1. Chris Sale wasn't at his peak, wrath of God best Monday night, but that's such a lofty placement that it's an unfair comparison to anything that exists in the world. He leaned on improved, but still far from steady fastball command while touching the upper 90's with regularity, and an all-purpose changeup that worked as his finishing option as his slider remained slurvy all night. After some early difficulties dragged out by a 13-pitch war with Mike Trout, he got brutally efficient and breezed through six innings at under 80 pitches before some hanging slurves lent themselves to a two-run double by Johnny Giavotella in the seventh.
7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K is pretty generic Sale, especially removed from anything resembling a high-leverage inning in an 8-2 laugher, but it was solid enough return to form to quell our concerns for now.
2. Why Robin Ventura even tried to get an eighth inning out of Sale, up six runs with an off-day coming later in the week and with the top-of-the-order headed up to the plate for the fourth time, is anyone's guess? Somehow Nate Jones pitched over Mike Trout's terrifying presence and a botched double play by Adam LaRoche to save Sale's stat line in the eighth.
3. Avisail Garcia can't effectively cover inside velocity. Most of the time he can't even make contact with it, let alone turn on it effectively, so I want to come out as strongly in support as possible with this new trend of pitchers trying to throw him the perfect down and away wipeout slider, which has resulted now in three home runs off hanging sliders in the last six games, and a bonus home run Monday night when Matt Shoemaker decided to question whether Avi can cover outer-half fastballs (He can!)
Now a guy with 25 career home runs with historical struggles to hit for power has three multi-home run games.
This proves nothing about my larger concern about Garcia not being able to use his strength to pull fastballa into the left field bullpen, but if he can actually get around to boomsticking dumb mistakes thrown his way rather than shooting singles to right field, then he could still be just fine. Garcia said during post-game interviews that he's trying to use his top-hand more, so this may well be the move for.
Also watching Matt Shoemaker screw up pitching to him all night was hilarious.
4. Garcia's two-hit night came along similar efforts from Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez, and, coincidentally, Tyler Flowers. Dropping off that last anomaly, those are the other four hottest hitters in the lineup, and lacking an entire actual major league offense to field, the Sox would be wise to just stack these guys at the top and try to cluster their competence together rather than spacing them apart with outs from Tyler Saladino and Adam LaRoche. 1-Eaton 2-Abreu 3-Cabrera 4-Garcia 5-Ramirez if we want to get all the way crazy.
Sticking with LaRoche is at least is a loyalty to a concept, or what they hope he can return to. Saladino high-profile placement is just an oddity at this point.
5. Nate Jones' second appearance looked a lot more what I expected his first time out to look like. He dodged through 1.2 scoreless innings, but seemed to only consistently trust his fastball, which was full of horrifying life but no command. Jones showed he could probably have a half-passable relief existence throwing 100 mph and challenging people to square up, but he'll need to be the guy he was in Kansas City to have a long career. At this point, it's just nice to see him healthy and retaining velocity throughout regular use.
6. Alexei Ramirez's revitalization in the field continues.
As with previous Ramirez defensive flourishes, he seems simply more comfortable in the field and more naturally inclined to improvise and rely on his strengths. It's not surprising to see him flash the arm strength necessary to gun down Willie Aybar on the above play, or barehand a shorthop, but the trust in himself to do both isn't always there for whatever reason. He flashed similar composure salvaging a fielder's choice in the eighth off of LaRoche's bobbled feed, and wound up saving an inning and Sale's stat line from larger problems.
The Sox are going down because so much of the team delivered half-seasons, but Ramirez at full-bore is as compelling as anything this infield crop can offer.
7. Rick Hahn, the general manager of a veteran team that he will surely try to gently tweak into a contender next season, is cautiously avoiding calling the last two months of the season to be a blatant tank job.
From the Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen:
The only spot where the Sox noodling around with youngsters isn't simultaneous with them trying to fill a sinkhole would be finding a way to fit Erik Johnson into the rotation, and sure enough, that's the only spot where they are dragging their feet. Given that this core will mostly make up what the Sox will go to war with in 2016, there's not much sense in undermining their efforts.
8. I've pinpointed what irks me about Hawk Harrelson's repeated use of the invented term 'Kansas City Special' for every soft hit that finds grass, beyond its maddening monotony. He's taken the inferiority complex that he slips on whenever the Sox play the Royals, and use to don for showdowns with the Twins, and has now implanted it into regular use for multiple times every game. Harrelson's tone of discussion when both those team oppose the Sox is one of defeated reverence; something that goes beyond respect to complete conviction that the opponent is playing a better, more disciplined and more worthwhile brand of baseball than the dumb, clumsy and tactless Sox. Sliding into the familiar archetype that the Sox are home run-dependent basecloggers incapable of executing sensitive run-scoring or run-preventing situations, soft hits borne out of a contact-focused approach now still need to be credited to the Royals somehow, like they invented it or something.
And now the regular bummer of excessively cap-tipping to chief divisional rivals is now a constant one.
9. The inner Chicago meatball in me is secretly charmed by this description of Tim Anderson
The still very raw 22-year-old is holding his own with a .312/.348/.425 line in Double-A in super heavy duty (he's the Barons leadoff hitter) and he's stolen a Southern League-leading 45 bases.
10. Melky continues to add layers:
11. Carlos Rodon faces Hector Santiago Tuesday night in the ultimate showdown of lefty head whacks. There shall be walks issued.