White Sox

James Shields has strong outing, but White Sox fall to Indians in extras

James Shields has strong outing, but White Sox fall to Indians in extras

CLEVELAND — For the second time in two starts James Shields gave the White Sox a chance to win. The White Sox offense hasn't done much of the same.

In what could be yet another sign of a long summer ahead, the White Sox struggled on Tuesday to generate offense for the fourth time in six games. The team's production woes left the pitching staff vulnerable and the Cleveland Indians finally finished off a day full of celebrations with yet another round of partying. 

Michael Brantley broke a stalemate with a two-out, game-winning RBI double off reliever Tommy Kahnle to send the White Sox to a 2-1 loss in 10 innings in front of 35,002 at Progressive Field. The defending American League champions had far more opportunities than the White Sox, who were limited to six base runners and struck out 12 times.

"As hitters we've got to bear down and find a way to win that game," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who accounted for his team's only run with a fifth-inning solo homer. "It's frustrating. Our pitchers do their job giving up one run. Our hitters have got to do a better job."

Cleveland's triumph off Kahnle ended a day of missed chances for both teams. Brantley followed a two-out walk of Francisco Lindor by just keeping fair a 3-2 pitch. He lined it over the head of Frazier and the ball tailed into foul territory, kicking off the wall, which gave the speedy Lindor plenty of time to score all the way from first.

Prior to Brantley's hit, Shields and a slew of Sox relievers danced in and out of trouble and did their best to dampen a bright day for Cleveland. The Indians raised their 2016 AL pennant banner before the game and were given rings. Twice White Sox relievers pitched out of bases-loaded jams against Edwin Encarnacion.

"I thought Kahnle was pounding the strike zone and going after those guys," manager Rick Renteria said. "Unfortunately, we fell short. We had a couple opportunities to drive in some runs and give us the lead. They did also. We ended up minimizing damage quite a bit throughout the ballgame, but today they came out on top."

Shields has twice bounced back after allowing an early home run. He struck out two batters each in the first and second innings. After he issued a leadoff walk to Jose Ramirez to start the second, Shields retired 12 straight. 

While Lindor -- whose first-inning solo homer gave Cleveland a 1-0 lead -- lined out to end the third, Shields induced a bunch of weak contact. Again relying on a four-pitch mix, the right-hander pitched well into the sixth inning and limited the Indians to a run. Shields also walked one in 5 1/3 innings, down from five last time out.

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He gave way to the bullpen in the sixth inning and Zach Putnam induced a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play off the bat of Encarnacion on a 3-2 pitch. Two innings later, Encarnacion bounced into another inning-ending double play after Nate Jones walked the bases loaded with one out.

But the White Sox couldn't take advantage of the effort of a pitching staff that has produced a 2.80 ERA in its first six games.

Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco was dominant and kept a slow-to-start White Sox offense under wraps. With strikes on 61 of 95 pitches, Carrasco struck out seven batters in seven innings of one-run ball. Carrasco allowed four hits and walked none, retiring 12 of the first 13 he faced. 

Frazier ended Carrasco's shutout bid in the fifth with a laser of a solo homer to left to tie it at 1. But Carrasco retired eight of the last 10 he faced to hand it off to the bullpen.

The White Sox nearly scored off Andrew Miller in the eighth. Geovany Soto singled and Matt Davidson doubled off the right-field wall. But Tyler Saladino's bid for a line drive go-ahead single was snared by a diving Yandy Diaz at third base and Miller struck out Tim Anderson.

"We have had a chance to win every night," Shields said of a pitching staff that boasts a 2.80 ERA through six games. "Our starters are doing a great job of giving us a chance to win every night, and we just have to put it together. That's it, bottom line. Unfortunately, we've been on the losing side more than the winning side, so we'll see what happens."

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

Right field, designated hitter and starting pitching.

The White Sox, despite handing out the richest contract in team history already this offseason, have yet to address any of their previously stated positional needs. (OK, maybe Yasmani Grandal ends up factoring into the solution at DH.)

That's not for lack of trying, though, with the team offering more money to Zack Wheeler than he took to stay on the East Coast and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've been linked to Madison Bumgarner since Wheeler made his decision Wednesday.

The White Sox will surely continue to pursue starting-pitching help, but what's going on in their search for a new right fielder? The need is arguably the most critical on the roster and is certainly pressing after a mixture of players combined for some of the worst production in the game there last season. There are options, and supposedly the White Sox are looking at a few of them.

Earlier this week, we heard the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were in "preliminary trade talks" surrounding Joc Pederson, who the South Siders reportedly tried to acquire last offseason. Pederson played more left field than right field last year for the NL West champs, but he had a career year at the plate, with new highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, hits and RBIs. There's only one year of team control remaining on the 27-year-old's contract, but the White Sox would be getting a big-time upgrade in their lineup — and a left-handed one, at that.

That same report, from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, also mentioned the White Sox expressed interest in Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. Castellanos was stellar last season, leading the major leagues with 58 doubles. He was particularly good after being acquired by the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. Castellanos long terrorized White Sox pitching while with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, and he's the kind of impact bat that would bolster the middle of the lineup. But he comes with defensive questions that Pederson does not — minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, compared to five for Pederson as a right fielder.

The White Sox were reportedly interested in the other top outfielder on the free-agent market, Marcell Ozuna, early in the offseason. A little older than Pederson and Castellanos, he's just a couple years removed from a dominant 2017 campaign, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the Miami Marlins. Since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons. He played left field exclusively in his time with the Redbirds.

Now, enter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who White Sox Talk Podcast aficionados will remember from a discussion in mid October. The Japanese import has been posted, and according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the White Sox are among four interested teams. Tsutsugo was described by reporter Jim Allen as "a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat," which might raise concerns. A left fielder, Tsutsugo brings good on-base skills and slashed an incredible .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers during the 2016 season. But his defense seems to be an issue in left, with Morosi writing "scouts question whether Tsutsugo has the range to be an average defensive left fielder in the majors." If that's a concern at his actual position, might there be even further worries moving him to a different spot in the outfield? Perhaps the White Sox could be eyeing him for that aforementioned vacancy at DH. He's also a lefty, which would bring some balance to the lineup.

But it's a different nugget in Morosi's report on Tsutsugo that should catch White Sox fans' eyes. Morosi added that "the White Sox likely won’t attempt to sign Tsutsugo immediately, while waiting for decisions from free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna."

Now, we already heard the White Sox connected to those two top-of-market players, but their potential interest in Tsutsugo hinging on what Castellanos and Ozuna have to say could illustrate just how seriously they're considering either of those heavy-hitting free agents. Or maybe all three are secondary targets should a trade with the Dodgers fail to materialize (again).

Whether talking about Ozuna or Tsutsugo, it's unlikely the White Sox would do any rearranging in their outfield to keep them in their current positions. They've discussed Eloy Jimenez as a long-term left fielder, talking multiple times about his improving defense out there (where he sparked more than a few grimaces with his play during his rookie season). For those who see what they consider an easy fix by just moving Jimenez to the DH spot and allowing someone else to play left, manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying this summer that "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." So don't expect Jimenez to move any time soon.

Like with everything these days, the White Sox seem to have plenty of options to consider. With offseason activity coming a bit faster than it did in recent years, perhaps the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego, will provide an answer as to which way they'll end up going.

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White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Stephen Strasburg, RH SP, Nationals

Age: 31

2019 salary: $38,333,333

2019 stats: 209 IP, 3.32 ERA, 251 K, 56 BB, 161 hits (24 HR)

What Strasburg would bring to the White Sox

Strasburg was one of the most hyped draft picks when the Nationals took him No. 1 overall in 2009. He has elite strikeout stuff, but endured a Tommy John surgery early in his MLB career in 2010. Since then, the Nationals have played it cautiously with Strasburg. He has only gone over 200 innings twice in his career, although 2019 was one of those years when Strasburg led the National League with 209 innings.

His ERA has been under 3.8 every year of his career and he hasn't shown any signs of dropoff in his arsenal. He was also a stud in the playoffs this fall with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36.1 innings.

Strasburg would vault straight to the top of the White Sox rotation. If he can continue to shoulder a full-season workload, which is a fair question because Strasburg averaged 145 innings per year from 2015-2018, Strasburg is a top 10 pitcher in baseball.

What it would take to get him

Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million on a seven-year, $175 million contract to enter free agency so he's expecting to get more than that. He could be in line for a record-setting contract for a pitcher, although Gerrit Cole could top him within the same offseason.

Look for Strasburg to get more than $30 million per year on a long-term contract.

Why it's not realistic for the White Sox

Until the White Sox win the bidding war for a top-end free agent, the assumption will be that they won't. Strasburg is a premier pitching talent coming off a World Series MVP. He will be expensive and many teams will be interested in him.

There's also the fact that Strasburgh might not want to leave the Nationals anyway. He has been in the nation's capital his whole career and most early indications are that both parties want to sign a new deal.

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