White Sox

Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

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Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

When Mike Martz was hired in 2010 as Bears offensive coordinator, the euphoria was palpable in some quarters. This was going to be the great leap forward for Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense.

It didnt prove to be entirely the case. The Bears were the No. 6 scoring offense when Cutler went down with his broken thumb. But the greatest leaps forward over the past two seasons followed when coach Lovie Smith gave then-OL coach Mike Tice a greater voice in the game planning.

Tice was elevated to coordinator and Jeremy Bates brought in as quarterbacks coach, without the designation of passing-game coordinator. The positive buzz began again because Bates coached Cutler with the Denver Broncos in the quarterbacks first three NFL seasons.

Its a big advantage for us, coach Lovie Smith said during last weekend's rookie minicamp. When I was looking at filling the position, I took all of that into consideration. Jeremy has a background, has a history.

But not all the Bates history is good. The rejoicing that some accorded the hiring of Martz and what it would mean for Cutlers development was premature. Any celebration of Bates arrival simply because he was in Cutlers ear during the 2006-08 seasons should be put on hold as well.

Reality check

This is not to say that Bates, a position coach, cannot emerge as a major positive force in a passing game built around and on Cutler.

But the stark reality is that Bates needs to produce better results than he has at any previous time in his NFL career. Otherwise his addition to the staff may end up in the MartzTurnerHamilton file.

Since becoming a position coach with Tampa Bay in 2004, Bates has coached on only one winning NFL team (the 9-7 Denver team in 2006, Cutlers rookie season). That team did not reach the playoffs despite being 7-4 when Cutler replaced Jake Plummer as the starter.

Notably perhaps, that Denver offense was the most balanced, with a near 50-50 split between run and pass. The next two years saw Denver tilt increasingly toward throwing, at 56 percent in 2007 and 38 percent in 2008 when Bates was the chief play caller.

The 2008 team stood at 8-5 but lost the final three in a row with Cutler throwing 2 touchdown passes vs. 4 interceptions and posting three consecutive sub-75 ratings in that span.

Given Tices commitment to offensive balance and Bates relationship with Cutler, Bates buy-in to that philosophy looms as a pivotal mindset for 2012.

The only NFL team to make the playoffs was the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, which went 7-9 and fired Bates after the season ended with a playoff loss to the Bears. Bates, like Martz after his failed 2008 season with San Francisco, was out of football the following season.

We lost in the 10 playoffs, and Im just very fortunate to be with a great Bears staff and great ownership and some good players, Bates said.

Bates Cutler management

Bates role in molding Cutler warrants some particular scrutiny. Cutlers fundamentals were a target of Martz from the beginning and of critics within the NFL community who saw throws off the back foot and other flaws.

Not all of those could be blamed on Cutlers one year with Ron Turner and Pep Hamilton, since he didnt particularly listen to them anyway.

The operating principle now is that Cutler will listen to Bates.

We were together in Denver for three years, Bates said. I think hes got great talent. Hes a Pro Bowl quarterback. And Im excited to be with him.

The Bates-Cutler yarn ball is difficult to unravel and shouldnt be taken as an automatic positive any more than Cutlers seeming early endorsement of Martz was.

Cutler went to the Pro Bowl off his 2008 season. But Pro Bowl selections are questionable indicators, voted-on awards with fan input counting for one-third, not anything won on the field.

Indeed, Cutler was selected to the Pro Bowl despite a passer rating of 86.0. That rating, which measures passing, not winning or quarterbacking, was second only to Brett Favres 81.0 for the New York Jets that same year as the lowest for a Pro Bowl quarterback over the last six seasons.

The only Bowl that matters

The term of last six seasons was used only because that extends back through the 2006 season -- when the Bears went to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, who was hardly a Pro Bowl quarterback with his 73.9 rating but at least owns an NFC Championship ring. Cutler does not.

(Best guess is that given the choice of Bowl to make, Cutler chooses Super over Pro. If not, the Bears have a bigger problem.)

Hes still the same quarterback, Bates said. Has a great arm. I think the experience of any profession, or anything you do, the more times you do it you grow with it, both good and bad.

Hes definitely matured as a player, because hes had good games and bad games, and you get better every game. So the more experience and the more snaps, youre always going to get better at your craft.

For the Bears purposes, that needs to apply to both quarterback and coach.

Hes a good football coach, Smith said. I knew that before and I believe it even more now from seeing him work with our players. I think our guys will talk to you the same way about what hes brought to the table. So, pretty excited about that. He should help us.

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

The White Sox played the White Sox Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field and the White Sox won 2-0.

Yes, the intrasquad portion of this wacky 2020 baseball season is upon us.

It would be foolish to put too much stock in one scrimmage, but considering the White Sox are just two weeks away from their first regular season game, these intrasquad games do hold some value, especially in determining the readiness of individual players who have been scattered all over the country for months trying to stay prepared for some sort of baseball season.

“Guys are getting their work done under tough circumstances,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said. “I think they are understanding that it’s a sprint. It’s a sprint to Opening Day, it’s a sprint to the season.”

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Making matters worse, manager Rick Renteria missed Thursday’s activities because he had to return to California for a family funeral. Renteria is not expected to be gone long, but he will have to clear MLB's COVID-19 protocol upon his return. With testing results taking a day or two to come back, Renteria could miss a few days.

In the meantime, McEwing led the team Thursday. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but here are some notable events from the game:

- I don’t know the exact number of Luis Robert at-bats I’ve seen in person, but it’s probably only around 15 to 20. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but in each game I’ve seen him play – going back to spring training in 2018 -- Robert always hits the ball hard. Thursday was no different as he just missed a home run to right-center in the first inning and then hammered a ball off Steve Cishek in the third inning. That ball looked destined for left field, but third baseman Yermín Mercedes made a really nice snag to record the out.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Robert adapts to Major League pitching once the games start because he certainly looks good in camp. My personal expectations continue to be sky high.

- It’s no secret that Eloy Jiménez needs to improve as a left fielder, but he sure looked comfortable going back on a line drive hit by Luis Basabe Thursday. Off the bat, it looked like the ball would easily fly over Jiménez’s head, but he tracked it well and made the catch over his left shoulder.

“Outstanding play on a ball to his left, going left into the gap off the bat of Basabe,” McEwing said. “Hard hit ball.”

- Tim Anderson looked smooth fielding a ball up the middle, but McEwing’s comments about his defense were even more interesting. Anderson spent the hiatus doing exercises to open up his hips in an effort to be able to bend more.

“They did specific exercises to open up his hips to put his body in a better position,” McEwing said. “And you can see it going to his backhand, like today, going up the middle, he was low the whole time. And in. Being able to throw from different angles while carrying something on it with his legs still underneath him. He looks amazing.”

McEwing has worked closely with Anderson on his defense for years, and while Anderson won the American League batting title last season, they’d both like to see his defense take off in 2020.

“He’s grown into a man – not just on the field, but off the field,” McEwing said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. It’s like, OK, you can leave the nest now. You’re on your own.”

- There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in Thursday’s scrimmage, but Edwin Encarnación finally delivered in the fourth inning with a solo home run to center field off of Aaron Bummer. Encarnación continues to be praised by coaches and teammates and figures to be a big piece of the puzzle during this 60-game sprint.

RELATED: Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

- One odd site to see Thursday? A Nick Madrigal strikeout. Granted, it was looking, and I believe balls/strikes were being called by the catcher. Madrigal only struck out 16 times in 532 plate appearances across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A last season.

- Drew Anderson, a non-roster invitee, pitched two perfect innings and was the one who punched out Madrigal to start the game. In fact, he struck out three of the six batters he faced, including James McCann and Andrew Vaughn. Anderson is a former 21st round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and only made nine major league appearances over the last three seasons before getting an opportunity with the White Sox.

Stay tuned, as the White Sox are also scheduled to play intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday. 

 

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Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

To be honest, it wasn't terribly surprising to see Edwin Encarnación blast a home run out to center field during Thursday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

After all, that's the reason the 37-year-old slugger is here. He's smashed at least 30 homers in each of the last eight seasons, including two spent as a member of the division-rival Cleveland Indians. Rick Hahn inked Encarnación to provide some big-time pop to the middle of a White Sox lineup looking to swing its way out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode in 2020.

But for all the homers he's hit, Encarnación is still drumming up plenty of excitement every time he sends one out. Mostly because of the parrot.

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Encarnación's signature home run celebration involves miming that he has a parrot on his arm while he rounds the bases. It's hilarious and a great deal of baseball fun.

So when he teed off on an Aaron Bummer pitch Thursday, there's just one thing his teammates wanted to see. They started screaming at him from the dugout, "Parrot! Parrot! Do the parrot!"

He obliged, sticking that arm out as he rounded second base, even moving it up and down on the way to third, much to the delight of everyone in that third-base dugout. There wasn't a crowd in the stands, but the crowd in the dugout went wild.

"The parrot made an appearance on the South Side!" White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said joyously after the intrasquad showdown wrapped.

Coincidentally, Encarnación chatted with the media just one day earlier and was asked about the health of his imaginary feathered friend.

"I think the parrot is still alive, it's still on my elbow," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Hopefully when the season starts, you're going to see it very often."

Well, the season hasn't even started yet, and we've already got a parrot sighting.

Bird or no bird, Encarnación's presence in the middle of the White Sox lineup is extremely important. While the roster around him and fellow veteran slugger Jose Abreu is full of youthful potential and thrilling promise, Encarnacion, one of a slew of veteran additions made by Hahn's front office during the winter, brings reliability to the proceedings. There are plenty of reasons to anticipate big things from Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and the rest of the team's young hitters. The White Sox know what they're getting from Encarnación.

After ranking 25th out of 30 teams in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, the White Sox needed some heft. In Encarnación, they've got it.

"It gives us depth. It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer," McEwing said. "And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it, what he means to this ballclub, not just in the clubhouse but on the field.

"When he steps in the box, it’s a presence, that model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room, and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence."

RELATED: White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

As for the pitcher who gave the home run up Thursday, don't fret about any damaging effects for Bummer. He's equally thrilled by what this lineup looks like with Encarnación in it.

"I'm just glad he's on our side now," he said of the former division rival. "I'm glad he's on our side, and I'm glad that he got one (off me) when it didn't count.

"It's just kind of fun to watch. ... You see the lineup we're putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy. It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

It's a stark contrast inside the stadium, the difference between the mostly silent moments without fans in the stands and the incredibly entertaining moments when the players start talking and you can hear everything they say. It seems the latter could make for some added fun for TV viewers when the regular-season games are broadcast.

Thursday, there was no missing those screams: "Do the parrot!"

It's a good bet we haven't seen the last of Encarnación's avian acquaintance this year.


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