Last night I ended up chatting with a buddy of mine whom I haven’t seen in years. Literally not since Reagan was president. Back in the day he worked as a paid intern for MLB. He now holds a position of authority. Anyway, he ran into a guy I still hang with, got my number and blew me a call. We laughed like school girls, gossiped and talked about baseball. I wondered why the Sox seem to have problems against lesser teams such as the Twins and the Jays. Much to my surprise, I got an answer.
“Since Kenny took over, the Sox are a team built on infield defense. The Twins, until this year, and the Jays both play on plastic grass and inside. Exactly the kind of conditions that kill teams like the Sox. Same for the Angels, Rays and a few others. With the Twins moving outdoors they are guaranteed to suck for a couple of years until they assemble a team that can play more traditionally.”
“What about KC? Why do we have problems with them?”
“S****y match ups.”
So there you have that. Then I asked about the Cubs.
“Oh man, Bud cringes every time their name comes up. Not publically, of course. Then they are a “storied franchise” and crap like that. And, he really does like the Ricketts so he doesn’t want to offend them. But a lot of people think Theo cut too deep and lost too much pitching to assemble a winner in 5 years or less. I mean, let’s be honest, the Cubs are supposed to be a major market team. Sure they’ve got the tours and stuff to keep some booties in the seats, but a park full of disinterested fans isn’t going to benefit anyone. This offseason will be telling. If they write off 2013 as well I think someone will get a polite call reminding them about the “best interests of baseball” and catchy phrases like that. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Nothing earth shattering there I guess. Still, good to know that we aren’t the only ones who noticed and mentioned it.
Carrie Muskat was at last night’s game and tells us how the Cubs’ remaining pitchers are doing.
The last time Chris Volstad won a game, the Astros’ outfield was Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.
Volstad’s last win was on July 17, 2011, a 5-4 decision over the Astros, who had a much different roster. Bourn is now in Atlanta, Lee in Miami and Pence in San Francisco.
It’s now been 23 starts since Volstad could celebrate after he and the Cubs dropped a 10-1 decision to the Astros on Tuesday night. Brett Wallace and Fernando Martinez each hit a three-run homer, and Scott Moore had three hits and two RBIs to power the Astros, who handed the Cubs their 12th loss in their last 14 games.
Volstad’s skid isn’t the worst in baseball. Anthony Young lost 27 consecutive decisions from May 6, 1992, to July 24, 1993, while with the Mets.
How does Volstad deal with his streak?
“Just keep going,” Volstad said. “That’s all you can do. The past is in the past. The only thing I’m concerned with is my next game.”
The odds were in his favor. The right-hander was 3-0 in five starts against Houston prior to Tuesday, but he was pulled after throwing 70 pitches over five innings and giving up four runs on eight hits.
Before the game, manager Dale Sveum said that he’d seen encouraging signs.
“I think he’s learned some things and learned to be a little more conviction-oriented when the catcher puts down a sign,” Sveum said of Volstad (0-9). “I think that helps him out and takes the thinking part out of everything so you can visualize it and pull off the pitch that the catcher put down.”
He couldn’t do that on Tuesday.
“He got to five [innings] and there was nothing real crisp going on,” Sveum said. “Even the balls that were hit were hit hard, and the command, he was getting the ball up. His offspeed stuff—that’s what was getting hit hard. He didn’t have command of his fastball or quite the sink in his last couple of outings.”
Jose Altuve doubled with one out in the Astros’ first and scored one out later on Moore’s double. Tyler Greene and Altuve both singled with one out in the third to set up Wallace’s home run, his fifth, off a 1-2 pitch from Volstad.
That’s the pitch Volstad would like back.
“I pretty much hung a curveball coming backdoor to Wallace, and he hit a home run to center field,” Volstad said. “It wasn’t great location and also just selection on my part. That’s the way it goes. One swing of the bat can change a game.”
This was Volstad’s shortest outing in the three starts he’s made since he being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 4. He threw eight shutout innings for Iowa on July 27.
“You take away one pitch, and it’s 1-0 instead of 4-0, and the team’s right there,” he said. “I executed pitches after that [one to Wallace], and I feel that’s one of the biggest strides I’ve made—continuing to throw. Again, you take away that, and even a couple of hits tonight were finding holes. I’ve got to keep making quality pitches. That one to Wallace wasn’t, and he got it.”
Lendy Castillo, the Cubs’ Rule 5 Draft pick who was making his first appearance since May 11, served up five runs in the sixth, including Martinez’s three-run homer. Castillo had been on the disabled list with a groin injury.
The Astros went into the game ranked 15th in the National League in batting average, ahead of only the Padres and trailing the Cubs. Houston has hit more home runs than Chicago and has more RBIs. The Cubs are now 11-49 when scoring three runs or fewer.
“I think tonight we did a really good job of not being satisfied putting a ball in play,” Houston’s Moore said. “We got pitches to drive, and we drove them. I think that was key tonight. We had a lot of extra-base hits and a couple of three-run homers, and that was the difference. Instead of putting the ball in play, we got pitches to drive.”
Lucas Harrell (10-8) benefited, holding the Cubs to six hits over eight innings and striking out seven. He also singled in the five-run sixth. In fact, every Astros starter except for Brandon Barnes got a hit. The last time the Astros scored 10 or more runs was on June 10, when they beat the White Sox, 11-9.
“Harrell came right after us,” Sveum said. “It looked like he threw 90 percent fastballs, and we didn’t capitalize on his aggressiveness at all. We took a lot of fastballs and we weren’t real aggressive on the fastball for a guy who throws a lot of fastballs.”
The Cubs avoided a shutout in the seventh when Starlin Castro singled and later scored on a fielder’s choice by Darwin Barney.
In Volstad’s defense, he’s pitched deep into several games this season and only given up a couple of runs. Those would have been victories on most other teams. And the remaining starters aren’t awful either. But, as Sveum noted, a team that can’t hit fastballs is in for a long season. Since fastballs are pretty much all you see until you’re in A ball, I wonder what these guys have been doing. This is the kind of situation where you find out exactly how good your hitting coach is.
On the Southside, MLB sent Chris Toman to Toronto as punishment for some infraction. No one goes there willingly. Anyway, he saw the game, took good notes and filled us in on what happened.
Close games are nothing new for the White Sox.
But as long as their starters continue to work deep into games and their bullpen takes care of the rest, there won’t be many complaints.
A trio of White Sox relievers, some small ball and solid defense ensured starter Jose Quintana walked away victorious Tuesday night as Chicago dropped the Blue Jays, 3-2, at Rogers Centre.
“I was just happy to piece it together without hitting a home run,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said about his club, which he feels relies on the long ball too much. “A good all-around game—good defense, everything else. It was good for us, a big win.”
The 23-year-old Quintana, who worked into the seventh inning for his fifth straight start, allowed eight hits and two walks over his 6 2/3 innings of work, while striking out four.
After an up and down July, following an impressive run to begin his Major League career, Quintana has turned in two consecutive quality starts in August. He improved to 5-2 and lowered his ERA a tick to 2.77.
“I have made a couple corrections in some of my pitches and all in all, I think that adjustment has been helping me out,” said Quintana, who added the adjustment was more to do with execution and pitch location as opposed to something mechanical.
Quintana, who is nearing his career high for innings since beginning his professional career, has no concerns with the workload.
“I feel good, I’ve definitely never pitched this many innings but it’s one of those things—my arm feels good and I’m putting in the work and I feel that I can definitely go the distance,” Quintana said.
Quintana worked his way out of a few jams, getting some help along the way from his defense.
The biggest threat came in the fifth inning after the White Sox had given him a 3-2 lead.
Toronto loaded the bases for slugger Edwin Encarnacion, but Quintana was bailed out by Kevin Youkilis, who caught a screamer by Encarnacion and threw to second to double up Rajai Davis to escape the inning unscathed.
“I have to give Youkilis a lot of credit for that. For him to come through is great,” Quintana said.
The lefty found himself in another jam in the seventh after the Blue Jays put runners on first and second with one out but got Mike McCoy to pop up before turning the ball over to Brett Myers to face Encarnacion.
Myers did his job by getting Encarnacion to line out to Dewayne Wise in center to end the threat.
Left-hander Matt Thornton relieved Myers to start the eighth inning and recorded two outs before Ventura decided to turn to closer Addison Reed for a four-out save.
Ventura wanted Reed facing a predominantly right-handed-hitting Blue Jays lineup, although he was tasked with going against lefty Colby Rasmus, who entered as a pinch-hitter and hit an opposite-field single to left to put one on with one out.
But Reed clamped down and retired the next two batters to record his 21st save, tying him with Salome Barojas (1982) for the White Sox rookie record.
“I like it. I did it at the beginning of this year and the longer I’m out there, the more fun I have with it,” said Reed, when asked if he likes entering the game in the eighth inning. “So any time I can go out there for four outs, I’m more than happy to do that.
“Our confidence is high right now, we are all throwing the ball well. With the addition of Myers, I think that did nothing but help us.”
In 11 1/3 innings since joining the White Sox, Myers is sporting a sparkling 0.81 ERA. Chicago pitchers combined to throw six scoreless innings to end the game, while the offense was blanked for all but one inning.
The White Sox were stifled by Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez through four but strung together a two-out rally to get on the board in the fifth, while trailing, 2-0.
Leadoff man Alejandro De Aza brought in the first run with a single to right, cashing in A.J. Pierzynski, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a single.
Wise, playing in just his second game with Chicago this season, followed up with a single to right field to tie things up at 2.
With runners at the corners and Alex Rios at the plate, Alvarez attempted to pick Wise off first but threw the ball high and off the glove of David Cooper, allowing De Aza to score and give the White Sox a 3-2 lead.
“I just tried to get any chance I could to get to the next base. I saw the first baseman jump and I was ready,” De Aza said.
Alvarez, who worked seven innings, lost his third consecutive start, dropping him to 7-10.
“I’m pleased with the way I pitched tonight,” Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera.
“I was more consistent with my pitches. All of my pitches were down and I was pitching in and out. I was throwing more on the corners tonight.”
The White Sox won just their fourth game in their last 20 tries at Rogers Centre.
In Chicago’s last 15 games, 13 have been decided by one or two runs.
See the opening of this blog to get why the Sox have trouble at Rogers Center. It’s a perfect park for indoor soccer. Not so much for baseball.
Oh well, the Sox have two more games there and then head to KC for three against the Royals. As of this writing the Sox are still 2 ahead of Detroit in the standings but they need to win these two series to have any chance of remaining there.
It is going to be an interesting September for Chicago baseball fans, that’s for sure.
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