White Sox

Alexei Ramirez 'starting to click' at right time for White Sox

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Alexei Ramirez 'starting to click' at right time for White Sox

CLEVELAND -- Alexei Ramirez has played his best baseball of the season and it couldn’t come at a better time for White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

With a week left before the trade deadline, Ramirez continued to shine in every facet on Friday night in a 6-0 White Sox victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Ramirez had three hits, stole two bases and made a trio of nice defensive plays and Jose Abreu homered for the first time since July 3 in support of Jose Quintana, who earned his first victory since July 1. Quintana struck out eight in the first complete game and shutout of his career.  

“(Ramirez) was doing everything tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Right now, it’s probably that time where he’s starting to click, offensively and defensively.”

Since July 1, Ramirez has a .333/.363/.483 slash line with five extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 66 plate appearances. It’s an eye-opening stretch compared with the rest of his 2015 season as Ramirez hit .212/.235/.281 with two homers and 26 RBIs in his first 293 plate appearances.

Not only that, but Ramirez ranked near the bottom of the league in qualified shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved. But as of Friday, Ramirez has improved to 18th of 26 shortstops with minus-4 runs saved, according to fangraphs.com.

[MORE: White Sox react to Larry King's trade prediction]

While Ramirez is under contract through this season, he’s only owed $1 million for 2016 unless his $10 million team option is picked up. His recent play -- for which he credits the White Sox coaching staff -- could make Ramirez an attractive option for a contender in need of a veteran shortstop before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline. Pittsburgh, which acquired Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee on Thursday, also could use a shortstop with Jordy Mercer out with an injury.

“I really appreciate all of the coaches having my back and supporting me,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “I feel it’s been working out good with all of the support they’ve given me. We had a talk and a meeting in a friendly way, and they said we’re going to continue to play hard, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Ramirez made his presence felt several times throughout Friday’s win over reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. But none was bigger than a two-run double off first base in the eighth inning against Bryan Shaw to give the White Sox a six-run lead.

Ramirez scored the team’s first run in the third inning when he singled, stole second base, advanced on a grounder and scored on a Kluber wild pitch. He also singled and stole second base in the seventh inning.

The three-hit performance comes on the heels of a monstrous three-run homer by Ramirez in Thursday’s game, which Ventura said was the best ball the 2014 Silver Slugger had hit all season.

But Ramirez’s rebound hasn’t been limited to his bat, as he has seemingly made one diving stop after another for most of the month.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

A Gold Glove finalist last season, Ramirez has looked like one again in July. In the second inning, Ramirez knocked down a screamer headed for the outfield, retrieved the ball and flipped it between his legs to Carlos Sanchez at second for the force. An inning later, Ramirez made a nice play in the hole and threw behind Jason Kipnis, who overran second base for an out. Ramirez also took a hit away from Giovanny Urshela in the eighth inning.

Those plays helped Quintana to his first career shutout and complete game. Quintana gave up five hits through the first three innings but then settled in as he retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. Quintana struck out eight batters and walked none in a 120-pitch effort.

“Alexei plays good every time,” Quintana said. “Tonight, he got us a couple double plays. Good.”

Ramirez has been his most productive since that meeting, which took place in Detroit late last month. While he always has been a streaky player, Ramirez took a little longer this time. But Ventura has confidence Ramirez -- who entered Friday worth minus-0.7 F-Wins Above Replacement -- is on the rebound.

“Every year, you look at him and he goes through ruts,” Ventura said. “This one was a little bit extended. But at the end of the year, you look up and he’s right at the top of everybody at shortstop. 

“You are going to look up and he’ll be right around .270 and even though it started out slow, he just always seems to beable to get to that point by the time the season is over. You half expect a hot streak.”

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka was a phenomenon in 2018. But before there was Daniel Palka, there was Dan Pasqua. You might have heard the Palka/Pasqua comparisons on White Sox game broadcasts or within White Sox fan circles. Both are lefty sluggers with a similar build: Palka listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Pasqua at 6-foot-0 and 203 ppounds. Both led the White Sox in home runs in their age-26 seasons: Pasqua with 20 in 1988, Palka with 27 in 2018. And hey, they have the same first name and last initial!

Pasqua, nicknamed “The Hammer,” turned 57 years old Wednesday. Let’s learn a few more things about him.

— He was a teammate of John Elway (for four games with Oneonta of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1982), Bo Jackson (with the White Sox from 1991 to 1993) and Michael Jordan (for four games with Birmingham of the Southern League in 1994).

— He was the 1985 International League MVP with the Columbus Clippers.

— He homered in his MLB debut on May 30, 1985, with the Yankees

— He was Sports Illustrated’s 1987 preseason pick to lead the American League in home runs. He finished with 17, only 32 behind Mark McGwire.

— He hit a Comiskey Park roof shot on May 30, 1989.

— He hit the last triple (and had the last RBI) in Comiskey Park history on Sept. 30, 1990.

— He hit a 484-foot home run, the third-longest by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, on April 27, 1991.

— He finished his MLB career with 117 home runs, tied with all-time great outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Ichiro Suzuki.

And finally, let’s compare Pasqua to Palka statistically. Since Palka had 449 career plate appearances through the end of the 2018 season, here's the duo's numbers through their first 449 career MLB plate appearances.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.