Charlie Tilson

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected.

After the way the first two nights went for the White Sox during their four-game stay in Houston, the expectations weren't high going up against Gerrit Cole. Cole entered the game as baseball's strikeout leader, with 93 of them in his first 60.2 innings this season. After White Sox hitters struck out a combined 27 times in the games started by Brad Peacock and Justin Verlander, it figured to be more of the same.

But that's not how baseball works.

The White Sox got solo homers from Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu for an early lead on Cole, but it was what they did in the field that got the baseball world buzzing. They turned the first triple play of the 2019 season in slick fashion. It was the White Sox first triple play since the 2016 season, when they turned three of them.

Normally, a triple play would be hands down the highlight of the night. But after the Astros pushed three runs across against Ivan Nova in the bottom of the fourth inning, the White Sox staged a stunning comeback against the typically dominant Cole.

They started the sixth with four straight hits, with Yona Moncada's single tying the game and James McCann, with another successful moment in the cleanup spot, doubling in the go-ahead run. Four batters and two outs later, Charlie Tilson, not exactly known for his power, smacked a grand slam, his first career homer, to bust things open.

Tilson became the first White Sox hitter whose first career homer was a grand slam since Danny Richar back in 2007. It's been a very nice stretch for Tilson, who came up from Triple-A Charlotte early this month. He's slashing .304/.339/.393 in 2019, now with one home run.

So by the end of the evening, the White Sox got a triple play, a Tilson grand slam, not one but two Jimenez home runs and a win over the best team in baseball — in Houston, no less, where the White Sox last win came in September 2017. Outside of a mighty positive night from Jimenez, who has two two-homer nights in just 24 games in his career, these might be oddities with little big-picture applications for this rebuilding organization. But a fun, eventful night for the record books is surely welcome.

Mercy.

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Charlie Tilson is on fire: Could he be a solution to part of White Sox outfield problem for 2019?

Charlie Tilson is on fire: Could he be a solution to part of White Sox outfield problem for 2019?

Hot streaks are, by definition, fleeting.

But if Charlie Tilson can keep this up, well maybe the White Sox have found an answer to what has been a revolving door of a problem in their outfield this season.

Tilson's latest big league stint is just three days old. He was called up from Triple-A Charlotte prior to the start of this week's four-game set against the division-rival Cleveland Indians. But in three days, he's impressed, going 5-for-11 with a double, three runs scored, two stolen bases and a walk in the first three games of the series. That's good for a .455 batting average and a 1.045 OPS, numbers that would be even higher had Carlos Gonzalez not taken away a bloop hit with a diving catch to end the eighth inning of Wednesday's loss.

All this follows up a strong offensive performance at Charlotte this season, where Tilson was slashing .333/.396/.475 before getting called up Monday.

Does it spell a locked-in everyday spot in the White Sox outfield for Tilson? Of course not. Not yet. Three games is a ridiculously small sample size to base such declarations on. But for a White Sox outfield that's struggled to produce, a revitalized Tilson — who slashed .264/.331/.292 in 41 games last season — could be a nice find for the remainder of the season.

While Eloy Jimenez's very presence is a positive (when healthy, of course) and Leury Garcia has been totally fine with a .299 batting average and .346 on-base percentage, the team has struggled to get production from just about every other outfielder it's trotted out there. Daniel Palka began his 2019 season 0-for-32 and was sent down to Charlotte. Nicky Delmonico and Ryan Cordell have had a couple big moments — Delmonico hit a walk-off homer to beat the Boston Red Sox last week, and Cordell had a game-tying, two-run single in Wednesday night's game — but have struggled to find consistency. Delmonico is batting .222 after Wednesday's loss, Cordell at .250. And even though Jimenez represents a bright future for the White Sox, he hasn't exactly torn the cover off the ball in his first taste of the big leagues, with a .241/.294/.380 slash line in 21 games.

Let's not forget, also, that Jon Jay, who was supposed to be a near-everyday fixture in the White Sox lineup, has yet to play this season while dealing with a hip/groin injury.

Certainly it would be quite a surprise if Tilson was the guy to bring some stability to that outfield, but if he keeps hitting like he's hitting now, maybe that could be the case. Once Jimenez returns from the injured list, he'll be an everyday presence. And Garcia has hit well enough to earn similar status for the time being. Rick Renteria said Cordell would get an everyday shot in right field, but if Tilson keeps hitting, how could Renteria deny him a regular spot in the lineup?

Of course, this hot streak will need to last a while longer to elevate Tilson to such a level. Certainly he figures to have a tough time outlasting the group of outfield prospects that contains Jimenez, Luis Robert, Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez, Steele Walker and Joel Booker. But the big league outfield needs productive bats in 2019, too. That's where Tilson might be able to find a home.

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As Jon Jay officially joins White Sox, Charlie Tilson becomes victim of roster crunch

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USA TODAY

As Jon Jay officially joins White Sox, Charlie Tilson becomes victim of roster crunch

Jon Jay is officially a member of the White Sox. Next on the to-do list? Complete the "Miami Baseball Brotherhood" with mega free agent Manny Machado.

That still hasn't happened, as Machado has gone more than nine days into 2019 without picking between the White Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees. If he were to choose to sign up with Jay, good friend and winter workout buddy, and Yonder Alonso, good friend and winter workout buddy and brother-in-law, and the White Sox, that would be the start of a brand new era of baseball on the South Side.

An era now officially underway is the one specifically involving Jay, who figures to play a large role in the team's outfield plans during the 2019 season. While the biggest addition there will be Eloy Jimenez once he arrives from the minor leagues a couple weeks into April, Jay provides an offensive upgrade and a defensive upgrade in the wake of the non-tendering of Avisail Garcia. He's a high on-base guy who can give the White Sox more of the kinds of at-bats they're hoping to see from their young players. And alongside Adam Engel, he gives the White Sox a pair of 2018 Gold Glove finalists in the outfield.

Daniel Palka will probably still get his opportunities in right field, especially if his dedication to improving his defense pays off after a 27-homer rookie season. But those perhaps won't be quite as prevalent now that Jay is in the fold.

Jay's biggest contributions, though, will likely come off the field. He earns rave reviews as a positive clubhouse presence, another thing the White Sox needed as the rest of their roster is young and getting younger. He can lean on his wealth of playoff experience from his time with the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals and show the youngsters how to do things the right way, something that will surely be appreciated by manager Rick Renteria and the White Sox front office.

One era that appears to be ending with Jay's official addition to the roster, though, is the one involving Charlie Tilson, who was designated for assignment as the corresponding move. While the loss of Tilson — the Wilmette native who slashed .264/.331/.292 in only 41 big league games last season — might not be a huge one, it's the start of a 40-man roster crunch that will take place over the remainder of the offseason. The White Sox have been active, so perhaps there aren't too many more additions to be made. But there's the possibility of Machado coming to the South Side and the need for one more starting pitcher, at the very least, which means Tilson is likely not the last person to lose his 40-man spot this winter.

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