar, in a way that the end of a sunny day reminds you that the electricity in your apartment is out.

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The White Sox can go back to being dependent on home runs anytime now

This is the offense that baseball purist White Sox fans long craved for. They put a bat on a ball (sixth-lowest strikeout rate in the AL is a great leap forward for them, and it's combined with the fourth-lowest walk rate) and they don't swing for the fences hardly at all (AL-worst 23 home runs). In fact, with a .109 ISO (worst in baseball, despite half the league having to put pitchers in their lineup) they make a point of never getting close.

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Important stuff from a 2-1 victory and an electrifying Sale-Kluber pitcher's duel

A pitching matchup between Corey Kluber and Chris Sale looks pretty good on paper, looks awesome and gripping and electrifying on TV, and probably looks like the reckoning from the batter's box.

Chris Sale was sharp and enduring. He continues to look like he's hammering out the details of a modified recipe where his slider is a bit player, but is closer to the finished product than he was last month. And yet, even with eight innings of one-run ball, he was outclassed most of the night by Kluber, who was so vicious that Conor Gillaspie got applause for making contact to end the second after the first five batters of the night whiffed. The Sox picked away at the armor on occasion but spoke after the game like war survivors and thieves. Sale had the skill to hang tight and the scoreboard even as the style point disparity grew, and there's a certain degree of gratitude to have a stake in such a compelling masterpiece.

When Kluber left the game after nine innings, things quickly swung in the Sox favor, with Zach McAllister letting the first two runners reach before an 0-2, two-out flare from Carlos Sanchez gave them their sixth win a row in the form of a 10-inning thriller.

Box Score 

  • Let's not pretend that Sale wasn't good, or even very good. You don't give up four hits in eight innings throwing slop. Facing an Indians lineup that didn't have many good matchup against the lanky lefty--batting Ryan Raburn cleanup was their big countermove--Sale was economical, shook off early control problems, and mostly lived off his fastball-change combo unless he was forced off. On nights like this you can glimpse the reasoning for it.
  • That said, David Robertson coming for the ninth was brilliant from Robin. The margin for error was remaining razor sharp while the leverage was spiking, with Sale becoming more vulnerable. That's the time for Robertson.
  • Adam Eaton was 1-4 on the night, including a first-pitch pop-up that stranded two runners. But he single-handedly scored the tying run in the sixth, effectively forcing extras when he tripled with one out, and dashed home and dived for a score on a barely wild pitch, right in the middle of two dominating Kluber strikeouts that otherwise would have stranded him.
  • Zach McAllister also gave an opportunity for Carlos Sanchez to have a more fitting homecoming moment than getting overwhelmed by Kluber, and gave him something to push the other way after starting him off 0-2. Positive reinforcement moments for rookies struggling to find their footing are always nice.
  • Avisail Garcia left the game after leading off the tenth with a walk in favor of J.B. Shuck, who would score the winning run. There was an argument for the move on its own, but Garcia reportedly had knee inflammation that had originally cropped up in Oakland. The White Sox are painting it as a precaution, which will ultimately be tested by how Garcia feels tomorrow. He's probably just circling the bases too much.

Next game is Tuesday night at 7:10pm CT vs. the Indians on CSN

The Catbird Speaks 5.18.15 - Actual things to be positive about

The White Sox are actually hot, winning, and there's no place to slot this unhealthy anger that courses through all of our bodies at every hour of the day. Ethan, Nick, Matt and James review the sources of success (mostly the absurdly hot Avisail Garcia), talk about Carlos Rodon's jittery night, mull over some possible upgrades at second and third base and concede to listener demands and say something nice about John Danks.

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AL Central: Best Division?

For the majority of the life of the AL Central it has been a bit of a punching bag for the AL West and AL East. The Red Sox and Yankees were dominant for years, leveraging their massive resources and cagey front offices into 90+ win seasons like clockwork. The Angels, too, gradually morphed into a perennial contender shaped by massive payrolls. Then all it took was particularly savvy front offices for teams like Texas, Oakland, and Tampa Bay and all of a sudden you had 40-50% of the AL as strong teams, none of which were in the Central. As many observed coming into this season, however, the landscape of the American League looks very different - in the preseason, there weren't any readily identifiable "dominant" teams. Uncertainty about which .500-ish looking teams would hit their upsides or disappoint made it unclear as to whether any division would stand out as good or bad. So far, though, the AL Central has been the best division in the league.

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The Catbird Speaks 5.15.15 - This is what a podcast is supposed to be

Mau Rubio from Baseball Prospectus joins James, Ethan and Collin for a long, twisting, profane and entertaining talk on White Sox youngsters and prospects. This podcast cut out at least twice prompting re-starts, and was interrupted by ambient noises and roommates, and still might have been the best podcasts we've ever done.

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Filling the voids in the White Sox lineup

Going into the season, one thing many pundits noted about the White Sox was the holes in the roster. 

Through 31 games, it seems those fears were quite warranted. Between catcher, third base, and second base, White Sox players have combined for a grand total of 0.0 WAR, ranking in the bottom seven teams in baseball for production at each position. 

As a team teetering on the brink of contention with a 5.5 game deficit, such holes are too big to not work to fill them. Micah Johnson being replaced by Carlos Sanchez won’t do that; neither will any potential in-house replacement for Conor Gillaspie at third. 

Though Tyler Flowers is likely the White Sox’ man at catcher, Gillaspie and Sanchez can probably be replaced in a trade. Though the trade market has yet to develop this season, the White Sox may have a few options soon, which I assessed and sorted into relatively arbitrary categories. 

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Avisail Garcia is so hot right now

With 24 hits in his last 16 games, a .340 batting average in May, and some actual honest-to-goodness extra-base hits in the past week, Garcia is the hottest hitter on the team, and an easy choice to fill in the cleanup spot while Abreu got a night off.

He's also not that hot right now, since his magical run hasn't taken him very far away from a possibly still frizzly fate. He's ridden a rather absurd nearly .400 BABIP to all of a 121 wRC+, or a .322/.355/.441 batting line.

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Important stuff from a rehabilitating 4-2 series winner in Milwaukee

The plan was to throw the Sox top-line starters headlong into a week of games against the last place Brewers and A's, and come out a lot closer to .500 ball and feeling like contenders. After the White Sox-mandated early hiccup, back-to-back virtuoso efforts by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and just enough offense have the Sox looking punchy once more. Maybe they're even confident that they won't get mysteriously mauled in Oakland. 14-17 buys a lot of flights of fancy.

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Important stuff from a 4-2 Chris Sale Day victory over the Brewers

Normally Chris Sale domination is an assumed element of Chris Sale Day, but after a curiously delayed start to the season, two-straight clunkers, and another suspension-caused extra break, there has been plenty of time to create anxiety that he would look like himself again.

And then he came out and razed the Brewers lineup and all was fine. 

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