White Sox

Sox torrid run ends at nine

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Sox torrid run ends at nine

All good things have to come to an end. The Sox weren't going to win every game from now through early October. On Saturday, a team finally bested the White Sox, losing to Seattle 10-8 in extra innings, the team's first defeat since May 22.

When the Sox nine-game winning streak began the next day, a 21-22 record stared them in the face. Cleveland was up 3 12 games in the AL Central, and the momentum the Sox built up against the Cubs the weekend before was halted by Minnesota blasting Gavin Floyd for nine runs in 3 23 innings. It felt like a Twins-Sox game from years past, in which the Sox couldn't solve their pesky rivals to the north.

The sweep of the Cubs was forgotten as doom and gloom prevailed. The Twins, with all their talent deficiencies, had blown the Sox to bits, and it seemed like some were expecting more of the same in the next two games.

Chris Sale played the role of the stopper, throwing seven shutout innings on May 23. Alex Rios and Paul Konerko belted home runs, which ultimately were the beginnings of outstanding offensive stretches for both players. The Sox won 6-0. They didn't lose again until today.

In between, the Sox played their best stretch of baseball since the summer of 2010, when they won 11 in a row from June 15 through June 26. By the All-Star break, the Sox were in first, erasing a slow start that saw the team fall nine games below .500 on June 8.

After a comeback win over Minnesota on May 24, the Sox faced a showdown with Cleveland. A series win would move the Sox within 2 12 games of Cleveland, and while standings really don't matter this early in the season, that the Sox would at least be hanging around first place would've been an improvement over 2011.

Instead, the Sox went ahead and swept Cleveland, scoring 35 runs to support some shaky starting pitching. It was a team-wide effort, but Konerko led the charge. At the end of the series, Konerko was fielding questions about whether he could hit .400 this year. He rocketed into the MVP discussion, with Texas' Josh Hamilton seemingly his only barrier as the calendar turned to June.

But Rios, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo all picked up the slack. Viciedo in particular has been white-hot, raising his OPS from the mid-.500s to over .800. Dunn continues to mash the ball, hitting his 17th home run Friday. He hit 11 home runs in the month of May alone, equaling his entire 2011 longball total.

The Sox offense carried this streak, totaling 72 runs over nine games -- an average of eight per contest. The Sox scored four or more runs in eight of the nine games, and in the only one they failed to do so, it didn't matter. Sale struck out 15 in that Memorial Day contest, so it didn't matter that the only offensive output was a two-run blast by Dunn.

On the final night of the streak, Beckham hit a pair of home runs. Both came off Felix Hernandez, who hasn't had an ERA above 3.50 since 2007. It was his first multi-homer game of his career.

Saturday, though, saw the streak end. Seattle out-lasted the Sox in a dozen innings, with the Sox giving up a late lead and getting it back on a blast by Viciedo. But Addison Reed couldn't keep the Mariners at bay in his second inning of work, and Seattle scored twice to secure a victory.

When the dust settled, the Sox went from 3 12 games out of first to up on Cleveland. They went from divisional afterthought to legitimate contender.

At least for now. Four months separate the White Sox from the end of the season, but thanks to this nine-game stretch, their season outlook has changed. There's real excitement about the Sox, even if attendance numbers don't show it yet.

And if the streak is a sign of good play to come, that excitement and interest will last long into the fall.

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: