White Sox

Chris Sale, White Sox rocked by Braves

Chris Sale, White Sox rocked by Braves

Chris Sale’s All-Star tune-up on Friday night didn’t go according to plan.

In search of his 15th victory, Sale got rocked by baseball’s worst team and the White Sox couldn’t keep pace in an 11-8 loss to the Atlanta Braves in front of 26,199 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Sale — who sought to become only the fourth pitcher since 1990 with 15 wins before the All-Star break — allowed eight earned runs and 10 hits in five innings, including three homers. He also yielded a career-worst seven extra-base hits. Todd Frazier and Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox also turned their third triple play of the season in the loss.

“Pretty embarrassing,” Sale said. “It’s about as bad as I possibly think I’ve been in a while.

“I definitely would have liked to have been better tonight for the guys. We score eight runs — you got to have that game.”

Not since Toronto’s David Wells in 2000 had an American League pitcher headed to the break with 15 victories.

It didn’t take long to establish Sale (14-3) was off.

Freddie Freeman took advantage of a windy, warm evening with an opposite-field solo homer in the first. An inning later, Sale’s former batterymate Tyler Flowers put Atlanta back ahead with a two-run homer to left-center field. Flowers also had one of three straight two-out, run-scoring doubles off Sale in a four-run fifth inning in which the Braves pulled ahead 8-4. Flowers also reached against Sale on a hit by pitch in the fourth inning.

“He looked mortal,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I don't think it was as sharp and they got some good swings at him. There was some hard contact, a couple homers, it just looked like it wasn't his best stuff. There was some velocity there you'd see every once in a while. But mostly if you're missing in the middle, they're going to hit it.”

Of the 26 batters Sale faced, 13 reached base.

Flowers, who caught every Sale start in the last two seasons, noticed how much the left-hander was off the mark.

“(Sale) wasn’t as sharp as he usually is,” Flowers said. “These are the kinds of days you hope to face guys of that caliber and just try to be ready for the mistake and take advantage of it.”

It could have been even worse.

Leading 4-3, Sale put the first two batters on base in the top of the third inning. But Freeman’s soft liner to shortstop bounced in front of Tim Anderson, who trapped the ball, tagged the lead runner at second base, stepped on the bag and fired to first in time for a triple play.

The White Sox also turned triple plays on April 22 and May 10. They’re the first team since both the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s in 1979 to have turned three triple plays in a season.

It still wasn’t enough.

Atlanta added scored three times off reliever Chris Beck in the sixth inning to extend its lead to 11-6.

The output was enough to outdo the White Sox, who early on took advantage of a porous Braves defense.

Down 1-0, Melky Cabrera singled in a run in the first inning. The White Sox rebounded from a two-run deficit in the second inning on consecutive one-out doubles by Carlos Sanchez and J.B. Shuck. Sanchez advanced to third when center fielder Ender Inciarte’s throw ended up in short right field. Shuck reached when his pop up to left-center field harmlessly fell between four Atlanta defenders. An RBI single by Anderson tied it at 3 and Jose Abreu’s sac fly put the White Sox ahead 4-3.

Eaton and Frazier both hit solo home runs off Braves starter Matt Wisler in the fifth to get the White Sox within 8-6.

They also scored a run in the seventh on Frazier’s sac fly to pull within four and threatened to rally in the ninth. Abreu and Cabrera, who both reached three times each, singled to open the inning. A run scored when Frazier grounded into a double play, but the White Sox got no closer.

“This is a throwaway game,” Sale said. “This is one you are not going to get back. You just try not to, there’s nothing to take away from this game for personally. You just move on and keep grinding.”

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

When Jose Abreu went to the All-Star Game — voted in as the starting first baseman for the American League squad — he was of course deserving as an incredibly consistent performer through his first four seasons in the big leagues and his role as the face of the White Sox.

But the numbers weren't looking so good in mid July. An extended slump had Abreu looking very un-Abreu-like, perhaps heading toward his worst statistical season since arriving in the majors from Cuba ahead of his 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign.

At the close of the first half, he was slashing .253/.311/.441 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs, a far cry from the .301/.359/.524 slash line he put up through his first four seasons, when he also joined Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only players ever to start their careers with a quartet of 25-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

But Abreu, who's been a very good second-half hitter during his career, is on a hot streak that's powering his way back to his version of normal. And it's looking like he could again reach the numbers we're so used to seeing from him by season's end.

After a one-homer, three-hit, three-RBI day in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers, Abreu is up to .268/.327/.484 on the campaign with 21 homers and 73 RBIs. That puts him nine homers and 27 RBIs away from the mark he's hit in each of his first four seasons with 42 games left in the season. It's not at all unreasonable to suggest he'll be able to do that, as he's hit eight homers and driven in 21 runs in his last 22 games.

He'd have to be some kind of dialed-in for the remainder of 2018 to bump the averages back to where they've been in recent seasons. But here's the kind of hot streak he's on now: Since the start of the second half, Abreu is slashing .323/.385/.646. And that's not too crazy when you realize how good he's been in the second half in his career. Coming into Wednesday's game, his career second-half stat line looked like this: a .314/.381/.540 slash line with 61 homers and 199 RBIs in 303 games.

For the White Sox, the confidence was always there that Abreu was going to snap out of the extended slump that saw him slash .180/.230/.308 from May 27 to the end of the first half, and he's done exactly that. Now, he's hot enough that he's inspiring confidence he could return to some of his regular numbers by season's end. It's that kind of consistency, coupled with his off-the-field value, that makes the team think so highly of him and could keep him around long enough for the rebuilding process to yield a perennial contender on the South Side.

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

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USA TODAY

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

The White Sox seem to be a couple years away from shifting from rebuilding mode to contention mode. There's plenty of development that still needs to occur at both the major league and minor league levels before the roster of the future comes fully into focus.

But with some excellent performances happening right now, is the White Sox rotation of the future falling into place? At least a little?

Look at this:

— Carlos Rodon, last seven starts: 1.60 ERA, 42 strikeouts
— Michael Kopech, last six starts: 1.89 ERA, 50 strikeouts
— Dylan Cease, last seven starts: 1.08 ERA, 57 strikeouts
— Dane Dunning, last five starts (back in June): 2.08 ERA, 38 strikeouts

Kind of looks like four-fifths of a starting rotation, doesn't it?

As has often been discussed, the White Sox have a good deal of starting pitching depth, and there are plenty of possibilities to fill that starting staff down the line. Heretofore unmentioned are pitching prospects Alec Hansen, Jordan Stephens, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores, all ranked among the organization's top 25 prospects, as well as current big leaguers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have each had their flashes of brilliance this season on the major league stage.

But the four guys listed above have been very, very good this season, especially recently, making it easy to envision them making up 80 percent of the starting rotation the next time the White Sox are competing for a championship.

Let's start with Rodon, who extended his streak of great starts to seven in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers. He went eight innings for the second outing in a row, and he's now pitched into the eighth inning in five of his last six starts. He's got a 1.60 ERA in his last seven starts, with 42 strikeouts in that span. Wednesday, he bounced back from a rocky three-run third inning and finished with just three runs allowed on five hits and a walk, adding six strikeouts. Quite simply, he's been ace-like and done well to answer the health-related questions he brought into the season, when shoulder surgery prevented him from debuting until June for the second straight campaign.

Then there are the two guys putting up monster numbers in the minor leagues: Kopech and Cease.

The 22-year-old Kopech has moved past some midseason struggles and has been downright electric of late at Triple-A Charlotte. In his last six starts, Kopech has a 1.89 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a jaw-droppingly low four walks in 38 innings. It's quite the turnaround for a guy who was having difficulty keeping the walk numbers low earlier this season. But he's come out the other side pitching as well as he has since joining the White Sox organization prior to last season, which is saying a lot considering he struck out 172 hitters in 2017. He's just 11 strikeouts away from matching that total this year. He could make his major league debut before the 2018 season is over.

And then there's Cease, also 22, who wasn't even the most talked-about player in his own trade, coming over from the Cubs along with Eloy Jimenez in last summer's crosstown swap. Cease has been a tremendous surprise for the White Sox this season, not because they didn't think he'd be great but because he's been the organization's best pitcher. And he's continued that trend in his seven most recent starts at Double-A Birmingham, too, with a razor-thin 1.08 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. He deservedly represented the White Sox at the Futures Game during All-Star week in Washington, D.C., last month and appears to be well on his way to earning the team's minor league pitcher of the year honors.

And for a fourth, how about a guy who hasn't pitched in a month and a half? Dunning has an elbow injury that's kept him out since late June, but prior to that, he was putting up terrific numbers at Double-A Birmingham. In his last five starts before hitting the DL, he had a 2.08 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. And he might be making some progress, if a recent tweet is any indication.

Now, as mentioned, there's a lot that can and will happen before the starting staff is set on the next White Sox team that will contend for a championship. But this kind of positive production from these four guys stokes the idea of a potentially dominant rotation of the future.

At the very least, this quartet seems to be making life easy for the legion of 2020 lineup projectors out there.