Can Cleveland keep this up?

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Can Cleveland keep this up?

With the White Sox opening a three-game series tonight against Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field, we reached out to Lewie Pollis of the fantastic Indians blog Wahoo's on First for his thoughts on the state of the first-place Tribe:

The Indians enter this series at 10-2 in one-run games and eight games over .500. On a broad scope, is Cleveland's success sustainable?
To that extent? Probably not I don't think the ability to win close games is generally seen as a consistent skill. That said, the Indians are well built to win close contests.
The back end of the Tribe bullpen really is outstanding. Vinnie Pestano is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, and until Thursday night he had gotten at least one strikeout in 23 straight appearances (a franchise record). Plus Nick Hagadone has looked great so far, Joe Smith has been solid, and despite his reputation Chris Perez has been pitching more like Rick Vaughn at the end of Major Leaguethan the beginning.
The other thing this team does is come up with big hits. The idea of being "clutch" is generally seen as reading too much into a small sample size or at least a skill that is very difficult to maintain consistently, but as a whole this team just has had a knack for it since last year. It's anecdotal and I don't want to say that it's sustainable, but that 10-2 record is a reflection of the Tribe coming through when it counts.
At what point is Ubaldo Jimenez hurting the team more than he's helping them?

He's been below replacement level this year, so you could say he's already been "hurting the team." We don't need him, that's not the problem. There's no shortage of potential MLB starters in the organization. The Indians have a full five-man rotation now even with Josh Tomlin injured and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona still working on his visa. Scott Barnes, Chris Seddon, Corey Kluber, and Kevin Slowey are all waiting in Triple-A, and Zach McAllister is probably headed back there too once Tomlin returns.
The problem is that Jimenez is too good to give up on. I still think he has the best raw stuff of anyone in the rotation, and there are times (like when he outpitched Yu Darvish by throwing seven shutout innings against Texas earlier this month) when he still looks dominant. He's under team control through 2013, and while Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are sunk costs at this point it would be hard for the Indians to admit that Jimenez is a total bust after they gave up so much to get him.
If Jimenez were in a situation like Derek Lowe's was at the start of 2012 declining seemingly low-upside pitcher in the last year of his contract he'd have lost his rotation spot by now. But there's too much potential reward for the Indians to cut him loose just yet, and until he turns things around or the team gives up on him we'll continue to wring our hands every time he takes the mound.
Two-parter: How underrated is Jack Hannahan, and what ever happened to Lonnie Chisenhall?
I used to say that Shin-Soo Choo was the most underrated player in all of baseball; now I think the torch has been passed to Hannahan. He's a phenomenal fielder and he's a much, much better hitter than people give him credit for. He's shown great plate discipline and decent power ever since he came to Cleveland, yet everyone still thinks of him as a Quad-A utility man for some reason. A good illustration: He OPSed .719 last year and he's at .801 now, but ZiPS' rest-of-season projections have him at .676. It's kind of sad that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
As for Chisenhall, he's still the Indians' third baseman of the future, butthe future isn't quite here yet. His problem when he got promoted last year was that his plate discipline collapsed he took just eight walks in 223 plate appearances while striking out 49 times. He then struck out 16 times with just one walk in spring training to earn a demotion to Triple-A Columbus. He's been tearing the cover off the ball in the minors he's hitting .340 with a .946 OPS but he has just four walks in over 100 plate appearances. With both Hannahan and Jose Lopez playing well the team isn't in any rush to bring him up, and since he lacks Vladimir Guerrero-like power he wouldn't be a very effective hitter in the majors at this point anyway.

Who's pitching for the Indians this weekend, and what should the Sox expect?
Tonight you get Jeanmar Gomez (3.19 ERA, 4.34 SIERA), whose pitch-to-contact, groundball-inducing style is fairly emblematic of the Tribe's organizational philosophy of developing young arms. Game two is Derek Lowe (2.15 ERA, 4.17 SIERA), whose crazy sinker has helped him to lead the league in ERA even though he's striking out only 2.3 batters per nine innings. Then there's Ubaldo (5.02 ERA, 5.95 SIERA) as I said he's still a force to be reckoned with when he's on, but it's anyone's guess whether or not he will be Sunday.

Got a prediction for the series?
The Indians have won 8 of 10 and just swept the Tigers. I know streaks don't mean much, but I have to say anything less than the Tribe taking two of three this weekend would be a huge disappointment.

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale had no trouble earning his 17th win of the season, tying his career-high set in 2012.

The White Sox offense powered past the Tampa Bay Rays 13-6 on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, improving their record to 76-81 on the season.

Sale pitched seven innings and recorded seven strikeouts. He also allowed three earned runs on eight hits. It was Sale’s 16th career game with at least seven strikeouts and no walks, according to CSN’s stat guru Chris Kamka.

“I think the whole team and organization takes him for granted, to be sure. I think he’s a heck of a competitor,” Adam Eaton said of Sale prior to Tuesday’s game. “He’s one of the best in the game of baseball and I think we should look at him as such. And when I say take for granted, it’s not a slander on anybody. You just get used to him going seven, eight innings, throwing 115 pitches and giving his best effort day in and day out. He’s definitely not the usual, for sure.”

The White Sox extended their winning streak to four games. The last time they won four consecutive games was July 23-26 against the Cleveland Indians and Cubs. The White Sox had winning streaks of at least four games three times in their first 33 games of the season.

Eaton went 2-for-5 with two runs, an RBI and a double in his return to the lineup after missing three games with an injury.

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Tim Anderson got things started with an RBI single in the first and RBI double in the second. Anderson also added a solo homer in the eighth inning.

Melky Cabrera hit his 14th homer of the season in the first, bumping his RBI total to 82 on the year, five shy from his career-high.

In the third, Leury Garcia smacked his first homer of the year, a three-run shot to left-center field to extend the White Sox lead to 8-2. Two more runs were scored in the fifth on a fielder’s choice and an error. Jason Coats, pinch-hitting for Justin Morneau, and Todd Frazier each had an RBI single in the eighth.

Sale issued a two-run double to former White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez in the second and a homer to Curt Casali in the fourth.

With five games left, Ventura hasn’t decided if Sale will make one final start before the 2016 campaign ends.

However, Ventura believes that tying his 17 wins in a season is well-deserving.

“You're looking at a guy that's one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Ventura said. “You always want him to match or best his past performances. I think part of that is motivation at this point to be able to go out there and do it.

“His numbers, you look at them and they stack up with anybody. But you want him to continue to win games and you want him to surpass previous accomplishments. Every guy's trying to do that.”

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

This season hasn’t exactly turned out the way the White Sox had hoped.

The White Sox took Major League Baseball by storm after beginning the season at 23-10, which led the American League Central by six games at the time.

But since then, the White Sox have been climbing an uphill battle. They lost 20 of their next 26 games and found themselves fighting to stay above .500.

The White Sox brought in reinforcements in an effort to get their season back on track, adding designated hitter Justin Morneau (via free agency), veteran pitcher James Shields (via trade from San Diego Padres) and 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson (Triple-A Charlotte). 

But the White Sox still couldn’t make things click.

“I think you learn how guys struggle and how they try and get out of it,” said manager Robin Ventura. “You see guys that continue to grind through it and try to find it. Some guys find it quicker than other guys. I think the biggest thing is their ability to grind through it.”

The White Sox were officially eliminated from the postseason last Friday and will finish with their fourth straight losing season.

What happens over the offseason remains a mystery. It’s uncertain how their opening roster will look like next season.

If little changes are made, Adam Eaton believes the White Sox can still be contenders in 2017.

“There is a lot of talent here,” Eaton said. “There are a lot of good baseball players in here. It’s not the year we thought. And I think with that exact quote, ‘It’s not the year that we thought,’ if we brought the guys back I think we might have the year we thought we would have.

“The camaraderie is great in here. It’s tough to say whether people will be leaving or whether additions will be added. I’m sure moves will be made. In the game of baseball, there’s never an offseason that’s quiet, I feel like. Whatever Rick (Hahn) and the organization sees would be more functional for this team to be better and more consistent on a day-to-day basis, then that’s what they see in the team.

“If I’m in those plans, great. If not, then it kind of stinks. But if they want me in this uniform next year, I’ll be proud to wear it and I’ll put everything I have on the field again like I did this year.”

Time will tell which direction the White Sox decide to go in. Will they continue to add immediate impact players and build around the same group? Make a few tweaks? Or perhaps even tear it all down and start from scratch?

One thing is for sure, it will be a busy offseason for the White Sox one way or another.

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If the White Sox decide to make any drastic changes like trade Chris Sale — who was a hot topic of discussion around the trade deadline — Eaton knows exactly what he'd do if they faced one another.

“Take the day off,” Eaton said. “No, I don’t want to give away too much because I hope I’m never on that side. Just see ball, hit ball. Be simple. Have a simple approach off him because he can make you look foolish at times. Just have a good competitive at-bat.

“But like I said, easier said than done. He’s made a lot of people look foolish. I hope I’ll never have to do that, to be honest with you. I’d love to be on his team for the rest of my life.”