TCS Morning 10: All you have to do is pitch your face off

1. It would be hard to cut down the optimism and good feelings of a four-game winning streak launched against two set-in-stone competitors like the Baltimore Orioles and the best in baseball St. Louis Cardinals, but the White Sox really took a crack at it Sunday in getting blown out 8-1 by the O's. Their offense was like a very weak engine that took forever to get started, taking until the end of the third to get their first hit and until the sixth inning to score a run and chase Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez. They had one plate appearance with a runner in scoring position, and struggled enough putting any kind of charge into or pulling any ball with authority, that they got the blame from Robin in the post-game.

The Sox also putzed around for four errors (two from Conor Gillaspie), and really owned the "every facet of the game but pitching is a tire fire" trope that they had abandoned over the four-game streak.

2. Speaking of the four-game streak, it was real and special and we should be able to enjoy it free of the fear that it's causing delusion about the Sox reality or ruining a draft slot. How convenient that someone drafted an encapsulating tweet about it.

There's even a hot John Danks command night mixed in there, as well as Jose Quintana pitching over three rain delays. It's not just otherworldly Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija increasing his trade value.

This is foundational stuff. I'm not old, but I'm old enough to remember the bad old days of Sox pitching, when the best starter had an ERA over 5.00. Just because the Sox have been reliably good at fielding a pitching staff over the years doesn't mean their current cadre of Sale and Quintana and pair of top-10 pitching draft picks should be sneezed at and thrown into a total burn down of the MLB squad.

*Obviously the pitching skill is inflated by Avisail Garcia and J.B. Shuck's home run robbing skills, but I digress.

3. At some point, all debates have to become boiled down to their essence in order for us to make a decision and move forward, but it is continually disappointing to see how binary the buyers-sellers conversation becomes. One is saberists calling for a full-scale teardown of seemingly irreplaceable assets, the other is local guys seeing a four-game win streak against top teams led by superlative pitching propping up mostly absent offense, and prodding for the Sox to add a bat at the deadline, and decrying the alternative as "giving up."

The White Sox have great elements that can dominate a game, or even four in a row, and it's hard to see Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, or even Carlos Rodon flash some of the stuff he showed Sunday, and understand the rationale to burn it all down and try again from scratch, but the worst offense in the league is more than a trade deadline addition away. They'll need more time to fix this, and routinely stubborn quotes from Sox executives shouldn't be taken as hard evidence that they are leaning otherwise.

4. More about that linked-to Bob Nightengale column that is going to be widely interpreted as leaving the door open for the Sox to be buyers:

--Again, when in Rick Hahn's tenure has the Sox front office wasted an opportunity to posture that they are reluctant to make anything of MLB value available to trade? This time the source is Kenny Williams, which brings the curiosity...

--Williams is the only quoted front office member in this story, which ends with 'oh by the way' that we should expect the Blue Jays to pursue Williams again this offseason for their team president position. It's not a disqualification, but painting Williams as having a foot out the door makes me unsure of how much weight I should give him positing that the Sox will react counter-intuitively to their current situation. 

--Pointing to the Sox record or total games back is half of the picture in describing as mediocre. Parity swings both ways; they're close to their goal--5.5 games back from the Wirld Card spot--but have to not just out-peform that team 5.5 games ahead of them, but the EIGHT teams in between them and that team.

5. Jeff Samardzija's worst statistical outing in his last five starts was when he committed the sin of entering the eighth inning against the Tigers last Sunday with no runs allowed. Without that implosion, his cleaner exit on Saturday would have been his fifth-straight quality start, and he's had a 3.00 ERA with 32 K in 34 innings during that stretch. 

Unsurprisingly, Samardzija's time in Chicago with Don Cooper has seen him push his cutter to the forefront of his rather large pitch mix, but Saturday represented a shift. PitchFX says he threw his splitter 27 times--far and away his season-high--and that it was his most effective pitch (seven whiffs)

6. As discussed on the podcast, Samardzija seems to have carved out a space as the trade target du jour for every team that wants starter help without taking a major cut out of their farm system to get it. He hasn't been linked to any specific team yet--which is typical for the Sox--but there aren't really any contenders that wouldn't benefit from having Samardzija kick the worst starter out of their rotation and sop up innings like a mop. BP Wrigleyville suggested the Cubs, Jesse Spector thinks he's a fit for the Pirates (John Perrotto agreed), and Ken Rosenthal liked him for the Yankees

It's hard to know his market without actually knowing who is actually involved, but there should be enough bidders to push the package past compensation round pick level. The Sox would lose the right to lord over his free agency with a qualifying offer by trading him, but with the offense looking a bit farther away and Samardzija being, I donno, good, but hardly an essential All-Star level contributor, signing him for 2016 and beyond is a bridge to cross upon arrivial. Let's see what Erik Johnson has. Let's see how long it takes to build an offense the 2005 pitching staff could drag to a Wild Card berth.

7. Carlos Rodon's Sunday line (5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO) doesn't look pretty after Daniel Webb could only get two-thirds of the way through the Herculean task of stranding two inherited runners with no one out in the top of the sixth, but once again the rookie did plenty of good things, flashed that invincible slider and made more eyes pop when he muscled his way out of a jam by touching 99 mph with his fastball.


Given that he just muscled his way through a high-stress fifth, had been inefficient all day and was beginning the sixth over 90 pitches, I'm not sure what the expectations were for him to make it through that inning. It was Rodon's 10th big league start, for better or worse the kid gloves seem to be off, and he'll need to be able to finish out his outings into the 110's like the rest of the staff, but there's a fine line between testing a youngster and handing him the rope with which to hang himself.

Oh well, the season being toast lessens the blow.

8. Melky Cabrera has reached base safely in each of his last eight games, has hit .367/.412/.700 in that time and raised his OPS from .577 to .629. His current 81 OPS+ wouldn't even be his career-worst mark if the season ended today. His career-worst mark came when he was a 23-year-old with the Yankees. He had a 68 OPS+, and a....641 OPS. League offense has collapsed, everybody!

9. Birmingham Barons shortstop Tim Anderson came in at No. 22 on the Baseball Prospectus' list of the top-50 prospects in baseball. Only a cynical man would use this as a prompt to discuss the current depreciation in minor league talent. Only a cynical man...

Anderson has held his own as a 22-year-old in Double-A with a .302/.326/.402 batting line, while being universally regarded as a raw athlete light on baseball experience. Frankie Montas, Anderson's hard-throwing teammate on the Barons, was noted as just missing the list. Montas has a 2.50 ERA in Birmingham over 72 innings and 14 starts.

10. Mark Buehrle vs. Chris Sale is Monday night. Sale is going for a record ninth-straight start with double-digit strikeouts against the league's best offense by a mile. Also there will be Buehrle, so prepare to weep openly.