White Sox

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

Mama said there’d be days like this.

In the middle of the rebuild, it’s hard to call an embarrassing blowout loss unexpected. These types of things are going to happen while the team of the future develops down in the minor leagues.

But anyone who was inside Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon or watching from home saw just how low the lows can get while that plan plays out.

Derek Holland gave up seven runs and left before an out was recorded in the third inning. The visiting Kansas City Royals poured seven more runs on the White Sox bullpen over the course of another South Side marathon. Errors and mental mistakes were made in the field. And the prized prospect who’s supposed to be the star of the team when the rebuild reaches its apex, he struck out for the 30th and 31st times in his last 19 games.

The White Sox aren’t yet at the point when every loss stings the fan base. It’s the middle of August in a last-place season. Heck, losses are even helping the team reach some fans’ goal of the White Sox getting the No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft.

But this one was a stinker. As exciting as it might be to project out the 2020 lineup and follow along with box scores from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, games like this show the most difficult aspects of a rebuild.

“In terms of mistakes, today and yesterday we had some things that didn’t go well and that doesn’t play well or doesn’t look well and we don’t want those things to occur,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “But you continue to address them as need be and deal with them. I think as we continue to move along, hopefully they continue to be fewer and far between. But is it to be expected that they might make mistakes like some that have occurred? Yes.”

Leury Garcia had a couple ugly-looking plays in left field, first making an errant throw home that allowed a run to score in the second and then misjudging a ball that flew by him and went for a double in the third. Those plays, along with Tyler Saladino’s first-inning error at third base, made for a batch of fielding mistakes to go along with a couple mistakes on the base paths in Saturday’s loss.

But the fielding woes paled in comparison to those of Holland on the mound. The veteran righty hasn’t had a good year, and Sunday might have been his worst outing yet. He gave up four runs in the second inning and then couldn’t get an out in the third, giving up a leadoff homer before a double and a walk. He left after throwing 67 pitches and recording just six outs, tagged for seven runs, those two he left on for Mike Pelfrey scoring on Whit Merrifield’s three-run homer.

Holland’s season ERA jumped up to 5.68 after Sunday’s outing.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “Today was just, in my eyes, embarrassing. Not being able to find the strike zone, and then when I did, catching too much plate. These guys are going to do what they did today to you when you can’t not be in the middle of the plate. It’s frustrating. We’ve been working our asses off to do everything right on the field. The thing I’m happy about is obviously being healthy, but I’m past that. I’ve obviously shown I’m healthy, it’s just a matter of executing. It’s frustrating to sit here and work as hard as we do with (pitching coach Don Cooper) and the bullpen and go out there and not be able to do the job I should be doing. It’s just frustrating. I really don’t even know where to begin.”

While much of the campaign has been a rough go for Holland, things have gotten particularly rocky as summer has worn on. He’s made it out of the sixth inning just once since the beginning of July, posting a 8.76 ERA since then. He’s walked a total of 22 batters in his last five starts, including seven in the start prior to Sunday’s.

Sunday was his shortest start of the season but the third since the beginning of June in which he’s failed to get out of the third inning.

“It’s hard,” Renteria said. “When we watch it, we ask ourselves the same thing, ‘What can we possibly do to help him get through this?’ The reality is, tomorrow’s another day and you go back to the drawing board and see if he can put himself back and give himself an opportunity for a good outing the next time out.

“He’s obviously not wanting to go out there to fail. He wants to have success and he wants to have success for his teammates, himself. You feel for him right now, where he’s at. This young man’s working through every possible scenario, and I know he and Coop, they get after it. He’s got a tremendous work routine and ethic, but it just hasn't been working out to this point over the last few outings. I know he's very cognizant of that and he’s wanting to get back on track. The question for all of us, and for him, continues to be, how do we do that?”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The presence of Holland — as well as other veteran pitchers on the staff like Mike Pelfrey, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez — are necessities in a rebuilding situation, even as the starting pitchers of the future like Reynaldo Lopez start to slowly make their way to the big league team.

Look across town to the Cubs and the kinds of starting pitchers they were employing during their rebuilding years. Yes, Theo Epstein’s front office turned some sign-and-flip guys into top-tier prospects that ended up playing a huge role on a World Series team. But the likes of Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva and Felix Doubront turned into nothing but high ERAs for those fifth-place Cubs teams.

That’s the reality of a rebuild.

“I’m my own worst critic. And I’m not happy with the way I’m performing,” Holland said. “These guys are out here busting their asses for me, and for me to not do my job is what’s frustrating. I have every right to be upset with myself because these fans deserve better. I should be doing better. And I’m not performing the way that I feel I should be. For me, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s very disappointing, and it’s very embarrassing, too.

“I’ve got to keep grinding. I’m not going to throw in the towel. Just because I had a bad outing doesn't mean I quit. We’re going to continue to keep plugging away. Still got the opportunity to be out there, I’ve got to take advantage of it each time like I have been. We all go through tough times, it’s just a matter of the tough times ending.”

But along with all that present-day sorrow comes that hope for the future.

Yoan Moncada had two more strikeouts Sunday, but he also picked up a double. A flash of brilliance for a young player still developing, even if he’s now doing it at the big league level.

He scored on Tim Anderson’s home run, the fourth in the last eight games for the shortstop who’s struggled much of the season but is having himself a very solid August.

Nicky Delmonico reached base for the 12th straight game and picked up a hit in his 10th straight. Look out, DiMaggio. But in all seriousness, he was on base three more times Sunday and might have had a ninth-inning homer if not for Alex Gordon’s highlight-reel leaping snag to end the game.

So this is life in the rebuild. There are going to be some bad days. And if the team on the North Side taught Chicago baseball fans anything, there might even be some bad years. The White Sox are going through one right now, with Sunday’s defeat being the team’s 70th loss of the season.

But there’s also plenty of reason to be hopeful, and these bad days and bad years will have their silver linings, silver linings that will — if everything goes according to Rick Hahn’s plan — blossom into a golden era on the South Side.

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.