The Twins, too? Notes from 0-4

Short of injuries, this has been about as frustrating a start to the season as you can get.

Losing to the Royals brings its own frustration, but coming off the World Series appearance you can at least understand how they beat you. The Twins were coming off of a humiliating opening set against Detroit where they didn't score a run until late in the third game. Tommy Milone was on the mound, and the Royals' terrifying bullpen wasn't lying in wait. And the White Sox got shut out anyway.

Through sheer force of will I am trying not to get too down on the team. Last year, the Angels started 0-3 last year and went on to win 98 games. In late May of 2014, the Nationals had a four game losing streak to drop below .500  — losing those four games by a combined 5 runs! — and they would recover to win 96 games. I'm not saying that the White Sox will win 90-plus games, necessarily, but four game losing streaks happen and bad starts happen. And hey, we're getting closer to getting Chris Sale back and Carlos Rodon is on the way! 

Cool, now that we've got that out of the way, I'm going to complain a lot. 

This loss was particularly frustrating because for most of the game, the White Sox only had one hit — a bunt single from Micah Johnson, which was erased when he got himself picked off trying to steal third. At one point, Milone — who did not appear to be locating particularly well, or to be throwing any impressive breaking stuff — had retired 16 straight hitters with his 87-88 mph fastball. 

Box Score.

  • Micah Johnson — On the plus side, he has started the year 3-for-9 with a double. On the other hand, he has already been caught stealing once and picked off once. Friday's scenario was particularly frustrating, as the White Sox were down 1-0 and Johnson was on second base, only to break immediately upon Milone's first movement. Milone turned and Johnson was absolutely dead. Melky Cabrera was up and Jose Abreu was on deck with one out. As the tying run in scoring position with good speed, what on earth was he thinking? 
  • Robin Ventura — I have never been a fan of Ventura as an in-game manager (although it appears as though he does the other important manager things well). In 2012, there were a number of games that Ventura seemed to lose singlehandedly, and in a year where the division was lost by only a couple of games, that's pretty devastating. In 2013 and 2014 he had almost nothing to work with, so I believe he has largely gotten a pass. Although we still saw him slag the arms of Addison Reed and Nate Jones in a 99-loss year for no good reason. But the tactical things are infuriating because: a) they're the most visible part of his job; and b) they are so eminently fixable and you'd think someone would pull Ventura aside and say something, or he would learn when the same mistake blows up in his face repeatedly.
    • Intentional Walks — Remember a few years ago when Ventura intentionally walked Jeff Francoeur twice and it blew up in his face? Well, he doesn't remember and/or care. Ventura IBBed Oswaldo Arcia twice to get to Kurt Suzuki, but then to confuse matters even more, he also would IBB Suzuki at one point in the game. Arcia has a career OBP of .303. The first IBB came with a 2-0 deficit in the fifth inning. The math has been done on this, and although there are rare scenarios where the IBB is beneficial, one suspects these weren't them.
    • Bunting! — Bunting for a hit is fine, and like IBBs, there are certain situations where it is tactically acceptable/good/beneficial/defensible to call for the sacrifice bunt. Down 1-0, as mentioned above, Johnson led off the inning with a bunt single, bringing up Adam Eaton — he of the .362 OBP last year. The first two pitches of the at bat, Eaton showed bunt, and fell behind 0-2. This drives me insane, and it drove me insane when they did it with Juan Pierre several years ago. The whole point of Micah Johnson is he can steal bases. If he needs you to bunt him over you might as well just use Carlos Sanchez, who appears to be vastly superior defensively. What's more, Eaton is one of your best on-base guys — it's HIS primary positive attribute — and when you force him to make outs to move Micah over, you're flushing two of your strengths down the toilet. The fact that Micah would get caught trying to steal third afterward only compounded this stupidity. You have a leadoff baserunner on, and your three best hitters coming up, down one run in the third inning and you're playing for one run? This was an indefensible sequence. Maybe the bunt was Eaton's idea, but if I'm the manager I'm telling him that unless he thinks he can bunt for a hit he'd better not be sacrificing in that situation.
  • Hector Noesi — This was a very emblematic Noesi game, where you see why he keeps getting chances, and you also see why he hasn't been able to succeed. The velocity was good, sitting 92-94, touching 95 throughout the game. He would also flash a nice straight change, with a little arm side break, although he had trouble consistently generating velocity separation with it from his fastball, sometimes throwing it as hard as 88. He also didn't really show any ability to throw a breaking ball, repeatedly bouncing his slider into the dirt — one of which bounced up and hit Eduardo Escobar in the chest, leading to the first Twins' run. Another run would score on a wild pitch. In all, Noesi would walk six batters (two intentionally) while also sprinkling those with the aforementioned HBP, a balk, and two wild pitches. It was cool that he got some whiffs and a bunch of infield pop-ups — it allowed him to survive despite loading the bases three times. 
  • Zach Putnam — Another rough outing for Putnam. He's a one trick pony, and it's a really good trick, throwing his splitter more than half the time. The problem is that it requires precise command and it looks like he hasn't had that in his first two outings. This turned out to be a good time to try using him, as the White Sox were already behind by an amount they would never match, so if Ventura can keep giving him low leverage opportunities, hopefully he can work himself into the shape that allowed him to post a sub-2.00 ERA in 2014.
  • Tyler Flowers hit a legit double. Power is the area of his game where I think he can really improve on last year — if he hits .240/.300/.450 you take that from your catcher in 2015 without hesitation.

So, the offense has gotten off to a bad start. Some of it is understandable — Yordano Ventura pitched well, the Royals' bullpen is good, the Royals' defense is good, the Royals' park suppresses power, etc. Still, they've been completely shut down by back end rotation filler like Edinson Volquez and Milone back-to-back. They have a chance with Jeff Samardzija and Sale to get back on track Saturday and Sunday against the Twins, who still look eminently beatable. We shall see.

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