1. Tuesday night, the White Sox sure played a baseball game. Most baseball games are boring. Some, aggressively so. But with a coordinated series of disasters in every unit of the game, you can really go on quite the emotional rollercoaster in one night, even in September of an awful year with no hope. In just one failed effort to spoil the Twins, spoil them in a Chris Sale vs. Emergency Starter matchup, that is, the Sox went from humiliating offensive incompetence, to discouraging shelling of the franchise ace, then pivoted to a surprising offensive awakening, to an emboldening salvage job from Sale, to a deflating bullpen letdown, coupled with a defensive breakdown, concluded by Zach Duke fusing both concepts together.
The Twins playoff delusion continues apace, and maybe the Sox can tank their way into the top-10 of the draft if they can lose anymore Chris Sale vs. Tyler Duffey matchups.
2. Sale entered the game with two loathsome and out-of-character trends he's been building on all season: struggling mightily against the Minnesota Twins, and just coming out some days and looking like he swapped fastball command with Daniel Webb. Tuesday night he did both!
His slider looked too good in the first inning for the fact that he was missing his spots with his fastball by a foot, but he completely imploded in the second, where he hucked two wild pitches, got singled to death with three-straight hits from Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki, punctuated with a booming double from arch-nemesis Brian Dozier. Sale "stabilized" to some degree in the third and fourth by dancing around his ability to retire Miguel Sano, Escobar and Dozier, but wound up finding his place again, striking out the side in the fifth, collecting yet another 10-strikeout game, and somehow delivering an exceedingly ugly winnable game into the seventh.
In sum, it certainly wasn't a sharp outing for Sale, but his recovery takes us away from pondering what fundamental thing is wrong with him for a turn through the rotation. Sale coming back out for the seventh seemed dubious, but Ventura banked hard on his advantage over Joe Mauer, which amuses me enough to be fine.
3. Man those first two pitches Zach Duke threw to Eduardo Escobar sure were sharp; had him waaaay out of front of that slow slurve that had actually been fooling folks now and then recently.
Then he didn't get anyone out. None of the five batters he faced. Which is a pretty amazing run for 14 pitches, and thanks to the fact that he chucked a bunt to right field, and a hot grounder going through Tyler Saladino's legs, his superficially decent ERA will hold up OK. Duke is a straight-up below-average pitcher against right-handers (.242/.336/.433), to the point where Robin Ventura had him walk the bases loaded with no one out to avoid Dozier and face Mauer, where his career-worst 11.5% walk-rate looms large. Instead Duke wound up just allowing a bullet single to Mauer to end his pointless night.
He was plenty guilty about it:
But he just doesn't offer enough tools to justify his consistent high-leverage work.
4. Saladino had an interesting night. He's in a bit of a defensive slump with errors on back-to-back night, and recent slate of singles aside, he's been treading water as an empty average guy not hitting for much average. His defensive value is his meal ticket, so even small screwups earn a lot scrutiny, but has been yo-yo-ing back between the last spot in the batting order and the No. 2 slot to push Jose Abreu back even while his OPS hovers around .600. As goofy as that would be, the one situation where it seemed like Saladino could really burn them--stacked in the middle of a two-out ninth inning rally--he collected his only hit of the night and kept up appearances.
There's no offense to justify Saladino playing third next season, and he faces Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson at second. I get regular mentions from readers suggesting Saladino as a money-saving replacement over Alexe Ramirez, and I still don't see it happening at this point. The Sox are too notoriously loyal to unseat Ramirez without a significant upgrade, and between the uncertainty that Saladino can be much beyond passable at short with a bat that is simply no more terrible than Ramirez's worst, "They're both garbage, so whatevs!" is not a strong argument to bail low on a 2014 All-Star.
5. Saladino's ninth inning single rescued Ventura from some horrendous process thinking against lefty closer Glen Perkins. He pinch-hit for catcher Tyler Flowers--whom he would need to replace defensively with a catcher if they tied the game--with Trayce Thompson. Thompson has had a good start against lefties, but Soto, who you probably be bringing in anyway if they tied the game, has a .975 OPS against them in limited action. Then, with Saladino's struggling bat up and the game on the line, when he could still have used Trayce, Ventura stood pat...and of course got rewarded for it.
I'm going to put my optimism that more roster flexibility is going to make Soto's offense more readily available back on the shelf. It's immaterial, but when the intangible grief of the Sox routinely playing sloppy and awful baseball can't be placed on Ventura's shoulders, it behooves me to point out what can be.
6. This game turned temporarily on Avisail Garcia launching an enormous second-deck bomb to left field off Casey Fien in the sixth inning, and really nonchalantly chucking his bat away like he did something nice. Enormous home runs that he pulls are great to see from Garcia, and at this point I'm just geeked to see him put some loft into something.
However, this is another hanging breaking pitch--in this case an 88 mph cutter--that stayed up for him as he dived across the plate in typical fashion. He also saw nine pitches in four trips to the plate, so, they didn't turn Avisail's body into a golem for Jose Abreu's essence to fill overnight like I hoped. Homers are good, especially to left field. Please pull a fastball, please.
7. Erik Johnson, Frankie Montas, Rob Brantly and Leury Garcia got the call to the majors for the roster expansion, in unsurprising fashion. Now that he's in the majors, Johnson is...still next in line for an opening in the rotation. When one opens up, that is. Whenever that is.
Relief work for Johnson is better than no work at all, but the guy spent all of 2015 reconquering a level he had already mastered, and has all of one start in the majors where he put everything together. Either their oddly disinterested in testing whether he's capable of being a meaningful contributor in 2016, or I'm oddly convinced he's still any good.
8. Micah Johnson is not among the those added to the roster, under the explanation that he just got off the DL and is still working his way back. It might be better said that second base playing time is going to be a cluster for the last few weeks, and they might as well let him actually play in Charlotte while there are still games for him to start.
9. Courtney Hawkins is the biggest name among an eight-player contingent headed to the Arizona Fall League, along with right-handed hurlers Brandon Brennan (besieged by injuries), J.B. Wendelken (also of the Jake Peavy trade and also kinda promising as a reliever) Peter Tago (former Triple-A rule 5 draft pick) and Robinson Leyer (dude who throws kinda hard). Also joining is first baseman Keon Barnum (injury-plagued former comp round pick that was derided as an overdraft and isn't do much to refute that), Nick Delmonico (a guy) and second baseman Jake Peter.
It's not a strong group. Beyond my suspicion that every throw-in in the Peavy deal is going to wind up having a superior MLB career than centerpiece Avisail Garcia, Hawkins is the only notable prospect, and Hawkins really doesn't have much hope. He's maxed out physically and has a poor eye with a ton of natural swing-and-miss.
10. Carlos Rodon starts against Tommy Milone Wednesday night. Rodon can probably max out at about 10 mph higher than Milone and the scouting grade for his slider might be higher than grades for all of Milone's off-speed pitches combined, but I'd feel lucky if the Sox rookie can stay stride for stride. Milone, a soft-tossing changeup artist with a career 98 ERA+ and 6.4 K/9, is innately Twins-y it's hard to accept the fact that he wasn't formed into flesh in the dungeons of Target Field, let alone played for other teams.