White Sox

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

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USA TODAY

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

A lot, actually.

But there’s only one thing we really want to know: Are we ever going to see Mike Trout in the playoffs again? You shouldn’t feel bad if you blinked and missed the best player in baseball’s lone postseason appearance, three losses to the Kansas City Royals in 2014. This guy’s been the face of the game, and he’s got only 12 more postseason at-bats than I do.

That’s a shame, of course, and the Halos have done quite a bit to try to change that this offseason. And they very well might. The new additions in Anaheim have provided plenty of interest, but will that translate to wins? Time to find out.

Obviously, Trout won’t even be the most paid-attention-to Angel come Opening Day, when we finally get to see if Shohei Ohtani lives up to the hype. Baseball had their own version of that reality show that everyone loves so much — Something to do with roses, I think? Is it a show about gardening? America’s Next Top Gardener! Nailed it. — with teams courting the talents of the two-way Japanese superstar. Ohtani is projected to slot into the No. 2 spot in the Angels’ rotation and play regularly as a designated hitter.

That seems like a lot to ask of a 23-year-old who’s never seen major league pitching or faced major league hitting, a lot of pressure on the guy instantaneously crowned baseball’s top prospect.

What Ohtani will do is a complete mystery — but that’s kind of the case for the Angels’ entire rotation. These guys should at least be well rested considering they’ve logged hardly any big league innings over the past two seasons. Seriously, look at the number of starts the Angels’ projected starting staff made last year:

— Garrett Richards: six (after just six in 2016)
— Shohei Ohtani: zero (no career MLB appearances)
— Matt Shoemaker: 14
— Andrew Heaney: five (after just one in 2016)
— J.C. Ramirez: 24 (the first 24 starts of his four-year big league career)
— Tyler Skaggs: 16 (after just 10 in 2016 and zero in 2015)

So that adds up to 65 from six pitchers. Add up the combined 2017 regular-season and postseason starts by Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, the co-aces for the division-rival Houston Astros, and it’s 66. These Angels pitchers need to stay on the field.

But while that might not sound too promising, the Halos made some typical Halo-style additions, getting a bunch of All Stars on the other side of 30 to try and get Trout — still one of their youngest position players, despite being in the league for seven years — to the playoffs. Justin Upton, acquired in a trade last season with the Detroit Tigers, and Zack Cozart, signed as a free agent this offseason, are both coming off awesome seasons. Upton posted career highs in homers, RBIs and doubles and nearly had career highs in plenty of other categories. Zack Cozart was one of the National League’s best hitters last season, finishing 11th in on-base percentage and OPS. Ian Kinsler? Not coming off a good season. He was statistically bad for the bad-in-every-way Detroit Tigers, but he’s only two years removed from a .831 OPS and 28 homers in 2016, so who knows.

Will it all pay off? Will those moves make the Angels any better? Will it really matter all that much in an AL not exactly bursting with playoff contenders?

All I know is this: America is clamoring for its favorite baseball icon to return to the postseason. We need it. Nothing would make us more happy than to see a symbol of the game, why we watch the game, on the game’s grandest stage. So do it, Angels. Get the Rally Monkey back to October.

What, you thought I was talking about Trout?

2017 record: 80-82, second place in AL West

Offseason additions: Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, Rene Rivera, Chris Young, Jim Johnson, Luke Bard

Offseason departures: Cliff Pennington, Ben Revere, Jesse Chavez, Ricky Nolasco, Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, Fernando Salas, Huston Street

X-factor: Former Cubs reliever Blake Parker was excellent for the Angels last season, making 71 appearances and finishing with a 2.54 ERA. But for X-factor, let's go with heretofore unmentioned Andrelton Simmons, who was very good in 2017, perhaps the Angels' best non-Trout player. He plays great defense at shortstop, baseball's leader in defensive runs saved last season. He also slashed a very respectable .278/.331/.421 with 14 dingers and a career-best 19 steals. And all-around impact player to say the least.

Projected lineup:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Mike Trout, CF
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Albert Pujols, DH
5. Kole Calhoun, RF
6. Zack Cozart, 3B
7. Luis Valbuena, 1B
8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
9. Martin Maldonado, C

Projected rotation:

1. Garrett Richards
2. Shohei Ohtani
3. Matt Shoemaker
4. Andrew Heaney
5. J.C. Ramirez
6. Tyler Skaggs

Prediction: Second place in AL West, AL wild card

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets
Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

White Sox fans are justifiably concerned by Yoan Moncada's league-leading number of strikeouts.

Moncada carried big expectations into this season after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year. He hasn't lived up to those expectations. But the struggles Moncada has dealt with this season don't at all etch in stone what kind of career he'll have in the long term.

Moncada's just 23 years old, and part of the reason there have been so many outside complaints about his season is that he's under the microscope in this rebuilding process. As an early arriver to the South Side, he gets looked at closely on a daily basis while many of the other highly touted youngsters in the organization are going through their developments in the minor leagues. And with the team where it is in its rebuilding effort, Moncada is going through certain things at the big league level that, if the White Sox were in a different spot, he might be experiencing in the minors.

But while Moncada is on pace to break Major League Baseball's single-season strikeout record, it's not at all the end of the world. See above for several reasons why. But there's another good one that's been discussed before but perhaps warrants a closer look, particularly after Moncada added two more strikeouts to his total in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Tigers. (He's up to 169 on the campaign and on pace to strike out 236 times.)

For fans expecting Moncada to arrive in the big leagues and display complete offensive mastery at the plate, just look to two of baseball's biggest stars, two guys who also piled up big strikeout numbers in rookie seasons that ended in Rookie of the Year awards, for examples of how Moncada's path can still end in plenty of major league success.

Kris Bryant struck out 199 times in 2015 to lead the National League and set the Cubs' single-season record. That's striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. It's also a total that currently stands as the 11th highest in baseball history. But Bryant has since seen those strikeout numbers drop dramatically, a possibility for Moncada as time wears on considering the rave reviews he gets from manager Rick Renteria and others when it comes to his understanding of the strike zone.

Bryant saw his strikeouts drop from 199 in his rookie season to 154 in 2016, a season in which he had 49 more plate appearances than he did in the year prior. Last season, his strikeout total plummeted to 128 (and his walks climbed to a career-best 95) in just 15 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. This season, Bryant has been plagued by significant injuries, but for what it's worth, he's got 75 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances, a strikeout rate 10 percent lower than the one from his rookie season.

So while Bryant and Moncada are different players, there's recent precedent — and just up the Red Line, at that — for a player striking out a ton during his rookie season only to consistently see those strikeouts decrease as time goes on. Remember that this is only Moncada's first full season in the majors. Time and experience can change an awful lot.

Then there's Aaron Judge. Last season, the New York Yankees slugger struck out 208 times, the sixth-highest total in baseball history. Like Bryant did in his rookie season, Judge struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. But unlike Bryant, Judge is striking out at a similar rate this season. Judge is a different kind of player than Bryant, of course, more of a slugger with the kind of power you see elsewhere among baseball's all-time single-season strikeout leaders: your Mark Reynoldses, your Adam Dunns, your Chris Davises, your Ryan Howards. Of course, Judge also walks a ton, something some of those guys did/do, too. Judge led baseball with his 208 punchouts last season, but he also led the American League with 127 walks. Judge ranks in among the league leaders again this season, with 68 walks.

Again, we'll go back to the praise for and confidence in Moncada's eye at the plate. He's got 50 walks in this strikeout-heavy season. As his skills at the dish are honed further, perhaps he could follow a path more similar to Judge's than Bryant's, where his strikeout numbers stay high but so, too, do his walk numbers.

Now, these are obviously not perfect comparisons. Bryant was an NL MVP a year after he was the NL's Rookie of the Year. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Year a year ago and finished second in MVP voting. Moncada has other statistical areas of concern besides strikeouts: He's slashing .221/.304/.398 after Monday's loss in Motown, numbers that don't come close to the Rookie of the Year stats that Bryant and Judge put up in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

But these are examples of paths to success for players who hit the big leagues only to strike out and strike out a lot. There's little way of knowing if Moncada will be able to achieve the stardom those two have accomplished. But the big strikeout total doesn't preclude him from doing so.

Who knew? Chicago's weekend in walkoffs

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Chicago's weekend in walkoffs

A weekend wrapup in Chicago baseball in several bulletpoints

  • Friday night, Carlos Rodón continued his excellent run with 8 scoreless innings against the divisionleading Indians. His 1.27 ERA since July 1 leads the Majors among the 91 pitchers with at least 35 innings over that span. 
  • Unfortunately, Jon Lester is 91st out of those 91 pitchers with an 8.01 ERA in 39.1 IP over that span
  • Also unfortunately, Dylan Covey is tied for 89th (with Clayton Richard) out of 91 with a 7.71 ERA in 35 innings over that same span.

 

The biggest White Sox story of the weekend was arguably Jim Thome Night on Saturday. The Sox slugger made a nice speech and joined Jason & Steve in the booth during the game. 

  • Thome had 612 career home runs. That’s roughly 41.7 miles of baserunning. Which is about the distance from Chicago to Aurora.
  • Thome’s 612 career HR are the most of anyone born in Illinois (Thome was born in Peoria). The next highest total is 360 by Centralia’s Gary Gaetti. The gap of 252 career home runs between Thome and Gaetti is one more than the career total of Robin Yount (251 career HR), who was born in Danville.
  • Thome had enough home runs in an Indians uniform (337) to be their franchise leader. If you subtracted those from his career total, he still had 275, which is the amount of career home runs Roger Maris had.

 

The biggest White Sox story on the playing field over the weekend was Daniel Palka’s walkoff HR to give the White Sox a 1-0 win.

  • Palka’s blast was the second walkoff HR in White Sox history to break a scoreless tie. The other one was Sept. 14, 1967, by Don Buford (also against the Indians), but it was a 10th inning grand slam. If you like walkoff grand slams, keep on reading…
  • Palka’s walkoff HR was the first in White Sox history to win a game by a 10 score.
  • Palka is also the only player in White Sox history to strike out three times (as he did Friday) and hit a walkoff home run in the same game.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs ties him with Gleyber Torres for the American League lead among rookies this season.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs are tied with Jeff Liefer (2001) & Carlos May (1969) for second in White Sox history (behind Pete Ward’s 22 in 1963) among left handed rookies.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs since making his MLB Debut on April 25 is 4 more than any other White Sox hitter.
  • Adam Engel over a 7-day span robbed 7 runs worth of home runs – Greg Bird (with 2 runners on) Monday, Kyle Higashioka Tuesday, Yonder Alonso (with 2 runners on) Sunday. He even added a solo HR of his own in the same inning on Sunday. It’s particularly amazing given that the Sox were off Thursday, Engel played only one inning in the field on Friday, and he didn’t play on Saturday.
  • The Cubs won a game on Friday where their starter (Kyle Hendricks) allowed 8 hits in 6 innings, and the opposing starter (Jeremy Hellickson) allowed no hits in 5.2 innings.
  • Tyler Chatwood pitched three scoreless innings on Saturday, with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts. Chatwood has 8.13 walks per 9 innings and 7.68 strikeouts per 9 innings this season in 99.2 innings. The last pitcher to do that in at least 50 innings? Former Cub Carlos Marmol (7.32 BB/9, 11.71 K/9 in 2012). Only four times in MLB history has a pitcher finished a season with 100+ innings and at least 7 walks and 7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Bobby Witt & Mitch Williams (both with the Rangers) in 1987, and Witt & Eric Plunk in 1986.
  • Cole Hamels in three starts with the Cubs has a 1.00 ERA and in 18 innings has 11 hits and 20 strikeouts.
  • Cubs have had only 4 games all season in which the starting pitcher has had 9 or more strikeouts. Two of them belong to Cole Hamels (August 1 at PIT & August 12 vs WSH – 9 apiece) despite having made only three starts for the Cubs. Yu Darvish had 9 on April 7 at Milwaukee, and José Quintana has the only 10 K start for the Cubs this season back on June 6 vs. Philadelphia (the game Jason Heyward hit the walkoff grand slam).

 

David Bote’s walkoff grand slam was clearly the big moment of the weekend for the Cubs.

  • Bote hit the 30th “Ultimate Grand Slam” in MLB history – a walkoff grand slam where his team was down 3 runs.
  • It was the first Ultimate Grand Slam in the Majors since Steve Pearce of the Blue Jays did it last year on July 30.
  • It was the second Ultimate Grand Slam in Cubs history – the other was Ellis Burton 8/31/1963 against the Astros.
  • It was the second Ultimate Grand Slam in MLB history which came with the team down 30. The other was Sammy Byrd of the Reds on May 23, 1936, against the Pirates. Bote’s grand slam came with 2 outs, however; Byrd hit his with none out.
  • It was the first Ultimate Grand Slam by a pinch-hitter since Brian Bogusevic of the Astros hit one off Carlos Marmol of the Cubs back on August 16, 2011. However, Bogusevic’s home run came with only one out.
  • Bote’s was the first Ultimate Grand Slam by a pinch-hitter with two outs since Roger Freed of the Cardinals hit one May 1, 1979.
  • Bote was the first Cub to hit a pinch-hit walkoff grand slam since Earl Averill (the son of the Hall of Famer) on May 12, 1959.
  • Bote’s was the first Cub since Ron Santo on Sept. 25, 1968, to hit a walkoff grand slam to give his team its first runs of the game (Santo hit his trailing 1-0).
  • Bote & Heyward (June 6) give the Cubs a pair of walkoff grand slams in the same season for the first time since 1980 (Barry Foote & Cliff Johnson).
  • Bote joins Danny Kravitz as the only players to hit an Ultimate Grand Slam in the same season as their MLB debut (Kravitz’s was his first MLB home run – May 11, 1956 for the Pirates).
  • Both the Cubs and White Sox scored 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday… unfortunately the White Sox were trailing 9-3, whereas the Cubs trailed 3-0.