The White Sox are doing a bit better than people thought they would in the first year of their announced rebuilding process, but that likely won’t spark any illusions of grandeur at the corner of 35th and Shields.
Even after another come-from-behind victory Sunday on the South Side, the White Sox are locked in a tie with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the American League Central at 36-45. What that means, probably, is that Rick Hahn will be fielding calls at the approaching trade deadline, the expected late-July outcome when the 2017 campaign began.
Someone who should be grabbing the attention of contending general managers is David Robertson, and with a few high-pressure successes this past week, he’s showed exactly why.
After closing out a win over the New York Yankees on Thursday by striking out American League batting leader Aaron Judge, Robertson navigated through a traffic-jammed ninth inning Sunday, getting a game-ending strikeout to clinch a White Sox win over the visiting Texas Rangers.
Robertson entered in the eighth, when the White Sox trailed by a run. But after Yolmer Sanchez smacked a game-changing homer in the bottom of the eighth, Robertson was again in a more familiar situation of closing out a game — even if he was trying to preserve his own win this time.
Rougned Odor started the inning with a single before getting cut down on a fielder’s choice. After an Elvis Andrus double, Adrian Beltre was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs. Robertson got Carlos Gomez swinging, though there was brief drama when the ball got away from catcher Kevan Smith. He retrieved the ball and dove for the out at home to end the game.
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“It was a tough start to the inning,” Robertson said afterward. “I felt like I threw Odor a lot of good pitches, he was just very selective at the plate. Laid off of everything down, I was trying to keep out of the barrel zone because I think the last time I faced him in the (World Baseball Classic) he got a home run off of me. Even though I was behind in the count and gave him a pitch to hit I didn't want to make that same mistake twice, especially in a game that had been going back and forth the way this one was.
“From then on as soon as he got to first, it was a battle, just me trying to figure out a way to get out of the inning and fortunately we figured out a way to get out of it.”
Robertson’s been pretty good out of the bullpen this season, entering Sunday’s series finale with a 3.18 ERA and 12 saves in 13 opportunities.
The White Sox aren’t short on attractive trade candidates, including outfielder Melky Cabrera, third baseman Todd Frazier, a few bullpen arms and of course starter Jose Quintana. Robertson is also at the top of that list, and shutdown relief arms always command a lot of attention at the deadline. Just look at what the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller last season, pilfering the farm systems of two teams that ended up in the World Series.
Could Robertson command an equally impressive haul? Time will tell, but there’s no doubt he’s been reliable out of the White Sox bullpen.
Of course, those kinds of things aren’t running through the minds of the players themselves, and Robertson — like most anyone else asked about trade rumors at this time of year — would rather focus on the immediate. For him personally, that means welcoming in another child. He’ll miss this week’s series in Oakland as he heads to the paternity list.
So until a trade does or doesn’t come along, Robertson will happily worry about his current team, which despite sitting at the bottom of the standings has been quite enjoyable to watch, especially this past week with walkoffs, game-winning homers and plenty of drama.
“It's been fun, I hope the crowd's enjoyed it,” Robertson said. “It's (been) loud, and it's been pushing us forward, that's for sure.
“It’s a great group of guys. We play hard every day. Sometimes we just aren't playing the best baseball we're capable of. Even this afternoon, we didn't play as well as we could have. That doesn't mean we can't do it on this next road trip. We just got to kind of get everything in rhythm and get everybody going together and I think this team's capable of doing good things.”