TCS Morning 10: Bored in Cleveland

1. The White Sox played a sleepy bad series in Cleveland against sleepy bad AL Wild Card contender, keeping the Indians on the periphery of a sleepy bad AL Wild Card race, whose sole source of drama is the Astros falling into the void. They capped things off Sunday with a 6-3 loss featuring a fairly rough John Danks start, a characteristically high-strikeout outing against soft-tosser Josh Tomlin...

...and Zach Putnam continue to be a tomato can post-DL return...but uh, hey, only fourteen games left! Abreu is closing in on 100 RBI! Closer to a protected draft pick! Chris Sale is going to break the team strikeout record...

...and about that.

2. Chris Sale lowered the hell out of his ERA on Friday, allowing just a single earned run through seven innings and striking out nine....but that's because a single Carlos Sanchez error got an entire six-run inning ruled as unearned, including a grand slam he allowed to Carlos Santana.

The velocity is fine, the peripherals are for the most part still extremely great, but his command of his fastball and the action on his slider haven't looked right for four starts, and outside of mega-midseason strikeout streak, haven't been consistently reliable all year. Since he's mum about the situation beyond "I gotta pitch better" grumbles, and there's not even a whiff of an MRI rumor, we're really just waiting for the post-mortem report on just what was wrong with Sale this season, because there's something. He's always been a better stuff than command guy, but this has been striking, and the saber analysis that just barfs out that his FIP looks better than ever is the type of saber analysis that makes saber lose credibility, or crowned Brandon Morrow as an elite pitcher.

3. Hawk picked the most ominous phrasing to discuss Chris Sale's status for Wednesday, saying his scheduled showdown with Justin Verlander and been placed "on the backburner for now," without any further explanation. The actual explanation from Robin is less mystifying, at least in terms of Sale saying he feels physically fine.

Ventura is starting Jeff Samardzija and Erik Johnson in the doubleheader in Detroit on Monday, followed by Jose Quintana, but wants to see if that trio can eat enough innings that Scott Carroll or Frankie Montas can pitch Wednesday and give Sale another day. Oh course, if he wanted to do that, pitching Montas for an inning on Sunday wasn't very productive, and if you were choosing between giving Montas or Carroll--the guy they didn't even call up until Alexei Ramirez and Leury Garcia pitched in the same game--wouldn't you choose Montas? Like, by a lot?

4. Montas--who is somehow listed at 185 pounds on ESPN--had himself another excellent relief appearance, and picked up two strikeouts in a scoreless inning mostly on the strength of fastball command, which is pretty thrilling to see from him. He's got 10 whiffs in eight innings of work, and a single run allowed. He's very good at what he does now.

5. Carlos Rodon's return to the starting rotation after 10 full days of rest saw him continue his streak of seven-straight starts with six or more innings pitched, and two or less earned runs allowed, and continued his ascension toward the upper half of the White Sox rotation. 

Saturday was another low-strikeout affair (4 in 7.2 innings), but it was brutally efficient. Rodon didn't break 100 pitches until the eighth, and probably could have had a case to start the ninth if Micah Johnson and Alexei Ramirez hadn't biffed a bouncer together to force a somewhat high-leverage situation.

You don't worry about stuff with Rodon, because even on a mild night, he still flashes overwhelming high-80s, low-90s sliders that overwhelm hitters on both sides of the plate. The question is whether he has come far enough to where he belongs with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana as part of a top-half of the White Sox rotation that produces enough to make that a top-flight unit. The answer to that question determines if the Sox can spend all their offseason resources on offense or not, which is big.

6. What the hell is the matter with Robertson?

Statistically he looks like a guy who gets an exorbitant amount of strikeouts with a pristine walk rate, to the degree that you barely care what happens when hitters make contact, because he limits it so much. He now leads the AL in blown saves, and I was willing to waive that off as being the crazy fluke occurrence of a bad team with a bad defense and a bad offense that never hands over a three-run lead, but Saturday night's showing just looked too ugly from a stuff perspective. His knuckle curve didn't have the snap necessary to put away Yan Gomes or Chris Johnson, and they were able to work him until he gave them something elevated in the zone they could drive.

The situation basically repeated itself with Abraham Almonte, who would save Robertson from embarrassment from getting picked off. The thing about Robertson leaving things up in the zone is that he's doing it constantly. His extension and movement is normally such that he gets whiffs wherever, so once that stops or slackens, things can get hairy quickly. Robertson gets credit for saying the right things, as usual, albeit not providing much insight into what's going on.

‘I want these guys to leave this year having confidence in me knowing that when I come in the ninth inning I’m going to finish their game and hand them the ball with the win,’ Robertson said. ‘I have to pitch better. They gave me a contract for a reason and I’ve got to perform to the best of my abilities to show people that I’m worth it.’
— Dan Hayes

7. Two grizzly outings in four appearances since getting off the DL have ruined Zach Putnam's ERA for the season, as he was shelled for three more runs Saturday, and probably was ready to allow several more if some screamers weren't hit right at people. True to form in his crazy season, he's struck out a batter per inning since returning from his groin injury, but his command and the sink on his splitter haven't been as prominent. Steve Stone mentioned on the broadcast that if his groin isn't right, it could be sapping his ability to push off the mound with strength. That would jive with what we've seen.

8. RBI is meaningless and counting stats are poor indicators, but all that goes out the window during September when half the entertainment is hoping for big benchmarks for the few studs on the team. In addition to Sale's pursuit of the strikeout record, I'm pulling hard for a Jose Abreu 30-100 season. He nearly sealed up the first part of that equation with a bomb to dead center off Josh Tomlin in the third inning, but it got knocked down by the wind for a double, making his two-run ducksnort single down the right field line the most meaningful blow he landed for giving himself a season of pretty counting stats. 

Abreu getting his traditional stats in the territory of his monster rookie season would lend recognition to his boffo second half (.299/.368/.557), and maybe even attract attention to real gains in his contact rate and plate discipline. He's getting walked less, but is also chasing less, which is more important than actual walks.

9. An interesting development for the White Sox--who for the most part are challenged for avenues to meaningful improvement of their infield--is that the Pirates appear to be parting ways with Neil Walker before he hits his final year of arbitration next season. Walker, having just turned 30, has been limited by back problems and is having a bit of a down season with a .270/.331/.427 would easily be the best Sox third basemen in years if he could handle the conversion, and has worked primarily as a second basemen his entire career.

Back issues are scary, but the two natural advantages the Sox have to leverage on are pitching and health maintenance. Walker made $8 million this season and would probably be absurdly sought after, so the Sox might be better off trying to deal the Pirates pitching.

10. What a blessed day to be alive. A doubleheader between the dregs of the AL Central: the Tigers and the White Sox. The Sox are throwing out Jeff Samardzija for the day game, and Erik Johnson at night, and the Detroit starters are actually pretty bad too. Day game starter Kyle Ryan of course had his one great outing of the season against the Sox (7 IP, 2 ER), and I could have sworn night game starter Randy Wolf was retired at some point.