White Sox

James Shields rocked again as White Sox fall to Athletics

James Shields rocked again as White Sox fall to Athletics

This isn’t what the White Sox had in mind when they acquired James Shields in June.

They hoped to have traded for an innings eater, a veteran presence to bolster the back of the rotation. They didn’t expect to receive the Shields of old, the guy who anchored multiple rotations and produced nine straight seasons with at least 12 wins.

They just wanted a reliable veteran to pick up some slack.

But for the second time this season, Shields has found himself in the midst on an incredible funk. The Oakland A’s blasted three home runs off Shields on Friday night and routed the White Sox 9-0 in front of 20,011 at the U.S. Cellular Field. Shields has allowed nine homers in his past three starts and has a 17.36 ERA in four August outings. Kendall Graveman threw a two-hit shutout for the A’s.

“I need to finish strong, no doubt about it,” Shields said. “I need to finish strong. I'm not helping this team out right now. So I need to do my job and get better and move on.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Shields has been a 50-50 proposition since the White Sox acquired him from the San Diego Padres for Erik Johnson and minor-leaguer Fernando Tatis Jr.

Half of his 14 starts have been very good.

The other half have been some of the worst of Shields’ career.

The right-hander’s night started strong as he retired the side in order in the first inning, including a pair of strikeouts.

But it didn’t take much longer to reveal Shields didn’t have much. Jake Smolinski’s second-inning smash up the middle caromed off Shields with two outs to load the bases. Max Muncy then took a close 3-2 pitch for a ball to force in a run and put Oakland ahead 1-0.

Shields avoided further damage, but only for a bit as Khris Davis blasted a two-run homer in the third. Stephen Vogt hit another long ball with two outs in the fifth inning to give the A’s a 4-0 lead. Davis doubled off Shields and Yonder Alonso crushed another homer to make it a six-run contest. Shields then walked Marcus Semien and he scored from first on Tim Anderson’s throwing error.

“So frustrating for me,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “I’m trying to get the guy to help us out because I know he can. I guess everything is going wrong. He started the game well and then it got away from him quick. He’s competing out there. He’s competing hard. He’s trying to help us out.

“But you know, he has to keep grinding and trying to figure some stuff out. It’s the only thing we can do.”

[RELATED: Anthony Ranaudo hopes to take advantage of consecutive starts for White Sox]

In his last four starts, Shields is 0-3 with a 17.36 ERA in 14 innings. He has allowed 33 hits, walked eight and struck out five.

Earlier this season, Shields had a 24.62 ERA in a span of four starts, including his last one with the Padres and first three with the White Sox. The 29 homers yielded by Shields, including 20 in 69 2/3 innings for the White Sox, is tied for the major-league lead with Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the club will continue to keep Shields in the rotation.

Still owed $22 million by the White Sox over the next two seasons, Shields figures to be in the team’s plans unless they’re able to find a taker for him this offseason. But one of the reasons the White Sox acquired Shields in the first place is because pitching won’t be easy to find this offseason.

“He’s going to figure that out,” Ventura said. “I think there’s times where a team will hit him around and he has been able to fight his way back. He’s had the roughest stretch when he first got here and he seemed to calm those waters and figure it out. He has the ability to do that.

“He has to be able to get back and we know we can do that.”

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.