White Sox

Chris Sale not at his best as White Sox fall to AL's best

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Chris Sale not at his best as White Sox fall to AL's best

Chris Sale knows the Royals are the best team in the American League, and he knows you’re not supposed to serve up home runs to the best team in the American League.

“This is not a good team to leave fastballs over the plate to and also not a good team to let the ball travel over the fence,” Sale said. “They take advantage of every opportunity you give them, and that’s what happens.”

Yes, that’s exactly what happened Sunday, as Sale allowed a trio of runs on a pair of homers against the reigning AL champs, the critical blows in a 4-1 White Sox loss at U.S. Cellular Field.

Sale wasn’t his usually dominant self Sunday, and it showed from the very beginning. He allowed three of the first four batters he faced to collect singles, and one of them turned into a run.

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Later on, the left-handed ace served up a pitch that Lorenzo Cain turned into his second solo homer in as many days. The following inning, Paulo Orlando cranked a two-run shot into the seats to put the Royals ahead by four.

Meanwhile, the Royals showed what’s made them one of baseball’s best teams. They got great pitching, as Danny Duffy blanked the White Sox over eight innings. Tyler Saladino’s solo homer to lead off the ninth ended Duffy’s shutout bid, but eight-plus innings of one-run ball allowing just six hits is still stellar. To boot, the Royals’ defense was sensational, with Alcides Escobar — who last week started the All-Star Game at shortstop — making what seemed like one dazzling play per inning.

Pitching and defense. And a couple long balls off one of baseball’s best pitchers. That’s what keeps you atop the standings. And that’s what kept the White Sox out of the win column three out of four times in this weekend series.

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“They limit everything,” Robin Ventura said. “They have a really fast outfield. They limit things in the outfield. It's spread out pretty good. Cain covers a lot of ground, he's done it the last few days. Escobar just seemed to be everywhere today. Even when it's tipping off somebody's glove he's there to pick it up and throw it, and the play at the end of the game. We just couldn't get anything going.”

“Yeah, pitching and defense and doing the little things,” Sale said. “That’s what wins you ballgames and gets you on rolls. We’re having a little bit of bad luck on our side right now. Just try to shake that and just get on a streak.”

Sale’s "off" day has to be put in perspective, of course. Sure, he surrendered a season-high 11 hits. But an ace pitcher should be able to give up only four runs — just the fourth time that’s happened in Sale's 18 starts this season — and not completely sink his team. But the White Sox are the lowest-scoring team in the AL, and that means those four runs were just too many to overcome.

A struggling offense couldn’t muster a thing against Duffy outside of Saladino’s late homer. The White Sox collected just six hits and squandered the chances they did get. Three times in the first three innings they had a runner at second, but no runs came of it. And the most glaring missed opportunity came in the sixth, when after the first two hitters reached, a sacrifice bunt and a pair of strikeouts followed, stranding a pair of runners in scoring position.

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The White Sox dropped three games during this four-game weekend set and are now 3-7 on the season against the Royals. There’ll be no reprieve, either, following Monday’s off day, as the team with the best record in the National League, the Cardinals, visits the South Side for two games.

It could all add up to a real rough way to start the second half after the first half ended with the White Sox winners of nine of 12.

But you know what started that good stretch? A two-game sweep of the Cardinals.

“It’s just frustrating all the way around,” Sale said. “You come out, and you’re playing hard. We’re grinding it out. We’re playing as hard as you can, and that’s all you can really ask. We got some bad luck along the way, too. We’re squaring some balls up and doing some things. Balls hitting off guys’ gloves and going to the other guy. It’s just sometimes you have to shake the bad luck before you get on a roll.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.