Game One: Zach McAllister vs. Chris Sale
So yeah, it looks like Zach McAllister might be less than the ace some of us (ahem) thought he could be. He’s still only 24, and his 3.91 SIERA tells me he’s better than his raw stats tell, so maybe there’s room for growth. The problem as with any pitcher, is that batters get used to him. The first time through the lineup batters have a .583 OPS, the second time it jumps to .846 and the third time it’s .954. He’s given up 12 of the 17 total homers that third time though. Perhaps it’s all about another pitch he has to master, perhaps it’s confidence, perhaps he has to find a magical pair of cleats. Of all the White Sox, it’s somehow Gordon Beckham with the best numbers against Zach—3-for-4 with three doubles. Go figure.
Here’s the guy who filled the hole Mark Buerhle left. All he’s done is lead baseball in ERA+ to this point at 154 and be the ace the Sox have never really had. The Cleveland Indians have a .435 OPS against Sale, and only Travis Hafner has homered off him. The kid’s good. The amazing thing is, despite pitching in a very hitter friendly park, his ERA is two runs lower in Chicago, 1.72 to 3.77 on the road. While others tire in the September stretch, he’s been better than ever—a 2.92 ERA in 24 ⅔ innings with 26 strikeouts. Yeah, his 3.21 SIERA tells us he’s been lucky (2.82 ERA) but I’d take that any day. Goddamn human whips.
Kluber needs a nickname, because right now he has the name of a sixth grade bully or something. Of course, unless he starts performing at a high level, it might end up being something like “Clobbered.” You know, because 12 hits per nine is not good. At least he’s not walking a lot of people though (2.3 BB/9) and he can still throw hard. You have to have high hopes for the kid, he battled valiantly a few starts back against the Yankees, and since this is his first start against the White Sox you have to think he’ll have a leg up on them. Whether or not he finds his changeup and can keep that fastball out of the middle of the plate, that’s what will decide the fate of this game. With the two guys that are starting this game, it’s going to be a nice tour of the bullpens.
That other guy is Francisco Liriano. This will be his first start against the Indians as a Chicagoan, and he’s been as good on the South Side as he was in Minnesota. His aggrigate numbers are a 1.44 WHIP this year while striking out 9.6 per nine. It’s good for a 5.24 ERA and a 4.21 SIERA, right in line with his career numbers. Outside of his electric fastball, I’ll never understand why he was the heir apparent to Johan Santana in Minnesota—outside of his rookie year and 2010, he’s been mediocre at best. Maybe he’s a headcase, maybe he just doesn’t know where he’s throwing it. In his career the Indians have notched a .771 OPS against Liriano, and Asdrubal Cabrera has eaten his lunch, a 1.283 OPS challenged only by Lou Marson’s 1.171. Like every other team the Tribe gets on base, a .394 OBP in Frankie’s career (does he go by Frankie? He should, White Sox fans would embrace him). It’s a battle of mediocrity here, folks.
Every time I write a preview, my first visit is to the Indians website to check the probable pitchers. Seems like every time, the first thing said about Justin Masterson is that he was solid his last time out. Well, if an ERA around five is solid, I’d rather he be gaseous. Or plasma, that’s my favorite matter state. Against the Royals last Friday he allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings, walking two and whiffing three. He’s walked only 25 guys his last 10 starts, but he’s only struck out 45. We all know he’s not a strikeout pitcher, but the defense behind him is just not good enough for him. He’s still getting murdered by lefties, and gets stunningly rocked the second time through the lineup, beaten for a, .814 OPS compared to .597 the first time. We’re almost done with this year of misery, but he’s got to face Paul Konerko (.814 OPS against Justin in his career), A.J. Pierzynski (.859) and Adam Dunn (1.184, no typos). Yeesh.
Last Saturday the guys on ESPN 1000’s Talking Baseball show were talking about how Jake Peavy hasn’t performed like they wanted him to and like the Sox need him to in the second half, and they’ve got a point. His ERA ballooned from 2.85 in the first half to 4.35 in the second half, he’s striking out fewer battera, and he’s allowed the same amount of homers in about 20 less innings. He was having a pretty good September until the Angels hit him up for five runs over five innings, though he crossed the 200 inning mark for the first time since he won the Cy Young in 2007. As a baseball fan, I’m happy for him coming back from that shoulder issue, but as a Tribe fan there’s some bad mojo I’ve directed his way. He doesn’t have much history against the Indians, but in 31 plate appearances Shin-Soo Choo has eight hits and two walks with a homer, and A-Cab has faced him 14 times with a homer and a double on five hits. Maybe our boy Jason Kipnis will get it done and forge a nice history for himself against Peavy with many homers He’s already got two, in five plate appearances. What a beast.
We’re nearly there, guys. Here’s to the Tribe spoiling the Southsiders’ October or at least causing some palpitations in the dugout. There’s no reason to quit now, it’s still baseball season for a bit, so let’s enjoy our boys in red and blue for a few more days.