White Sox

13 things we've learned about the White Sox

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13 things we've learned about the White Sox

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 1:02 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
Ten times this season, Poetry in Pros will submit a Chicago White Sox report card of sorts for your approval. At 7-9, after the Tampa Bay Rays exacted some revenge on the Chisox for taking three of four from them in Chicago, the White Sox have played the first 10 of their seasonand the results have been mixed, and not in the way youd expect from an "All-In" team deflating into a sub-.500 record after a 4-6 homestand.Put another waythe Rays started out the season a franchise-worst 0-6, and just a week and change later, they are sporting an identical 7-9 record.Why a list of 13? Well, the White Sox go how Ozzie goes, so heres your bakers dozen roundup.

1. Adam Dunns brain power is just as strong as his healing power.

All plaudits are due to Dunn for his quick recovery from an appendectomy, missing only six games. But hes proven to have just as much mental strength as he does healing powerand not in a good way. See, the affable first sacker was convinced way back in spring training that traditionally he was a slow starter. In fact, that applied only last season, when he was miserable in April (.823 OPS). For his career, Dunns strongest month in an OPS sense, was Aprilhes at .971 right now, but that is influenced by his .735 in 41 plate appearances so far this season. Brain is succeeding over brawn so far this season.

2. Juan Pierre has disproved the adage that speed doesnt slump.

The fact that Pierre has been a slow starter for the Chisox is nothing new. Pierre was horrible last April, when he put up just a .454 OPS out of the gate, dropping down out of the leadoff spot. However, even as he struggled, he still stole bagsnine of 12 in April, 10 of 11 in Mayen route to a league-leading 68. This year, Pierre like many of his cohorts got off to a blistering start, but has sputtered to a .648 OPS off identical an .324 OBA and SLG, which trails even his merely adequate .657 OPS of 2010. However, hes just four of nine in stolen bases. In an April that has found Pierre losing his defensive touchwhile oft-criticized in every aspect of his game, there wasnt a ball the speedster couldnt get to in 2010losing the other value aspect of his game, baserunning, will leave the White Sox with little use for him if the trend continues.

3. The White Sox outfield is wafer-thin.

Of course, that presumes the White Sox have someone more useful to play left field. Think back just three weeks ago, when the White Sox outfield was considered enough of a strength that the team broke camp with just four (exclusive) outfielders (and with Carlos Quentins prior defensive miscues, that total should be whittled to three), and the groups collective under-performance is daunting. Pierre is not the only subpar member, as Alex Rios and his gimpy big toe has also gotten off to a slow start (a .558 OPS with two steals and just four RBI after a three-homer, nine-RBI, nine-steal, .796 OPS start last year), indicating that perhaps his bounce-back in 2010 was a mirage. Quentin has been a monster (mashing his way to a .974 OPS), but hes just one slow step on a flyball away from stumbling into five games in the trainers roomthe Michelin Man wraps on his tousled and torn body have already started to appear.

Otherwise, the White Sox are in dire straits in the outfield: Lastings Milledge, the fourth pure outfielder breaking camp with the club, was dropped to AAA Charlotte after the first series of the season, Brent Lillibridge is a light hitter and Mark Teahen a light, ahem, fielder. Down on the farm? Dayan Viciedo (recovering from a broken thumb) and Jordan Danks broke slowly from the gate, and the White Sox just sold their top power prospect, corner outfielder Stefan Gartrell, to the Atlanta Braves. Reinforcements in sight? You better be using a helluva zoom lens.

4. Alexei Ramirez has Silver Slugger on the brain.

This isnt entirely a bad thing, because Ramirez is looking less and less like an accidental or incidental Silver Slugger winner by getting out of the box with an .827 OPSin his weakest month, battling the Ides of April, no less. However, defensively hes been slipshod, fielding at just a .946 clip, with his range factor slipping downward. Expect both his explosive offense and flaccid defense to settle back more toward his career means, but Ramirez has done his share of sieving on defense, along with the rest of the White Sox, and hes not a player you figured on suffering such a slump.

5. Omar needs to be activated.

OK, Omar Vizquel is technically active, and has been all season long, at least to the tune of four games and 15 plate appearances. And Guillen has been fond of sayinghas been since SoxFest, in factthat if Vizquel is shouldering a heavy innings load, the White Sox are in trouble. Well, what level of apathy and free-fall must the White Sox reach before they are in trouble? Vizquel is near a .900 OPS out of the gate and is a strong defender throughout the infield. Brent Morel has done about as well as expected, but both offensively and defensively he needs to be spelled more often. As the White Sox have seen with players like Brian Anderson in CF in 2006, its impossible to let a modestly-talented rookie learn on the job and be all-in at the same time.

6. The rotation is in desperate need of a Peavy.

Whether it embarrasses the rest of the starters or not, the best pitcher the White Sox have had this seasonextending back to the Cactus Leaguehas been Jake Peavy. His low ERA and apparent readiness for a first White Sox start later next week is just what a floundering White Sox team needs.

Broader picture, Peavys setback on Mondayleaving his supposed second-to-last rehab start after throwing 15 pitchescould have devastating implications for a rotation thats barely scraping by in his absence.

7. There is no ace.

Last week, the rotation put together a nice run of exquisite starts, and overall they havent been as horrid out of the gate as in 2010, when their under-performance did much to scuttle the clubs chances at a playoff berth. But no Chicago starter has stitched together consecutive outstanding strong starts in the early going, and on a team that had every reason to boast of five possible aces heading into the season, thats just not good enough.

8. Rebirth of Cool Ken Williams wont last long.

Williams down-lowed the fray as his Chisox started hot, as he has of late when his Pale Hose have sagged. His most telling comments on the team: Let em play, and stay out of the way. If the White Sox continue their on-again, off-again play under the weight of a club-record payroll, calm Ken will leave the building and the firestarter will return.

9. Fast starts can end fast.

The White Sox got to six wins this season some two weeks faster than in 2010, which was thought to be a telling sign that "All-In" had taken root. Well, the White Sox have lost six of seven since then, which hasnt only sagged the club in the standings, but threatens to water down attendance for a team that desperately needs a swell of 2.6 million fannies to reach break-even.

10. Matty Ice has melted.

It goes without saying that the closer role has been a bit much for Matt Thornton to take on, blowing all four of his save opportunities this season and letting in 10 runs (four earned) in that span. But theres no doubt that Thornton has been the White Soxs best reliever for two years running, without needing to be the closer to do so. Guillenalready edgy about moving Thornton out of his comfort zone (matchup lefties, eighth-inning entry, throwing an inning-plus)needs to restore the fireman to his prior role and give credence to the mantra that the entire Chicago bullpen parrots, that every short reliever is a closer at the juncture they enter the game.

11. The closer? ItsSergio!

if only for the first month. Sergio Santos has been a pitcher in the majors for just a season and change, but he has never allowed a run in Aprila span of 15 games and 17 13 innings. The young righthander has been steady for sure, but its important to remember that hes faced pressure as a player before. Sure, it was as a superstar shortstop entering professional ball for the first time, but thats pressure nonetheless. All things being equal, give the lions share of save opps to Sergio for a stretch and see what happens.

12. Ozzies expectations are highest of anyone.

The club jefe often gets written off as more jokester than strategist, or an apologistteammate rather than an administrator. And while Guillen is as playful as anyone and boasts a bark worse than his bite when it comes to throwing players under the bus, hes already bristled this season, as the bullpen implosion gained traction. You would have expected Guillen to protect rookie Chris Sale after the 22-year-old was completely ineffective leading to Thorntons last blown save, on April 13 vs. the Oakland As. But the manager didnt hesitate to point out that Salepresumed to be inactive for the game after throwing a career-high 34 pitches the previous game some 16 hours earliertold pitching coach Don Cooper he could go. Shame on the staff for trusting bluster from the mouth of babes, sure, but Guillen was the one who made the calland surprisingly, evaded blame after the fact. Guillen clearly is feeling the pressure of the weighty payroll, thus is less tolerant of slips and stumbles than hes been in the recent past.

13. Everything right is wrong again.

The best news of the flaccid start and this negative report is that the presumed main competition for the White Sox in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins, are faltering equally or worse than Chicago. Minnesota is in early free fall at 6-10 and stands without a closer (fragile Joe Nathan), 20 million catcher (Joe Mauer, sidelined with a knee, or the flu, or some mystical combination of the two), or ace Japanese import (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, whose leg was broken from merry prankster Nick Swisher) while also under fire from a fan base who feels the club did little or nothing to bolster the club in the offseason. Detroit has had no such injury miseries, they simply havent played very well (8-9)justifying their bolstered payroll as little or less than the White Sox have so far.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

One plate appearance was all it took for Zack Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about

One plate appearance was all it took for Zack Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about

Though only four runs separated the White Sox from the Cubs in the ninth inning Wednesday night, it felt like a blowout when Zack Collins made his first trip to the plate as a big leaguer.

The No. 11 prospect in the organization was called up to the majors ahead of Tuesday's game, though he didn't see any action then, and he wasn't in the starting lineup for Wednesday night's Crosstown contest on the North Side, either.

But manager Rick Renteria called on Collins to pinch hit — an appearance perhaps only made possible by National League rules in a National League park — with two outs to go in the top of the ninth inning.

"It was huge for me. It was a dream come true," he said after the game. "Just stepping up to the plate, looking to the outfield, seeing the crowd. We were down four in the top of the ninth and obviously trying to get on base, trying to keep the train moving. I thought I put a good at-bat together and it was a lot of fun.

"Rizzo said a couple things to me, said congratulations and stuff like that. That was pretty cool. Other than that I was kind of in a daze out there looking around. Like you said, soaking it all in, enjoying the moment."

It only took one plate appearance for Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about. He worked the count full and took a walk. Get used to that.

Collins made quite a habit of that kind of thing in the minor leagues, posting huge on-base percentages over the last few years. In 122 games at Double-A Birmingham last season, he had a .382 on-base percentage, and he wasn't far off that mark in his 50 games at Triple-A Charlotte this season, reaching base at a .374 clip. Last season, he walked 101 times for a 19 percent walk rate. This season, he walked 36 times for a 17.5 percent walk rate.

His walk rate in the majors is a cool 100 percent at the moment. The 1.000 on-base percentage looks even better.

"That's pretty good, right?" he joked.

Patience at the plate might end up being Collins' most valuable attribute at the major league level. His offensive skills have been lauded since the White Sox took him with a top-10 pick in the 2016 draft, and he hit 49 homers in his four minor league seasons, also showing off that power by winning the Home Run Derby at the Southern League All-Star Game last year. His defensive skills have remained a question, though, and while he'll most likely serve as the White Sox No. 2 catcher behind James McCann, who's in the midst of an All-Star campaign, he can also be utilized at designated hitter and perhaps even first base.

But it's that good eye that the White Sox are hoping to see from the get-go. They saw it Wednesday night, and it's something Collins said has always been a part of his game.

"I've never really worked on that, so I would guess it kind of came naturally. It's a good thing to have," he said. "Guys at this level have some pretty good stuff. I'm looking to be aggressive but also swing at strikes."

You only get one chance to make a first impression, they say. Collins' first impression was pretty emblematic of the kind of hitter he hopes to be in the bigs.

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Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Mama said there’d be days like this.

I’m not entirely sure whether Lucas Giolito’s mama told him that or not. But you don’t need a baseball-lovin’ mama to know that even the best pitchers in the game can get lit up sometimes.

If Giolito is truly that now, one of the best pitchers in the game, he’ll prove it with what follows, not with what happened Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

A year after struggling to the tune of seven walks and three wild pitches in a Crosstown game he still won, Giolito entered the second of the two North Side rivalry games as a surefire All Star, a completely transformed pitcher who currently sits as one of the best Cy Young candidates in the American League. But you might not have known that watching him give up three homers worth a combined six runs in his 4.1 innings Wednesday.

This wasn’t exactly shades of the 2018 version of Giolito, who gave up more runs than any pitcher in baseball, had the highest ERA and WHIP of any qualified starting pitcher in baseball and walked more batters than any pitcher in the AL. No, Wednesday he still managed to strike out nine Cubs hitters and walked only three. But the Cubs hit him hard, with three balls leaving the yard, the back-breaker of which was a first-inning grand slam off the bat of White Sox killer Willson Contreras.

"I got hit hard," Giolito said after the game. "That was the hardest I've been hit in a long time. Just hanging some sliders, changeup was probably the worst it's been this year. It is what it is. You're not going to go out there and have a great outing every single time."

It doesn’t compare to some of the worst outings Giolito had last season, but it was shocking to see considering the incredible run he came in on. Entering Wednesday night’s contest, Giolito had won eight straight starts, with a 0.94 ERA during that stretch. He had given up as many runs after facing five batters Wednesday as he had in his previous five starts combined.

That stretch is now over, and it’s up to Giolito to make this a blip rather than a turning point.

"It’s just a blip in the season. It’s a little bump in the road," catcher James McCann said after the game. "You are not going to go eight-inning shutout every time. It’s how do you bounce back from this one and learn from tonight and move forward."

What he’s done so far this season would lead you to believe that’s very possible. One of the biggest talking points for Giolito, as well as McCann, when it comes to describing the difference between the 2018 and 2019 versions has been Giolito’s ability to turn the page. That’s typically been discussed as something that happens within games: A bad first inning hasn’t led to a complete meltdown like it did too often last season.

“The physical stuff has always been there,” McCann said before Wednesday’s game. “There's a few tune-ups he did, shortened his arm, all that stuff. But obviously, it's the mental approach.

“I can point to multiple occasions this season where he's had a rough first inning. In Toronto, he gave up three base hits to the first four hitters, and then the next thing you know he's hasn't given up another base hit and we're in the eighth inning. He gave up a three-run homer to the Royals in the first inning, and all of a sudden it's the eighth inning and those are the only three runs he's given up.

“So that's kind of been the most impressive thing to me. His last outing, he gave up the solo homer in the first and really didn't have his best stuff, and next thing you know it's the sixth, seventh inning and that's the only run he's given up. Last year, some of those outings turn into bad outings where he gets chased in the fourth inning. This year his mental approach, his determination, his grit is a little different.”

Now he’ll have to do something he’s rarely had to in 2019, and that’s flush a bad start. Wednesday night’s outing was Giolito’s shortest of the season, matching the 4.1 innings he threw against the Seattle Mariners on April 6 and not including the 2.2 innings he logged before being removed with an injury against the Kansas City Royals on April 17. Wednesday marked the first time Giolito gave up multiple home runs in a start this season.

The bottom line is that Giolito has been so good in 2019 that he hasn’t had to deal with the fallout of a bad outing. Giolito has credited his turnaround to the improvement in his routine. That will be tested now, and it’s no surprise that he’s confident enough in it to be ready for anything.

“I'd say now I'm just on the same mental routine, the same physical routine day in and day out. Nothing changes,” Giolito said Tuesday. “It's just like my last start or future starts, I'm going to go out there with the same good, positive outlook going into the game. Whereas last year, I think I was searching for things a lot, so it was a little more up and down. Now it's much better.”

One rough start won’t change Giolito’s status as an All Star or put a damper on what’s been a season worth celebrating. But how he responds will be the true test of whether the transformed Giolito is here to stay.

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