White Sox to Retire Mark Buehrle’s Number

The Chicago White Sox announced that they will retire the jersey #56 in a special ceremony this June. The jersey number is being retired in honor of longtime pitcher Mark Buehrle.
Buehrle was the ChiSox’s 38th round pick in the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft out of Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri.
He shot through the club’s minor league system, making his big league debut on July 16, 2000, with an inning of relief against the Milwaukee Brewers at Comiskey Park.
Just three days later, Buehrle drew his first starting assignment at the Metrodome against the host Minnesota Twins.
In what would become a typically efficient Buehrle outing, he earned the win that night. The lefty lasted seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out five and walking just one batter.
It was the beginning of a fantastic career. Buehrle would pitch out of the White Sox rotation for the next 11 seasons. He made the AL All-Star team four times during the period, and won a pair of Gold Glove Awards.

BUEHRLE HELPS END WORLD SERIES DROUGHT

Buehrle’s best season came in 2005 when he led the American League in innings pitched for a second consecutive season. He produced a career-best 3.12 ERA with a 1.183 WHIP, and finished fifth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
That fall, Buehrle played a vital role as the ChiSox drove to the franchise’s first World Series championship in 88 years. He pitched well in winning Game 2 of the ALDS, ALCS and Fall Classic.
Then in Game 3 of that 2005 World Series, Chicago skipper Ozzie Guillen brought Buehrle out of the bullpen on no rest at the game’s pivotal moment.
Up 2-0 in the series, the ChiSox had scored twice in the top of the 14th to take a 7-5 lead over the host Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros had two men on and two out when Williams brought him in to face Adam Everett. Buehrle got Everett to pop out to shortstop on a 1-1 pitch, nailing down the victory that gave Chicago a series stranglehold. They would win the crown a day later.
Buehrle would accumulate a 161-119 record during his 12 seasons with the White Sox. He had a 3.83 ERA and 1.282 WHIP, and allowed just 2.0 BB/9 in those years.
That control was Buehrle’s calling card. During an era in which throwing hard was becoming increasingly valued, Buehrle was the stereotypical crafty left-hander.

BUEHRLE MAKES HISTORY – TWICE

Despite pitching mostly to contact during his career, Buehrle was able to produce a pair of dominating, historic gems.
The first of these came when he pitched a no-hitter on April 18, 2007. That night at U.S. Cellular Field against the visiting Texas Rangers, there was just one blemish on Buehrle’s ledger. It came when he walked Sammy Sosa on a 3-1 pitch with one out in the top of the fifth inning. Buehrle then promptly picked Sosa off first base, and completed the no-hitter.
On Thursday, July 23, 2009, and again at U.S. Cellular Field in front of the home fans in Chicago, there would be no blemishes. That day, Buehrle would toss just the 18th perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball.
Buehrle retired all 27 batters who stepped to the plate for the Tampa Bay Rays that afternoon, inducing Jason Bartlett to ground out to shortstop for the final out. It was the first “perfecto” by a ChiSox hurler in 87 years.
Chicago pitching coach Don Cooper was interviewed by Colleen Kane for The Chicago Tribune. Cooper described Buehrle as follows:
“Everybody in every sport is enamored with velocity, and he was the opposite of that,” Cooper said. “He did it first by location, second movement, three changing speeds. …
“Nothing bothered him. He was the same every day, on and off the field. Steady performer, steady guy. He maybe shook off eight times in 10 years. What that tells you is I have confidence, belief and conviction behind the pitch.”

BUEHRLE MOVES ON, ENDS HIS CAREER

Despite making at least 30 starts and topping the 200-inning mark in every one of his 11 full seasons with Chicago, the club let him walk away as a 33-year-old free agent after the 2011 season.
Buehrle signed a one-year deal in December 2011 with a Miami Marlins team that appeared to be trying to put together a winner. It didn’t work out, and a year later the Fish decided to break things up. Buehrle was dealt away to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a 12-player deal.
Finishing up his career with three more solid seasons north of the border, Buehrle also added on another Gold Glove in Miami, and another AL All-Star appearance while in Toronto.
For 16 years, Buehrle was one of the most consistent, reliable pitchers in baseball. And in a dozen years with the White Sox he was one of the best. Now he will become the 12th player in team history to have his uniform number retired to immortality.

Buster Posey Leads Another Contending Giants Team

Last fall, the San Francisco Giants put a major scare into the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. 
The Giants dropped the NLDS to the Cubs in four games, but not before coming within an inning of forcing a decisive fifth game.
That loss put an end to the Giants “even years” magic. The club had captured the Fall Classic in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
There were a number of key factors that allowed San Francisco to remain such a consistent threat during this decade. A handful of strong starting pitchers. Versatility with a deep bullpen. Outstanding defense.
One of the biggest keys, perhaps the most important, irreplaceable player during this run, was the club’s catcher.

POSEY ARRIVES, WINNING BEGINS

Buster Posey was the first round pick of the Giants at fifth overall in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. He made his big league debut just a year later at age 22, and became the starting catcher in 2010.
In that 2010 season, Posey hit for a .305/.357/.505 slash line. He pounded 18 homers, drove in 67 runs, and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The Giants captured the franchise’ first World Series in more than a half-century.
Posey was off to a solid start once again the following season when he was felled by a horrific injury. On May 25th, Scott Cousins of the Marlins bowled into him in a home plate collision, causing Posey to suffer severe leg injuries, ending his season. The play resulted in baseball changing the rules on home plate collisions with the so-called ‘Posey Rule‘.
Returning in 2012, Posey took his game to another level. He hit for a .336/.408/.549 slash line, banging 24 homers and driving in 103 runs. The Giants again won the World Series, and Posey was named the National League Most Valuable Player.

POSEY AND GIANTS: CONSISTENT EXCELLENCE

He has been one of the top players in the game ever since. Posey has been an NL All-Star in four of the last five seasons, and was voted as the NL starting catcher for each of the last two Midsummer Classics.
He has received NL MVP votes each year while capturing three Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove Award. And once again, Posey led the Giants to a World Series crown in 2014.
Following his 2012 MVP campaign, Posey was signed to a nine-year, $164 million deal. The contract calls for him to make $21.4 million for each of the next five seasons.
Because of his accomplishments and the team’s commitment to him, Posey is an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse.
Posey has been a winner his entire playing career. He led his high school team to the Georgia 4A State Championship Game. In college, his summer teams won Cape Cod League championships in both 2006 and 2007.

2017 LIKELY ANOTHER STRONG YEAR FOR POSEY, GIANTS

The Giants are likely to be a leading National League contender once again in the 2017 season. Per Janie McCauley of The Sacramento Bee, Posey is looking to do even more this year.
“Hopefully there’s an adjustment I can make where I can keep that consistent hard contact rate but maybe get a few more balls in the gap or better.”
It’s not an “even” year; that string already broke. The Giants and their fans don’t care what the last number is on the calendar year. They know that with a motivated, healthy Posey at the fore, it will be another winning summer by the Bay.

Phillies 2017: Rotation Depth a Strength, But There’s No Ace

The Philadelphia Phillies have officially begun the six-week spring training process down in Clearwater, Florida. 
One of the likely areas of strength for this year’s version of the Fightin’ Phils would appear to be the starting pitching rotation.
A pair of veteran arms on short-term deals, a bulldog surprise, and a handful of talented youngsters give the club enviable depth on the mound. 
The numbers and talent potential are the most impressive to don red pinstripes in a number of years. However, the fact remains that the club still does not have a true ‘ace’ caliber starting pitcher.
There are some fans who say that a pitcher who takes the top spot in a given rotation is the ace of a staff. I believe that they are defining  the term improperly.
When Phillies fans want to think of a true ace, they don’t have to search very far back in their memory banks. Some of us can slip easily back to memories of Steve Carlton winning four Cy Young Awards. But the Phillies have had a number of true ace-caliber starting pitchers of very recent vintage.
As all but the very youngest fans will remember, the 2011 Phillies team set a franchise record by registering 102 regular season victories. Those wins were largely made possible by the club running four aces out of their rotation. We all remember “The Four Aces”: Roy HalladayCliff LeeRoy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.
None of the current Phillies rotation contenders has that kind of consistently excellent talent. Which is not to say that they aren’t good arms. Again, the rotation is likely to be a strength of this team.

THREE ARMS LEAD THE PHILLIES ROTATION

The two short-term veterans are soon-to-be 30-year old Jeremy Hellickson and 32-year old Clay Buchholz.
Hellickson is being paid $17.2 million this season after the Phillies offered him a qualifying offer last fall, and the rightly, yet somewhat unexpectedly, accepted.
Buchholz was obtained in a trade from the Boston Red Sox just before Christmas. He is owed $13.5 million for the final season of a seven-year deal.
The “bulldog” surprise is right-hander Jerad Eickhoff. The 26-year old who came over from Texas in the Hamels deal during the summer of 2015 has been a consistent competitor ever since being called up from the minors.
For now, Hellickson is likely to pitch at the front of the rotation. He is also the leader at this point for the prestigious Opening Day assignment. But talent-wise, he is more of a #3-type starting pitcher.
He’s in a great frame of mind,” Mackanin said per Philly.com’s Matt Gelb. “He’s so happy to be back here. I’m sure he would have liked to have a five-year, $100 million deal from somebody, but he’s real happy to be here. So we’re happy to have him.

THREE MORE ARMS APPEAR TO HAVE ROTATION SPOTS

Those three are not the only pitchers with a spot earned entering spring training. 24-year old righty Vince Velasquez also has a rotation spot. Velasquez led the rotation holdovers and was second only to reliever Hector Neris in K/9 a year ago.
The fifth spot in the starting rotation would normally already be settled, belonging to 23-year old Aaron Nola. However, Nola remains a major question mark as he tries to return from elbow trouble that ended his 2016 season two months early.
Likely to get the first shot at a rotation berth should Nola fail to return healthy or trouble arise with one of the others is 23-year old Jake Thompson, another gem from the Hamels deal.
The Phillies 2017 starting rotation contributions should come from these six arms. Pete Mackanin hopes to rely upon these pitchers for the majority of his rotation innings. If he can, the team could again improve the overall victory total.
Of course, that is not likely to happen. For one, both Hellickson and Buchholz are squarely on the trade block right from the start.
There are a number of solid young arms here now and others near-ready. The two north-of-30 veterans have their days in a Phillies uniform numbered. Those days should run out some time after the MLB All-Star break in mid-July.
Also, as we all know where big league pitching is concerned, stuff happens. Unexpected injuries of both a short and long-term variety. Severe ineffectiveness due to a loss of velocity or control.

OTHER ARMS FIGHTING AND WAITING FOR A CHANCE

Fortunately for the Phillies there are more arms fighting for those likely opportunities. During spring training, these will be some of the most interesting arms to watch.
Righties Zach Eflin (almost 23 years old) and Alec Asher (25) and lefty Adam Morgan (27 next week) lead this group. All have big league experience. Each has struggled, but also experienced some success.
Another on the cusp of an opportunity is Ben Lively, who turns 25 in two weeks. The 2016 Paul Owens Award winner as the organization’s outstanding pitcher, Lively should not be overlooked.
Short of major injuries, Lively is likely to open at AAA Lehigh Valley. Two more arms destined for the IronPigs and battling to stand out this spring will be 24-year old Nick Pivetta and 25-year old Mark Appel.

NEVER ENOUGH PITCHING OPTIONS

I’ve seen pieces written as the club begins their formal workouts that the Phillies may have too many starting pitchers. I find those types of articles extremely naive.
Inevitably, when we look back at the end of a season, we laugh at thoughts that a team had too much starting pitching. For me, there is no such thing.
We all believe that the Phillies will get to the point of contending in the next couple of years. When it happens, they are going to have to either have developed or spend money on at least one of those true aces to lead the rotation.
For now, the Phillies are in a good place where starting pitching is concerned. There are veterans around to eat up innings for a short period. The club has exciting arms full of potential developing at both the big league and minor league levels.
Watching how the rotation plays out is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies season.

Cole and Taillon are Keys to Pirates Contending in 2017

The Pittsburgh Pirates reached the MLB postseason in three straight seasons from 2013-15. But last year the club finished five games below the .500 mark in third place in the NL Central Division.
There were any number of factors that contributed to the downfall of the Bucs a year ago. But despite missing the playoffs and finishing with a losing record, a bounce-back is possible in the coming 2017 season.
Catching the young and multi-talented Chicago Cubs in the division race is probably not within reach this year. But winning the division is not the only route to the postseason.
Pittsburgh finished just 8.5 games in back of an NL Wildcard berth, even though nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
“I think he’s going through an absolute metamorphosis in terms of his physical understanding, how to really manage his body over the course of a 162-game season, what the greatest red flags are for him that could sideline him or take him down,” said Ben Fairchild, the owner of Fairchild Sports Performance near Taillon’s hometown of Houston, Texas per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink.
I don’t know that I’ve seen a pitcher of his prospectus at his young age that had endured so much severe injury, frankly,” Fairchild said.

Despite a significant slippage in performance from Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates offense was not the biggest problem last year. The club’s hitters finished 5th in OPS and 6th in Runs scored in the 2016 season.
But the team’s pitching staff simply didn’t get the job done. The Pittsburgh pitchers finished 9th in Quality Starts, 11th in Strikeouts, and 13th in Batting Average Against.
In the 2017 season, the Pirates would go a long way towards bouncing right back to contention if they receive strong, healthy seasons from their two most talented starting pitchers, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
Cole was the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. In 2015, the righty finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting after a tremendous season. At age 24, Cole allowed 183 hits over 208 innings with a 202/44 K:BB ratio.
But a year later, Cole battled injuries and ineffectiveness. He yielded 131 hits over just 116 innings in the 2016 season, with a 98/36 K:BB.
Taillon had been the second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, a year before Cole came out. He was on his way to the big leagues when injuries derailed his career. The righty missed the entirety of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Many had given up on him. But still at just age 24, Taillon returned to the hill a year ago to make 18 big league starts. He looked every bit the top pick that he had been a few years earlier, allowing 99 hits over 104 innings with an 85/17 K:BB ratio.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, their Zach Crizer tried to dissect what went wrong with Cole last season. In the end, he came up with the following: “Two suspects immediately crowd our field of vision: injury and a very high BABIP.
Cole simply must show that he is healthy. And then he must show that he can once again leave hitters frustrated, consistently flailing away at his slider.
For Taillon, it would appear that he simply needs to stay healthy. Now that he is finally back, he needs to stay back. To that end the pitcher has undertaken a newfound appreciation for taking care of himself physically.
It’s only the first week of spring training down in Bradenton, Florida. But it’s been so far, so good for the two talented Bucs right-handers.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get healthy seasons from both Cole and Taillon, it is not likely to matter much what anyone else does. But if they do receive a full season worth of performances from both, there is no reason that Pittsburgh cannot again contend for an NL playoff spot.

Phillies 2017: Who Leads in the Clubhouse?

It’s a question that, for a few years now, has had no legitimate answer: who is the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse leader? Or which players comprise the leadership group?
Past generations would have answered that question with names such as Pete RoseLarry BowaDarren Daulton, and Jimmy Rollins. Players who excelled on the field. Players who were willing to stand up in the locker room to help motivate their peers when difficult challenges loomed.
For me, a truly legitimate clubhouse leader needs to embody two major characteristics.
First, they need to be someone who is performing at a standout level in Major League Baseball terms.
Second, they need to be someone who is foundational. They need to be someone who is going to be around for at least the next few years.
There is a third characteristic that becomes vital, assuming the player can meet those first two basics. That would be that the individual needs to have the respect of, and preferably the affection and admiration of, his fellow players.

CURRENT POSITION PLAYER POSSIBILITIES

In examining the current, it is difficult to find anyone who fits the role as I have defined it.
There is only one player who has performed at a standout level in MLB while also having the team make a long-term commitment to them. That would be center fielder Odubel Herrera.
However, ‘El Torito’ has been with the team for just two years. These have been two losing years in which his own performance has been inconsistent. For me, Herrera simply doesn’t fit the bill – at least not yet.
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A trio of position players have been with the team for multiple years now, and have established themselves as starters. This group includes catcher Cameron Rupp and infielders Freddy GalvisCesar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco.
While some mixture of this group may indeed be filling the role for the time being, the fact is that none fits my definition. None of them has established themselves as truly standout MLB players. Franco has that kind of talent, but needs a full season of health and greater consistency to begin reaching his potential.
Beyond Franco, none of the others can lay claim to a future role as a fixture with the Phillies as the team begins to re-emerge as a contender over the next couple of years.

VETERAN NEWCOMERS AND THE PITCHING STAFF

There is already talk of Howie KendrickMichael Saunders, and Chris Coghlan helping to supply that leadership. They are all veterans, which is all well and good. But the fact remains that each is brand new to the clubhouse, and none fits the requirements of having standout talent or an anticipated long-term role with the team.
The pitching staff is not the place to look for an answer. The rotation and bullpen are each loaded with youngsters trying to solidify their role, and a few veterans on short-term deals.
Could Herrera and/or Franco emerge as clubhouse leaders in the coming years? Perhaps someone such as first baseman Tommy Joseph? Those are possibilities.
The more likely fact is that the leader or leaders of the next truly contending Phillies team are either not with the team at this point, or have not emerged as yet.
The Phillies will be bringing in a number of talented prospects at some point this season who could one day fill such a role. This group includes outfielders Roman Quinn and Nick Williams, infielder J.P. Crawford, and catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro.

LEADERSHIP IN THE SHORT TERM

GM Matt Klentak recently addressed the issue, mentioning Saunders as someone who could become at least a short-term mentor to these youngsters.
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Learning how to win and, for this franchise, learning how to take that next step, that’s going to be critical,” Klentak said recently per the AP. “And Michael has a unique perspective, having been a highly touted prospect coming up with Seattle and then certainly a young team when he was there. And then transitioning to a Blue Jays club over the last couple years that was dominated by experience and very talented veterans and seeing it from both sides.
I think that, candidly, that perspective that he can bring drew us to Michael Saunders. He can relate to both sides of the coin on that. Bring that to our clubhouse and some of our younger players. What does it mean to take that next step and play winning baseball? That’s part of the reason he’s here.”
Saunders recognizes, however, that he is a newbie: “There are a few guys in this clubhouse that have been around. If (there’s) something that needs to be said, it will be said. But I learned from my first few days in the big leagues that you lead by example.
For 2017, it would appear that true big league contending-caliber leadership is going to have to be supplied by manager Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff.