White Sox

The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

Wednesday, October 28th

Ouch! Thats going to leave a mark! I cant remember a game featuring a Chicago team that drew the level of disgust among fans that I witnessed, and have heard about many times since, than the Bears game on Sunday. (Obviously bartenders have short memories: we need to!) Not that Im surprised, its the nature of the football fan. Having a week off (usually) between games allows fans to work themselves into a lather, creating higher highs and lower lows among the faithful. The weekly hype machine starts early, and slowly leads up to The Big Game. In the NFL, for us fans, theyre ALL big! You only get 17. We wait all year for the 4 (plus 1 hopefully) month roller coaster that is pro football. Its a roller coaster because none of the other 3 major sports teams can mess with your emotions like your football team. Since the other 3 play so often, after a bad loss, they can say, Well get em tomorrow.

And most times, thats the case. But in football you have to sit on the emotions of a game for a whole week. Thus for me, as one who works with the public everyday, I dont need a scoreboard to know how the Bears are doing. I just have to go to work. From the constant chatter on my sports radio (You know what show Im listening to!), to the conversations when I pick up my papers, to the mood on the street when Im walking to the restaurant from my car, the feeling in the city is palpable. Let alone when I get behind the bar, the emotions of the fans in this city are plain for me to see. The change Im witnessing right now in Bears fans is dramatic and I think increasingly bitter. (And NO, this is not good for SALES!) As we all remember, last season ended with a very bad taste and numerous questions about where the Bears were headed. Then came, J.C.: Jay Cutler: And the enthusiasm and visions of a better tomorrow where everywhere. In spite of repeated media nay-saying in some parts, the vast majority of the city was on Cloud 6. (Im sorry.) Excited to finally have a franchise QB to call their own, Cutler was the toast of the town. Now real fans understood that this was not an over-night fix, but the toughest part of the puzzle to find was here, or so we thought.

There have been many discussions that Ive had at the bar about the identity of the Bears. For years, this was known as a defensive team, a smash-mouth team. Tommie Harris dominating the line of scrimmage (when healthy!), an excellent corps of linebackers and a ball-hawking defensive backfield, the defense made things happen. Add a QB and whats next? The skys the limit! Is it? Really? For a while now, this defense has been living on its rep, or at least the ghosts of 2006. It seems to me, that for at least the last 2 years, theyve become fundamentally lax. They like to strip the ball first, eschewing proper tackling technique, as theyre getting run over for chunks of yardage. Or, they get no consistent pressure against opposing QBs, exposing a defensive backfield that has a definitive lack of playmakers. There comes a time when you need to face the facts. The identity of this team is there for all to see. It is what it is. (to quote that famous philosopher, Brian MacNamee.) When you repeatedly do not show up on the road (2-7 record, outscored 233-149, in the last 9 road games) you have issues. Is it talent or coaching? You tell me. This is not a reaction to one bad game (are you new here??) its acknowledging a trend. This team doesnt always show up on the road.
Where does that leave them? Only they know the answer to that. I do know, that for the first time, that I take seriously anyway, that Im hearing the Lovie must go! venom being spewed. I dont know if I believe that, yet, but the defense has been on a constant downward spiral for 3 years and did not show up in a game that you know that everyone in the organization above the level of player wanted to win. What does that mean? What more do we need to see, to understand that maybe the expectations were a little out of whack here.

Because Im such a positive guy, I will remind of this though: Last year, a certain team from the east coast played these same Bengals in what might have been the most god-awful NFL game I ever watched, and left the Natti with a tie! When they were still the Bungles! (I recall a Chicago-born QB mis-rembering the o.t. rules.)(Two Clemens references in a football blog?!?!) From there, that team looked in the mirror, and then played inspired football all the way to the NFC Title game. Much of the inspiration coming from the firestorm of negativity they had created for themselves, Im sure. Maybe it can happen again. Maybe the team from the Queen City can make another team look in the mirror and cause them to get their act together. For my sake, I hope they do, because I show up for my job everyday, and its a lot easier when people arent looking at the TVs and rolling their eyes in disgust.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."