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Last Wednesday's White Sox 3-0 loss to Boston wasn't a total defeat. No, it was a near-perfect opportunity to sum up this exasperating, forgettable season.
For openers, Chris Sale was on the mound, opposed by Rick Porcello. The Red Sox starter hadn't pitched since July 29 when the White Sox pummeled him for 10 hits and five earned runs before Porcello departed after three batters in the top of the third inning. Adam Eaton led off that game at Fenway Park by hitting one into the right-field seats, and Alexei Ramirez started the third inning with another four-bagger.
After that game, Porcello was placed on the disabled list with what was termed a "right triceps strain," not a good situation since he's right-handed.
Despite Porcello's recent hiatus, apparently he has been healthy for much of the season since he's made 21 starts, but the results haven't been good. The guy was 5-11 with an ERA of 5.81 going into Wednesday's contest.
We all know about Sale, who was coming off gems against the Cubs and Mariners in which he had struck out 29 hitters in 14 innings.
The morning odds listed Sale and the Sox as big favorites at -175, meaning that a bettor would have to risk $175 to win $100. Not even Donald Trump comes close to being that kind of favorite.
Sale did his job, holding the Red Sox scoreless for seven innings.
But the White Sox, the same fellows who treated Porcello so rudely a few weeks prior, couldn't touch the veteran hurler. Porcello retired the first 11 hitters before Melky Cabrera doubled in the fourth. Adam LaRoche, of all people, doubled to lead off the fifth and advanced to third with one out before the Tylers, Flowers and Saladino, failed to bring him home.
Sound familiar? Jose Abreu and Cabrera both singled after one out in the sixth and advanced to second and third on a Porcello wild pitch after two outs. But LaRoche flew out, and the scoreless tie remained intact.
Sale, who fanned seven and walked two, was finished after 119 pitches, turning the game over to reliever Nate Jones. The surgically-repaired Jones was activated on August 7 - he basically missed all of 2014 - and he had been just about perfect in his first six appearances: unscored upon in six-plus innings while giving up just one hit.
Xander Bogaerts slapped a one-out single to center, and after Jones struck out Hanley Ramirez, rookie first baseman Travis Shaw hit one of Jones' high-90s fastballs halfway up into the right field bleachers. The Red Sox added another run in the top of the ninth off Zach Putnam without the benefit of a hit.
So on we go to the bottom of the ninth. Red Sox closer Koji Uehara fractured his right wrist back on August 9, ending his season. Therefore, Junichi Tazawa was summoned for the save. (Porcello left after seven innings having given up just five hits.) Three days earlier in Kansas City, Tazawa pitched an inning against the Royals, who put four runs and six hits on the board.
Futhermore, in parts of six seasons with the Red Sox, Tazawa had been called upon to save 22 games. He had blown 19 of them. You can look it up.
Cabrera led off the ninth with a broken-bat single over the first baseman's head, bringing Avisail Garcia to the plate. Tazawa's first two offerings were out of the strike zone. Here's where you wonder what's going on with this team. They're down three runs. The tying run is on deck (in the person of LaRoche) with no one out. The other team's closer is hurt. You have a guy at the plate - Garcia - who shows a ton of promise but who also expands his strike zone with regularity. He's ahead in the count, and you need base runners. Avi's going to take a strike. Right?
Wrong. He swung at the next three pitches, finally grounding into a fielder's choice. Then it was LaRoche's turn. If he hits one to Kankakee, the White Sox still are down a run.
LaRoche has walked 46 times this season (second on the team behind Eaton's 48) despite an anemic .212 average. Again, Tazawa goes 2-0 on LaRoche. The tying run, Alexei Ramirez, waits on deck. Surely, LaRoche will take a pitch as he tries to bring the tying run to the plate.
Guess again. LaRoche swung at the 2-0 pitch and flied to center before Ramirez grounded to short to end the game.
The loss gave the Red Sox the series after the teams split 5-4 decisions on Monday and Tuesday. The White Sox mounted a ninth-inning two-run rally on Monday before losing. It should be noted that no one got ahead in the count in the final frame on Monday against Red Sox makeshift closer Jean Machi. LaRoche actually lined an 0-2 pitch to left field for a single that kept the rally alive. Obviously he wasn't as patient 48 hours later.
In a season bursting with boring games, the Sox were blanked again 2-0 by Seattle on Friday as John Danks was taken deep twice in the sixth inning by Kyle Seager and Franklin Gutierrez for the game's only runs.
The seven-game homestand was in jeopardy of being a glaring embarrassment until Mariner shortstop Brad Miller made a wild throw to first base in the ninth inning Sunday, allowing the tying run to score. Saladino's hit in the bottom of the 11th gave the Sox a 6-5 victory, a split of the series, and a 3-4 mark for the week.
With 32 games left in the season, we're hearing more and more about prospects for 2016. We'll see new faces this week as rosters expand for September. Possibly we'll get a peek at 22-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson, the Sox first-round draft choice in 2013, who's hitting .309 with 48 stolen bases and, sadly, 25 errors at Double-A Birmingham.
This year's top choice, right-handed pitcher Carson Fulmer of Vanderbilt, has pitched just 20 Single-A innings this summer, but maybe Rick Hahn will add him to the big club for a look-see. Erik Johnson, who failed in his bid to make the rotation in 2014, has had a solid season at Charlotte - 11-8 with a 2.37 ERA. Will we see him make a start or two in the season's final month?
Since being called up from Triple-A in early August, Trayce Thompson has 15 hits in 32 at-bats, including his first hit off a right-hander on Sunday. Maybe Robin Ventura will give the fleet-footed outfielder playing time against all kinds of pitching in the next four weeks.
In terms of potential changes for next season, we're hearing more and more positive things about catcher Tyler Flowers. Hawk Harrelson keeps reminding us that Flowers is a superb handler of pitchers, and Ventura said Saturday, "You're comfortable with the way he calls a game. I think he's elevated that to where he's getting some pitchers through some games."
This despite the fact that at times Flowers looks over at coach Mark Parent for a sign rather than putting down fingers without counsel from the bench. I'm never quite certain who's calling the pitches, but apparently Flowers is in charge most of the time.
We learned this week that Baseball Prospectus ranks Flowers second out of 90 catchers in terms of framing pitches. The sabermetrics say that Tyler gets more calls for his pitchers than anyone with the exception of the Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal.
Harrelson goes so far as to herald the offense of Flowers and back-up Geovany Soto. Combined the two are hitting .229 (Flowers .221 and Soto .245) with 16 home runs and 53 RBI. Hawk says that compares favorably with other American League tandems.
He's half right. The Sox duo ranks eighth (out of 15) in batting average while tying for sixth in homers and seventh in RBI.
The departed Josh Phegley, part of the trade for Jeff Samardzija, has combined with the regular Stephen Vogt for 25 dingers and 96 RBI this season for Oakland, tops among all catching duos in the American League. Red Sox catchers lead the AL with a .267 batting average.
Conversely, Seattle has received almost nothing from former top draft choice Mike Zunino, who was sent to the minors last week with his .174 average. His backup Jesus Sucre is 8-for-69. The team should be given special compensation in the form of a second designated hitter.
Defensively, Flowers has thrown out 24 percent of would-be base stealers, a bit below the league average of 32 percent. Seeing as he's catching four starting pitchers who throw from the left side, that isn't especially impressive. (Soto is somewhat better, nailing 29 percent of base-stealers.)
All of which probably indicates that Flowers will return next season because there isn't much out there in the farm system or upgrades available in a trade. The Yankees signed Brian McCann for six years for $100 million, and that's not going to happen on the South Side. There are no Yogi Berras or Carlton Fisks coming this way because they're simply too expensive.
This week the Sox travel to Minnesota, a team very much alive in the wild-card chase, before a weekend series in Kansas City. Sale pitches on Tuesday, and his turn will come again Sunday against the Royals. Let's see if the outcomes will be any better than last Wednesday.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sock. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Dec 11, 2017