Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Alex Rios Effect feat. The Power of a Hitting Coach

Last year can be summed up for Alex Rios in one word... nightmare. At the plate, in the field, on the base paths. Alex Rios had a brutal 2011. But for as bad as that year was, he's been that good this year.

Rios is now hitting a solid .360, including .432 in the last 10, on base of .414, 1 homer, 7 run batted in, and has scored 4 runs. He's also on an 11 game hitting streak in which he has 17 of his 18 hits this year.
He's also been fantastic on the defensive end. Getting good jumps on balls to his left, right, front and back. He flagged down the so called "hardest hit ball" in the Perfect Game and made a number of nice catches in the past 5 or 6 games as well.

In games in which Alex Rios has a hit, the Sox are a healthy 9-3. Games in which he gets an RBI, Sox are 3-1.

Rios' effect on the team last year was mostly negative. His consistent failures with RISP cost the team on numerous occasions, and he tended to bring these failures to the outfield where they would compound themselves.

Alex Rios has all the talent in the world necessary to succeed at this game. But he finds himself over thinking the game far too often. Long stride, short stride, no stride, hands high, hands low, hands move as ball approaches, up in the box, back in the box, you name it, Alex Rios has tried it.

But finally the Sox have a hitting coach who (thus far) seems as though he's addressing the problem. Alex needs to, like any good hitter, stay back and think opposite field. 11 of his 18 hits have been up the middle or the other way, including his game winning home run in the 9th in Texas.

The power number will likely decrease when this approach is taken. But the average will go up, on base will go up, strike outs will go down, and you will see a lot more pitches. Hitters that look the other way often fight off bad ones instead of swinging through them. They spoil the sliders down and out that once looked good and live to fight another day.

That was not the Greg Walker way. That way was sit back and drive the ball. Hit everything hard. The Sox often did this. They had 24 occurrences in which a player hit at least 25 HR's in a season. Most of which were 30+. So yes, the long ball was evident. But so were the strikeout numbers. The Sox ranked in the top 6 in the AL in strikeouts 4 of the 9 years he was here.

So Jeff Manto comes in and preaches something different. Something good. Stay back, and drive the ball the other way. See lots of pitches, strike out less, and force the defense to make plays. The Sox right now rank 2nd in the AL in striking out. And that number has been in free fall since the end of that series in Cleveland.

The Sox rank 2nd in the American league in foul balls, and 5th in the AL in pitches seen. Both numbers are getting better as well.

Now the big one. Scoring runners from 3rd with less than 2. The Sox have had 39 such plate appearances. The runner has scored in 19 of them. That's a scoring percentage of 54% good for 4th in the AL. Compare that to last year when the Sox were 2nd to last (that's 13th) with a sad 48% success rate. The teams better than the Sox in this department this year are the Blue Jays, Rangers and Angels respectively. Those teams are a combined 29-20.

That's how you win games. See pitches, and score runs when you have the chance. The Sox pitching staff is excellent. Arguably the best in baseball, 3rd in the AL in starters, 4th in relievers, and 2nd overall. Jeff Manto has had a very short time to work with these guys, but it's already paying dividends for Alex Rios and Adam Dunn, and it will likely begin to pay off for more guys. 10-6 is pretty good, but with the pitching we are getting, Manto's approach could lead this team to a very good year.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Phil Humber

I don't even know what to say about that.  A Perfect Game.  Wow.  Take a look at this awesome behind the scenes video including the last out and what was to follow.

Just unbelievable.  I thought it was improbable for Buehrle to do it, but this just blows my mind.  I can't even put words on it.  Just amazing.

Let's just hope we can go on and keep playing good ball from here on forward.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Free of a Byrd

Today was a historic day for Chicago baseball. You don't get to see something like this too often, and when it happens it's hard to believe what you're watching. But the seemingly impossible happened today: the Cubs found a suitor for Marlon Byrd.

Byrd seemed like a nice guy, and it's easy to come down too hard on a guy based on a small sample size like Byrd's 2012 campaign. Still: Byrd was so bad over that small sample size. Look at it yourself!

Good for an OPS+ of -36!

Reportedly, good value for Byrd after putting up those stats would have been "a dead body dressed in a baseball uniform to resemble a baseball-playing man," but Theo Epstein apparently has incriminating pictures of Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and was able to get a halfway decent return. Michael Bowden was a prospect with some heat on him a couple of years ago who never managed to crack the Red Sox rotation, splitting time between AAA and the majors & transitioning to reliever full-time last year. It would be a surprise if the Cubs didn't at least attempt to stretch him back out. At 24 years old, he fits the mold of faded-prospect-reclamation-project that the Cubs have been using to fill the back end of the rotation.

More importantly, this sets the stage for Brett Jackson to come up whenever he's ready. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem like it's going to be as soon as one might have hoped -- his numbers are below his minor league averages and he's struggled with strikeouts at AAA dating back to last year. Still, this signals that the Cubs are ready to move into the transitional phase of this season; there's no worry about waiting for Byrd to rebuild his value while Jackson is toiling away in AAA. When they're ready, the prospects will play. After a week like the one the Cubs just had, that's a relief.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Too Good to be This Bad

The Sox starting pitchers have now put together 7 quality starts in the first 10 games.  And yet the starters now have just 4 wins.

The Sox have scored the 2nd fewest runs in the American League with the embarrassing 38 runs in 10 games.  3.8 runs per game.  Simply not enough.

And why?  Well, you have 3 starters hitting under .180.  2 hitting under .120.  Two guys under .120.  Are you serious?

How can you consistently run out a lineup that involves players like this in it?  Lillibridge has started just once.  Escobar just twice.  Why?  Why have there been 34 AB's from Morel and 29 from Beckham.  While Lilli and Escobar have a combined 12 AB's.

You cannot keep losing games with hitters under .150 in the lineup.  ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY COME UP WITH 2 OUTS AND THE BASES LOADED IN THE DAMN NINTH INNING!!!

I understand that Beckham was the 5th overall pick a few years ago, and I get that Morel is the guy that we decided about a year and a half ago that we would go with.  But how much do you need to see?

We watched an entire season of Adam Dunn struggling and kept saying, it'll come around.  We know it will.  But it doesn't.  Hitting is way to hard to just figure out.

It doesn't take much more to be winning these games.  Opening Day, Sox lose by 1.  Beckham and Morel 1 for 8.  Game against Detroit, Sox lose by 3 but were in the game most of the afternoon. Morel 0 for 4.  Yesterday Sox lose by 6, but were winning all game and 1 more run would have been enough. Morel and Beckham 0 for 7.  Today, Sox lose by 1.  Morel and Beckham 1 for 8.

In those close losses, those two guys are 2 for 20.  .100 batting average.  Sound familiar?

Winnable games that we are throwing away.  It doesn't need to be like this.  This team has the pitching to contend.  Throwing away AB's because of continued play by people that cannot hit.  It much stop.  Wins are turning to losses, and that's something this team just cannot afford.  8-2 is what it could be.  Realistically, it really should be 7-3.  5-5 is the reality.  Not good enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Holy Pitching

The White Sox are now 5-2, in first place, and on a four game winning streak against AL Central foes.  And there's one huge reason for it... pitching.

Sox starters are now 4-2 with each starter having one win.  Peavy has two great starts, Sale has one, Gavin has a great one and an ok one, and Danks has been good twice.

Sox starters have now thrown 42.2 innings, and allowed just 17 runs, good for a 3.59 ERA.  And that is with seven games in the books, five of which against the two best offenses in baseball.

Each starter has made it in to the 6th inning with each start, and not one time has a starter allowed more than 4 runs.

On to the bullpen.  Sox relievers have allowed just 4 runs on 18.1 innings.  An ERA of 1.96, the best in baseball.

3 for 3 in save chances already from Santiago, 5 holds from Crain, Thornton and Reed, and 15 strikeouts, 14 hits, and just 4 walks in those 18.1 innings.

Not once has the Sox pen blown the lead.  Sure they've needed some stellar defense at times behind them, but that's an extraordinary way to start off a year.

The Sox staff has single handedly gotten this season off to a promising start.  From the starters to the relievers, there no reason to think this can't continue either.  Keep pitching like this, and we could be in for a much more exciting year than once expected.

Friday, April 13, 2012

That Was Good Baseball

The White Sox just came off one of their better performances in recent history.  With the 5-2 win against the Tigers on home Opening Day, the Sox showed it all.  Pitching, defense, clutch hitting, agressive base running, this game had it all.

Let's start with what I thought was the most impressive part of the afternoon, and that's Jake Peavy.  Peavy went 6.2 innings and was dominant almost the entire day.  He let one pitch get away from him and it was the one Delmon Young took out down the left field line.  Other than that, Jake struck out 8 and kept the very good Tigers lineup off balance throughout his time on the bump.  Peavy has now held down the Rangers and the Tigers in his 2 starts.  He has a 1-0 record to show for it, and it really looks like we've got the dominant Jake Peavy here in Chicago for the first time ever.

On to the bullpen.  Reed did his job. 2 outs, 1 broken bat double, and got the big out when he really needed it (thanks to Viciedo's awesome play.)  Thornton was good.  His one hit allowed was also a broken bat.  And the double play ball he induced was excellent as well.  Santiago let one man on but came back and struck out 2 and nailed it down for his 3rd save.

Defense.  Wow.  From the 2 Peavy plays to the Viciedo play to the insane double play by Alexei and Beckham.  What a great thing to see.  That's how you win games.  Either of the Cuban Defense plays don't happen, the Sox probably lose today.  This team may not have the best offense, but if they can take away runs on the defensive side, that can contribute just as much.

Base running.  Konerko scores from 1st on a triple?  Konerko, from first?  Joe McEwing has really proved that he is willing to push the envelope.  Every chance he's had, McEwing has sent the runner, and it's working.  It's a fine line, but McEwing is walking it to a tee.  Then there's the De Aza base running.  On the nightmare in left field by Delmon Young, De Aza hustled out of the box and got himself into third.  He ended up scoring.  His energy has been critical for this team and is really looking like it's contagious.

And lastly, the big hitting.  You have to love Viciedo breaking the 0-0 game with the bomb, but I'm more talking about the RBI's later in the game.  Konerko's RBI single was clutch, yet typical Paulie.  The triple by AJ was very big.  And even Morel was able to come through with a big RBI hit.

I know it's just one game, but this was everything to could ask for in a baseball game from the Sox.  If they can play ball anything close to this for the rest of the year, this team will vastly overachieve.  Certainly creates some excitement where there really wasn't any a week ago. 

De Aza-mazing

When it became clear that Alejandro De Aza was going to be the starting center fielder and leadoff man for the Sox, concerned would be putting it lightly for I felt.

De Aza's career numbers are fine.  .280 batting average, .333 on base, fair amount of steals per games played.  But the fear came from the unknown.  De Aza's 152 AB's last year were the most of his career.  He had 144 back in 2007 with the Marlins, but between then he had 0 in '08, 20 in '09, and 30 in '10.

But through the first 5 games, he's been awesome.  2 HR's, 3 RBI, he's stolen a base, played solid D, and most importantly to me, he's started off 4 of the first 5 games with a hit.

The Sox have been so used to Juan Pierre atop the lineup.  He was fine when he was on, but he was terrible when he wasn't.  His base stealing was his best skill, but that faded as he aged.

De Aza is doing everything he needs to do at the top of this lineup.  He's getting on base, he's seeing a lot of pitches, and he's come up with a couple big HR's.

I wasn't expecting much out of the Sox this year, and to be honest I still don't, but if De Aza can keep playing the way he has been, the ceiling is a lot higher.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day of the Living Bats

Finally! A game that's not painful to watch! Roughing up a pitcher as highly regarded as Zack Greinke is always an encouraging sign (although it is distressing that a potential big-money free agent target next offseason got roughed up by an offense as lowly regarded as this one).

An 8-0 victory over a division rival is never unsatisfying, but this was particularly cathartic. The first six games of the season made it seem as though the "historically bad" campaign I mentioned in my last post was well on its way, and it's always good to be able to back off the ledge when it's only the first week of the season. It's easy to lose track of the fact that this would have been a tough stretch for any team. Facing the top three of a much-improved Nationals team and the reigning division champion in Milwaukee isn't exactly a walk in the park, and the Cubs put themselves in a position to win all but one of those games.

The starters, in particular, have shone more often than not. The bullpen's struggles in the first two games grabbed all the attention, which overshadowed the strong efforts from the front half of the rotation. Dempster and Garza have both duplicated that success in their second starts, and it looks as though the front end of the rotation should be able to keep the Cubs in games even when the bats aren't coming alive. And hey, Paul Maholm might have been even more impressive, managing to lower his ERA by 211.50 over the course of one game!

It seems like the success of the hitters has been directly correlated to how poorly the pitching has been doing (seriously - this is ridiculous), but as more games are played, you'll get more games like today where the team is firing on all cylinders. The schedule doesn't exactly get easier from here (lots of St. Louis and Cincinnati until May), but a little better luck going forward should put the Cubs closer to "league average" than "unmitigated disaster".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Simmer Down Miami

Today, Ozzie Guillen got suspended for 5 games and had to to a press conference to apologize for... being Ozzie. 

You wanted him, and you got him Miami.  And this is what you get.  He's going to make crazy comments, he's going to say stuff you don't agree with, he's not your everyday run of the mill guy.

But isn't that what Miami wanted?  Isn't that who was going to lead this suddenly formidable ball club?  Isn't that who they gave up prospects to get?

Now, I do not by any means condone what Guillen said.  Nor am I knowledgeable enough about Cuba  or the Cuban population in Miami to discuss the ramifications of what Ozzie actually said. 

But to me it doesn't matter.  He is who he is.  You can't go and jump on the guy every time he says something crazy.  If you are going to suspend Ozzie Guillen every time he says something you disagree with, when he isn't going to manage very many games.

Don't get me wrong.  Ozzie says stuff he shouldn't all the time.  There's no excuse for it.  But it is what it is.  It's not going to stop.  He's been doing this for years.  And it's not going to stop.

You can fine him, suspend him, make him apologize, send him to counseling, even fire him.  It's not going to stop.  Ozzie can't help himself from being Ozzie.  And Miami is just going to have to learn to deal with it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chris Sale is the Best Starter We Have

I know, it was one game, against the Indians, in April.  But Chris Sale is the best thing the Sox have in the starting staff.  I like Danks, I like Gavin, I like healthy Peavy, but none of these guys currently have what Sale does.

Sale was great out of the pen last year, but he's built to be a starter.  He mixed his pitches, he over powered guys when he had to, he really just completely dominated the Indians tonight.

And he's been doing it.  Take a look at what he did all Spring.  He pretty much dominated all month long, and it has now officially extended into this year.

Sale saved 12 games and held 18 more last year.  Doing this with a sub 2.5 ERA and a WHIP that hovered around the 1.00 (finished at 1.10) mark all year.

But this year, he looks to be back where he belongs.  He threw 6.2 innings, struck out 5, and threw 100 pitches.  The last being the most impressive to me.  First career start after half a season coming out of the pen, and he's able to go for 100 pitches.  And, he got better as the game went on.  Before hitting the Korean (sorry for calling him Japanese earlier) Choo in the hand, he had retired 10 in a row.

Sale didn't have a tough inning.  Not even one.  4 hitters in the 1st, 5 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  5 in the 6th (allowed 1 run), and just the 2 he faced in the 7th.

Fantastic start tonight, and a very promising future.  I heard him referred to a number of times as a "possible ace."  I'm not going to crown him that yet, but he's well on his way.  (And I will probably put that crown on in about a 2 or 3 more starts.)

Next Year Isn't Here

It's a weird season to be a Cubs fan (and, from what I can gather, a Chicago baseball fan in general). There's the prerequisite early season optimism about the Cubs' future -- perhaps the most justifiable optimism on the North Side in recent memory -- but not even the drunkest person in Wrigleyville expects the Cubs to contend this year.

The Cubs are two innings into a series against the Brewers as I write this. It is a series they are probably going to lose. Something called "Chris Volstad" is on the mound, a guy who had half a good season in 2008 and is probably best known either for getting mad at Nyjer Morgan or for being tall. He's kind of a microcosm of this entire season: a guy young and maybe talented enough where he could eventually become a keeper going forward, but in the (likely?) event that he doesn't, he can be thrown to the discard pile without much fanfare. (An ESPN announcer's attempt to muster some sort of praise for Volstad: "Three straight years he has thrown at least 29 starts -- and he's only 25." Just ignore the fact that his average ERA those years was 4.88.)

It's like an entire season of September baseball, almost, with one major exception. As the starting lineup was displayed on my TV screen, I could form three groups of players: veteran stopgaps who hopefully build their value before leaving the team (Soriano, Byrd, DeJesus), "young" stopgaps who hopefully put it together, most likely before leaving the team (Stewart, Barney, Lahair), and Players I Could Legitimately See Starting In Three Years (Castro, Soto -- and Soto might work his way into the first group with another underwhelming season). Not only is this not a season in which you can expect the Cubs to contend, it's not even a season where -- at least in the first couple of months -- you can really expect to see the young guys grow. The team's best young starter has been the subject of trade rumors. The promising position players are still in the minors. The most intriguing prospect is 29-year-old Bryan Lahair. 

Until those call-ups are made, things like Jeff Samardzija's near-complete-game gem are going to be few and far between. More often than not, a good play may garner a response of "that's going to help his trade value" before "that guy's future with the Cubs is bright". And, inexplicably, it's a season that's going to capture my attention all the way through. This is a thoroughly unique season (god, I hope it is, at least). There will be a lot of in-season roster turnover. A historically bad season isn't out of the question, but this is a year where the wins and the losses don't matter. What matters is watching the wheat separate from the chaff among the plethora of Volstad-quality players, seeing the Sorianos and Byrds gradually give way to the Jacksons and Rizzos. A season without any real expectations -- but the knowledge that a long-term plan is in place -- sets the table for the most satisfying bad year a baseball team can have. The Cubs should come out of it with a promising future that sets the stage for a more traditional brand of irrational optimism. Next year is next year.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sox Catch a Break With Fister

The Tigers just came off a sweep of the Boston Red Sox.  Not only was it a sweep, but they kind of whipped the other Sox all kinds of ways in that series.

But they did lose one key piece to the puzzle when 2nd day starter Doug Fister went out due to a problem with his side.  He's now on the 15 day DL.

This affects the Sox in White because Fister was scheduled to pitch at the Cell in the home opener in Chicago.  Instead it's TBD.  They replaced Fister on the roster with Brayan Villarreal, but it's still yet to be seen if he'll get the ball Friday.

So, the Sox not only miss Verlander, but they also now get a fill-in.  Who knows, maybe we can steal a few games from them, sure looks like it might be possible.

The Man Behind the Curtain: Hector Santiago

Well, we found out who our mystery closer is, and it's none other than Hector Santiago.

Hector Santiago is a 24 year old left hander from Newark, New Jersey out of Okaloosa-Walton College in Niceville, FL.  The Sox acquired Santiago through the 2006 MLB draft in the 30th round, the 913th overall pick.  Santiago threw 5 and a third innings for the Sox last year allowing just 1 hit and no runs.

Santiago throws in the mid-90s with his out pitch being the screwball.  For left-handers, screwballs diver down and away to right handed hitters.  This can be a very dangerous pitch because it imitates a righty-righty matchup, and because it is so uncommonly thrown by Major League pitchers.

But my favorite thing about Santiago is the way Robin handled the announcement of him as the closer.  Yeah all the drama that led to who would warm up was a lot of fun, but that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about taking the pressure off the player and putting it on the manager.

In a very cunning move, and especially cunning for a guy who has never managed a team before, Ventura let all the media pundits pick on him.  He was fielding the questions about the closer role.  Not the 24 year old that is now thrust into one of the hardest roles in professional sports.

But all that is over.  Now we know who it is.  Now we know who to go to when we have questions about the closer.  And now, it's our turns as fans to sit back and watch our own little mystery unfold.  And that's if this guy is up to the task?  He played the part perfectly yesterday, let's just hope it continues in the next 160.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Adam, Alex, and Bacon

The Sox are a similar team in 2012 as they were in 2011.  As far as personelle the changes are pretty minimal.  Aside from Buehrle, the 25 man roster is really close to what it was last year.

That would lead most to believe that this team will be close to the 79 win team of last year.  If they are going to be any better it's going to have to come from three people.  Rios, Dunn, and Beckham.

These three hit .227, .159, and .230 respectively.  All three were severely under what their career numbers are, and all three could very well rebound this year.

Dunn already has gotten off to a good start with his 1 for 3 day with a walk and a home run.  Beckham tallied a hit and Rios got on base and scored on a HBP.

So already, all three are faring a little better.  If we can get regular years out of each one of them, this team could easily be 5-10 wins better.  10 wins better puts us at 89, which would be right in the thick of things in September.

Have to like the way all three got out of the box today.  We'll be tracking each of them as the season goes on, and try to see which games their improvements will win that would have been losses a year ago.

Opening Day Remarks

Game 1 is in the books.  Sox lose but it wasn't a complete disaster.

Danks was good.  I'd almost be willing to say very good.  If it weren't for Kinsler he would have been unreal.  2 runs created single handedly by Ian and the other run should have never been out there had Morel not botched that double play.  Danks mixed it up, struck some guys out, got the big out when he needed it, and really never faced a tough inning.  Hard to take a loss when you pitch pretty well, but that's Opening Day sometimes.

Adam Dunn goes yard in the first game.  His 8th career Opening Day homer tying him for the most in MLB history.  Pretty impressive.  But what I liked was the day as a whole he had.  Walked in the first, struck out on 6 pitches, homered, and lined out hard to first.  Sure it's 1 for 3 with a K, but the HR and the would be double are some very positive signs.

The goat of the game is definitely Brent Morel.  Morel struck out, and badly, all 4 AB's.  He looked completely lost the entire afternoon and seemed like he had no idea what he was doing up there.  Then to botch the DP ball which led to the winning run and the error in the 8th.  All in all pretty horrendous day for him.

The worst part of the day for me was the strikeouts.  Way, way, way too many.  The Rangers set an Opening Day record striking out 13 Sox hitters.  Morel's 4 led the team, but De Aza and Alexei also struck out multiple times.  A portion of that has to be credited to the mammoth strike zone for Ron Winters, but no matter what the size of the zone, you have to get some contact.  Especially on Opening Day when errors are a little more common.

Bullpen was good.  Thornton and Addison.  Hits for 7 different players.  Only the 1 error.  Not good, because we lost, but all in all not to bad.

Can't be too disappointed with a loss against arguably the best team in the AL.  But, we really do need to get out of here with at least one win.  Then we can go take care of some business in Cleveland.  I'd really just like to see 3-3 by the time we return home in a week.

What are the Chances?

The Sox are 1.5 run underdogs in this Opening Day match up with the defending AL Champ Texas Rangers.  The Sox come in as the biggest dog on the day sitting at +175 on the moneyline.

So, the experts don't really like the Sox chances today.  But what do we here in the horribly biased world of TCB?

Well, I like the chances more than Vegas, but I'm still not be any means expecting a W this afternoon.  Opening Day's are almost always toss ups.  When you take a look at the history of playoff teams in their Opening games, there's not really a significant trend one way or the other.  So +175 seems a bit steep to me.

I like John Danks a lot in this game.  Danks has a 3.81 ERA in the past 5 seasons against the Rangers which is fantastic when you look at how powerful the Ranger lineup has bene recently.  Danks is tough to face on an Opening Day because of his style.  Left hander that mixes it up, has the ability to strike you out, these kinds of guys usually do pretty well early.

As far as the hitters go, the Sox have had some success against Colby Lewis in the past.  It's a guy most of the lineup has seen before, which is usually a huge plus for the Sox.  Dunn is the current MLB leader in Opening Day HR's with 7, and Rios and Konerko both have solid Opening Day numbers as well.

Last year the Sox killed the ball in their first game against Fausto Carmona and the Indians.  Offensively this looks like a much better matchup than one year ago.

The Sox are 2-2 historically against the Rangers on Opening Day with the last time being a loss in 2000.

The Sox would definitely surprise some people with a win today, but that's not to say it's a longshot.

Let's Play Some Baseball!!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beware of the Hangover

Last year's postseason ended with the Cardinals knocking off the Rangers in a 7 game series to win the World Series.

Losing your league's biggest game, or biggest series in this case, can have many different effects on teams as they open the following year.

Some teams come out angry about the previous year and drop that emotion into the first game or series. Sometimes it means they play real well. Sometimes it means they play poorly.

Other teams come into the following season in a bit of a daze I'll call it. You've had a short offseason, you've been to the top, came up just short, and now have to do all the work just to get back to have that shot again. Teams that experience this usually fail miserably out of the gates.

The Miami Heat were the losers (love saying that) of the NBA Finals last year. They came out and absolutely blasted the Mavs in their first game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers who lost to the Packers in the prior Super Bowl, came out completely flat and got waxed by the Ravens 45-7.

Then there are these very Rangers. They came off their loss to the Giants in the World Series 2 years ago and swept the Red Sox.

One year before, the Phillies won 2 out of 3 (including Opening Day) against the Nats.

The last team to lose an Opening Day after losing the World Series is the Tampa Bay Rays. They did go on to win 2 of 3 over the Red Sox though.

The last team to lose a series coming off the World Series loss hangover is just one year earlier than that when the Rockies lost to the Cardinals.

Last team to get swept? That'd be the 1996 Cleveland Indians. They lost their first 2 games to the Yankees, then lost a 3rd to the Blue Jays before winning their first. They ended up doing alright winning 99 games that year.

Take that all in, and then make your predictions for the Sox Rangers series kicking off Friday. As if it didn't look bad enough already.

South Side Season Predictions

It's almost baseball time again in Chicago. Which means, TCB's hibernation is now over. I'm awake and ready for some ball. So let's make some predictions.

Most people are down on the Sox this year. And honestly, to say people are down on the Sox is really putting it lightly. People, including Vegas, think the Sox have next to no chance to win the Pennant (+3500). Odds are a little better to win the division (+1000), but still not very good. I've got the Sox faring a little better than most with 79 wins, 3 above the most recent over/under of 76. Granted, I do have the Tigers 1 shy of 90 with 89 wins, so the Sox really won't be in contention for most of the final month or so of the year.

Last year was a weird year. There were a lot of statistical oddities of which I believe many will straighten themselves back out. I've got Adam Dunn at 31 HRs, 96 RBI, and a batting average at .237. Beckham is another one who had an interesting (another word for bad) season last year. I see a bit of a bounce back for him as well. I'll take .252. How bout Rios? Again, he's got to be a little better. I'm going with .270, 21 HR, 73 RBI.

Let's turn to some pitchers. I heard an interesting over/under line of the Sox starting rotation (Danks, Floyd, Peavy, Humber, Sale) winning 55 games. At first glance you would think this would be easy. 11 a piece, couple guys above, couple below, but we should get there. But when I looked at the math of 79 wins minus 55 wins for these 5 starters, I don't like it. I'm taking the current starting rotation with under 55 wins, how bout 47, but I'll say Sox starters, including anyone not in the current 5, get 62 wins.

Jake Peavy is healthy. I should bold that because it sounds like a prediction, but it's actually fact right now. So, I'll make some guesses on his numbers. How bout innings? 98 IP. Yeah, little low, but that's based on the fact that by the end of the year, I think he's our closer. I'm figuring in an injury, coupled with the back end of the Sox pen failing. Seems like a sure fire guess to me.

I'm a little nervous about Dayan. Usually I don't put a ton of stock in bad Springs, but when it's your first full Spring with a roster spot, you really can't chalk it up to "working on other things." Viciedo is sitting right at the .100 mark with just one more game left before the year starts. I wanted to predict a 25+ HR, 80+ RBI season for the big guy, but I'm gonna back off quite a bit and go for .235, 17 HR, and 69 RBI. Not exactly what we've all been dreaming of, but Dayan is still just 23 years old, so there's still time for him to figure it all out.

And last but not least my take on our new manager, Robin Ventura. Robin did get in that fight with Nolan Ryan, but I don't see him as a terribly fiery manager. Especially as he is supposed to be a replacement for the fiery-ist manager of all. I'll go with 1 ejection on the year. I'm sure we'll run into Hunter Wendelstadt one of these nights.

I really hope almost all of these are dead wrong. Sox winn 95 games, Dunn hits 45 HRs, and so on, but I have a feeling this is not going to be the best year. But, hope always springs eternal at this time of year, so you never know.