After an absolute nightmare 0-5 week, the White Sox entered this week's Detroit series staring down the possibility of a crippling early deficit in the AL Central. They managed to look much more professional and competent in taking 2/3 from one of their recent nemeses. One victory was just a solid, standard win, backing a strong Samardzija start with a credible amount of runs, while another was a glorious comeback-walkoff variety. Very heartening. Here's a few thoughts based on the series - obvious caveat that we are only talking about three games here:
- Melky Cabrera had basically only been hitting singles this season and doing nothing else at the plate. Against Detroit he drew four walks and hit a three-run homer. His .336 OBP is 32 points higher than Dayan Viciedo's best full season.
- Micah Johnson had his first extra base hit since the third game of the season and he has actually been doing pretty well at the plate for his first look at major league pitching. Coming into the year if you'd told me Micah would hit .284/.342/.313 I would consider that a victory. He's flashed good athleticism and range in the field, but there's something about the way he moves that makes me expect an error pretty much every time the ball is hit his way. Big picture, though, he hasn't looked overmatched at the plate and he's doing the most important thing on offense - getting on base - at a well above average clip (.342 v. .315 across the majors and .318 for second basement).
- Jeff Samardzija dropped his second absolutely filthy start of the year - both of them have been against the Tigers. After watching him and Sale get absolutely smoked it was refreshing to see him look like a front line starter again.
- Conor Gillaspie - okay, we're talking about two games, but a homer, a triple, a walk, and no strikeouts is absolutely Good and belongs in the Pile Of Good Stuff.
- The bullpen still looks much better! Dan Jennings got hung out to dry by Ventura a little bit (see below) and Putnam and Petricka have been uneven, but Duke and Robertson continue to be massive upgrades from last season.
- Quintana was inefficient, but 8 strikeouts was very nice to see.
- Robin Ventura still seems to love the intentional walk. I was traumatized by 2012 when he intentionally walked luminaries like Jeff Francoeur (multiple times!) and Chris Getz. It didn't wind up mattering (because the White Sox couldn't score), but on Thursday we saw two intentional walks in one inning again. One of those walks was to J.D. Martinez - who was in the midst of an 0-for-25 slump. Of course, runs scored immediately after. Robin is obsessed with theoretical double plays for some reason. Intentional walks are objectively incorrect like 95% of the time.
- Slowest hook in the universe with Sale in a game where he clearly didn't have it. Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but seriously, this is Ventura's full time job and he's paid a whole lot of money to do it right. There was also the usual showing of Rigid Bullpen Decisions (e.g. If the team is losing, even by one run, it is a mop-up situation; if it is the 8th use Duke, even against three RHBs, etc.) The bullpen looks vastly improved, so perhaps there isn't much damage he can do here, but it's something within your control so you should probably do the best you can with it.
- There are a few guys still struggling mightily on the offense. Adam Eaton is coming off of a rough bout with the flu, and he looked okay in the Tigers series, but he clearly has a long way to go get his numbers where they should be. Alexei Ramirez has also been a zero at the plate, but like Eaton, I expect him to be fine in the end. I wish I could say the same thing about Tyler Flowers, though, as his "True Talent Level" is unclear, and the more time goes on the less confidence he inspires. If Gillaspie can keep scraping along as a viable option against RHPs, given the presence of a number of options that could provide adequacy at 3B, and with Micah Johnson getting on base at a solid clip, it is increasingly looking like Catcher will wind up being the Black Hole Position for 2015.
- The team still got shut down by Kyle Lobstein. What was worst about it was not just that they blew a bases loaded-none out situation, nor that they couldn't score off Lobstein - but rather, that they let Lobstein go 7.2IP on only 100 pitches. They did not make him work at all. The result was the Tigers could hide their biggest weakness, their bullpen, and just pass the baton directly from the starter to Soria, their one good reliever. When you know how terrible your opponent's bullpen is, it's pretty inexcusable to be so mindlessly aggressive, but that seems to be a recurring theme this season.
Oddly, though, it was the Tigers themselves that inspired optimism in me more than anything else. Their bullpen is still really, really bad. Also, the two prime regression candidates for Detroit's offense - Victor and J.D. Martinez - are looking very vulnerable. V-Mart REALLY looks like his knee is bothering him, and J.D. is 0-for-May so far. If they aren't contributing, the Tigers' offense is a lot less scary. Shane Greene also continues to remind us why he was able to be acquired for Robbie Ray, because he's just not very good. The Tigers have serious problems with depth, which is a bad thing for a 162 game season.
In sum, the White Sox could have essentially buried the season if they got swept - instead, they pulled back up to 10-15 and clawed back one game on Detroit. Not bad!
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