TCS Afternoon 10: The White Sox are on fire

1. Two games in a row! TWO! Are the Sox baseball's hottest team? Are they the clutchest offense? Will Melky Cabrera ever make an out again? A whole host of questions posited in bad faith can technically be asked right now.

With the Sox hitting as it is, their pitching staff only needed to throw for 2.17 ERA over 29 innings to eke out two victories out of three one-run games with the likely overachieving Texas Rangers. Pretty reasonable standard going forward!

2. Gordon Beckham won the game Sunday with an absurd brief appearance. He spaced out and misjudged a ball down the line for a leadoff double in the 11th, made up for it by starting a blistering 5-2-3 double play, then golfed the first pitch of the next inning into the left field bullpen for a walk-off.

It was his second hit in 35 at-bats. Everyone always says "ended the slump" after a guy gets hit, but Beckham went 0-23, got a double, and went right on back to slumping. Just not getting any hits at all for a month really takes a chunk out of your performance line, and Beckham has somehow lost playing time to Conor Gillaspie in this muck. But in a shooting star of an appearance, Beckham provided a flurry of competence and tipped the scale of a close game, and in sustained play the Sox got hit with the full force of his mediocrity. Hmmm, wonder what the lesson of all this could be?

3. Everyone looks kind of pedestrian in their efforts when Chris Sale is vaporizing people on live television, but Jose Quintana is really harumphing his way through this year. He delivered seven good innings Sunday, flashing a bit of his eye-level moving wizardry in the sixth before ending his final inning on a sour note with his second dinger of the game. He's now allowed eight bombs on the year, after just 10 all last season, which was likely an unsustainable figure given how much he works up in the zone without top velocity.

Between Sale's continually absurd and perpetual improvement, and Samardzija's frustrating trashiness, Quintana is having a pedestrain first half. His ERA is right around league-average (which means slightly above-average for a starter), all his peripherals are just a tick worse than usual with no major problem signs. He's all squared away to have a superior second half and turn out a year that looks a lot like his previous two, but he lacks the raw talent and pyrotechnics of Sale or even Samardzija at their peaks, so I feel a lot safer in saying we've seen his ceiling than I feel for saying anything about Sale.

4. Just the opposite for Carlos Rodon, who was uneven and hawked by control issues Saturday, but still flashed enough enormous firepower to give six quality innings, striking out five. It's not just a good slider, it's everything it does. He can throw the traditional big sweeper that lefties can't touch, but he can also steal the inside corner with it after programming his opponent to stare outside. After he struck out Prince Fielder with a sweeper in his first showdown with him, Rodon froze him basically with a fastball down the pipe in his next at-bat because of what he saw in the first.

I'm adding this to my file of pitchers with 70-grade stuff flashing it early and tricking hitters into overprotecting for the rest of the game.

5. Melky Cabrera randomly pulled a career-best five-hit day out of his pocket Sunday, and hit of those balls decently hard. It's been a season as full of brutal luck as much as it has been a season of horrifying loss of power, so there's no shame in him getting some cheap hits, we're just not any closer to figuring out what's wrong. He squares balls up and they go nowhere in no particular hurry.

6. Zach Putnam does not do many things well. His walk rate--inflated by his manager's love of free passes--is pedestrian. He's already given up more longballs than he did for all of 2014. His fastball averages under 90 mph and is basically a show-me pitch, and he's reliant on a splitter that he hucks around 60% of the time now per Pitch FX.

He just strikes everyone out. The last time he came in a game and didn't whiff at least one batter was May 27. Since then he's K'd 15 in 8.1 innings, while allowing ten guys to reach base and no extra-base hits. This is your poster child for the benefits of extreme specialization.

7. The White Sox radio broadcast made mention several times that Sunday was the first time the Sox had more than one hit with runners in scoring position since mid-May. Or at least I thought I heard that, since a back check showed they had last achieved that feat the previous Saturday. In either case, making the Sox offense a conversation about hitting with runners in scoring position is a misdirect, since that's a black box. We don't really know how to identify a good clutch hitter beyond results, so it becomes a conversation about guys having the right mentality, or getting comfortable, or having some sort of internal battle that can eventually be overcome.

The White Sox wRC+ spikes up from a league-worst 75, up to 87 when they have runners in scoring position. Their problem is they are second-to-last in the number of opportunities to hit in those situations.

8. The White Sox offense has also broken park factors:

9.  Erik Johnson is a prospect again!

EJ now has a 3.00 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 78 innings alongside positive velocity reports. Does this make him turning into a tomato can last year in Triple-A while throwing high-80's less weird? More weird?

10. This is super cool. 16-year-old Melissa Mayeux from the French U-18 junior national team is now the first female baseball player to be on the international registration list. From initial googling, best I can tell is that shortstop Steve Jeltz's last game in 1990 was the last time any French-born player appeared in MLB action. So, the odds are against Melissa for far more significant reasons than chauvinism or her lacking the size of say, a Corey Seager, at the shortstop position. 

Not that there shouldn't be a pioneering soul set out in breaking the gender barrier in baseball, but perhaps the most encouraging thing from this story is Mayeux's obliviousness to why this is a big story. She's just a stud teenage player who's looking to play ball with the best until she's told she can't. That's how it should be.

11. Perhaps I will pontificate more on this later, but a discussion has been launched about whether the Sox should trade Chris Sale.

They should not.

Good day.