White Sox

White Sox stay level-headed as playoff race hits August

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White Sox stay level-headed as playoff race hits August

The White Sox recognize they’re in a race against time to make a playoff push. But, as they’ve done all year, this is a group of players that's staying level-headed through both the good and the bad.

On Sunday, it was more of the bad side of the White Sox as Jeff Samardzija was torched for nine runs in a 12-3 loss to the New York Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 38,840 at U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox weren’t able to take a series from the American League East leaders and remain three and a half games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second wild card spot.

“We are going to put this one behind us,” manager Robin Ventura said. “They beat us and we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow. I’ll take my chances with Shark anytime he goes out there.”

[MORE: Melky Cabrera emerging as clubhouse leader for White Sox]

The White Sox decided to hang on to Samardzija and stand pat at the trade deadline after winning seven straight games last month, which vaulted them from the periphery to the center of the American League wild card race. Even though they’re three games under .500, the White Sox are in contention for a postseason berth with its competition a rickety Twins club, a Tigers team that sold David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes last week, a middling Rangers side needing a boost from Cole Hamels and an AL East that could cannibalize its wild card contenders.

Still, a sub-optimal first half put the White Sox in an unenviable position in which they can’t afford to let three losses in their last four games grow into something more damaging.

“We know our backs are up against the wall and we need to win as many as possible as soon as possible,” Samardzija said. “The same thing applies for me that applies to everybody. Show up and turn the page and go get them tomorrow. We have a new series and another chance to win a series.”

Samardzija was tagged for nine runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, with the Yankees plating eight of those runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Despite beating New York, 8-2, Saturday night, the White Sox were outscored by 16 runs in their last four games.

Things don’t get any easier for the White Sox after the Yankees leave town. A three-game home series against the fellow wild card contending Tampa Bay Rays begins Monday, and after that the White Sox play 13 consecutive games against teams currently over .500 (three at the Kansas City Royals, three vs. the Los Angeles Angels, three vs. the Cubs, four at the Angels).

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!

We’ll have a good idea by the middle of August if the team’s seven-game winning streak was the product of playing last-place teams in Cleveland and Boston or if it really was a sign of things turning around on 35th and Shields.

“I feel that these guys have been playing great baseball,” catcher Geovany Soto said. “We have a first-place team (the Yankees) over there and they have a great lineup. We lost two out of three but we’re going to keep battling, keep trying to win series and see where we are in September.”

But at some point, the White Sox won’t be able to shrug off blowout losses. The White Sox have 59 games left and would have to go 38-21 to win 88 games, the total Oakland had to clinch the second AL wild card spot in 2014. Even if it takes fewer wins to get into the one-game wild card playoff this year, the White Sox still likely will need about a .600 winning percentage down the stretch to have a shot at playing deep into October.

There's a confidence in the White Sox clubhouse, though, that this team has the players necessary to negotiate the day-to-day grind of a playoff race in August and September.

“We have a great team and we can compete against anybody,” Soto said. “I feel like a lot of these guys in this clubhouse were determined to compete and we have to go play. I feel that against anybody we match up well.”

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

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.