CSN Chicago: What a steal . . . for the White Sox

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CSN Chicago: What a steal . . . for the White Sox

By Chuck Garfein
CSN Chicago

If someone would have told you on Opening Day that on June 24 the White Sox would acquire Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox for Brent Lillibridge, Zach Stewart and a big wad of cash, you would have probably questioned that persons mental health.

No offense to Lillibridge, Stewart and the 5.6 million the White Sox will receive to pay the rest of Youks salary in 2012, but on paper this is a steal, a heist, a downright burglary at Fenway Park.

If MLB isnt investigating this, somebody might want to contact the FBI.

The White Sox traded a utility man batting .175 and a pitcher just recently sent to the minors with a 6.00 ERA in return for a truck load of money plus a guy who is a Boston legend, a clubhouse leader and an actual, major-league third baseman, which until 4 p.m. Sunday the White Sox did not even possess.

The critics out there (I believe there are four of them -- not including the Tigers, Indians and Royals who I understand are calling a private investigator at this very moment), will point to Youkilis declining numbers the last three seasons and say that he doesnt have much left in the tank.

That might be correct, but have you seen the production the White Sox have been getting at third base? Collectively theyve batted .167, the worst offensive position in the majors. There are currently 19 National League pitchers with at least 20 at-bats who are hitting for a higher average. Just the mere presence of a living, breathing Kevin Youkilis in the lineup is a vast improvement.

Worst-case scenerio? The trade is a wash.

Best-case scenerio? He helps lead the White Sox to a division title, maybe more.

Youkilis, an All-Star as recently as last season, is having the worst year of his career. He missed 22 games with a lower-back strain. His average has dropped from .253 to .233 in June. He clashed with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine before rookie Will Middlebrooks stole his job at third base.

His stock could not have been any lower. So the White Sox pounced.

Hes an on-base percentage guy, another guy that is not afraid to get a big hit, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said. We just thought at this time it was necessary to make the trade and necessary to do it sooner rather than later.

Youkilis will take over third base from Orlando Hudson who has batted just .170 since signing with the White Sox last month. What does Hudson think about the deal? Just a hunch, but I believe hes fine with it.

If I was a GM, Id make the same trade, Hudson said. Im not the best third baseman over there, plus Im not swinging the bat well, so definitely Id make the same trade.

So would Paul Konerko.

There is no way we are not a better team with Kevin Youkilis, Konerko told reporters. He is just too good of a player and has been through all the wars and is still relatively a young guy (hes 33). We just have to keep him on the field. If that is the case, it could be one of the bigger steals of the season.

In past years, Williams traded for big-name stars like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Manny Ramirez while both were coasting towards the end of their careers. They didnt have any fire left, mainly fumes.

But judging by what Williams heard when he spoke to his new third baseman on the phone Sunday, Youkilis is apparently a man on a mission.

He has a little edge to him, which I like, Williams said.

Asked to elaborate, Williams answered, I cant tell you exactly what he said, but he wants to come in and he wants to prove some people wrong.

The White Sox are in Boston for a four-game series July 16-19. Youkilis will be there.

The playoffs begin the first weekend in October. Well see if the White Sox are there, too.

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

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Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

BOSTON -- Avoiding the big inning isn’t just a major concern for Red Sox pitching, it is for all pitchers, at any level.

They can be used as benchmarks for a pitcher’s worth, given one’s ability to minimize the damage, and are in general big momentum shifters.

In each game of the Cleveland series Boston’s starting pitchers were presented with an inning that had potential on running awry.

And each handled it differently.

Joe Kelly took care of business. Rick Porcello minimized the damage and moved on. And, in typical fashion, Clay Buchholz didn’t do well -- even though he managed to log a quality start.

Kelly’s big inning came in his 30-pitch fifth inning, where he lost his perfect game bid -- and gave him no chance at completing the game -- with three walks.

But despite a lapse in control and pressure mounting with runners in scoring position, he held down the fort.

He was able to stay in them moment and work through his worst inning unscathed.

“[I] just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said on his fifth inning struggles following Saturday’s 9-1 win. “The pitches still felt good. The life on the fastball felt good [and] the breaking stuff felt sharp. It was just a matter not getting that timing down with my mechanics and just being a little bit to late on getting my arm extended.”

The following day Porcello took the mound and was off once again. John Farrell credited it to a lack of sink on Porcello’s go-to pitch, which is definitely a problem if that’s the case.

But there’s a lot to be said about a pitcher who doesn’t have his best pitch, yet still goes out and pitches a good game (even if it doesn’t get marked as a quality start).

And there’s even more value in the fact that on a bad day, Porcello can still get out of a jam.

“I was overthrowing and out of my game a little bit,” Porcello said on his rough second inning in Sunday’s 5-2 win. “In the third inning I just tried to get the ball down and get some quick outs.”

He also explained that he tries to simplify his approach in starts when he doesn’t have everything working.

“[You] just regroup mentally and battle through it,” Porcello said. “[I was] just trying to keep the balls in the ballpark and let the defense make the plays behind you like they did today.”

Kelly and Porcello set a positive tone to end the series with the Indians after Buchholz had proven that even the Quality Start statistic is misleading at times.

“The one pitch to [Jason] Kipnis is the difference in this one tonight,” John Farrell said following Buchholz’s start Friday. “What we’ve seen is when it’ been a home run, it’s probably been a walk that’s mixed in . . .The home runs are going to happen I think we all look at the base runners leading up to where he puts himself into a little bit of a corner where you don’t have much margin for error with men on base.

“And then there’s been a fastball that’s leaked back to the middle. And that was the case again tonight. He’s trying to crowd Kipnis and to keep the ball in on him and it ends up on the inner half. To me I don’t know if it’s focus, it’s a manner of falling behind in the count and the walks are factoring. We’re working to get him over that hump.”

The “one pitch” being the issue for Buchholz got him a pass for a few starts -- not to belittle the issue, it still is one -- but putting runners on in excess is the righty’s big problem.

He’s clearly still not comfortable throwing from the stretch (never mind bring the game to a screeching halt) and that needs to change. Fact is pitchers throw out of the stretch more often than not.

And going back to the “one pitch” being the problem. It seems more often than not that it’s Buchholz’s “front-door” two-seamer that is supposed to start at a lefty’s hip and scrape the inner edge of the plate.

But once again it wound up catching too much plate, even more barrel and parking itself in the outfield bleachers.

The question beckons, “When will he stop using that pitch so frequently?” It is absolutely a valuable weapon, but if Buchholz has to see that the risk-reward isn’t in his favor.

Regardless, Buchholz needs to take a page out of Kelly and Porcello’s book. Simplify to minimize the damage.

He might even get a standing ovation like Kelly and Porcello when they got pulled.

Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

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Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

Shane Victorino's career may be approaching the finish line.

The 35-year-old outfielder's attempt to catch on with the Cubs is over, as Carrie Muskat of cubs.com reports he's been released. He had suffered a calf injury in spring training and was sidelined for about a month-and-a-half, then hit .233/.324/.367 in Triple-A Iowa. 

Victorino's first year in Boston, 2013, was far and away his best, as he hit .294/.351/.451 with 15 homers and 61 RBI in helping the Red Sox win the World Series. His next two seasons were riddled with injuries, and the Sox traded him to the Angels last July at the deadline for infielder Josh Rutledge. He struggled in Anaheim (.214/.292/.286 in 98 at-bats) and was allowed to become a free agent at the end of the season.