SweetSpot: philip humber

The Washington Nationals, fresh off a 98-win season and expecting a similar result in 2013, enter their weekend series with fewer wins than their surprising opponents, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Which team is better? That's an easy one. It's the team with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Of course, those three guys are all in the news for various reasons and, as we've seen in the past, to various degrees. Will Strasburg and his secretive forearm "problem" pitch? Will Harper avoid turning his bruised lat into a bigger issue? And Zimmerman's hamstring is healed, and he's slated to come off the DL Friday, but how long before his balky shoulder forces him out of action again? Here is what else to watch this weekend.

Rivalry rekindled: We don't exactly throw the records out when the Nats and Bucs meet, but things tend to get interesting when the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants get together, for better and occasionally, worse. The team's aces, however, are in far different places these days. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is dominating, again. He's scheduled to face the still-effective Barry Zito Friday. On Sunday night on ESPN the Giants will send Matt Cain to the mound. Cain has already permitted nine home runs, matching his season total from 2011. Last year he allowed 21. Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez (4 homers off Cain) and Andre Ethier (.450 batting average) are licking their chops.

Red Alert: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Shelby Miller enter the weekend leading rookie pitchers in strikeouts, but then it's electric Cincinnati Reds lefty Tony Cingrani, boasting 28 whiffs in a mere three starts. Cingrani is scheduled to flummox Chicago Cubs hitters at Wrigley Field on Saturday, and one has to think when ace right-hander Johnny Cueto comes off the DL in a week or two that the rookie has done enough to secure his starting role. Or has he? Manager Dusty Baker does love his veterans. Regardless, enjoy Cingrani while he's dominating.

David vs. Goliath: Sunday's matchup in Houston sure doesn’t seem like a fair fight between hurlers with no-hitters to their credit. The Detroit Tigers send Justin Verlander to the mound. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He's really good, wins awards, gets the commercials and the ladies. The Houston Astros send Philip Humber out there. He threw a perfect game in Seattle barely a calendar year ago, but things have not gone so well since then. Humber boasts a 7.44 ERA since, and this season he's 0-6 with a 7.58 ERA. You know you're curious how this one ends up, admit it.

Price's punishment: David Price and umpire Tom Hallion didn’t quite get along this past weekend, resulting in tweets and fines and probably much ado about nothing. What's worse for pending future gadzillionaire Price, the $1,000 fine levied on him by Major League Baseball, or having to pitch Saturday at Coors Field? Lotsa runs get scored in that place. Price pitched there once, allowing five runs in seven innings and losing the game in 2009. Could we make the case the paltry fine is offset by the potential damage to Price's ERA and his next contract? OK, perhaps not. But watch two pretty good teams go at it. The Rays are sputtering in fourth place, the Rockies start the weekend in first place, hoping shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will play and avoid injury. Cross your fingers.

Worst to first: Alas, the lone matchup of first-place teams this weekend pits the surprising Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. The Cinco de Mayo game on Sunday features Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, which should be interesting. Lester seems rejuvenated, though his outing earlier this week in Toronto was a rough one. Darvish, off to a blistering start and leading the majors in strikeouts, faced the Red Sox once in his rookie season, but it was at Fenway Park. This one is in Texas. Expect another terrific outing for the eventual AL Cy Young winner.

Enjoy your weekend!
Heading into the offseason, the top free-agent starting pitchers looked to be Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse and Jake Peavy, assuming the Chicago White Sox didn't pick up a $22 million option on Peavy.

Peavy
The White Sox didn't exercise that option, as they made a different move: They signed Peavy to a two-year, $29 million extension, making the already-sparse starting pitching market a little more sparse. It looks like one of those win-win moves: The White Sox get Peavy for a more cost-effective $33 million (including the $4 million buyout of his existing contract) and Peavy stays in a place where he wanted to play.

The White Sox also announced that they declined options on Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers while picking up the $9.5 million option on Gavin Floyd, giving the White Sox a 2013 rotation of Chris Sale, Peavy, Floyd, John Danks and Jose Quintana or Philip Humber. Even with Danks making just nine starts due to surgery to repair a tendon tear (he's expected to be ready for spring training), the White Sox finished with a 4.15 ERA from their rotation, seventh-best in the American League but a solid figure considering U.S. Cellular Park is one of the best hitting parks in the league.

Peavy was a big reason the White Sox battled the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central title, the right-hander going 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA that ranked ninth in the AL. He also ranked fifth in innings pitched, helping give him 5.0 WAR, sixth-best among AL pitchers. The caveat: It was the first time he topped 200 innings since 2007 and the first season since 2008 he surpassed even 112 innings. His long medical history certainly suggests this isn't a risk-free deal for the White Sox.

The surgery he had in 2010 to reattach a tendon in his shoulder was the first time the surgery had been performed on a baseball player, but Peavy told ESPNChicago.com during the 2012 season that he was a different pitcher than in recent seasons, "worrying about game planning, not sitting in the trainer's room the whole time in between days."

If Peavy and Danks can stay healthy, it's certainly a rotation that can contend for a division title. Next up for the White Sox: Possibly re-signing Youkilis and free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who hit .278 with 27 home runs in 2012.

Kenny Williams never seems to get a lot of respect.

During his tenure as Chicago White Sox general manager, which began after the 2000 season, he's built two division winners, including the 2005 World Series champions. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his reign is that the White Sox are always competitive. They've been under .500 just three times, but two of those were 79-83. He's done this despite lacking the monster payrolls of teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies; despite only once having a pick better than 12th in the first round of the draft; despite never having a franchise superstar like Barry Bonds to build around or pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, like Brian Sabean has had with the Giants; despite a farm system -- in part because of ownership's unwillingness to spend in the draft and because of that lack of high picks -- that usually ranks near the bottom (Keith Law and Baseball America both ranked the White Sox system 30th heading into the season).

What I like about Williams is he never gives up. He's always trying to win, to build the best team he can given his resources. He never craters, never commits to a complete teardown and embarrassing on-field product, such as the one you're seeing from the Astros, Williams' 2005 World Series opponents.

This is why trading for Francisco Liriano is a typical Kenny Williams move -- high risk, perhaps mocked, but one with a potential nice payoff. Liriano's season numbers with the Twins look terrible -- 3-10, 5.31 ERA -- and his last start (against the White Sox, of all teams) was a rough, seven-run blowup. But after an awful April and temporary trip to the bullpen, Liriano pitched very well in a 10-start stint from May 30 though July 18, posting a 2.84 ERA with 77 strikeouts, 28 walks and 38 hits in 63.1 innings (a .171 average allowed). That stretch included back-to-back starts of 15 strikeouts and 10 strikeouts against the A's and Orioles on July 13 and 18, respectively.

In other words, there's a good chance Liriano will outpitch Zack Greinke the rest of the way, even though this trade will receive much less fanfare and required much less in prospect value: light-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

In fact, despite the much-maligned farm system, the White Sox have received contributions from several rookies, most notably on the pitching staff with Jose Quintana, closer Addison Reed, and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. With Quintana still the big surprise in the rotation, Liriano presumably takes the place of Philip Humber, who did pitch well in a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, but that strong start barely got his ERA under 6.00. With the hope that John Danks might return from his shoulder issues, the White Sox now have rotation depth and options in case of injury or if they want to conserve Chris Sale's innings.

The White Sox also have a lot to gain from a deal such as this; with a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers, winning the division title is obviously huge. There is a reason you're seeing teams contending for a division title making moves, while teams further back in the playoff chase -- such as the American League East wild-card contenders -- are more conservative. The reward for winning one of the two wild cards is essentially half as valuable as last season, with the one-game playoff plus the possibility that you've burned your best pitcher. But the payoff for the White Sox winning the division is worth taking a chance on Liriano.

As for the Rangers, they don't need to be as desperate as their division rival Angels, who gave up three good prospects to acquire Greinke. Yes, acquiring Greinke would have helped, but the Rangers have to ask: Do any of the other available pitchers make the team that much better? I agree with Jim Bowden: Probably not Insider.

The top three starters in a playoff series right now probably would be Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (who has had a disappointing season but lately has looked more like the pitcher who threw so well in the second half and postseason a year ago). The fourth spot might be open as Neftali Feliz rehabs, but among Feliz, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt and maybe even Alexi Ogando, the Rangers have options. Do you want to give up Mike Olt or another top prospect for what might be just a minor upgrade in Josh Johnson (having his worst statistical season and would be expensive to acquire) or Ryan Dempster (who is unlikely to approve a trade to Texas anyway)?

Plus, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are impending free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll be back, even though the Rangers have entered the upper echelon of payrolls. Maybe the Rangers will let one of those guys walk, spend some of that money elsewhere and give a starting position next season to Olt (with super prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings).

The Rangers have options, but their best chance at holding off the Angels and surging A's might lie within: Namely, Hamilton and Michael Young finding their strokes. Hamilton was given a mental day off Saturday to clear his head. Since June 1, he's been one of the worst hitters in the league, batting .190 with a .274 on-base percentage. He's hitting .145 in July with 21 strikeouts in 19 games. Young is eating up at-bats at designated hitter and first base despite an empty .270 batting average. His OBP is less than .300, and he hasn't homered since May 7.

For all the talk of needing a starter, Young is a gigantic hole in the lineup right now. Kenny Williams filled one of his holes. We'll see whether Rangers GM Jon Daniels plugs his.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chase UtleyDale Zanine/US PresswireAs quick as Chase Utley is to the ball, he's not so quick he'll beat the ball to first base.
If you're a fan of one of these teams, you know of what I speak. For all the hype and attention given to the trade deadline, the biggest area of improvement for playoff contenders usually needs to come from players already on the roster. Here are 10 who need to step it up:

Ervin Santana, Angels (4-10, 6.00 ERA)
At this point, I'm not sure why the Angels are still running Santana out there. Simply replacing him with any decent fourth or fifth starter would be a huge improvement, and you wouldn't have to pay the hefty price to acquire, say, Zack Greinke. (Although adding Greinke would certainly bolster the playoff rotation.) After a terrible April in which he surrendered 10 home runs, Santana pitched a little better in May and June, but has been trending downward lately. In his past four starts he has a total of four strikeouts.

Santana's numbers are down across the board -- higher walk rate, lower strikeout rate, way too many home runs -- but it appears his primary problem has been too many hanging sliders. In 2011, batters hit .161 with seven home runs off his slider; this year they're hitting .199 but with 12 home runs already. Overall, he's allowed 23 home runs, despite pitching in a good pitcher's park.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ethier
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThe Dodgers need Andre Ethier to find his early season form.
Andre Ethier, Dodgers (.289/.362/.481)
I mentioned Ethier in Wednesday' blog about the Dodgers. While his overall numbers are solid, since May 22 he's hitting .259/.346/.377 with just two home runs in 45 games. The Dodgers need more production from their cleanup hitter.

Jemile Weeks, A's (.216/.302/.300)
While the A's might look to boost their offense by adding a shortstop or third baseman (good luck with those positions), they'll likely ride with Weeks at second. So promising as a rookie in 2011 when he hit .303 with 26 doubles and eight triples in 406 at-bats, Weeks has actually doubled his walk rate while striking out less, but a .248 average on balls in play has hurt him. That's not all bad luck -- he's hitting fewer line drives and more groundballs than last season, and clearly he isn't driving the ball much. But the talent is there to have a strong final 60 games.

Reds leadoff hitters (.200/.247/.304)
That's mostly courtesy of rookie shortstop Zack Cozart with Drew Stubbs appearing there a few times of late. But that means Dusty Baker usually just moves Cozart down to the No. 2 hole. So, yes, Baker apparently believes it's a good idea to start your lineup with two sub-.300 OBP guys hitting first and second. He just doesn't get it, and why the front office hasn't told him to stop that nonsense is beyond me. The Reds would be better off with Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce hitting 1-2. At least that way your better hitters are getting more plate appearances.

Michael Young, Rangers (.270/.299/.346)
For all the talk about the Rangers seeking another starting pitcher with Colby Lewis out for the season and Roy Oswalt struggling, Young is the one guy in the lineup who's been a big, fat zero. As a designated hitter with an empty .270 batting average despite playing in the best hitter's park in the American League, Young has been one of the least valuable hitters in the league. In fact, based on Baseball-Reference offensive WAR, only Ryan Raburn and Justin Smoak rank worse than Young. And he's getting worse; he hit .326 in April, but has a .270 OBP in July and hasn't homered since May 7.

Tim Lincecum, Giants (4-11, 5.88 ERA)
This one goes without saying. After two good starts (against the Triple-A Astros and Phillies), Lincecum was roughed up again on Wednesday, allowing 11 runners and two home runs to the Padres in less than five innings. I don't want to hear about his FIP or xFIP -- Lincecum has been terrible, can't locate his fastball, and when he does throw strikes he gets lit. The potential is there for improvement, of course, but it's starting to look more and more like a lost season. The Giants will undoubtedly look to upgrade the offense -- amazingly, Bruce Bochy hit Brandon Crawford fifth on Wednesday -- but Lincecum could provide a bigger left than any hitter they might acquire.

Philip Humber, White Sox (4-5, 6.25 ERA)
Was that this year that Humber threw his perfect game? The White Sox are still hoping that John Danks can return at some point, but considering he just threw 20 pitches off a mound on Tuesday in testing his left shoulder, he's still a long ways away. Humber has been burned by the long ball (16 home runs in 76.1 innings).

Tommy Hanson, Braves (11-5, 4.39)
Hanson's win-loss record is nice thanks to great run support when he's started, but he's hardly pitching like an ace right now, with a 5.54 ERA over his past 11 starts while averaging less than six innings per start. Maybe that hasn't resulted in losses, but it has taxed the bullpen. Injuries have cut into Hanson's once-promising potential, and the truth is his stuff doesn't grade out as high as it once did. His average fastball velocity is down 3 mph from where it was two seasons ago, and he now sits around 90. He's allowed 19 home runs this season -- 15 off his fastball.

Cardinals bullpen (10-15, 4.17 ERA)
This story sounds familiar: It took the Cardinals four-plus months last season to figure out their bullpen. The Cardinals rank 10th in the NL in bullpen ERA, and all the teams below them have losing records. Cardinals relievers have allowed 34 home runs, third-worst in the league; only the Rockies and Astros have allowed more. The arms and ability are here, as we saw last October.

Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA) and Josh Beckett (5-9, 4.57 ERA), Red Sox
You can take apart the Red Sox a thousand different ways -- injuries, clubhouse issues, Bobby Valentine and so on -- but consider this: Despite the multitude of injuries, the Red Sox are still second in the AL in runs scored. If these two were instead 8-5 and 9-5, they'd be 56-43 and 3.5 games behind the Yankees instead of 4.5 out of the wild-card standings.
Keith Law and I ended this final full week of April on the Baseball Today podcast with intelligent discussion about American League outfielders in the news, a weekend preview, and much more!

1. Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young is in the news for all the wrong reasons, leading us to wonder if the Tigers will deem his role on the team worth keeping around.

2. One guy that won’t be around for a while is Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford. Will this guy ever be the same?

3. We’ve seen Phil Humber be very good and very bad in a span of one week. What should we expect moving ahead from him, as well as struggling Miami closer Heath Bell?

4. Our emailers have questions about pitchers using their legs, Justin Smoak’s development and what the Cardinals will do with Lance Lynn.

5. Plenty of good baseball will be played this weekend, and we examine the series we’ll be watching and why pitcher wins don’t always tell a complete story.

So download and listen to Friday’s Baseball Today podcast, check out Sunday night’s Rays-Rangers game on ESPN, and have a great weekend!
First base: Carl Crawford out, Red Sox on a roll. On a day where sources indicated the Red Sox left fielder will miss another three months (a timetable Crawford denied), Boston pounded out 12 hits and 10 runs in roughing up Philip Humber for its fourth straight victory. Suddenly, that lineup is looking imposing, as only the Rangers have scored more runs. Even without Crawford, without Jacoby Ellsbury, and with Kevin Youkilis still struggling, the Red Sox are hitting .293/.346/.490. But Youkilis went 3-for-4 Thursday, including his second home run. David Ortiz is still hitting over .400, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is slugging .587. This team won't be going away so quietly.

Second base: Marshall law broken. Big win for the Giants as Angel Pagan hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning off Reds closer Sean Marshall. Pagan homered off a curveball, and you can't fault Marshall for throwing the pitch: Pagan hadn't homered off a curveball the past four seasons, and had one extra-base hit off a curve all last season. And for members of the Brandon Belt fan club: He went 2-for-4 and is now hitting .273, although he did strike out twice.

Third base: Tigers release Brandon Inge. I guess the Tigers needed somebody to blame after getting swept by the Mariners at home. Inge was 2-for-20 this season and after hitting .197 last season, the leash was short on the 34-year-old veteran. I suppose some team could give him a shot as a utility guy, but it's also possible Inge's 12-year-career -- all with the Tigers -- is over. He came up as a catcher and played for those miserable 2002 and 2003 clubs that lost 106 and 119 games, respectively. He moved to third base and became a terrific defensive third baseman, even making the All-Star team in 2009.

Home plate: Tweet of the day. Humber wasn't quite as good in his first start since his perfect game.
On Thursday's Baseball Today podcast , Keith Law and I discuss both serious (depression) and non-serious (Bobby Valentine) issues. You’ll never forget which hand Liam Hendriks throws with after listening to our show.

1. Valentine’s lineup gaffe Wednesday might seem funny, but isn’t it somewhat embarrassing for the Red Sox organization?

2. The Yankees lose Michael Pineda for the season but an older guy is on the comeback trail.

3. Keith openly discusses his battles with depression and what Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff is going through.

4. It’s still only April, but at what point should we start to worry about struggling players like Albert Pujols, or take upstart teams like the Orioles and Nationals seriously?

5. Our emailers want to talk about two-sport starts (NFL draft is tonight!), sacrifice bunts and giving position players days off. Plus, we look closer at Thursday’s schedule.

So download and listen to Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast, and come back with us on Friday as me and Law preview the weekend!

Leaderboard of the week: Red-hot Matt Cain

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
12:36
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Philip Humber's perfect game was the most impressive performance of the week. But it actually finished tied for the best pitching performance of the season by one of our favorite metrics. And the pitcher whom he tied is worthy of attention, too.

Game Score, devised by Bill James, rates a pitcher’s start based on innings, runs, hits, strikeouts and walks. An average Game Score is typically 49 to 50. Almost every Game Score finishes between 0 and 100 and you can think of the rating as similar to a test score (the higher the better).

Humber finished with a 96 (in order to score a 100, he’d have needed four more strikeouts) for his Saturday game against the Mariners. He was the second pitcher to post a 96 this season. Matt Cain posted a 96 against the Pirates on April 13 when he pitched an 11-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter.

Cain’s last two starts account for two of the five-highest Game Scores this season. He registered an 85 or better in each of his last two starts.

It’s rare for a pitcher to post three straight starts with a Game Score of 85 or higher. Four pitchers did it from 1994 to 1998 -- David Cone (1994), Randy Johnson (1994 and 1997), Curt Schilling (1998) and Roger Clemens (1998). No one has done so since.

Cain starts tonight against the Reds, a team he was 2-0 against last season, allowing two runs in 17 innings.

What has Cain done best this season? How about this: Left-handed hitters are 4-for-43 against Cain in his three starts. Cain has succeeded by pitching left-handed hitters away. He’s thrown 72 percent of his pitches to lefties on the outer-third of the plate or further away. Cain started working lefties away with greater emphasis last season, when he threw 58 percent of his pitches to that area (up from 50 percent in 2011). It worked. He held lefties to a .185 batting average.


My parents still love watching baseball, even Seattle Mariners baseball. I called them Monday evening to see if they watched Philip Humber's perfect game on Saturday and my dad said he watched a few innings, went out to the mow the lawn and came back just in time to see the bottom of the ninth.

He then proceeded to complain about Chone Figgins ("He just can't hit.") and Justin Smoak ("Most good hitters don't take three or four years to figure things out."). Hey, he's right. And you can't blame him; he's been watching inept offense for two-plus years now. But then he said something that sums up a problem not unique to the Mariners:

"You know, even with their great pitching staff the Phillies can't win either."

Indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies entered Monday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 2.46 ERA. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley had allowed just 22 runs in their 13 starts. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Sabermetrics to realize that's fewer than two runs per start. But after losing 9-5 to Arizona (made closer with a five-run outburst in the ninth inning) the Phillies are now 7-10. That's the same record as the Mariners, and the Phillies have scored just 48 runs, an average of 2.82 runs per game.

That's right, the Philadelphia Phillies -- the five-time defending National League East champs -- have become the Seattle Mariners.

OK, OK ... I kid, Phillies fans. But the Phillies have scored 12 fewer runs than the Mariners, a team whose OPS leader is Brendan Ryan, a guy with a .190 batting average. We all know the laundry list of the Phillies' problems -- Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list; Jimmy Rollins hitting .242 with no power (two doubles, no home runs) and just four walks; Placido Polanco hitting .185 with one extra-base hit and one RBI; John Mayberry Jr. hitting .205 with no walks and 14 strikeouts. And so on. In fact, it's fair to ask: Where would the Phillies be without Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton?

Man, those 45-homer seasons from Ryan Howard seem like a long time ago.

What I'm wondering: How many runs do the Phillies need to score to contend for the playoffs? After all, offense is still 50 percent of the game.

Entering Monday's action, the National League was hitting a collective .242/.310/.376 -- a .686 OPS that is 24 points lower than 2011's numbers. That figure takes us back to the offensive levels of 1988 to 1992, when the NL OPS figures were .673, .678, .704, .689 and .684. So one way of looking at this: Let's assume it will take 87 wins to make the playoffs. What's the lowest run total for an NL team from that 1988-1992 period that won at least 87 games?

For you baseball historians out there, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 1988 Dodgers scored just 628 runs, or 3.88 runs per game. That actually put the Dodgers sixth in a 12-team league. The Dodgers allowed 544 runs and finished 94-67, exceeding their projected record by three wins.

Back to the Phillies. They're on pace to score 457 runs. Obviously, that won't cut it, but of course the offense won't be that bad all season. It will pick up, that we can predict. In 2011, they allowed 529 runs, the lowest full-season total since the 1969 Orioles allowed 517. So if they match the '88 Dodgers' total of 628 runs, they're still in good shape and project as a 93-win team, assuming the same run prevention as 2011.

What will it take to score 628 runs? They'd have to score 580 runs over the final 145 games, or 4.0 runs per game. Or just about what the National League average has been so far -- 3.94 runs per game entering Monday's game.

But just like the offense is likely to improve moving forward, the pitching staff probably won't match last season's historic stinginess. With Cliff Lee heading to the DL over the weekend with a strained oblique, we see the precariousness of relying so much on a few starting pitchers. The Diamondbacks lit up Kyle Kendrick, Lee's replacement, for 11 hits and seven runs in three innings on Monday. Kendrick had a nice season in 2011, posting a 3.22 ERA over 114.2 innings, including 15 starts. Kendrick, however, lives on a fine line of success. Among 145 pitchers last season with at least 100 innings, his strikeout rate ranked 138th. So as he steps in for Lee -- who may miss a month, meaning four or five starts -- don't expect a 3.22 ERA from Kendrick.

That's just one reason to expect the staff to allow a few more runs. Let's say 30 more than a year ago. That's 559 runs. Now that '88 Dodgers total of 628 runs projects to a win total of ... 89.5.

That might still be enough to squeak into the playoffs. Four runs a game. That's all you need, Phillies fans.

But what if the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game the rest of the season instead of 4.0? That projects to 599 runs scored.

And 86 wins. One run every five games. A couple of extra bloops or bleeders per week. A few ground balls with eyes. The difference between making the playoffs and going home.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Cubs CelebrateBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesRallying for a win in Wrigleyville is so much sweeter when it's at the Cardinals' expense.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Of course, it's much more fun to overanalyze everything that goes on in the first few weeks of a baseball season. Albert Pujols has lost it! CC Sabathia's velocity is down! Matt Kemp is going to have the greatest season of all time! The Red Sox are terrible!

OK, maybe the Red Sox are terrible.

In this vein, Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley has a piece on not overreacting to early season sample sizes. He uses John Mayberry Jr. of the Phillies as an illustration, but his point holds true for nearly all players off to a cold start (or, in reverse, a hot starts: It's a small number of plate appearances to get worked up over. Here is an excellent graphic that shows the 10 qualified players with the lowest OPS through April last season; as you can see, all performed much better the rest of the season.

So, it's early. No need to panic or overreact.

Right, Red Sox fans?

Other stuff to check out:
With a perfect game and a very imperfect Boston Red Sox performance in our rear view mirror, but very much on our minds, Mark Simon and I gathered for Monday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1. First of all, kudos to Chicago White Sox right-hander Philip Humber for the 21st perfecto in big league history. Humber was an unlikely candidate, but the team he beat wasn’t.

2. As for the Red Sox, we don’t want to say they or they're manager deserve this rough start, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. And credit the Yankees for coming back from a 9-0 deficit.

3. It’s Power Rankings day! See where the struggling Phillies and Angels fell to this week, as well as which potential contender falls to the bottom five.

4. Simon says defenses are doing something to Albert Pujols that is wise, but a bit unprecedented. As for Pujols himself, is all going to be well?

5. And our emailers have thoughts on players that had three home runs among five hits in a game (Mickey Brantley!), why Aubrey Huff should never play second base again, and making the most outs per at-bat.

So, download and listen to Monday’s fun Baseball Today podcast, as Bias Cat triumphantly returned (as did our producer), and a good time was had by all. Except the Red Sox fan.

SEATTLE -- For planning purposes, teams really should put perfect games on their pocket schedules. Like, "April 21: Mariners Military Coin Giveaway/Philip Humber Perfect Game Day."

I was in Seattle’s Pike Place Market on Saturday afternoon when an editor called and asked, "Are you watching this?"

Uh, oh. That was not a question I wanted to hear because I clearly was not aware of the "this" to which he was referring, though I assumed it involved the Mariners. Choosing whether to attend Seattle’s game against the White Sox on Saturday or Sunday, I had chosen Sunday. Bad call. "Phil Humber has a perfect game through eight," my editor said, asking whether I could get to the stadium for a story.

Well, I was only 1 miles from the stadium but I was completely unprepared. I had no credential. I had no computer. I had no notebook and no pen. Much worse, I was 40 miles into a 60-mile bike ride and had no clothes beyond the sweaty black bike shorts, purple Husky bike jersey and bike shoes I was wearing.

But a perfect game is a perfect game, so I hopped on my bike and raced to the ballpark, hoping to catch the last inning. Being on a bike was actually a good thing because it allowed me to ride in the bike lanes past slow downtown traffic and through alleyways and side streets otherwise off-limits. Plus, with postgame traffic diversions outside the stadium already in effect, a car would have taken much longer.

Even so, as I rode the final blocks to the stadium, I found I had to fight my way through crowds of fans outside the park. Now, the majority of them were on their way to a motocross event at the football stadium. But enough were wearing Mariners shirts and jerseys that some had to have been coming from the baseball game, meaning they left with a perfect game intact. I was stunned. You can have a good debate about when it is acceptable to leave a game but I think we can all agree that you definitely cannot leave a perfect game in the eighth or ninth inning, no matter how much the babysitter charges.

I was so upset I even yelled at one. What are you doing!?!

[+] EnlargePhil Humber
Steven Bisig/US PresswireSomewhere in this celebration was White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who recorded the 21st perfect game in history in Seattle on Saturday.
The vast majority of fans had remained at the game, of course, and many cheered loudly for Humber, much to the annoyance of a friend who was appalled that anyone would root for an opposing pitcher to throw a perfect game against the local team. Which brings up another interesting debate topic: When is it allowable to root for the opponent?

Not often, but I definitely feel it was all right Saturday. The Mariners haven’t been to the postseason in 11 years and it’s very unlikely they will get there this year, either. The Mariners may be in the same division as the Rangers and Angels but fans realize they aren’t in the same league of talent. They also are tired of watching losing, last-place teams whose lineups have been near historic lows for offense (Seattle has scored fewer runs each of the past two seasons than the Mariners did in 1994 when the strike canceled the final 50 games of the season). Plus, the Mariners were already trailing 3-0 in the eighth. Given the choice between a perfect game and just another loss, fans understandably chose to root for history.

I arrived at the stadium just as radio announcer Rick Rizzs was describing the final pitch that bounced away from catcher A.J. Pierzynski but which umpire Brian Runge ruled that Brendan Ryan had swung at (he didn’t, but Runge was definitely not going to be Jim Joyce in such a situation). With only a trickle of fans coming out, I was able to pick up my bike and dash through a gate to the main concourse. Fans were still watching Humber and the White Sox celebrate -- and Ryan argue with Runge -- so I also was able to make my way to the press box surprisingly fast, even wheeling my bike.

The Mariners' media relations staff cleared my admittance without a credential but that brought up the awkward moment. I had to go into the clubhouses and interview players while wearing only my bike shorts and jersey. There is a new dress code for baseball writers this year and I broke every clause in it while dashing from the interview room to the Mariners clubhouse to the White Sox clubhouse. But what was I going to do? We needed the story.

Surprisingly, not many people said anything. A few laughed or smiled but most appeared not to notice or care. Apparently, they are all too used to sportswriters looking like crap. Except, of course, for A.J., who yelled, "Now THAT’S a good look!'"

I’ve covered baseball 25 years and still have not seen a no-hitter. The closest I’ve come was Scott Erickson’s no-hitter in 1994 and Eric Milton’s in 1999. I was home each time when I received a call to alert me in the seventh inning. I dashed to the Metrodome in time for the final inning of each game.

It feels odd to write about a game you weren’t at, but you do what you have to in this business. I mean, it’s not like Woodward and Bernstein were at the actual Watergate break-in, either.

I rode to the game Sunday as planned, hoping for a repeat of the Ray Washburn/Gaylord Perry consecutive no-hitters in 1968. But for the sake of the players and staff, this time I brought a set of clothes to change into.
Of course we want the Kansas City Royals to do well. What have the Royals ever done to you? (Leave Jorge Orta out of this.)

No, they're the little team from the Midwest with the cool water fountains in the outfield and were once relevant before Bo Jackson broke his hip. In other words ... a long time ago. No need to recite their recent miserable history here other than to say that despite 16 losing seasons in the past 17, many predicted this would be breakout year for the Royals. They're young! They're exciting! They have Eric Hosmer! Fans trusted The Process and this would be the year their trust would be rewarded with a team that would actually win more games than it lost.

And then the season began and the Royals once again look terrible. They've lost 10 in a row, they're 0-9 at home, Hosmer is hitting .183 and Yuniesky Betancourt has hit first, second and fifth in recent days.

Can it get any worse?

OK, maybe we could have seen this coming. After all, this was still a pitching staff led by ... Bruce Chen. And Luke Hochevar. And ... wait, let's stop being so negative. Truth, it's been a lot of bad luck and bad breaks for the Royals. Five of their 12 losses have been by one run. And while they're 13th in runs scored in the AL, they're middle of the pack in average, on-base and slugging. They just haven't had enough timely hits with runners on base. Usually that corrects itself over time.

The starting pitching has struggled, but there are some good signs. Chen and Hochevar have a combined 26/7 SO/BB ratio and just one home run allowed. Danny Duffy has been throwing some high-octane heat, averaging 95 mph on his fastball. The control is a little wobbly but the velocity is as good as any left-hander in baseball. So maybe there's hope.

After all, it's just two weeks. It's too early to give up.

Series of the week

New York Yankees at Texas Rangers, Monday through Wednesday
CC Sabathia (1-0, 5.59) vs. Derek Holland (2-0, 3.10)
Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 5.00) vs. Yu Darvish (2-0, 3.57)
Phil Hughes (1-2, 6.75) vs. Scott Feldman (0-0, 0.00)

The Yankees are 9-6, even though they rank 13th in the AL with a 5.84 rotation ERA. While the ERA is high, the rotation has pitched better in some regards -- it has an excellent strikeout/walk ratio of 77/23 in 81.2 innings, but has allowed 107 hits. So have these guys been unlucky with their balls in play? Are they serving up too many meaty strikes? Is the Yankees' defense that bad? One problem: the Yankees' starters have allowed 16 home runs; by contract, Rangers starters have allowed just seven.

April has always been Sabathia's worst month (4.17 career ERA In April versus 3.43 in other months), but his velocity is down compared to previous years. His average fastball velocity is 91.5 mph compared to 92.6 mph each of the past two Aprils. Something to watch for on Monday. Holland, meanwhile, is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in six career appearances (five starts) against the Yankees. Besides Darvish's biggest test, note that Feldman draws the spot start on Wednesday as the Rangers played a doubleheader over the weekend after a rainout.

If we get to battle of the bullpens, it should be interesting. Yankee relievers have a 2.14 ERA with 65 K's in 54.2 innings. Texas relievers have a 2.33 ERA, an impressive 36/6 strikeout/walk ratio and .222 opponents' average allowed.

Three pitching matchups to watch

1. Matt Cain (1-0, 1.88) vs. Mat Latos (0-2, 8.22), Giants at Reds (Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET)

In his last two starts Cain has allowed no runs and three hits over 18 innings against the Pirates and Phillies. For the season, opponents are batting .114 against him and left-handed batters are just 4-for-43. That's nothing new as he held lefties to a .185 mark in 2011. Cain is aiming for a third straight start with a Game Score of 85 or higher -- something no pitcher has done since 1998 (Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens). Latos has struggled in his three starts, with just 11 strikeouts and a .328 average allowed.

2. Felix Doubront (0-0, 3.94) vs. Philip Humber (1-0, 0.63), Red Sox at White Sox (Thursday, 8:10 p.m. ET)

Hey, we have to highlight Mr. Perfect Game. Humber threw just 96 pitches against the Mariners, relying on his slider as his key pitch in registering nine strikeouts. Doubront left his last start against the Yankees with a 9-1 lead ... and ended up with a no-decision. And here's some good news for Red Sox fans: ESPN Stats & Information informs us that since 1995 three teams have started 4-10 or worse and made the playoffs -- 2007 Phillies, 2001 A's, 2000 Giants (all started 4-10). Including the pre-wild card are, nine teams in all made the postseason with that bad a start. Two of them won the World Series -- the 1991 Twins and 1979 Pirates.

3. Ross Detwiler (2-0, 0.56) vs. Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 1.61), Nationals at Dodgers (Friday, 10:10 p.m. ET)

Detwiler's hot start has been fueled by a 64.3 percent groundball rate, best in the majors among starting pitchers. He's also backed that up with 15 strikeouts in 16 innings. Davey Johnson has been conservative with Detwiler in his three starts as he hasn't thrown more than 81 pitches. Kershaw has allowed five runs in four starts (one abbreviated when he left after three innings with the flu) but has just one win. Not that wins matter of course.

Player on the hot seat: Albert Pujols
After a hitless weekend against the Orioles, Pujols is down to .246, hasn't homered in 65 at-bats and has driven in just four runs. Not exactly what the Angels were expecting. Two weeks is two weeks, but it's time for the $240 million man to produce. From ESPN Stats & Info: Look for the Rays to shift against Pujols. Not only do the Rays shift more than any other team, but Pujols has pulled or gone up the middle on 50 of the 56 balls he's put in play. All of his groundballs have been fielded by the third baseman or shortstop and he's 2-for-20 on grounders.

Player to watch: Matt Kemp
As long he's hitting like this, he's still the player to watch (with apologies to Josh Hamilton). Nine home runs in 16 games, seven in his last nine, a .450 average and 22 RBIs. Awesome stuff. Pujols and Alex Rodriguez hold the April record with 14 home runs. With series at home against the Braves and Nationals, you East Coasters may have stay up a little late.

White Sox never counted out Humber

April, 21, 2012
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Don't count anybody out, ever. But perfect? Philip Humber was never supposed to be perfect, but on the 21st day of April he was exactly that: the 21st pitcher to deliver a perfect game and the first to throw one since Roy Halladay threw the 20th on May 29, 2010. It was also the first American League perfecto since Dallas Braden on May 9, 2010.

But he was never supposed to be perfect. After all, he had proven so very imperfect since being the third overall pick of the 2004 draft. Touted as a top Mets prospect, he blew out his elbow in 2005, and it wasn’t long before he was referred to as another example of a Rice pitcher who got hurt and hadn’t lived up to the hype. Unimpressed with his minor league performance after coming back from Tommy John surgery, the Mets bundled him into the four-for-one swap that brought them Johan Santana before the 2008 season.

[+] EnlargePhilip Humber
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonThe White Sox are Philip Humber's fifth organization since he was drafted third overall in 2004.
But the Twins never let him start a single game in the majors after making 48 starts over two years at Triple-A, simply letting him slip away after 2009 rather than keep him on the 40-man roster. The Royals picked him up ... and they left him in Triple-A. However desperate the Royals were for pitching of any flavor, they lost him on waivers after the 2010 season to the A’s. They were just looking for a possible fifth starter. But the A’s lost him on waivers a month later when they decided they had a better way to use to spot on their 40-man roster, signing free agent Grant Balfour.

That is where the White Sox stepped in, grabbing Humber off waivers. Their goal for him wasn’t any higher than anyone else’s. He looked like a good guy to stash at the back end of a rotation -- a fifth guy, a bubble guy on an organizational depth chart, a guy only as good as his last start before giving him much thought. He was somebody who sticks only as long as he earns his keep and who won’t be forgiven a run of bad starts.

That was his due, because at no point did Humber dominate in Triple-A. Across four years bouncing among organizations, flitting from New Orleans to Rochester to Omaha, from the Pacific Coast League to the International League and back again, he posted a 4.67 ERA in Triple-A. His clip of 6.9 strikeouts and 2.7 unintentional walks per nine reflected a pitcher who had good command.

With heat that just bumps above 90 mph and good command of four pitches, he’s a finesse righty, and those don’t catch many breaks. But he promptly proved he belonged last season, getting that last slot in the White Sox’s rotation and keeping it, earning job security he’d probably only heard about happening to other people. And now, having achieved history as a strike-throwing machine, those days should be behind him for some time to come.

He’s not the first such find for general manager Kenny Williams, though. The White Sox have made a cottage industry out of giving second chances to other teams’ tarnished top prospects. Gavin Floyd looked like a Phillies flop after being the fourth overall pick of the 2001 draft; John Danks was the ninth overall selection for the Rangers in 2003, but they dealt him for Brandon McCarthy after seeing him deliver mediocre results at Double- and Triple-A. Good pitching might be hard to find, and not everything Williams touches turns to gold, but these are the benefits of betting on upside risk.

Humber might have had the good fortune to face the Mariners, a woeful lineup, in Safeco Field, a great place to pitch. But other people get those chances, and they don’t deliver perfection. It’s because of these finds that the Sox have the best rotation in the American League Central, and how they do will define how far the Sox might go this season. As Humber just showed, that might be a lot better than you ever expected.


Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Over/under: Wins for White Sox

March, 15, 2012
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"I think we're going to be a lot better than some people think -- a lot better," Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said Wednesday to CBSSports' Danny Knobler.

SportsNation

Over/under prediction: 77.5 wins for White Sox

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,698)

The White Sox won 79 games a year ago, a pretty remarkable achievement considering Adam Dunn hit .159 (lowest ever for a player with 450 plate appearances), Alex Rios had a .265 OBP (one of the 10 lowest figures ever for an outfielder with 500 PAs), Gordon Beckham hit .230 with a .296 OBP, Brent Morel posted a .287 OBP and Juan Pierre played 157 games.

That, my friends, is a lot of bad hitting.

The bad news is all those guys except Pierre are back. The good news is that they can't do any worse. The White Sox lost longtime starter Mark Buehrle and outfielder Carlos Quentin (second on the team in home runs and RBIs in 2011) via free agency. In their spots will be Chris Sale, moving from the bullpen, and prospect Dayan Viciedo. The rotation will count on better seasons from John Danks (4.37 ERA) and Jake Peavy (4.92 in 18 starts) and a repeat performance from 2011 surprise Philip Humber. Gavin Floyd fills out what could be a solid rotation, although one lacking a No. 1-type ace.

The bullpen is minus closer Sergio Santos, traded to the Blue Jays, but the White Sox believe they have depth with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, rookie Addison Reed and Will Ohman.

But it's the offense that will decide the fate of the 2012 White Sox. Do you believe in comebacks? If so, maybe you'll take the over on the betting line of 77.5 wins.

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