Dan Hayes

After 2005 White Sox get slighted again, A.J. Pierzynski weighs in: 'I think it's a joke'

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AP

After 2005 White Sox get slighted again, A.J. Pierzynski weighs in: 'I think it's a joke'

Fired up about how the 2005 White Sox have been slighted the past two postseasons?

You’re not alone.

Longtime catcher and current Fox Sports broadcaster A.J. Pierzynski noticed earlier this week when ESPN overlooked the 2005 White Sox title run for a second straight year. In a since deleted tweet, ESPN noted on Tuesday that the Los Angeles Dodgers potentially could join the 1998 New York Yankees as the only clubs in the Wild Card Era to win the World Series with two or fewer postseason losses. The omission excludes the starting pitching-dominant 11-1 mark of the 2005 White Sox. Pierzynski — who is speaking in Joliet on Nov. 8 at the Brown & Gold dinner in support of the University of Saint Francis Fighting Saints — admits the most recent oversight of the 2005 team is bothersome.

“I saw it,” Pierzynski said. “I did. I think it’s a joke. I know it came from ESPN, and obviously I work for one of their rivals. Now that I’m in the media and get how it works — basically whoever did that is not doing their job. They didn’t do their job right and that’s it. ... I’m not saying they should be fired, but at least something. You can’t make mistakes like that.

“The White Sox in 2005 had one of the greatest playoff runs of all time and everyone just forgets that the White Sox were in the playoffs or even won the World Series. I get it. I understand the way it works in Chicago and around the country. The Cubs are more popular. But it’s just amazing the way people forget and so quickly.”

The astounding part to Pierzynski and a few other teammates who have spoken out this week is how dominant the White Sox were en route to their first championship in 88 years. The 2005 White Sox swept reigning champion Boston in three games in the American League Division Series. Their five-game victory in the AL Championship Series over the Angels featured complete-game wins from Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras. The same quartet produced 28 more sharp innings in the four-game sweep of the Houston Astros in the World Series.

The sharp contrast in how the White Sox utilized their starting pitchers compared to baseball’s current Bullpenning Era only makes the error more ironic to Pierzynski. The mistake also comes one year after both ESPN and CBS overlooked the team’s accomplishments prior to the Cubs’ storied title run.

Two consecutive years of overlooking the 2005 group’s accomplishment has led to numerous jokes on social media and also stirred up anger among the team’s fan base, an emotion Pierzynski understands.

“It’ll never happen again where you have four guys in the ALCS throw complete games and get wins,” Pierzynski said. “It’ll never happen because managers now can’t wait to get to the bullpen. Back then we had a great bullpen ... but we just wanted to ride our starters. Did we pay for it the next year and down the road? Probably a little bit. But at that moment, they were our best four pitchers and we rode them into the ground and they got it done for us.

“I know the 1998 Yankees are considered one of the greatest teams of all-time and one of the reasons is they went 11-1 in the playoffs. We matched them and everyone just discards us because I guess we didn’t have the sexy names or the big names. But we had a team that was really good.

“I get it from a media standpoint and I know I work for Fox. There are sexier teams, I get it. But it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Why White Sox would be best served to remain patient with Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech

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AP

Why White Sox would be best served to remain patient with Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech

White Sox farmhand Eloy Jimenez made it very clear he intends to land on the South Side sometime next season.

The current Dominican League player of the week — and MLBPipeline.com’s No. 4 overall prospect in baseball — said Wednesday his top priority is to either start or finish the 2018 campaign in the big leagues with the White Sox. Since he was acquired in the Jose Quintana trade last July, Jimenez, who finished the season at Double-A Birmingham, has been an offensive juggernaut. He hasn’t slowed down in winter ball, either, as he’s hitting .400/.405/.714 with two home runs and eight RBIs in his first eight games for the Gigantes del Cibao.

The outfielder’s outstanding production is certain to draw many calls for Jimenez’s arrival to be expedited next season. How the White Sox handle Jimenez and Michael Kopech, who both appear to be on the cusp of reaching the majors, could be significant in what kind of fruit the club’s rebuild ultimately bares.

“Right now my purpose is to keep working hard, finish strong here and start or end the next season in the United States in the Major Leagues,” Jimenez told the team.

While the top prospect’s latest statement is sure to fire up White Sox fans waiting for his big league debut yet again, it’s also certain to test the will of the front office.

Last month, general manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox are in a tricky position. Similar to their thirsty fans, the team’s brain trust is encouraged by what took place in 2017. They’d love to hit the fast forward button and are just as eager as anyone to snap a lengthy postseason drought that extends all the way back to 2008.

But that’s the difficult part as Hahn knows the White Sox must remain vigilant when it comes to the long-term plan and not rush any prospects. Jimenez and Kopech are likely in 2018 to test Hahn, who often says that the “good ones have a way of forcing the issue.” When he visited the White Sox in September, Kopech realized he’s only “one step away” after a dominant 2017 season.

What the White Sox must do is find the balance in between and afford their top minor leaguers enough time to accomplish everything they need before they arrive in the big leagues. That means giving Kopech sufficient time to further hone his fastball command and work on secondary pitches and allowing Jimenez who only has 73 plate appearances above Single-A —  more time against advanced pitchers to have an idea what awaits him in the bigs.

The White Sox did a good job of staying patient in 2017 with second baseman Yoan Moncada and pitchers Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer.

Unlike years past when prospects were rushed to the majors to fill holes for an organization that hoped to be competitive, the White Sox reversed course in 2017 and let them further develop at Triple-A Charlotte. The new philosophy paid dividends for Giolito and Fulmer, who both shrugged off midsummer slumps and performed well on the mound in September. It also gave Moncada and Lopez time to adapt to a new organization after the massive trades that brought them to the White Sox last December. Moncada responded by producing 1.7 b-Wins Above Replacement in 54 games and Lopez showed plenty of signs he’s a middle of the rotation pitcher during his eight starts.

Kopech and Jimenez should push the White Sox the same way Moncada and Lopez did in 2017. The team would be best served to handle them in a similar fashion.

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”