White Sox

Late-season winning streak good for rebuilding White Sox: 'We're kind of giving a small sample of, hopefully, the future'


Late-season winning streak good for rebuilding White Sox: 'We're kind of giving a small sample of, hopefully, the future'

For fans heavily invested in the White Sox rebuild, an August winning streak is maybe not what they were hoping to see.

Mired in a last-place season and 16 games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians in the American League Central standings, the worse the White Sox finish this season, the better their draft pick next summer, which could mean another prized addition to the ongoing rebuild.

But, hey, the White Sox are still allowed to have a little late-summer fun, right?

After sweeping the AL-best Houston Astros and taking the first game of this weekend’s series with the visiting Kansas City Royals, the South Siders have their second-longest winning streak of the season, a stretch bettered only by late April’s six-game streak. You know, back in the days before the trade deadline when the roster looked much, much different.

And while rebuild fans might be getting a little anxious over the potential consequences — the White Sox might be the AL’s worst team, but they still have a better winning percentage than the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies — they should realize that some success now could mean even more success later.

“We’re kind of giving a small sample of, hopefully, the future,” shortstop Tim Anderson said before Saturday’s game. “We’re definitely doing our best and playing hard. Guys are hustling. We’re doing all the small things and what Ricky’s asked of us and just playing real hard.”

“The game has its ups and downs, but any time you can get a stretch like this it just gives your team confidence,” outfielder Adam Engel said. “And you can always build on confidence, especially when you start winning some games, some guys start stepping up and having success. It just helps team chemistry, and hopefully it trends in the right direction.”

The burst of success speaks to the team’s embrace of manager Rick Renteria’s message.

He’s spent the season preaching a certain kind of approach, one that has players showing up to Guaranteed Rate Field every day with sights on the present, something that’s potentially difficult to do considering the franchise’s announced rebuild. The White Sox window of contention has yet to open, with many of the organization’s highest-ranked prospects still developing down in the minor leagues.

We all know that Ricky’s boys don’t quit. And it appears they’ve taken that approach into the latest stages of this last-place season.

“He just wants us to do our best and bring out the best in us, and he’s definitely been doing that and preaching that to us,” Anderson said. “I feel like we’ve been doing what he’s been wanting us to do and just go out and play the game hard. And whatever happens happens. Just really having fun with it and playing hard.”

“We just try and come to the yard every day and focus on what we need to focus on to get better. And I think we’ve been doing that,” Engel said. “We’ve been playing good baseball, and these last four games things have kind of clicked. We’re getting some wins to show for it.”

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No one is under the impression that this is the beginning of some kind of resurgence, one that would miraculously spring the White Sox from last place to playoff contention with just 49 games remaining on the schedule.

But there are positive developments to be made from finally experiencing some winning. The four-game winning streak comes immediately on the heels of a stretch during which the White Sox lost 17 of 20. It’s something that might end up being an important part of this rebuilding process.

“They have an energy about them, a desire to want to be the best. It’s very exciting for them to do what they’re doing and have some positive results, absolutely,” Renteria said. “I think that the way they go about playing the game and preparing, does it help them build on the belief that there’s reason and there’s a process to things moving forward in a particular direction? Yes.

“I think they’re buying into it, I think they’ve been buying in since Day 1. We still have a month and a half left in the regular season, and these guys are trying to take advantage of every moment of it. And they’re still trying to continue to take information in, learn from every experience they have. And they’re still trying to learn how to play together as a team, and I think they’re coming together as a team.”

Anderson talked about the desire to finish strong. And since next year and the years that follow are looking to be the ones that could be a little more important for this team and this franchise, providing some positive momentum could wind up being a big deal.

That’s especially true for guys like Anderson, who’s expected to be a big part of the future, and guys like Engel, fighting to become a big part of the future.

“You can feel the chemistry. We’re going out and playing and having fun and building that brotherhood like it’s supposed to be,” Anderson said. “We’ve got such a great group of guys in the locker room, so we’re just having fun and putting everything on the table and seeing what happens.”

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?

What’s there to know about the Houston Astros?

They’re the best, that’s what there is to know.

The Astros are the defending world champions for a multitude of reasons, and it’s all those and more that will have them as a favorite to repeat in 2018. Yes, the Cubs and New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians will all have something to say about that. But right now, no team is better on paper than the team the just won the big enchilada not five months ago.

The best 1-2 starting-pitching in combo in baseball? It belongs to the Astros. Justin Verlander was sensational for them after coming over in a late-summer trade with the Detroit Tigers. All he did was post a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts and a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings. Justin Verlander. Again. And then there’s his running mate Dallas Keuchel — who doesn’t like the Cubs very much, apparently — has been just as good. He had a 2.90 ERA last year and won the American League Cy Young in 2015 with a 2.48 ERA and 20 wins.

Get past those guys and you’ll have to face the new guy. Gerrit Cole is now an Astro, as well, the reigning champs bolstering their already excellent rotation by importing one of the National League’s best pitchers. Cole saw his numbers jump last year (4.26 ERA) but still almost had 200 strikeouts and now has a much better roster around him than the one he left in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Morton? He threw four one-run innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Lance McCullers? He had 2.1 shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series. This rotation is a force that could mow down the AL. There are questions, sure, but this five is entering 2018 as the best collection of arms in the Junior Circuit.

And we haven’t even gotten to the hitting. Oh, the hitting! The Astros scored 34 runs in seven World Series games. They banged out 56 hits. They hit 15 home runs. This after they were baseball’s best offense during the regular season.

The names are obvious to anyone who watched the postseason. Jose Altuve, surely tired of all the short jokes, is arguably the best player in baseball, and he won the AL MVP last season with a ridiculous .346/.410/.547 slash line. Carlos Correa, perhaps baseball’s best young shortstop, had a .315/.391/.550 slash line. George Springer, your World Series MVP, hit 34 regular-season home runs and got on base at a .367 clip before hitting five homers and slashing .379/.471/.1.000 in the Fall Classic.

Then there’s Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who were all very good to great in 2017. They shouldn’t all be expected to do what they did last season — you need look no further than the Cubs to see what a deep World Series run can do to a team, especially early. But is there a better lineup than this in the AL? Anyone? Bueller?

It’s hard to repeat, and “hard” is becoming one heck of an understatement considering no one’s repeated in almost two decades. The Yankees last did it when they beat the broken-bat-throwing Mike Piazza and the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series. Since then, no one’s done it twice in a row.

Last year, most of us looked at the Cubs and said, “They have the best team, they are favorites to do it again.” And then they were not even in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. A similar fate could await the Astros. But right now, they look like the best team the AL has to offer.

Houston, you are clear for takeoff ... again.

2017 record: 101-61, first place in AL West, World Series champions

Offseason additions: Gerrit Cole, , Joe Smith, Hector Rondon

Offseason departures: Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Mike Fiers, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano

X-factor: The Astros now count one-time Cubs closer Hector Rondon among their relievers now, but the X-factor pick here is Bregman. After a fine but nothing special first half, he was one of baseball's best after the All-Star break last year, slashing .315/.367/.536 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.

Projected lineup:

1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Evan Gattis, DH
9. Derek Fisher, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Gerrit Cole
4. Lance McCullers
5. Charlie Morton

Prediction: First place in AL West

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?


Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

White Sox fans playing the 2020 projection game likely aren't spending too much time on the relief corps.

It might be fun to pick out five names for a potentially elite starting rotation. It might be fun to go around the diamond and place the name of a top prospect at each position. It's probably far less enjoyable to predict which pitchers won't make it as starters and which middle relievers might hit the free-agent market after the 2019 season.

But the bullpen will be a valuable part of any contending White Sox team of the future. And just like everywhere else on the roster, its construction starts now.

The question is, though, after selling off most of the bullpen last summer, how many members of the White Sox bullpen in 2018 will be a part of it in 2020?

Rick Hahn's front office could use a similar strategy this season as it did last season, when Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Dan Jennings were all traded away to acquire prospects that might or might not end up helping the team's rebuilding efforts. This offseason has seen a lot of additions to the relief corps. Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria were acquired in a three-team trade, and there were a bunch of veterans signed to minor league deals that could end up on the team. Those older relievers fit the bill of trade bait, potential sign-and-flip guys that could be used to acquire more minor league talent.

But at the same time, there are young guys who will be a part of this 'pen, guys who could show they belong for the foreseeable future. Juan Minaya, just 27, was the White Sox closer at the end of last season and could very well start this season with that job. He picked up nine saves over the season's last month and a half and didn't give up a run in his final eight outings. The 24-year-old Aaron Bummer pitched in 30 games with the White Sox last season and is still ranked as one of the organization's top 20 prospects. Gregory Infante is 30 but put up good numbers in 52 big league games, finishing the year with a 3.13 ERA.

And then there's Nate Jones. He's pitched in parts of six seasons with the White Sox and just turned 32 years old, but the key word there is "parts." Jones hasn't been able to stay healthy, pitching in just 11 games last year and only 21 combined games in 2014 and 2015. But when he has stayed on the field, he's been very good. Look at 2016, when he turned in a 2.29 ERA and struck out 80 batters in 70.2 innings. Jones is under contract through as long as the 2021 season and has the stuff to contend for the closer's job at some point this season.

While Soria and Avilan look like guys who could be moved should they pitch well enough to draw midseason interest — a reason Soria could potentially get a look at closer at some point, that and his wealth of experience in the role — there are a few names that could be pitching for their long-term futures with the team. Outside of Zack Burdi, there isn't a highly touted prospect that currently projects to be a bullpen guy. That leaves opportunity for some of the guys on this year's roster.