Dingers and zombies and nerds, oh, my!

Even online games are dinger obsessed!


Disclaimer:  Yes, COVID-19 is very real and serious, both with respect to health and economics. Dingeritis is not. But still …

These are obviously bizarre times. As the COVID-19 situation continues, those following professional advice will be singing “Happy Birthday” to themselves so many times while washing their hands that they’ll come to wish they won’t ever have to attend another birthday party and hear the damned song, which is pretty ironic, considering the whole process is designed to make sure that they will.

hand washing
Singing “Happy Birthday” will never be the same.

Financially, the shutdowns are devastating for millions who are out of work for the duration and for millions more who are watching their 401(k)s dwindling to 201(f)s. But the timing so far isn’t bad from the standpoint of many a business, because productivity in the American workplace is roughly zilch in March anyway, given that employee attention is given 100% to filling out and then cussing about their March Madness pool sheets. Irony again, since everyone knows the pool will be won by the elderly bookkeeper in the corner office who bases her picks on favorite colors or the similarity to the names of her cats, just as it is every year. (Yeah, yeah, that’s misogynistic as all get out. Also totally accurate.)

pool sheet
2020 NCAA Pool Sheets will see much less red ink

Given all that badness, the lack of any sports to follow for the indefinite future may seem a minor inconvenience, but it does leave us without the usual escape valve from our own reality just when we could really use it. How to fill that gap? Hey, it’s the 21st Century, when technology helps us overcome a shortage of escapism by creating a path to escapism from the escapism. For those of us ardent enough about the game to be South Side Hit Pen followers, that means artificial baseball, and not just artificial in the sense that somebody is feeding the batters knowledge of what upcoming pitches will be.

Now, there are several excellent baseball video games you can buy, but that means an outlay not just for the game, but also for the operating system to play it on, hardly a desirable situation in perilous economic times. Did I mention my 201(f)? There are a few online games you can purchase for reasonable amounts — but then, any amounts these days seem unreasonable, as you spent all your money stockpiling toilet paper and canned artichoke hearts.

tp
Finding El Dorado

So, as a public service, to help you fill in the time when you’re not hoarding toilet paper or pretending to work from home (or, if you’re a certain kind of nutcase, exchanging emails blaming the whole mess on a Chinese/Democratic party/George Soros/big pharma/GrubHub conspiracy), I did in-depth research on free baseball games you can find online. Because I spent half a century as a reporter/columnist, I was able to put to use that extensive experience and utilize the very best method to discover the needed information: I Googled “free online baseball games.”

The first hit was “baseballgamesonline.org.” It was an outstanding find, with 28 games, but also a depressing one, the sadness coming from the nature of those games.

First on the list is State of Play. I made a quick journey into State of Play and found it, while not baseball, a kinda sorta reasonable substitute. There are pitches, you hit the ball, you run. The batter is aiming for a target on the field, which isn’t exactly baseball, but at least it’s on the field, unlike the horror that was to follow.

state of play
State of Play, with a target not commonly sought by real batters.

Next is Baseball Stadium, which has instructions in Japanese, but does seem to strive for some baseballness.

After that? Fuggedaboudit.

Number three is Destruction League, which, as you probably cleverly ascertained, is about destroying stuff … knocking down buildings with your mighty homers, etc.

At least in Destruction League, you only destroy buildings. Next is Homerun in Berzerkland, in which you not only destroy stuff, but “hit the nerd to the maximum possible distance.” Yep, the nerd. That’s not particularly p.c., which the creators apparently came to realize, because the updated versions, Berzerkball and Berzerkball 2, dropped the idea of hitting the nerd. In them, you instead hit a geek as far as you can.

After all the berzerkitude, the Nos. 7 and 8 Baseball Master and Going Going Gone Baseball are all about homers, as is No. 10, Baseball Challenge. Going Going is listed as an ESPN product — so much for the “Worldwide leader” BS. No. 9 did put a little spin on the ball, Shatter Baseball being about smashing out windows, but it must be about homers, because, generally speaking, the only windows on the field itself are those of opportunity.

Then comes the first association of baseball with the walking dead —  No. 11 Zombieland. Naturally, it involves smashing balls at zombies, which isn’t real baseball unless you’re playing against the Tigers. There will be a return to zombie-bashing in later games, zombies apparently having less influence with the p.c. police than nerds.

Then it’s back to smashing dingers and windows until, finally, at No. 15, speed comes into play with Stealin’ Home. In this one, the whole idea is to steal bases, with the added touch that you can do it frontwards or backwards.

That was the one concession that baseball involves something besides homers, zombies or nerds, until we get to No. 21, Nice Catch, which follows No. 20, Zombie Baseball, where you only have a baseball bat to defend your home against, well, you guessed it.  Yep, all the way to 21 before there’s any acknowledgement that baseball involves defense. It’s like the whole online game industry was designed by the White Sox organization.

nice catch
Nice Catch — apparently, defense is only played in Japan.

After that, it’s back to homers and stuff beyond the park getting shattered. Presumably, all these games are teaching young people these days that the only thing in baseball is homers, which explains the juicing of the ball, the 2019 season and Daniel Palka. Well, OK, the only thing except zombies. And not just young people, but the honchos of MLB.

Most of these online games look so awful, and also so indicative of what MLB’s becoming, that where the major leagues are concerned, COVID-19 may just be an accelerant of the sport’s  tendencies toward long, slow suicide. Hope not.

Meanwhile, though, back to Happy Birthday.

Nancy Faust providing perfect handwashing time

Thankfully, for Sox fans, endless renditions of “Happy Birthday” are not a necessity. As the linked video demonstrates, “Na na na na … Na, na, na, na … hey, he-ey … good-bye” sung at a reasonable ballpark pace, is 10 seconds — so the recommended 20 seconds if repeated, as it always is, gets you through your handwashing whilst providing the closest thing to baseball you may find for a while. Feel free to thank me for bringing that up.

Meanwhile, stay safe. Especially if you’re a nerd, geek, or zombie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit from St. Reinsdorf


‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the GuRF
the Bossards were watering next season’s turf.
The bats were all hung on the bat racks with care,
in hopes that some base hits soon they would snare.

The coaches were nestled all snug in their beds,
a
s visions of adequacy danced in their heads;
And Kenny in his kerchief and Rick in his cap,
had just settled their brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out by third base there arose such a clatter,
they sprang from their snooze, hoping “pitcher,” or “batter.”
Away to the press box they flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters, and reached for some cash.

The moon on the crest of a shiny first base
gave a luster of midday all over the place.
When what to their wondrous eyes did they see,
but a whole bunch of players in a big SUV.

With a little old driver, so gruesome and scary,
they knew in a moment it must be St. Jerry.
More rapid than four-seamers the big gas-hog came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Yoan, now José, now Timmy, Eloy
now Lucas and ReyLo and Dylan, enjoy!
I’ve brought some new teammates to help pull the sleigh,
Even though it meant giving some money away.
Meet Yasmani and Dallas and Gio and Nomar,
two goodies, a maybe and one who won’t go far.

And see, way down there, in the backs of my sacks,
stuffed until late spring, ’cause our leadership lacks,
are Luis and Nick (not the saint, but close to it),
to grab more control, ’cause that’s how we do it.

To the left-field bleachers, to the right-field wall,
now swing away and, for a change, hit the ball!
And those of you who aren’t batters, but flingers,
try not to give away so many dingers!
As for the times that our team’s in the field,
don’t let your ineptitude be revealed.”

As hanging curves left plate center fly,
when they meet with the bullpen, mount to the sky;
so to the scoreboard the SUV flew,
with the sleigh full of players and St. Jerry, too.

And then, in a twinkling, they heard on the P-A,
the leader exhorting them all to go play.
As KenRick drew in their heads and were turning around,
through the luxury boxes, he came with a bound.

He said, “I knew that that man could no longer ignore us,”
and they knew right away he must mean Scott Boras.
And seven years is enough of a terrible team,
so I got you some help, so we can all dream
of a season that will be at least decent,
unlike the seven seasons most recent.
And there’s always an outside chance this team could
actually turn out to be pretty good.”

With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
he soon let them know there was nothing to dread:
Even if it’s a failure because of their work,
they’ll still be employed, a full life-long perq.

And laying a finger alongside his cash pile,
up the Dan Ryan, he drove with a smile.
And they heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and taking a walk is all right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P*RO*S*P*E*C*T: You tell ’em, Aretha

Hall-of-Famers: Aretha and Otis turned out all right, but dealing in prospect chatter is a dicey business. (Rhino)


[As we officially kick off our Top 100 Prospect countdown with the inimitable José Nin, as well as the Top Prospect Vote at SSS, a reminder to keep it all in perspective, courtesy of all-time top soul prospect Otis Redding.]

At the end of Richard Greenberg’s brilliant baseball play Take Me Out, the season is over and Mason, a nerdy accountant who came to love the game as the business manager of a superstar, asks plaintively, “What are we going to do until spring?”

The answer, of course, is bury ourselves in the hot stove league.

In ancient days, the vision of the hot stove league was more or less literal — a bunch of geezers sitting around the woodburner at the general store, slugging sarsaparilla, biting off some beef jerky, and tossing peanut shells on the floor while they ponder the likely fates of their favorite teams. Nowadays it’s more likely participants will be in a coffee shop, sipping soy lattes and nibbling at gluten-free, lactose-free, salt-free, sugar-free, organic free range fair trade arugula chips and communicating by keyboard, but the principle is the same — either way, it’s an enjoyable diversion from winter that doesn’t mean much.

Which brings us to the PROSPECT LIST, a sort of officialized version of shooting the bull. Now, I certainly don’t want to denigrate the people who compile prospect lists or those who evaluate the evaluators They all — or you all, in the case of SSHPers — have a great deal more baseball knowledge than I’ll ever have, and go to a tremendous amount of work to compile the lists. Still, they’re just lists of someone’s opinions, no matter how analytically based, at one point in time, a point before players hit the big leagues. They’re slightly more likely to hit paydirt than the prospectors trying to survive on hardtack in Nome 120 years ago, but not all that much. Everything can change between the minors and majors.

Want to feel happy about the White Sox future? Pick a list where we have 10 in the Top 100. Want to continue gloomy? Pick one where we have two. Wonderful thing is, neither matters — same players in the system, same chance of success.

I was going to try a little serious historical evidence for this, but my plans went awry. I randomly decided to try 2013 prospect lists, then picked Baseball Prospectus from among the first page results. That turned out a little depressing, because the White Sox were the only MLB team without a single player in BP’s Top 101 that year.

Moreover, a scan down the names did turn up two future Sox — Lucas Giolito at No. 70 and Matt Davidson at No. 89. We all know how well those have worked out so far. Giolito worked his way up to top pitching prospect in all of baseball, but worked his way right to the bottom of real MLB pitching as a rookie before his brilliant recovery last year, which gives us hope. That’s what the hot stove is for — hope in the gloom of winter. But then there was Davidson.

That glimpse back made me to take a slightly different approach. The natural choice was a song written by the late great Otis Redding. I find no evidence Redding was a baseball fan, but he nailed the hot stove league concept in his final release, the first recording ever to make No. 1 on Billboard posthumously:

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

You just know part of the chat out on that dock was about baseball. That’s not the song I have in mind, though — it’s the one Redding wrote that was immortalized by the also late and even greater Aretha Franklin. Feel free to Ooo. And pronounce the RO as “row.”

P*RO*S*P*E*C*T
(Ooo) What you want
(Ooo) Baby, has he got it?
(Ooo) What you need
(Ooo) do you know if he got it?
(Ooo) All I’m askin’
(Ooo) Is for a good prospect to bring on home (can he hit a bit?)
Hey baby (or pitch a lick?) bring on home
(A defense whiz, who also knows what the strike zone is?)

Is it gonna go wrong when your list is gone?
Is it gonna go wrong (ooo) cause I don’t want that (ooo)
All I’m askin’ (ooo)
Is a good prospect to bring on home (catch just a little bit?)
Baby (frame just a little bit?) to bring on home (throw just a little bit?)
Yeah (run just a little bit?)

I’m about to give him all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey,
Is to give me a player who
Can bring it on home (just a hitter, just a pitcher, just a, just a)
Yeah baby (just good coverage of the plate or a fastball that goes 98)
Bring it on home (just a little bit of power)
Yeah (whose game won’t turn sour)

Ooo, your misses (ooo)
Haven’t been funny (ooo)
And still they cost me (ooo)
A whole lot of money (ooo)
All I want you to do (ooo) for me
Is pick me a player that can bring it on home (heavy on the RBI)
Yeah, baby (or a wicked breaking slider guy)
Whip it to me (prospect who can really swing it)
Who can bring it home now (or one who can really wing it)

 P*RO*S*P*E*C*T
Find me one who can do it all
P*RO*S*P*E*C*T
TCB, Takin’ Care of Ball

Oh (sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me)
A little prospect (sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me)
Whoa, yeah (just a little good)

A little prospect (one who can hit)
I get tired (I mean really hit)
I keep on tryin’ (you keep blowin’ it)
You’re runnin’ out of fools (how about a real pitcher?)
And I ain’t lyin’ (one whose curveball’s a bewitcher?)
(re, re, re, re) Great prospect, you gotta bring home
(re, re, re, re) Or in a couple of years (with no prospects who can play)
You’ll find out I’m gone (it could happen one day)

P*RO*S*P*E*C*T
Bring a great prospect to me
P*RO*S*P*E*C*T
One who’ll be a force in MLB!

Aretha could have done it, too. The White Sox were undefeated in Civil Rights games where she got the MLB Beacon Award. Okay, 1-0, but undefeated is undefeated.

 

If you can’t beat ’em, out-BS ’em


The closing section of the South Side Hit Pen Podcast 3, dealing with possible White Sox slogans for 2020, indicated it’s time to grab the bull by the horns, or patties, and get that job done. No matter how good or bad a team is, no matter how big its offseason failures or successes, it needs some words to fill up its promo time, and promo time is just about here.

I looked up ideas on the web and found long lists of past baseball team slogans on sites from mlb.com to ESPN, and I have to say: They were all pretty dumb. We need to come up with something truly new. It won’t do just to save money by cutting the final word off last year’s slogan and going with “Ricky’s boys don’t,” especially that now, with the signing of Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel, it should probably be “Ricky’s boys might.”

Of course, the most common catchphrase for baseball teams, though an unintended one, is “wait ’til next year!” This could be the basis for the White Sox slogan of the decade:

In five years, we’re gonna be great.
This had the advantage that, under current ownership and management, it could be used year after year. However, with at least an attempt at improvement for next season that may no longer be applicable, so there are a few more suggestions for them to to consider.

It being the holidays, given that the Sox have an owner who, on Opening Day Eve, is visited by the ghosts of seasons past, present and future, it might be appropriate to begin with:

Scrooge wasn’t the only miser to have an epiphany.
That has a broad pop culture impact, but for a more esoteric take, there’s:

Thank goodness for Article 3, Section 1.
Most of you immediately recognized this as a reference to the part of the U.S. Constitution which, among other things, gives lifetime tenure to federal judges and White Sox owners, executives and pitching coaches. It was an act of tremendous foresight on the part of the Founding Fathers, since not only hadn’t the White Sox been invented yet, baseball hadn’t, either. This catchphrase would be particularly good as a sales pitch to Constitutional originalists.

If a tie to the team’s home is desired, there’s the proud:

Our whiffs give the Windy City its name.
This slogan not only connects to Chicago, it gives a very good description of the Sox offense. And it could be teamed with a balancing slogan:

Why walk all the way to first when you can just stroll back to the dugout?
This is especially appropriate because the White Sox made the recent trade for Nomar Mazara, who, with 28 walks and 108 Ks last year, falls just short of a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is darn near his new team’s major-league-leading-by-far ratio of worse than 4-to-1. Thus, the tradition is sure to continue.

Still, while reaction to the Keuchel acquisition may be a case of irrational exuberance, it does bode well, so we may need a more hopeful saying, even for the offense, which wasn’t all that bad last year, except for that pesky K/BB thing:

When we’ve guaranteed an extra year of control over the new guys, we’ll score more runs.

Of course, you can’t just have slogans for the offense. The defense deserves its publicity as well. Since the Sox only had three regulars with positive defensive ratings last season (UZR, RDRS, dWAR, you name it) and they dumped Golden Glover Yolmer Sánchez and will be relegating Adam Engel and James McCann to part time, if that, while bringing in the stone-handed Mazara, there’s:

We may not be able to catch the ball, but we can’t throw it, either.
Of course, Luis Robert and Mick Madrigal are supposed to be defensively adept, so there’s the hopeful:

Eventually we’ll have two guys who can catch the ball. Honest.
Of course, the hideousness of the Sox defense could be cleverly turned into a sales advantage with:

We’re unwatchable in the field, so you have plenty of time to hit the concession stands.
Speaking of the concessions, how about a tribute:

We can’t play very well, but we really know how to cook.
Not that all is worse on the defensive side, given Robert and Madrigal and the fact newcomer Grandal has an excellent record at framing, the art which has become the be-all-and-end-all of the catching trade ever since being discovered at the end of the dinosaur age of maybe five years ago, up until which “framing” was what you considered doing to your youngster’s pre-school fingerpainting. That gives us:

Just peer real hard at the framing if you can, and you won’t notice the other guys.
Let us not forget to honor the starting pitching, the most improved area so far this offseason. It looked for a while as if, with only one starter who could be considered a proven major leaguer, the Sox couldn’t emulate the old Milwaukee Braves saying of “Spahn and Sain and a day of rain,” but they could come close:

Giolito to throw, then four days of snow.
Now, though, with the addition of Keuchel and Gio González, it shouldn’t be so miserable as we wait to see if Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can ever become viable starters, so there’s the lengthy, but catchy:

Now, with a Dallas and two guys named Gio,
we’ve got a well-established trio,
and hope opponents won’t all hit for the cycle
against Reylo, Dylan and Michael.         

All told, though, there’s an excellent chance the White Sox will at least achieve mediocrity, maybe even be good compared to the rest of the pathetic AL Central. That pathetic-ness, and its importance, is evident when you consider that in 2019 the Sox went 38-37 in the division, but 34-52 outside it (a 98-loss pace).

Thanks to the division, though, some success is quite possible. The last Sox ad campaign to lead to success on the field was “Win or Die Trying” in 2005, which, might be realistically adjusted to reduce the punishment for failure:

Win or risk injury trying.

Given recent history, there’s:

OK, so we broke a mirror in 2012.
That’s a very optimistic slogan, since breaking a mirror is only supposed to cause seven years of bad luck, and the curse should be over.

Alternatively, there’s:

It was just the old seven-year (gl)itch.
That one has the benefit of conjuring up images of Marilyn Monroe, but it does create some pressure to have a winning season in 2020.

Anyhow, there are no doubt many more options you can come up with to pass along to marketing veep Brooks Boyer and his staff. As a more successful operation puts it: “Just do it.”

Going back over this piece, I notice that some of the suggestions could possibly be construed as negative. Since it’s the job of flacks to put a positive spin on everything, let’s create a verbal Sandy Koufax curveball and provide one final promo line, a slogan that puts positive spin on the 2020 Sox  that they can assuredly deliver:

White Sox! We’re way better than the Tigers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving baseball from itself, Part 1: a relegation fantasy

Barred: Perhaps there is a way to separate a foolish team from its money.


Can anything subdue Major League Baseball’s suicidal urges? Can the incredible dullness of homer/strikeout ball be abated? Can teams be stopped from engaging in wholesale tanking rebuilding?

The swelling dullness of the game is easily solved by changing the ball, reversing the juice that made 2019 a joke and also altering the sphere to cut down on ever-increasing pitch speeds. MLB could do it by next season, if it had the brains. Big if.

But that’s for Part 2.

Right now, it’s time for Part 1 of saving MLB from itself, ridding the leagues of the scourge of tanking alleged rebuilding that has made so many games meaningless. It’s pure fantasy, because it would involve some of the Scrooge McReinsdorfs volunteering to lose income. They might not care about baseball or fans, but they sure as hell care about the bottom line, so we need a system that provides severe financial penalties for tanking re-evaluating options.

One of the causes of the rush to the bottom among so many teams today is that their incomes are becoming less and less dependent on fielding good product. With so much sharing of revenues from TV and internet rights and such, actual ticket sales are becoming a relatively minor concern. Who cares about dropping $50 or $80 million in ticket sales, if you can still rake in all the other cash while slicing $100 million from what your payroll should be? Especially since, thanks to the egos of billionaires and Greater Fool Theory, you can always bail out for way, way more than you paid for the team.

The dream may not be about Jeannie, but it would take a genie to make it real.

Still, let us dream — beginning, as dream sequences should, with poetry:

Two, four, six, eight,
Baseball gotta relegate.
No way to save the sport of the nation
Without starting relegation.

Most of you are familiar with the concept of relegation, used in sports leagues all around the world. The most noted model, in the U.S. anyway, is British soccer. The process is simple.

The top-of-the-heap British Premier League has 20 teams. Each season, the bottom three get relegated — that is, sent down — to the next level, which is Football League Championship. In turn, three teams from 24-member FLC move up. All told, there are eight levels, and relegation exists all the way to the bottom.

That’s not a system that can be copied in professional baseball, because minor league teams here aren’t independent entities. You could end up relegating a team down to Triple-A and elevating the same team’s Triple-A farm team.

So what we need is a whole new league, one the worst MLB teams can fall into, at least temporarily. A proper name would be something like Loser League, or Dumped League. This being America, though, we have no use for accurate descriptions and a tendency to give the loftiest titles to the lowliest examples, so, for working purposes, let’s call it the Wonderful League, or WL.

How would it work?

Fair question. For our fantasy purposes, let’s assume that all the talk about expansion isn’t idle chatter, and that two teams will be added to the majors after the next round of union negotiations. Expansion teams are always lousy for a while, so they become the first two teams of the Wonderful League — let’s call them Portland and Las Vegas.

Portland and Las Vegas will need some company, and there are plenty of really bad teams to provide it. Since the expansion will create a total of 32 teams, including the WL, a sensible division is to keep 12 in each of the current leagues and send six to the WL the first season. To keep the leagues in balance in the first (adjustment) year, three teams each from the AL and NL would be relegated.

If that occurred in 2018, the White Sox would have been one of the teams, but they’d escape that ignominy with their stirring 2019 performance. This year, those being sent down would be Detroit, Baltimore and Kansas City from the AL, Miami, Pittsburgh and San Diego from the NL. Voila — eight-team league!

The existing leagues would stay with three divisions each, but with four teams per division. There would be plenty of shuffling needed among divisions, and, eventually, between leagues, but that can be a good thing.

Since the WL would be a sub-major rather than minor league, there could be interleague play, as there is now. To keep a 162-game schedule, AL and NL teams would play the other three teams in their division 18 times each and the others in their league 10 each, for a total of 134. That leaves 28 to divide between playing each other, as now, and playing the WL.

That would give the Wonderful League teams 42 games each against National and American league outfits, leaving 120 within the WL. Divide the WL into two four-team divisions, and they’d play each team in their own division 20 times, each in the other division 15.

The remaining teams in the current leagues could have playoffs just as now, three division champs plus two wild cards, which means 10 of 24 teams would have postseason play, roughly the same percentage as the NFL. Plenty to shoot for at the top, plenty to try to avoid at the bottom. No playoffs for the WL, unless an extra game is needed to determine who moves up.

I hear you saying, “Cute, but what the hell are we accomplishing with all this?”

Another fair question. What we’re doing is making almost all games meaningful. There would be battles for the top in the AL and NL, but also battles to avoid the very bottom and consequent relegation. And the WL teams would have large incentive to end up in the top four.

After the first year, relegation would be reduced to four teams, two each from AL and NL going down, four from the WL going up. Again, that may require some realignment but that is by no means bad — ask Milwaukee and Houston how much they’ve suffered from switching leagues. Heck, we could even end up with a whole bunch of Sox-Cubs games.

How does this confusing mess help anything?

By hitting the Scrooge McReinsdorfs right where it hurts: the wallet. By making tanking engaging in corrective steps for future improvement — while not giving a damn about the team or its fans — really expensive.

First, because the WL is a sub-major, not a minor league, all the players keep their major league salaries, their major league benefits, the MLBPA rules. The players would lose out on possible playoff shares, but they’re already on teams that had no chance, or even intention, of making the playoffs.

The players’ statistics count, just as statistics from games against the Marlins or Tigers or Orioles count now, even though those are sub-major teams. That means the miser owners can’t cut major expenses.

Second, because they get their income cut. Big time. Being sub-major is apt to reduce attendance, of course, but the White Sox, for example, have seen little attendance dive during their seven years in the wilderness.. The big change, what is really important, would be cutting into all those shared revenues the cheapskates depend on — slice all their shares in TV, web, and other shared revenues in half.

Instead of those revenues being split 32 ways (post-expansion), each team in the AL or NL that season would get a 1/28th share … so they fare better than now … and those in the WL would get a 1/56 share. That’s a difference of at least tens of millions of dollars.

That provides a serious incentive not to tank fail. No longer would teams not in serious contention be dumping players at the trade deadline to slice payrolls; they’d have to hang on to everyone they’ve got in hopes of avoiding relegation. Every game would be important, at least until mid-September.

The system would widen demand for top players, hiking pay for free agents. That should make the union happy.

Those teams that are relegated would not be sentenced to permanent lower status, but given a help in improving. Heck, if they’re really rebuilding instead of tanking it could even be a good thing … except for the money. They would still get to be in the draft — taking the first eight spots — and they could still trade and bid on free agents and use all the other ways of acquiring players.

Aristotle said, “Change in all things is sweet.” The Scrooge McReinsdorfs of MLB may not agree.

The alternative to relegation is to leave things as they are, with much of the league playing meaningless games for most of the season, with most games involving at least one team whose owners aren’t even trying. MLB can stagger on that way, but it’s staggering a path to oblivion.

Relegation — it’s a way to save major league baseball from itself. And in the land of the greed and the home of the knave, pure fantasy.

The defense doesn’t rest: an ode to Yolmer

Lady Justice is blindfolded: Too few Sox defenders play like they’re not.



He would have earned odes from Shakespeare and Holmer,

But there’s not a damned thing that rhymes with Yolmer.

Friends, Sox fans and roster planners, I come not to bury Yolmer, but to praise him …
noted baseball analyst Mark Antony, after others stuck knives in the back of the person in question

There is something rotten in dem marks made by fans crafting offseason plans for the White Sox. Well, maybe a lot rotten, and a lot more idle wishing, but one thing has stood out to me this time around — almost no one wants to tender Yolmer Sánchez.

I never embarrass myself by making one of those projections, because almost everyone who participates in Sox blogs is more knowledgeable than I, and because my list of critical non-tenders would start with Jerry Reinsdorf, then work its way through KennyRick, Don Cooper, and the entire scouting and player development departments. It wouldn’t even make it to players until page four.

Oh, a few want to non-tender Yolmer and then sign him for $15.95 and a couple of Kit Kat bars, but mostly it’s “let him go, Nick Madrigal will be Rogers Hornsby and Jackie Robinson all in one package.” Now, if the Sox can make a deal ahead of time with Sr. Sánchez and avoid the whole tendering thing, great, but taking a chance on losing him over a few bucks is, well, very White Soxy. That’s losing him with no gain. The smart move is to keep Yolmer until you find out Madrigal is all he’s advertised to be, and some contender will give up a nice prospect or two for a 27-year-old defensive wiz next summer. And even with Madrigal around, Yolmer could make a nice late-inning defensive replacement at short if the D there stays as it has been.

The Sánchez tender is at $6 million. That’s a whole bunch of money in real life, but the very lowest estimates have a point of WAR worth about $4 million, and Yolmer hasn’t been under 2.0 WAR since he was a part-timer in 2016. That’s serious value-added. If the Sox got that from everyone, we’d all be talking about how the World Series went.

As for Madrigal, there’s every reason to believe he’ll eventually be really good. But he’s not there yet, and he’s unlikely to even be on the roster when the 2020 season starts. In the meantime, do you really want to watch even worse schlock defense than the Sox already provide, or would you rather watch this?

Let’s face it — the White Sox are hard to watch when they’re at bat, but are truly unwatchable on defense. They have two players who are any good in the field — Golden Glover Yolmer and one-time Golden Glove finalist Adam Engel. Well, OK, James McCann came in at 1.4 dWAR, but catchers are like umpires: They squat, wear lots of padding, and when doing a really good job, you don’t even notice they’re there. So the watchable defenders are Sánchez and Engel.

(One thing it’s hard to blame KennyRick for is that the only two solid fielders who should come to the majors next year — Madrigal and Luis Robert — will replace the only two good fielders they already have. It may be the only thing it’s hard to blame them for.)

Yolmer is even more amazing when you consider he has a terrible fielder to his left, a very shaky one to his right, and apparently a fan picked at random before the game behind him. Without Yolmer, Tim Anderson would have run away with the Most Errors in MLB championship. Oh, wait — he did, anyway. Well, TA would have won it by a lot more.

(As for the inaction to his left, almost every offseason plan says the Sox are desperate for a DH. Fascinating, because the Sox already have two excellent DHs. They don’t need another — they need a first baseman and/or left fielder.)


Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Yolmer ruled as his demesne;
Hall-of-Famer John Keats, “On Looking into Chapman’s Yolmer.” (Demesne is apparently an old English word for “Gatorader.”)

The Sox have plenty of money to spend — if the CMO (Cheapskate Miser Overlord) will part with it. If not, well, it won’t matter whether Yolmer can hit or not. And if they use it to put Nicholas Castellanos or some other stone-hand in right field, they’ll become even more unwatchable than now.

Besides his fielding prowess, Yolmer is the one guy on the Sox who looks like he actually enjoys the game.

Eloy Jiménez shows the spirit most of the time, and will probably eventually be the spirit leader. But on defense, we’re all just as amazed as he is when he actually catches a ball, so he has some way to go.

Yes, Yolmer is a weak hitter, even though his K-to-BB ratio of 2.66-to-1 is a little better than the MLB average, instead of the horrific worst-in-baseball White Sox level of 4.1-to-1. Lots of teams fare very well while carrying a good-field-not-much-hit middle infielder. Of course, those teams find solid hitters at other positions, which means either drafting well or developing well or coaching well or trading well or spending money or … well, something. But that’s not Yolmer’s fault.

Admittedly, I usually sit in the cheap seats, but did have the occasion to sit right next to the on-deck circle once, and can assuredly say that Yolmer is everything he’s cracked up to be in providing fun and spirit and boosting morale for both teammates and fans. And you all want to non-tender him when the cost is far below what his WAR is worth, not even considering the entertainment value? Shame on you.

“…as we advance in life these things fall off one by one, and I suspect we are left with Yolmer and Virgil, perhaps with only Yolmer alone.”
Former GM Thomas Jefferson, who picked up the free agent Louisiana Purchase for just $15 million

 

White Sox: Final Report Card

Way back at the midway point of the season, we took a look at the White Sox from the standpoint of the whole versus the sum of the parts – that is, whether the Sox were getting value added from Ricky Renteria, et al.

Back then, the answer appeared to be “yes.” The Sox were 39-42, not only well above expectations and well above what run differential would suggest (351 runs scored vs. 420 allowed leads to 34-47 or 33-48, depending on whose measurement you use), but well above the some of the parts, as measured by WAR.

Aristotle anticipated advanced baseball stat possibilities.

At the 81-game mark, Baseball-Reference had Sox position players at 5.9 bWAR, several of them dragged down by terrible dWAR. B-R had pitchers at 5.5 bWAR, two-thirds from Lucas Giolito, and most of the staff below zero. FanGraphs had the position players at 5.5 fWAR (24th in MLB), pitchers at 5.1 (21st).

That’s 11.4 bWAR and 11.1 fWAR, very close. WAR in both cases equals 48 wins a season, or 24 at the midpoint, so by WAR, the Sox should have had 35 wins. That made the whole four wins more than the sum of the parts.

That made Ricky Renteria look pretty good, overbunting and batting Yonder Alonzo cleanup notwithstanding (I think Ricky kept Alonzo in the fourth slot just to troll the front office, which, if so, was quite clever and eventually worked).

Now, at season’s end, does the same “whole is better than the sum of its parts” thing apply?

Nah.

The Sox ended the season 72-89.5, saved from 90 losses by Mother Nature wiping out a game last Friday that they were losing. Thus, the break even on the whole and the parts would be at 24 WAR.

The final stats have position players at 13.5 bWAR, led by Yoán Moncada at 4.6, Tim Anderson at 4.0 and James McCann at 3.8. Of the regulars, only Yolmer Sánchez (+1.7), McCann (+1.4) and Adam Engel (+.5) were on the plus side defensively, with, as you’d expect, José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez dragging themselves way down with terrible fielding.

The non-pitchers fare worse under fWAR, coming in at a total of 10.9, more than half of that from Moncada alone. FanGraphs punishes Anderson more for his fielding (has anyone before ever led the majors in both batting average and errors?), and give McCann less credit for his.

On the pitching side, the numbers were closer, with bWAR at 11.8 and fWAR at 12.3. Giolito dominates, of course, at 5.6 and 5.1 respectively, but his numbers aren’t double where he’d been at the midpoint, not surprisingly, since he went from 11-2 to 14-9 and his ERA climbed .69.

So, in the end we have bWAR totaling 25.3, fWAR 23.3. One calls for 73 wins, one for 71, and because the actual number was 72:

The Law of Conservation of Mass strikes the White Sox.

In the final analysis, Renteria deserves neither credit nor blame for the White Sox performance. The real credit goes to the people who developed the various WARs, because it turns out they know their stuff.

As for the Pythagorean side, the probabilities based on run differential, with 708 runs scored (24th in MLB) and 832 allowed (22nd), the Sox should have been 69-92, but since Pythagoras has been dead for 2,500 years he couldn’t know that the White Sox liked to get blown out. Actually, that was mostly the case in the first half of the year, when in games decided by five or more runs the club went 8-16, while they were a more respectable 11-13 in the second half.

Pythagoras really knew his triangles, but in baseball he failed to account for really bad pitching.

The midpoint report card also looked at walks and strikeouts, and darned if the Sox didn’t get even worse at those in the second half, which helps explain why they went from three games under to 17.5. They’d been sixth in the AL in batting average at the end of June, and advanced to fifth at the end of September, at .261, but they stayed 11th in on-base percentage, thanks to being by far the worst in the big leagues at drawing walks, at 378.

I know this is beating a dead horsehide, but with 1,549 strikeouts, that makes the Sox K/BB ratio 4.1/1, so far and away the worst in MLB that second place isn’t even in sight. The average is 2.7/1, with Houston being at 1.8. Houston wins a few games. If the White Sox don’t get that fixed, and fixed soon, you can put off being competitive for a whole lot longer, especially since the Sox don’t refuse walks to knock things out of the park, being only 25th in HRs.

But I digress. Back to the report card. Looks like a gentleman’s C. When it comes to Sox management, in the dugout or out, C is as good as it gets.

Hollywood couldn’t make this one up

It was a scenario not even the most outrageous huckster would try to pitch to a movie studio.

“So here’s the deal. There’s this one team, they’ve had a big recovery from a real bad season start, and now they have a chance to make the playoffs, but they have to win pretty much all the rest of their games. First scene, they’re up against a team that has been out of the race all season, got nothing to play for except to get the season over – not quite the Bad News Bears, but you get the idea.

“So this game, the team playing for the playoffs has a young pitcher going that has been mowing down everybody he’s faced for a couple of months. The loser of a team has another young guy who can be pretty good, but isn’t very often. Sounds like a head-to-head of the kids, right? Only we put in a twist and the loser team pitcher hurts his leg warming up – warming up – and they have to suddenly bring in a bunch of guys from the bullpen to try to stop the good team.

“Sure, you think it could work with a good bullpen, only the best three relievers this team has pitched the night before and they’re not available. It’s up to the riffraffy types to try to save the day. And they do! They’re incredible! One after another, the whole bunch – let’s say five of them – lights out! Shutout game!

“But that’s not all. Team’s gotta score to win, right? So we let them go without a hit for a bunch of innings – let’s say until the fourth – and then, WHAM! Guy gets a hit, guy gets a walk – extra angle here, because this team has no idea how to take a walk usually – next guy, make him the catcher, boom! Three run homer! Next guy up is the worst hitter in baseball – horrible, horrible. Hasn’t hit a homer since the Carter administration, barely has a hit all year, and double wham – 113.8 miles per hour and gone!

“Next inning, guy leading the league in hitting gets a hit, guy leading the league in runs batted in drives him in, the score keeps mounting. While later the guy who hadn’t hit a homer in half a century does it again – 439 feet! Eight to zilch. Heck, just to put in another twist, the loser of a team, which usually strikes all the time and like I said never walks, gets six walks an only eight whiffs. Keen, huh?

“Time for the good team to come back, right? Only here’s the big twist – they don’t. Everybody in the audience expects the big heroic comeback, but they roll over like a tumbleweed in a twister, they fold like a napkin on a cruise ship. It finishes ocho-nada. Pretty good, huh?”

Studio head response: “Get him out of my office. Now!”

If you didn’t see it, chances aren’t you don’t believe, either, especially after Dylan Cease strained a hamstring in the bullpen warming up, and Jose Ruiz had to start the game. But here’s a James McCann three-run blast, followed by a little Palka poke:

Don’t believe Palka did it? How about twice?

The Sox even played some nifty D. Yoan Moncada had an error, but also a great grab. Yolmer Sanchez was all over the place making plays, and Tim Anderson got the Best Vertical Award.

But for all that, this game belonged to the bullpen. Ruiz got out of a bases-loaded jam and went 1 2/3 scoreless. Josh Osich pitched the longest – and arguably best – stint of his career, 3 1/3 perfect innings with 3 K’s. Jimmy Cordero went two perfect, Jace Fry an inning with one hit and two K’s, and even Hector Santiago chipped in, striking out the side in the ninth.

Isn’t playing spoiler fun? Not as much fun as being in a position to be the spoilee, maybe, but a fun nonetheless. The Indians aren’t completely eliminated from the possibility of a wild card, but you aren’t completely eliminated from the possibility of winning the Powerball, either.

Next up for the Sox is a venture into the depths horribleness, hopefully just for the other guys, as they face the Tigers for the final four games of the season. That fiasco begins with a doubleheader tomorrow, with game time of the opener moved up to 3:10 CDT to try to beat anticipated thunderstorms.

Gamethread: Cleveland at White Sox

Edward Lear – author, poet, artist and renowned baseball analyst

Because the Tigers are coming in for the final weekend, tonight is the last time the White Sox will be facing a major league team this year. Add to that the fact they can get a dribble of fun out of the miserable season by reducing their opponent’s chances of making the playoffs from 13% to win-the-lottery range, and it’s a special occasion.

Given that, I invited a special guest to tonight’s Gamethread to discuss the status of the Sox, noted baseball analyst Edward Lear.

Welcome to South Side Hit Pen, Eddie. I’m thrilled to have you as a guest, because I’ve been a fan ever since you wrote that immortal line, “There once was a team from Nantucket.”

Thanks, Leigh, a pleasure to be here. Always enjoy a good ball chat, especially about the Sox.

Let’s start with the big picture. What’s your take on the White Sox at this point?

There once was a team called the Sox, see?
Stuck in a blah orthodoxy,
A seven-year blight
With no end in sight,
Giving their fans apoploxy.

Hard to disagree with that. Let’s break it down, starting at the top.

There once was an owner named Jerry,
Who thought wins came from the tooth fairy,
The crafty old miser
Knew fans none the wiser,
And grabbed all the loot he could carry.

Harsh, but fair. Let’s move on down.

There once was a pair, Ken and Rick,
The two of them equally thick,
They promise to you
In a decade or two,
They’ll really get something to click.
(honest!)

I’m not sure they’ve put off success for more than one decade more, but who knows? What about the honchos wearing funny outfits?

Some say as the world’s end approaches,
The last things alive will be roaches,
But Sox fans all know
That just isn’t so –
They’ll never outlast old Sox coaches.

Guess that’s what they mean by “working the bugs out.” What about players? Let’s start with the offense.

The Sox have a handful of batters
Who can smash a baseball to tatters,
They would be good if
They didn’t so often whiff,
And hit the damned ball when it matters.

The whiffing is a problem, all right.

There are games we’re all left in a daze
Of more double-digit Sox K’s,
And yet they all balk
At the thought of a walk,
Though getting on base really pays.

It sure seems like an institutional problem, but, then, so does playing defense.

Yolmer’s really good, Yoan is okay,
James and Adam sure know how to play,
The rest are so porous
A lame stegosaurus
Could lumber right through them all day.

Which gets us to pitching.

It certainly would be neat-o
To have more than Giolito,
But all of the rest
Are an unproven mess,
For whom the best grade’s “incompelete-o.”

Pleasure though this chat has been, we better move on to tonight’s game. It’s a big one for Cleveland, if not the Sox.

The White Sox are hosting the Tribe,
Whose hopes are still barely alive,
This game is a must
Or their season’s a bust,
With Chicago a cause to ascribe.

Time to get to the lineups. Can you take it player by player?

That might be a little space and time consuming. Besides, I have no rhymes for Palka.

How about just our starting pitcher?

On the mound for the Sox is D. Cease,
And one hopes that his skills will increase,
But his name is so punnable
Even bad games are funnable,
Since you’ve got such a humor release.


Why don’t you just do that picture thingy for the rest.

Okay. Here it is. Eloy out again.

Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease is 4-7 with a 5.79 ERA. In his only appearance against the Indians he struck out 11 in 6 2/3, but gave up four earned and got no decision. His last outing was against Detroit, so that doesn’t count.

The Indians counter with rookie righty Aaron Civale, 3-3 with a 1.82 ERA (that’s not a typo). One of those wins was over the Sox September 2, when he got the win, giving up three runs – just one earned. His last outing was against Detroit, so that doesn’t count.

As for the Tribe lineup:

  1. Francisco Lindor (S) SS
  2. Oscar Mercado (R) CF
  3. Carlos Santana (S) 1B
  4. Yasiel Puig (R) RF
  5. Jose Ramirez (S) 3B
  6. Franmil Reyes (R) DH
  7. Mike Freeman (L) 2B
  8. Roberto Perez (R) C
  9. Greg Allen (S) LF

Thanks again Eddie. Want to do the technical points?

Thanks again for having me.

Gametime is at seven ten,
Radio is WGN
The TV cohorts
Are on NBC sports,
And the weather looks perfect again.

Any last word?

Nantucket.

Know Your Enemy: Atlanta Braves

Next on the agenda are the Atlanta Braves, a team with a peripatetic history. Given a start in Boston and moves to Milwaukee and Atlanta, a long-time Braves fan presumably sits down to watch the game with baked beans, brats, and a Coke.


THE ORIGINS: BOSTON

(campbells.com)

The Boston version of the Braves was even more nomadic nickname-wise than the team later became geographically. They started in 1876 as the Red Stockings, then became the Beaneaters, Rustlers, Braves, Bees, and finally Braves again.

This gentleman hit home runs 709-714 as a 40-year-old Boston Brave in 1935, before retiring on June 1. (bu.edu)

The Boston version was generally pretty good in the 19th Century, pretty bad in the 20th. They did win two pennants in the modern era, sweeping the Philadelphia A’s in the 1914 World Series and losing to Cleveland in 1948, but they had 11 seasons of 100 or more losses (in 154-game seasons, mind you). That included the second-worst season in modern MLB history, a 115-loss bummer in 1935 (yes, even with The Babe) that left them 61 1/2 games behind That Other Team in Town.

Attendance in Boston was generally, though not always, poor and dropped way down in 1951 and ’52, sinking to 281,000, a third of the MLB average. So, naturally, it was time Go West, Young Team.


HEADING WEST: MILWAUKEE

The Braves got meatier in more ways than one with their move to Milwaukee. (pixabay.com)

Apparently cheese curds are big boons to athleticism, because the Braves never had a losing season during their 1953-65 tenure in Milwaukee. They won the World Series in 1957, and lost it in 1958.

This gentleman hit home runs 1-733 (out of 755) as a Milwaukee and Atlanta Brave. (sabr.org)

Of course, having a team that included Hall-of-Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn may have helped the cheese curds along. Matthews had been a rookie Brave in Boston in 1952, Aaron came in 1954, and Spahn tossed for them from 1945 (actually a brief appearance in 1942 before heading off to WWII) to 1964, winning 356 games, including 13 seasons of 20 or more wins.

The “Spahn and Sain and a day of rain” didn’t apply in Milwaukee, since Johnny Sain had gone to the Yankees in 1951, but they got along very well with “Spahn and (Lou) Burdette and a day of wet.” And having future Hall-of-Famer Red Schoendienst join Aaron and Matthews on the hitting side for a few years didn’t hurt.

Despite the good results, attendance dropped precipitously in Milwaukee after 1960, and the team was sold to a Chicago group in 1962. Being Chicagoans, they naturally didn’t give a damn about the fans and started shopping around for the highest bidder. Voila — time to head south.


HEADING SOUTH: ATLANTA

The move to Atlanta wasn’t for a pause that refreshes, but to grab a huge handout. (dairyqueen.com)

Atlanta had built an $18 million stadium to try to lure a pro team, but couldn’t lure the now-Kansas City A’s. The Braves’ Chicago owners waved their hands as happy to have a gift from the taxpayers, and after a court-delayed, one-year wait during which Milwaukee Braves attendance fell to barely half a million, down south they came. Whether the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made such a move more acceptable is hard to say, but since Lester Maddox was still wielding his pickax handle in Atlanta, it’s was probably just a matter of greed.

The move led to an immediate tripling of attendance, a boon that faded away quickly and didn’t return until 1982. The 1982 Braves were the second division-winning season in Atlanta (1969 the other), as the team couldn’t maintain its Milwaukee dominance.

The next big change was off the field. Media magnate Ted Turner bought the team in 1976, and, in those early days of cable TV, put all the games on his WTBS superstation. Another Voila! America’s Team was born.

OK, the Braves as “America’s Team” weren’t nearly as obnoxious as this one, but still …
(boys are back website)

Despite its vaunted (and self-created) name, America’s Team was mostly bad until 1991. But then, wow!

It helped to have a rotation that included three Hall-of-Famers. Tom Glavine was a Braves draftee. John Smoltz came in a trade from the Detroit Tigers in 1989, and Greg Maddux was granted free agency by That Other Team in Town in 1992. Armed with those arms, the Braves took their division every year from 1991 to 2005, except for a second place in the 1994 strike year. They only won one of their World Series appearances in those years, but that seems forgivable.

Things slowed down a little after that, but they only had two losing seasons before 2014. That year, they were 79-83, so naturally, it was rebuilding time.


TIME OUT FOR A LITTLE BUSINESS ABOUT BUSINESS

Consensus was a little low predicting Braves’ stock — it sits $27ish these days. (marketbeat)

Eventually Turner sold everything to Time Warner, and in 2007 Time Warner spun off the Braves to Liberty Media, which in turn has done a lot of spinning, including turning the Braves into their own publicly-held company, the Liberty Braves Group. It’s the only MLB team in which you can directly buy stock these days (you can do so indirectly with the Toronto Blue Jays through their parent company, Rogers Communications, and you once could buy a chunk of the Indians, as some of us did and lived to be very happy about.)

At its current price, Liberty Braves market value comes to about $1.4 billion, despite negative earnings. Forbes’ 2019 list has the team worth $1.7 billion, which makes sense because there’s usually a premium to get a controlling interest.

Forbes has the 2019 value of the White Sox at $1.6 billion. Not that Jerry Reinsdorf will ever part with any of that. The Braves have a reputation for tightness. Spotrac has their payroll at $136 million, the White Sox at $91 million. So, what word is snugger than tightness?


ON TO REBUILDING

You get the idea (ymsidekick.com)

While some teams may wait through numerous losing years before deciding to try to do something about it (not that I can think of any), the Braves wasted no time at all. After five straight wining years, 79-83 in 2014? Badly-rated farm system? Tear that baby down.

Like most teams that are serious about trying to rebuild, Atlanta went out to find some expert help, luring John Hart, who had great success with Cleveland earlier, away from the Texas Rangers. (Can anyone think of an exception to this no-brainer idea?)

Come the 2014 postseason, the Braves gave most of the roster free agency (including Gavin Floyd). They had no future Hall-of-Famers to put on the trade block, so the biggest name they traded that winter was Justin Upton, who had a year before free agency, in a multiplayer deal that brought them lefty Max Fried, who’s 14-4 this year. A year later, they sent Andrelton Simmons and his wheelbarrow of Gold Gloves to the Angels for, frankly, not much. They also made the really big mistake of trading a young pitcher named Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres.

In the process, payrolls dropped from $116 mil to $96, and Atlanta’s record dropped even further south: 61-101 in 2015, 67-94 in 2016, 72-90 in 2017. Then, suddenly, in 2018 it all turned around in a hurry: 92-70 and an NL East championship.

Little of that team was left from 2014 — mainly Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Julio Teheran. The critical players came through many means — Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. as an international free agent, second baseman Ozzie Albies ditto, catcher Kurt Suzuki as a free agent, etc. (Yes, they still have Tyler Flowers, who has reverted to the guy who made White Sox fans cringe every time he came to bat.)

The 2018 payroll jumped to $131 million ($136 this year), so either the Braves aren’t as tightfisted as believed, or someone we know very well is so wallowing in greed as to be unmentionable. Not content to win the NL East just once, Atlanta re-signed free agent Markakis and added Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson. Donaldson has proven well worth his $23,000,000 by producing 4.4 WAR already, with a .900 OPS and his usual stellar defense.

You may have noticed that a 2014-15 rebuild start puts the Braves two years ahead of the White Sox. You may have also noticed that according to Atlanta’s schedule, the Sox should be division champs next year. And you have also noticed that Rick Hahn is stretching any such potential achievement further into the future every time he talks, now going for some time after the polar ice caps have melted completely. And you may have gotten a good laugh out of the thought of Jerry Reinsdorf (whoops, I mentioned him — my bad) allowing a jump of payroll to over $130 million.


AS FOR 2019, WITH TIME OUT FOR A BRIEF QUIZ

The Braves are playing long ball. Acuna and Freeman have 36 homers each, Donaldson has 32. The team has 215, second in the NL. They like to run on occasion, with 74 stolen bases, led by Acuna’s 31. The pitching is good, but not great, an ERA 4.25, fifth in the NL.

The Braves are playing without Markakis and McCann these days, but still won nine of their last 11. Overall they’re 81-54, second only to the Dodgers in the NL. Not shabby at all.

The quiz on the Braves and White Sox:

On August 18, an outfielder on one of these teams, last year’s Rookie of the Year and an MVP candidate this year with his 5.1 bWAR so far , stood at the plate admiring what he thought would be a home run, but fell short. He was pulled from the game one inning later.

On the same day, an outfielder on the other team, who could at best be considered a prospect at this point, with his -0.3 bWAR, stood at the plate admiring what he thought was a home run, but wasn’t, albeit getting more bases because of fortunate bounces. He played on. Nothing done about it.

Quiz question: Guess which team is leading its division (but not by an insurmountable margin, so taking a star out of a game could cost them), and which hasn’t played a meaningful game in its last 1,000 or so.


PITCHING MATCHUPS

Friday: Iván Nova vs. Max Fried
Nova is on a tear, not giving up more than two runs since July 17. He doesn’t strike out many, but, critical when facing a team like Atlanta, he keeps the ball in the park, not giving up more than one homer in his last eight starts.

Fried is a statistical anomaly. The southpaw’s 14-4 record comes despite giving up 150 hits in 136 innings, for a .280 BAA. He strikes out more than one an inning, and only walks 2.7 per nine, but he has thrown 11 wild pitches.

Saturday: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Dallas Keuchel
ReyLo still has an ERA of more than five, but he’s had mostly very good starts since the All-Star break, including tossing five innings of no-hit ball against the Rangers last time out. Presumably he won’t have a repeat of the flu systems that knocked him out of that game.

Lefty Keuchel is still getting into the groove after a strange offseason that left him unsigned until the Braves picked him up June 7. He got battered by the Miami Marlins, of all teams, on August 8, but has only allowed one run in 19 innings since then. Keuchel may not be back to Cy Young level yet — righties are hitting ,276 against him (lefties .154) — but he’s not far from All-Star level now.

Sunday: Lucas Giolito vs. TBD
Cool Hand Lucas has been solid-to-spectacular since being bombed by the Twins on July 25, giving up just 10 runs in 40 innings while striking out an amazing 62. He can be susceptible to the long ball, which the Braves will no doubt be trying to exploit.

The Sox often struggle against TBD. There don’t seem to be any stats on that, but it seems like they have a fear of the unknown. Julio Teheran normally follows Keuchel in the rotation, and there’s no indication he’s hurt, so maybe TBD is “Teheran to Be Determined.” The Colombian righty is 8-8 with a 3.39 ERA. He didn’t make it through two innings against the New York Mets on August 15, but has pitched 13 scoreless innings since then.

Friday and Saturday’s games are set to start at 6:20 CDT, Sunday’s at 4:10.