Adam Eaton

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

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USA TODAY

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

Dusty Baker has been here before.

Meaning he was here, at Wrigley Field, for a long time. Baker, the Cubs’ manager from 2003 to 2006, was one of the few North Side skippers to experience postseason baseball prior to last year’s curse-smashing World Series win. And he managed a whole bunch of games, regardless of where the calendar was, at the corner of Clark and Addison.

So Baker, who’s managing against his former team Monday and Tuesday as the NLDS between the Cubs and Washington Nationals shifts to Chicago, will use his familiarity with the Friendly Confines to help his current squad advance deeper into October.

"Yeah, you know, I've got a bunch of homies here," Baker said with a smile ahead of Game 3 on Monday afternoon, "so I've got some backup.

"I mean, it's always nice to come to Chicago. I enjoyed coming here for years and years. You know, it's a nice place to come. A nice place, you know, for us to try and get a victory."

Baker knows all about the wind and the sun and all the extra stuff that comes with playing games on the North Side. While the Nationals pay a visit to Wrigley Field each and every season, his team is short on guys who have logged significant playing time here. For example, Bryce Harper's only played 14 games here. Anthony Rendon's played 15 games. Daniel Murphy's been here 25 times. Game 3 will be Trea Turner's first at Wrigley.

Meanwhile, Baker managed 324 regular-season games in his four years as the Cubs' manager. He visited plenty as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants and now with the Nationals. So he's far more familiar with the place than much of his current roster, meaning those players would be wise to ask him how to best go about playing in such a unique ballpark.

"You talk to them to continually check the wind," Baker said, "and what you see earlier in the game may not be what you see later in the game. I think that giant scoreboard in left-center field has changed how the ball plays some out there, because it used to — if the wind is blowing in or across, it used to knock everything down when it was open. But now it seems that it's blocking the wind, especially in that area.

"I found it, contrary to popular belief, when I was here, it seems like the wind blew in more than it blows out, or at least it was a cross-wind. Most of the time it's a from left to right, and so yesterday during practice, we didn't hardly have any wind. So you know, what it's like today, I don't know. It's a beautiful day out. It's short-sleeve weather. I'm sure it's going to be a good day for a ballgame."

But Game 3 brings an additional wrinkle. Hardly any Nationals hitters have faced Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana, just three to be precise: Matt Wieters, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind. But the Nationals do have a valuable fountain of information on Quintana in the form of Adam Eaton, the injured outfielder who spent multiple seasons as Quintana's teammate with the White Sox.

Eaton played 433 games during his three seasons on the South Side, a three-season span during which Quintana was quietly one of the American League's best pitchers, posting a 3.29 ERA in 96 starts.

So, much like Baker can offer his team insight into the conditions at Wrigley, Eaton can offer insight into what his teammates can expect from Quintana.

"We've got scouting reports, there's nothing like the naked eye seeing a guy. I think the advantage most of the time goes to the pitcher if you haven't seen him," Baker said of Quintana. "So we're relying on some of the guys who might have played with him and some of the guys who played against him.

"I'm sure (Nationals hitting coach Rick) Shu has spoken to (Eaton), and since you made that point, if he hasn't, I'm going to make sure he does speak to him.

"Quintana, I was told a long time ago — I was told by (Kansas City Royals manager) Ned Yost about how difficult he can be to hit sometimes. I haven't seen him in other, other than on video or TV. This will be our first look at him for a bunch of players."

Of course, neither Baker nor Eaton will be the ones on the field making the plays during Games 3 and 4. But their respective experience could help narrow the gap between these two evenly matched teams in certain areas.

In a series where the slightest thing can go a long way in determining who advances, Baker and Eaton's Chicago ties could prove incredibly valuable.

Why rebuilding White Sox have something to play for down the stretch

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AP

Why rebuilding White Sox have something to play for down the stretch

MINNEAPOLIS -- Who says the rebuilding White Sox don’t have anything to play for in September and October?

Of utmost importance is the potential for development of White Sox rookies who have reached the majors, a group that includes Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Nicky Delmonico, amongst others.

But beyond that is another critical aspect: With 30 games left on the schedule after Thursday, the White Sox are locked in a battle for first. At 52-79 overall, the White Sox are well within striking distance of the Philadelphia Phillies for the worst record in baseball and the privilege to make the first overall pick in the June 2018 amateur draft.

Currently, the White Sox own the third-worst record in the majors. The San Francisco Giants — who come to Guaranteed Rate Field for three games on Sept. 8-10 — have the second-worst mark at 53-82 overall. The Cincinnati Reds (56-77) and Oakland A’s (58-75) round out the top five prior to Thursday’s results.

While it’s nowhere close to as significant as winning a division or, there’s little question about how much impact possessing a top pick and the larger signing bonus pool attached to it can have on an organization. Given the early talk about the 2018 draft class, the White Sox appear to be in great shape to add more impact talent to an already loaded farm system.

“It’s a better draft all around from a depth and impact standpoint,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said, adding it’s potentially the best class since 2010.

The potential for adding a top-three talent via the amateur draft could leave White Sox players and coaches and a portion of the team’s fan base at odds for the final month of the season.

With a team full of inexperience, White Sox players are hungry and looking to sew up future roster spots by showing off their talent. The Giolitos and Lopezes and Moncadas are intent upon improvement and highly unlikely to put their own careers in jeopardy in order to secure the franchise a better draft pick. They want to win and do everything they can to make themselves a prominent part of the club’s future.

“Everybody wants to come out, as far as the players are concerned, you want to come out and play to win,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think the word rebuild adds a connotation of it doesn’t really matter what goes on and it couldn’t be further from the truth. These guys are trying to go out and exemplify what they’re supposed to be as a team and individuals as trying to continue to perform the things that are necessary to win ballgames.”

On the other side of things, many White Sox fans have fully embraced The Tank. They want a high pick so the team can select Seth Beer, Jarred Kelenic or Brice Turang or any other number of players.

One hundred losses and a first pick? Many fans say bring it on.

It’s yet another strange position in a calendar year full of them.

At the same time, this is exactly where the White Sox have been headed all along. You don’t trade Chris Sale and Adam Eaton off a 78-win roster and expect to improve.

General manager Rick Hahn made it clear this spring that the White Sox would keep the big picture in mind all along in 2017. If the White Sox were going to win, they would have to do it with the players they already had. No short-term trades would be made and prospects wouldn’t be rushed to fill voids at the major league level.

Though the White Sox had plenty of zest in the season’s first two months and hung around longer than most suspected they would, Hahn had no qualms about ripping apart the 25-man roster in July with a series of trades.

Still, as much as Hahn might like to hold the first pick come next June, he doesn’t want to sacrifice critical development to get there.

“There’s been no secret made about what we're trying to accomplish as an organization,” Hahn said earlier this month. “That's been clear since well before the start of spring training, and the players have understood the opportunities that are here for them, in the now, based on that long-term approach that we're taking. Again, I can't say enough about the work that Ricky and the coaches have done in terms of preparing this team on a daily basis and making the most out of what they have on a given night on their roster.”

Should make for an interesting month.

Pair of White Sox top pitching prospects promoted

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USA TODAY

Pair of White Sox top pitching prospects promoted

White Sox fans located in Chicago and Charlotte will get a glimpse into the future next week.

The White Sox announced they will promote pitching prospect Lucas Giolito to the majors and he will start in Monday's doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Michael Kopech, the White Sox No. 3 overall prospect, has been promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and will start on Monday night against Norfolk, the team also announced on Friday.

Giolito, who the White Sox acquired along with Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning in an offseason trade from the Washington Nationals for Adam Eaton, is MLB Pipeline's No. 59 overall prospect.

After a shaky start to begin the 2017 season, Giolito has turned the corner as of late.

In his last five starts with the Knights, Giolito has a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched. During that span, Giolito has a 28/11 K/BB ratio and opposing hitters are slashing just .221/.288/.319. The 23-year-old Giolito has a 6-10 record with a 4.48 ERA in 24 starts in 2017.

Giolito, a former first round pick of the Nationals in 2012, had a brief stint in the majors last season and had a 6.75 ERA in six games with Washington.

Kopech, who was a key piece the White Sox acquired in a blockbuster offseason deal with the Boston Red Sox for Chris Sale, has been nothing short of dominant in the minors.

Kopech has a 0.66 ERA with 54 strikeouts and seven walks in his last 41 innings with the Birmingham Barons. In 22 minor league starts this season, Kopech has a 2.87 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP with 155 strikeouts in 119.1 innings.

Kopech is currently MLB Pipeline's No. 1 pitching prospect in the minors.