Previewing the Cleveland Indians

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Previewing the Cleveland Indians

With the White Sox kicking off divisional play tonight against Cleveland (6:00, Comcast SportsNet), I turned to Lewie Pollis of Wahoo's on First to answer a few questions about the Indians:

Honest question: Is the Indians' rotation better off without the guy formerly known as Fausto Carmona?

It's hard to deny that. Carmona's sorry, Roberto Hernandez' DIPS numbers suggest that he was better than he looked last year (4.56 FIP, 4.18 SIERA), but we're talking about a low-strikeout worm-burner pitching in front of a questionable double-play duo (Jason Kipnis is still learning second base, and there's a lot of debate about Asdrubal Cabrera's defense) who's put up ERAs of 5.25 or higher three of the last four years. It's been five very long years since his breakout 2007 or maybe eight, since we now know that he's three years older than we thought.

All the major projection systems peg Hernandez for an ERA in the mid-to-high-4.00's, meaning he'd need a major improvement (an unlikely scenario for a 31-year-old with a distraction this big hanging over him) or some great luck in order to be even an average pitcher. The Indians might miss his durability (he's thrown 389 innings over the last two years), but between Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey, David Huff, Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes they shouldn't have much trouble replacing his production. I'm not sure Hernandez wins a roster spot ifwhen his visa issues get cleared up.

Is Shin-Soo Choo due for a rebound year? And, conversely, could Asdrubal Cabrera be in for a regression?

I'm definitely on board the Choo bandwagon for 2012. He's supposedly put his distractions from last year (his May DUI was the big one) behind him, and a good part of his struggles last year can probably be chalked up to bad luck (his .317 BABIP was way below his .351 career mark). Expecting a full rebound to his 2009-10 levels is probably unrealistic, but even if his power doesn't fully return he's still got his strong plate discipline. And don't forget that, despite his injuries, distractions, and slumps in 2011 he was on pace for a solid 2.7 fWAR over a full season.

Cabrera is in for some regression this year. He really slowed down towards the end of last year, which obviously is not a good sign for a player whose 25-homer power seemed to come out of nowhere. That's not to say that the improvement isn't for real, just that 15 homers is a more realistic expectation than 25. I see his average and OBP improving a little bit as he gets walk rate and BABIP back up a little bit, which will help to make up for his regressed power. Anyway, he'll be good just not as good as he was last year.
Jason Kipnis is a local guy -- what are your expectations for him this season?

I'm quite bullish on Kipnis this year. Basic principles of regression and small sample size say that he probably won't keep up the 135 wRC he posted in his 36-game debut last year, but just from watching him hit that's a real possibility. We're talking about a 25-year-old second baseman with solid plate discipline and real plus power. Don't be surprised if he goes 2020.

We know plenty about Justin Masterson (that he's really good), but give us a rundown of what to expect from Cleveland pitching this series.

First up is Josh Tomlin. Hope you're not looking to walk much in game one because his 1.1 BB9 rate was the best in baseball last year. The problem with Tomlin is that his stinginess with walks comes with a dearth of strikeouts, so he's really at the mercy of the Indians' defense. He's a flyball pitcher so he's generally good at keeping his BABIP down, but he also tends to be quite homer-prone...which makes the thought of him pitching at U.S. Cellular a little nerve-wracking.

Next (thanks to the need to creatively juggle the rotation around Ubaldo Jimenez' unfair suspension) you get Masterson. He's got a great sinkerfastball that's pretty much all he throws. You can always expect a lot of grounders from him, and while he doesn't do it as consistently he's got the stuff to rack up the strikeouts too as evidenced by this 10-punchout performance on Opening Day.

Finally, you'll draw Jeanmar Gomez. Most people expected him to start the year in Triple-A, but he beat Kevin Slowey for the final rotation spot with a strong spring (1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings). He's been a real pitch-to-contact guy in the past (.88 strikeouts and walks per inning) but that changed in Goodyear (1.12). I'm hoping he really has turned over a new leaf in terms of getting more strikeouts, but I'm not exactly sure what we'll see from him in his season debut.

And lastly, give us a projection for the series.

I'll say the Indians take the first game and that it won't be particularly close, but that's mostly because I don't know if I can handle another high-stress heartbreaker after this weekend's 37 innings of heart palpitations against the Blue Jays. I make it a point never to bet against Justin Masterson so Cleveland will take game two, and I suppose I'll let you guys win game three.

Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez propel White Sox past Rays

Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez propel White Sox past Rays

Todd Frazier reached the 40-home run plateau on Wednesday night.

Frazier’s seventh-inning solo home run not only extended his hitting streak to 12 games, it provided the White Sox with the game’s only offense in a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 12,976 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Frazier became only the seventh player in franchise history to hit 40 homers in a season with his 394-foot drive off Rays pitcher Eddie Gamboa. The blast offered Miguel Gonzalez and David Robertson just enough support as they combined on a three-hit shutout. Robertson recorded his 37th save in 44 tries.

Frazier entered the game hitting .305/.374/.568 with six homers and 14 RBIs in September, easily his best month of the season. His homer came only a cold, windy night in which offense was at a premium.

He ripped a 76-mph knuckleball from Gamboa about eight rows beyond the left-field bullpen with two outs in the seventh.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The game was delayed for 21 minutes by rain, which continued through the first inning. The rains came again in the bottom of the third inning and delayed the contest for another 76 minutes.

Gonzalez returned after the delay and was remarkable. He had stretches where he retired eight in a row in the middle and nine straight into the ninth before he yielded a one-out single to Logan Forsythe. Robertson took over and needed only one pitch to record the save as Kevin Kiermaier grounded into a game-ending double play.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

The uncertainty surrounding Robin Ventura’s future will drag on a little longer.

The White Sox manager — who doesn’t yet have a contract offer for 2017, according to a baseball source — said Wednesday afternoon that he intends to wait until the current season is complete to discuss what’s next.

Ventura’s fifth season at the helm concludes on Sunday and according to USA Today report, the door has potentially been opened for a sixth. But Ventura didn’t broach the topic during Wednesday’s pregame media session and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wasn’t available for comment. Hahn has previously said he’d wait for the season to end to talk and is expected to address the media on Monday, according to team officials.

“I appreciate all the concern,” Ventura said. “But like I’ve said all year long, I’m waiting until the end of the year. Rick and I always have discussions, but I’m waiting until the end of the year. 

“I’m not going to get into it. But I’ve always felt, especially this year, that I’m going to wait until the end of the year. 

“That’s just the way I like to do it.”

The White Sox are headed for their fourth straight sub-.500 record under Ventura unless they win their final five games. The club has only posted a winning record in Ventura’s first season (2012) and they’re 373-432 overall during his tenure.

The USA Today report suggested the decision on whether or not Ventura would return in 2017 is up to him. Ventura said he likes his job and also is aggravated by it. He’s disappointed with the team’s failures in 2016 after a 23-10 start and wouldn’t discuss whether or not he was interested in managing were the team to go into rebuild mode. Ventura also said he’s more focused on the club’s day-to-day operations.

“I enjoy the job,” Ventura said. “Right now we’re dealing with rain and trying to figure out how we’re going to do this. I’m figuring out how to get to the end of the year right now. That’s the biggest concern, and making sure everybody finishes it on the way that they should professionally.”

Outfielder Adam Eaton supported Ventura and said his even-keel management style is effective. Eaton said he’d welcome Ventura back. But Eaton also knows the decision isn’t his to make.

“I’ve always enjoyed Robin,” Eaton said. “I’ve always backed Robin. I think he’s a tremendous manager, people person, communicator. So for me I’ve enjoyed my time with him. I’d welcome him back. I’d love to have him back, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the higher-ups again.”

Ventura’s one concern is that the issue distracts from his players’ preparation over the final five games. Given everything else that has occurred this season, from the Adam LaRoche saga in spring training to Chris Sale’s suspension in July, Ventura wants to avoid adding another distraction. It’s one of the main reasons he has pushed off talking about his future.

“It was quite a ride,” Ventura said. “It really was. You just deal with it when it happens. Like I said, every team has its challenge and this one is no different. We had some unique ones, I would say this year. You handle it, you handle it inside the clubhouse and that’s my job.”