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9-10, Game Thoughts

The temptation, of course, will be to freak out. To throw up your hands and say "well that's it." To get mad, and to play off that fury by ripping into some old and new targets. To rip into Mike Sweeney. To rip into Ken Griffey Jr. To rip into Wak. To rip into this team for allowing itself to get swept by an opponent that came in 5-11, to get swept in a series in which we led every game.

That's understandable. Everybody is allowed his emotions, and no one likes losing. To be sure, this was as aggravating a series as we've seen in a while.

But for me, it's hard to get too worked up. For one thing, I just watched my hockey team get eliminated from the playoffs in overtime yesterday, a calamity which has left me emotionally bare. But for another, settle down. We lost three games by a combined three runs. We lost them to a team that, truthfully, isn't bad. Those three games were started by Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, and Ryan Rowland-Smith. Jack Wilson couldn't play. Milton Bradley couldn't play. We didn't have a bench. We were on the road.

You never expect to get swept, and you never prepare for it, but given this weekend's conditions, it's not much of a surprise that we saw what we did. Chicago played better, and Chicago got the wins. It happens. It'll happen again. React with emotion. React, because you care. Just react with consideration and react with perspective, because, ultimately, we didn't learn anything we didn't already know. This team is what it is, and if you can't handle this kind of weekend, then you chose the wrong team to root for.

  • Despite everything that happened, I maintain that, once again, Wak chose the wrong reliever when he went to Sean White in the seventh. With two outs and the go-ahead run in scoring position, Wak brought in White, who got Gordon Beckham to line out to left. Then Brandon League took over a fresh slate in the eighth. League, of course, would surrender the game-winning homer, which makes me look more than a little weird, here, but that doesn't change the fact that League is the superior reliever. It's worth noting that Paul Konerko's homer barely left a hitter-friendly yard, and that it came on a fastball a little off the plate inside. Both he and White allowed hard-hit fly balls on inside heat.

    Still, there are two things to remember:

    1) League's splitter remains more or less missing, as he continues to throw it without any kind of consistency. Brandon League without a lot of his split isn't the Brandon League we traded for.

    2) While League is better than White, the difference between the two isn't so monumental as to justify a freakout. I think we'd all prefer the former over the latter in that seventh inning situation, but the odds that an average reliever escapes that situation unharmed are something like 80%. White was an inferior bet, but he wasn't a bad one. Sean White isn't a bad reliever. He's a mediocre reliever, and he had the platoon advantage. Don't make too much of a poor but small decision.

    This is something we're going to have to live with. Wak has a frequently-expressed belief system in Sean White, and he has it because Sean White's allowed 24 runs in 71.1 innings since Wak too over the team. We know Sean White isn't very good. We know this, because he doesn't strike anybody out or generate as many groundballs as people like to say he does. But until he starts struggling, Wak's going to keep running him out there in big situations. And you know what? That's okay, because until White starts struggling, we'll have little reason to complain.

    If White keeps getting thrown to the dogs even after his numbers catch up with him (if they do), then that'll be a real problem. As is, it's hard to argue that it's hurting us.

  • A Jason Vargas breakdown today:

    Fastballs: 63
    Cutters: 8
    Changeups: 24

    Noticeably absent? Any breaking balls. Vargas seems to have embraced his fastball/changeup identity and moved towards the extreme, using a third pitch only often enough to keep hitters guessing.

    And it's hard to say he's wrong, because look at the results. 25 innings in four starts, with 19 strikeouts and six walks. He wasn't necessarily on top of his game this afternoon, but his command seemingly got better as the game wore on, and he once against missed a good number of bats. With his fourth straight solid start, Jason Vargas has all but locked himself into the rotation, at least for the time being, which is bad news for Ian Snell. Is it too early to say definitively that Snell's a lost cause? No, it isn't, but what's the alternative? You can't move Felix. You can't move Vargas or Fister, given what they've done. And while RRS has struggled, he at least has a recent track record of success. Short of running a six-man rotation, Snell's just got nowhere else to go. He's probably going to the bullpen, because Doug Fister and Jason Vargas have pitched like legitimate Major League starters.

    Jason Vargas has a swinging strike rate of 9.5% so far, up from 7.7% as a starter a year ago. He's one-tenth of a percentage point behind CC Sabathia.

  • Matt Tuiasosopo: Professional Shortstop threw three balls at Casey Kotchman's feet today. None of them were errors, and none of them bounced, but it was weird to see that from a guy who's played so much third base. It'd be one thing if he weren't accustomed to making the long throw, but these were routine, and he short-armed the ball like Emiliano Fruto.

    Tui doesn't have a good first step, he doesn't have good range, he doesn't have good hands, and he doesn't have an accurate arm. A pessimist would say he pretty much doesn't possess any of the skills you need to play the infield. An optimist would say he's only four adjustments from fitting right in.

  • With two out and none on in the top of the ninth inning, Casey Kotchman lined a Bobby Jenks fastball into the left-center gap that Juan Pierre cut off in front of the track. It looked like a standard single, but Kotchman kept motoring around first without hesitation and slid safely into second.

    It was surprising at the time, and the initial response from a lot of people was that Kotchman took another stupid risk on the basepaths, but I actually thought it was one of the smarter gambles we've seen so far through three weeks. The difference between Kotchman being on first and Kotchman being on second there is huge. Juan Pierre, whether you trust UZR or the fans, unquestionably has one of the worst arms in baseball. Pierre didn't cut the ball off in good throwing position. And, lastly, Pierre wouldn't have expected a slow runner like Kotchman to push it.

    It was the right situation to be aggressive. Looking at the risk/reward here is the same as calculating the risk/reward of a stolen base attempt with two down and a man on first. If Kotchman goes, he's either safe, or the game's over. The break even rate, by my calculations, was about 74%. In other words, Kotchman had to be at least 74% sure he'd make it to justify the attempted advance. Could he have been that certain? I think so, yeah. Pierre could've come up with the best throw of his life, but the probability was slim. Kotchman (or one of the base coaches) recognized this, and for once Casey Kotchman was able to help this team with his legs.

  • Of course, he didn't score, because after Eric Byrnes drew a walk, Ken Griffey Jr. struck out. I don't like Griffey hitting any more than you do, but better him than Adam Moore in that situation, and even though Griffey whiffed, pinch-hitting is hard, and Bobby Jenks is good. Yell all you want, but most players would've failed to drive Kotchman home.

  • Mike Sweeney saw 12 pitches today and swung at 10 of them, including each of the last nine. His swing rate on the year is up to 61.9%, behind only Vladimir Guerrero (64.9%) and Delmon Young in the Major Leagues.

    That, of course, is an inflated figure, and well above Sweeney's usual mark in the low- to mid-50's, but still, the league average is about 46%. Mike Sweeney is something of a free swinger. And he's something of a free swinger despite having zero speed and limited power.

    It's weird. Where most hitters tend to get more selective at the plate as they age, Sweeney's only gotten more aggressive. And given that his swing is jerky and violent, one wonders whether this is the wisest approach for a man who seems to be in a constant struggle with his core and his back. Not that an injury would be the worst thing in the world.

  • Casey Kotchman hit two balls in the air today. They went for a double and a triple.