9:35 AM CDT, May 21, 2013
Talking baseball while wondering if the Blackhawks can be counter-punchers.
1. Baseball is back in Cleveland, thanks largely to Terry Francona. The first-place Indians host the Tigers tonight, and The Jake should be rocking.
(Yes, I know Jacobs Field is now called Progressive Field, but The Prog doesn’t have a ring to it).
The Indians not only swept Seattle in a wrap-around, four-game weekend series but they did it in style, with three walk-off wins. Their win Monday was one of those that makes players believe anything is possible – one run in the ninth to tie, when Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen muffed a two-out toss from first baseman Justin Smoak, and three in the 10th, after the Mariners had regained the lead.
I thought Kansas City would be the AL Central team to push Detroit but the Indians are on an 18-4 run that has sent them to the top of the division. Staying there is unlikely but they have a chance to send an early message Tuesday night and Wednesday.The Tigers will send Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander against the Indians’ Corey Kluber and Ubaldo Jimenez. Beating Scherzer and Verlander back-to-back would be more impressive than sweeping a four-game series against the Mariners.
2. You’ve got to love Dylan Axelrod. The White Sox’s indy-ball guy is fearless. His fastball is averaging 87.8 mph this season, according to Fangraphs’ PitchFX statistics, but he never seems to blink when he throws it. He throws it almost as often as his slider and does a great job keeping hitters off balance. The slider can make good hitters look silly, with a late dive that makes it look like a forkball. His win over the Red Sox’s John Lester last night was big for the White Sox, who continue to try to climb back to .500 after dropping to 15-21. They’ve won five of the last seven and are showing signs of settling in at U.S. Cellular, where summer heat often brings out the best for their all-or-nothing lineup. Adam Dunn has five homers in the last seven games, including the three-run, lefty-lefty rocket off Lester last night. If you haven’t been to a game this year, you might want to come out Wednesday. Chris Sale, riding a wave after back-to-back dominating starts against the Angels, faces the 6-0 Clay Buchholz.
3. His name precedes him. But Rock Shoulders is making a mark beyond his distinctive moniker. Earning a full-season assignment for the first time, the left-handed-hitting Shoulders was one of the most productive players in the Cubs’ organization in April and May. Playing for low-A Kane County, Shoulders earned Midwest League Player of the Week honors April 15-21, was named the Cubs’ Player of the Month for April and has continued to hit for power in May. Through 41 games, he has a slash line of .296/.385/.559 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs. First base is his primary position but with Dan Vogelbach as the Cougars’ regular, he has remained productive while also playing the outfield corners and serving as a designated hitter.
Shoulders, 21, generates comparisons to Daryle Ward, who got to the big leagues as a 23-year-old and stayed for a decade. The Cubs love his bat speed and approach at the plate, saying he covers the strike zone well. He holds his own against left-handed pitching.
Shoulders was well known to Theo Epstein when Epstein took the Cubs’ president/baseball operations job two off-seasons ago. The Red Sox drafted him in the 20th round in the 2010 draft from Brandon (Fla.) High School but could not sign him. With owner Tom Ricketts’ greatly increasing the draft budget, the Cubs were successful in landing him after his freshman season at State College of Florida (formerly Manatee Junior College). He had been projected to be selected around the 10th round but lasted until the 25th, with signability a question. Tim Wilken nabbed him with a $294,000 bonus. Shoulders’ athleticism allowed him to play catcher and to switch hit earlier in his career. He’s listed at 6-2, 225 pounds and his conditioning may always be a concern. He has a plus arm that could play at third base but he lacks the quickness to play there. That’s okay with the Cubs. They’re thrilled to have found another left-handed hitter with power for the inventory.
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