White Sox

How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs

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USA TODAY

How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs

Without the White Sox, this year's MLB postseason would look a lot different.

Already, just one game in, former White Sox players are starring, and with all the talent traded away from the South Side in the past year, it's not unreasonable to suggest that one of the biggest difference-makers in the 2017 playoffs could be Rick Hahn.

Tuesday night's AL wild card game was a good one, the New York Yankees topping the Minnesota Twins by an 8-4 score to advance to the ALDS. And while the Yankees' trio of homers — smacked by Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner — had nothing to do with the White Sox, former South Side relief pitchers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle combined to throw 5.2 innings of scoreless ball. Those innings were crucial after Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino was lifted after recording just one out in the first inning. Severino coughed up three first-inning runs and earned a quick hook in the winner-take-all game. Fortunately for the Yankees, the offense responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first and the bullpen stopped the bleeding. Robertson and Kahnle did the majority of that work.

That deadline deal involving the White Sox and Yankees, which also included third baseman Todd Frazier, was tremendously beneficial for both sides as the two franchises are at vastly different places when it comes to competing for a championship. The Yankees made that deal for exactly this kind of scenario, and without it, maybe the Twins would have advanced on Tuesday night.

But the AL wild card game won't be the only place the White Sox recent flurry of deals will be felt this postseason. Obviously the Yankees now move on to face off against the Cleveland Indians, and Robertson, Kahnle and Frazier figure to all continue to play big roles for the Bronx Bombers. But look elsewhere on the bracket, too. The two guys who just a year ago topped the White Sox rotation are now pitching in the playoffs with new teams.

Chris Sale will get the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS between his Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. Sale, who struck out 308 hitters this season and is a candidate to win the AL Cy Young, could have a monumental impact on the playoffs for as long as the Red Sox stay alive. He's the kind of top-of-the-line starting pitcher who the Red Sox could throw twice in a best-of-five series and three times, perhaps, in a best-of-seven series. As we've seen in recent years with pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber and Cole Hamels and further back with guys like Josh Beckett, one starting pitcher can dominate a postseason. Is Sale that guy this year? That would be some instant gratification for the Red Sox after the offseason trade that sent Sale to Boston and brought back Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox.

Jose Quintana, meanwhile, might not be the ace of the Cubs' starting staff, but he'll make his first career postseason start in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. Quintana was one of the Cubs' most reliable starting pitchers down the stretch, posting a 2.52 ERA in five September starts, and he figures to make a big difference every time he grabs the ball. Obviously, the longer the Cubs remain in the playoffs, the greater an impact he will make.

It's well known the prospects that Hahn acquired in the deals that sent these impact guys out of town, and that's gone a long way toward building what he hopes is a championship team of the future. Don't be surprised, though, if one of these deals ends up making a big difference on whatever team is the championship squad of the present.

Just for fun, here are all the former White Sox (and some former White Sox farmhands) on the 40-man rosters of this year's playoff teams:

— Cleveland Indians: Austin Jackson

— Houston Astros: Tyler Clippard, Chris Devenski, Francisco Liriano

— Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Chris Young

— New York Yankees: Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier

— Minnesota Twins: Eduardo Escobar

— Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon McCarthy, Trayce Thompson

— Washington Nationals: Matt Albers, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Eaton

— Chicago Cubs: Jose Quintana, Alex Avila

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.