Rick Hahn

White Sox decide closers exist to be cashed in


It’s a world gone topsy-turvy, I tell you. Billy Beane’s Athletics are going to spend about $10 million on closer Jim Johnson next year, even though their bullpen would seem to be plenty good without him. Meanwhile, the White Sox are playing at Oakland’s old game, trading their closers as soon as they can manufacture them.

That’s what they did two years ago, when they sent Sergio Santos to Toronto after his breakthrough 2011 season saw him save 30 games. And they did it again today, shipping Addison Reed to Arizona for third baseman Matt Davidson after he saved 79 games in his first two seasons in the majors.

The really interesting thing is that the White Sox aren’t even waiting for these guys to start getting expensive. Santos and Reed both had two years of service time when they were moved, meaning they weren’t even eligible for arbitration yet. Reed would have made barely more than $500,000 next season prior to his three years of arbitration and then free agency.

Unfortunately, the Santos-for-Nestor Molina trade hasn’t worked out for either team yet. Santos hurt his shoulder just a couple of weeks into his Blue Jays career and also had some elbow problems last season, though he did return to post a 1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 innings in the second half. Molina, who was viewed as a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter at the time of the deal, floundered in Double-A in 2012 and missed much of last season.He’s not hopeless yet, but it looks like he might be a reliever if he makes it at all.

The return for Reed isn’t overwhelming, either. Davidson didn’t hit for as much power as hoped last year, though he did come it at a respectable .280/.350/.481 with 17 homers in 443 at-bats for Triple-A Reno. If the Diamondbacks had thought he was ready, they wouldn’t have needed to trade for Mark Trumbo. The White Sox, though, have been struggling to find a third baseman for years now, and there just weren’t any attractive options in free agency for them. Davidson gives them some real hope at the position, even if he could use another half-year in the minors.

And now the White Sox get to try to find another closer to build up and eventually trade (Nate Jones and Daniel Webb being the obvious candidates). As quickly as relievers come and go, it seems like a great strategy, even if the payoff isn’t what it might have been 10 years ago. That Molina and Davidson were the best the White Sox could do for young, cost-controlled save specialists shows there just aren’t as many gullible GMs as there once were.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.