Craig Kimbrel was ready to redeem himself on Sunday afternoon. After blowing a save in the eighth inning the day prior he was called upon to protect a slim 1-0 lead in the ninth inning.
As a member of the Chicago White Sox, Kimbrel has not gotten many opportunities in the ninth inning. Tony La Russa has mostly called his number as an eighth-inning setup man.
With little margin for error, Kimbrel got off to a rough start by giving up a leadoff double to Enrique Hernandez. He then fell behind 3-1 to Kyle Schwarber but battled back to induce a swinging strikeout. That is when things began to unravel.
After getting Hunter Renfroe to swing through a knuckle-curve for strike one, Kimbrel proceeded to throw eight straight balls to load the bases. Alex Verdugo tied the game with a sac-fly one pitch later. Kimbrel did manage to preserve the tie by striking Robby Dalbec to end the threat, but the damage had been done.
Kimbrel had blown his second save in as many days. This is yet another installment of a disturbing trend. While pitching on the Southside of Chicago, Kimbrel has gone from All-Star closer to an unreliable train wreck.
“He kept missing with the slider,” Tony La Russa said after Sundays game. “You are going to have tough situations, but it’s really tough when you give up the run and all of a sudden they have two or three on the board.”
When he joined the team in late July he had a near spotless 0.49 ERA. It currently sits at 2.18. In August Kimbrel carried a bloated ERA of 7.15 for the month. In 17 innings pitched for the White Sox this season, Kimbrel has given up 11 runs.
He has also given up some untimely home runs. Kimbrel allowed a game-tying three-run homer to Andrew Romine during his return to Wrigley Field. He also gave up a go-ahead home run to Aaron Judge when he grooved a 95 mph fastball down the heart of the plate. The next time he faced the Cubs he allowed two home runs and turned a blowout into an interesting game.
What is so bizarre about Kimbrel’s decline is how sudden it is. He was arguable the most dominant reliever in baseball while he was with the Cubs. Like Guaranteed Rate Field, Wrigley Field is a very hitter-friendly ballpark. It didn’t seem to affect the future Hall of Famer however as he carried a 0.71 WHIP as a member of the Cubs. Opponents also hit just .106 against him. Now he is allowing a 1.35 WHIP and a .250 batting average.
The White Sox gave up a lot to acquire Craig Kimbrel’s services. Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer are not chump change. CBS Sports ranked the Craig Kimbrel trade as one of the worst deadline moves to this point due to Kimbrel’s performance or lack thereof.
This is not to say that Rick Hahn shouldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal. The White Sox needed bullpen help and, a guy with over 1,000 career strikeouts and a plethora of success in high leverage situations was available. Things just haven’t panned out. Ultimately the trade will be judged on how Kimbrel does during the postseason. If he pitches up to his talent then the tall price will be worth it.
Kimbrel has been working on not “yanking” his pitches during his deliverly something he was not doing earlier in the year. He belives a quick mechanical fix should help improve his results. But until that time comes Kimbrel needs to be better.
Despite the struggles Tony La Russa’s faith hasn’t waivered in his veteran reliver.
“All they got was one,” La Russa added after Sunday’s blown save. “That run scored and he got the next guy out, and we had the chance to win it. He’s a Hall of Fame candidate. I’m thrilled to have him. Wednesday, can’t wait to pitch him.”