White Sox

Can Cleveland keep this up?

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Can Cleveland keep this up?

With the White Sox opening a three-game series tonight against Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field, we reached out to Lewie Pollis of the fantastic Indians blog Wahoo's on First for his thoughts on the state of the first-place Tribe:

The Indians enter this series at 10-2 in one-run games and eight games over .500. On a broad scope, is Cleveland's success sustainable?
To that extent? Probably not I don't think the ability to win close games is generally seen as a consistent skill. That said, the Indians are well built to win close contests.
The back end of the Tribe bullpen really is outstanding. Vinnie Pestano is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, and until Thursday night he had gotten at least one strikeout in 23 straight appearances (a franchise record). Plus Nick Hagadone has looked great so far, Joe Smith has been solid, and despite his reputation Chris Perez has been pitching more like Rick Vaughn at the end of Major Leaguethan the beginning.
The other thing this team does is come up with big hits. The idea of being "clutch" is generally seen as reading too much into a small sample size or at least a skill that is very difficult to maintain consistently, but as a whole this team just has had a knack for it since last year. It's anecdotal and I don't want to say that it's sustainable, but that 10-2 record is a reflection of the Tribe coming through when it counts.
At what point is Ubaldo Jimenez hurting the team more than he's helping them?

He's been below replacement level this year, so you could say he's already been "hurting the team." We don't need him, that's not the problem. There's no shortage of potential MLB starters in the organization. The Indians have a full five-man rotation now even with Josh Tomlin injured and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona still working on his visa. Scott Barnes, Chris Seddon, Corey Kluber, and Kevin Slowey are all waiting in Triple-A, and Zach McAllister is probably headed back there too once Tomlin returns.
The problem is that Jimenez is too good to give up on. I still think he has the best raw stuff of anyone in the rotation, and there are times (like when he outpitched Yu Darvish by throwing seven shutout innings against Texas earlier this month) when he still looks dominant. He's under team control through 2013, and while Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are sunk costs at this point it would be hard for the Indians to admit that Jimenez is a total bust after they gave up so much to get him.
If Jimenez were in a situation like Derek Lowe's was at the start of 2012 declining seemingly low-upside pitcher in the last year of his contract he'd have lost his rotation spot by now. But there's too much potential reward for the Indians to cut him loose just yet, and until he turns things around or the team gives up on him we'll continue to wring our hands every time he takes the mound.
Two-parter: How underrated is Jack Hannahan, and what ever happened to Lonnie Chisenhall?
I used to say that Shin-Soo Choo was the most underrated player in all of baseball; now I think the torch has been passed to Hannahan. He's a phenomenal fielder and he's a much, much better hitter than people give him credit for. He's shown great plate discipline and decent power ever since he came to Cleveland, yet everyone still thinks of him as a Quad-A utility man for some reason. A good illustration: He OPSed .719 last year and he's at .801 now, but ZiPS' rest-of-season projections have him at .676. It's kind of sad that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
As for Chisenhall, he's still the Indians' third baseman of the future, butthe future isn't quite here yet. His problem when he got promoted last year was that his plate discipline collapsed he took just eight walks in 223 plate appearances while striking out 49 times. He then struck out 16 times with just one walk in spring training to earn a demotion to Triple-A Columbus. He's been tearing the cover off the ball in the minors he's hitting .340 with a .946 OPS but he has just four walks in over 100 plate appearances. With both Hannahan and Jose Lopez playing well the team isn't in any rush to bring him up, and since he lacks Vladimir Guerrero-like power he wouldn't be a very effective hitter in the majors at this point anyway.

Who's pitching for the Indians this weekend, and what should the Sox expect?
Tonight you get Jeanmar Gomez (3.19 ERA, 4.34 SIERA), whose pitch-to-contact, groundball-inducing style is fairly emblematic of the Tribe's organizational philosophy of developing young arms. Game two is Derek Lowe (2.15 ERA, 4.17 SIERA), whose crazy sinker has helped him to lead the league in ERA even though he's striking out only 2.3 batters per nine innings. Then there's Ubaldo (5.02 ERA, 5.95 SIERA) as I said he's still a force to be reckoned with when he's on, but it's anyone's guess whether or not he will be Sunday.

Got a prediction for the series?
The Indians have won 8 of 10 and just swept the Tigers. I know streaks don't mean much, but I have to say anything less than the Tribe taking two of three this weekend would be a huge disappointment.

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”