White Sox

Offensive upgrade will come at cost for White Sox

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Offensive upgrade will come at cost for White Sox

The White Sox must improve their offense this offseason and to do so likely means they have to do something they’d like to avoid — trade a pitcher.

Despite $67 million of high-end renovations and strong performances by Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, the 2015 White Sox finished last in the American League with 622 runs scored. Not only was their run total third-worst in the majors, slightly ahead of the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves, respectively, the White Sox also tied for the fifth-fewest home runs in baseball with 136.

But if they can, the White Sox want to avoid parting with their pitching to resolve their offensive woes. Even more so, they’d prefer to not even consider deals for Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon. While nothing is totally out of the question, general manager Rick Hahn has made it clear he has placed a premium on his top assets.

[MORE: Jeff Samardzija rejects White Sox qualifying offer]

“It’s conceivable, but at the same time we realize how special some of the arms we have under control for the foreseeable future are and we’re reluctant given the cost of replacing those to dip into those,” Hahn said last week at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. “Everything is on the table. We haven’t closed off any avenues to make ourselves better. When you start talking about taking away from the strength of our rotation or even our bullpen part of the calculus you have to balance out is how much of a step back in our run prevention would we potentially take in trying to score more runs.”

The White Sox offense could use help almost everywhere across the diamond.

The team’s catchers ranked 17th in OPS, their first baseman were 16th, their centerfielders were sixth and left field ranked 17th. Aside from the designated hitters, who combined for the ninth-best OPS among 15 American League teams, every other position was in the bottom third for combined OPS. The team’s second baseman and third baseman ranked 30th, shortstop was 25th and right field was 21st.

Part of it was the power shortage and some could be attributed to the struggle to put runners on base as the White Sox finished with a .306 on-base percentage, which ranked 14th among 15 AL teams.

Hahn is likely OK moving forward with the current group of outfielders and Abreu at first base. But nothing else is set, although the White Sox like the defense Carlos Sanchez provided at second and they think he’s more like the hitter he was in the second half, when he hit .252/.302/.385 in 246 plate appearances.

[RELATED: Dealing Chris Sale unlikely, but could expedite White Sox turnaround]

“We’ve talked about behind the plate, we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do in the middle of the diamond as well as third base,” Hahn said. “Those are all areas where really there’s room for improvement offensively.”

So how will they get it done (and, yes, Hahn thinks it’s possible)?

Though a trade of Sale could easily provide an immediate remedy for at least three or four issues, the White Sox are more likely to try to replicate a deal that netted them Adam Eaton. In exchange for their center fielder, the White Sox parted with Hector Santiago in a three-team trade in December 2013.

They also tried to solve third base that offseason by trading closer Addison Reed for Matt Davidson, who has yet to reach the majors.

Hoping for better execution on the latter, they might try the same idea.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

With Spencer Adams, Tyler Danish, Carson Fulmer and Jordan Guerrero in the pipeline, the White Sox may be more willing to move Erik Johnson or Francellis Montas in hopes of getting young, controllable position players in return as painful as that option may be. They could also deal from several solid bullpen options, as David Robertson controls the ninth inning.

“We know the value of the talent that we have and the fact that they’re not only premium pitchers but controllable at affordable rates going forward makes them all the more valuable to us much less in the trade market,” Hahn said. “You don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul to a huge extent but we need to get better offensively so we may have to make some sacrifices.”

Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

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USA TODAY

Buckle up, White Sox, here come the best two teams in baseball

Things are about to get tougher for the White Sox. Much tougher.

The upcoming road trip features seven straight games against first-place teams, the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Those two teams are, by their winning percentages as of this writing, the two best teams in baseball.

The much-bemoaned makeup of this season’s American League means seeing top-shelf competition is a rarity for any team playing outside the AL East. The Astros are a mile ahead of the rest of the AL West. The Twins have appeared, so far, as the only team capable of winning an aggressively weak AL Central. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays — three teams the White Sox have already seen one time apiece — will battle it out for the AL East crown all season long, but let’s be honest, they all seem safe bets to make the postseason.

The fact that the five teams likely to make the playoffs have already put themselves ahead of the competition and it’s not even Memorial Day is its own discussion topic as the rebuilding trend sweeps through the Junior Circuit. But for the 2019 edition of the Chicago White Sox, specifically, it just means that this week is not likely to be a good one.

In the 10 games they played against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, the White Sox went 3-7. They were pasted by the Rays and Red Sox, who combined to outscore them 58-18 in seven games on the South Side, and they took two of three from the Yankees in The Bronx.

Of course, any expectations can be dashed in a small portion of a 162-game season. Cast your mind back to 2017, when the White Sox swept a three-game series from the soon-to-be world-champion Astros. The South Siders finished with 95 losses that season, but for three games in August, they had the champs’ number.

Will this week go similarly? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem likely.

The Astros are on fire, or at least they were before the Red Sox snapped their 10-game winning streak Sunday. That doesn’t change the fact that the Astros boast a plus-92 run differential that counts as the best in the game. Or their 3.43 team ERA (second in the AL). Or their .279 team batting average and jaw-dropping .353 team on-base percentage, both marks the best in baseball.

The Twins, the division rivals the White Sox will see for the first time in 2019 beginning Friday, aren’t far behind. That offense has been sensational, too, through the season’s first two months, owning baseball’s second best run differential (plus-77) and its second best team batting average (.270). No team in either league has hit more homers than the Twins, who have launched 87 of them in 45 games.

The White Sox, meanwhile, have a fragile, injury-affected starting rotation — after Sunday’s game, manager Rick Renteria did not share who’s starting Monday’s game — and a pitching staff with a 5.09 ERA that’s given up 68 homers this season. Sunday, Reynaldo Lopez made it through six innings of one-run ball, only for the White Sox bullpen to cough up a pair of two-run homers to the Toronto Blue Jays (one of baseball’s worst offenses) in the game’s final two innings. It was the sixth time this season the White Sox bullpen has allowed multiple home runs in a single game.

“Gulp” might be an appropriate reaction to hearing the White Sox have to go up against the Houston and Minnesota offenses seven times in the next seven days.

This isn’t to say the White Sox are merely a punching bag for these two giants of the American League right now. Certainly most of the teams the Astros and Twins have faced have suffered less than desirable fates. But the gaps between the rebuilding White Sox and this pair of contenders are not small.

The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same thing the Astros did, spending several frustrating years being patient during a rebuilding process only to come out the other side a perennial contender and World Series champion. These same Astros who are now bullying the rest of the AL lost a total of 416 games in the four seasons prior to their first playoff season in a decade in 2015. By the end of the 2017 campaign, they were world champions. That’s the template the White Sox are trying to follow.

But the White Sox aren’t to the mountaintop yet, and that might end up being painfully clear by the end of the upcoming road trip. It doesn’t mean their climb won’t get them to that same point, but don’t try to compare the 2019 White Sox to the 2019 Astros this week. That’s not the comparison that counts.

The Twins are a little different, having revamped their lineup over the offseason with free-agent acquisitions who have paid huge dividends. C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz (currently on the IL) have combined for 31 homers in 45 games. But homegrown guys like Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler are all playing well, too. That quintet has accounted for 43 of the Twins’ 87 homers this season. That’s a strong core of homegrown young hitters, the kind of thing the White Sox hope to have real soon, the kind of thing that’s taking shape with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson off to good starts and Eloy Jimenez at the major league level (and likely to come off the injured list Monday).

The White Sox have obviously had their positives this season, and they’re clearly in a better place now than they were at this point last year (a 21-24 record after Sunday’s game compared to 14-31 through the first 45 games of 2018). But their rebuilding process hasn’t yet reached the point where they’re going to be trading blows with the two best teams in baseball.

There could be some surprises on this road trip. But they don’t figure to be easy to come by. Buckle up, here come the two best teams in baseball.

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The key to Lucas Giolito's success

The key to Lucas Giolito's success

Lucas Giolito has looked like a different pitcher this season, particularly over his last five starts, where he has posted a miniscule 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, striking out 32 and walking only 9. But even if you take his entire 2019 body of work into account, he has been so much better through eight starts than he was in 2018.

Of 109 pitchers who entered Sunday with at least 40 innings pitched, 24 of them are averaging 10 or more strikeouts per 9 innings, and Giolito is one of them, at 10.47. Giolito finished 2018 with 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, which is far from ideal. Going by strikeout percentage, he’s way up from 16.1 percent to 28.6 percent.

Comparing his first eight starts of the season in 2018 and 2019, the difference is staggering.

Lucas Giolito – first eight starts of season

  2018 2019
ERA 6.91 3.35
IP 41.2 43
Hits 37 32
K/BB 23/32 50/18
HR 4 3

Maybe the ERA stands out most to you, but to me, the strikeouts are much more critical.

But why? How is he doing it? The answer certainly seems to be the changeup.

Lucas Giolito first seven starts of 2018 and 2019.

Strikeouts by pitch type (pitch type data from Statcast)

  2018 2019
4-seam fastball 11 17
CHANGEUP 0 16
Curve 2 1
Slider 8 12

Giolito over his first seven starts of 2019 recorded 16 strikeouts on his changeup, whereas he didn’t record any strikeouts through seven starts last season. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you have watched him work this season. That pitch is nasty and hopefully it continues to be a weapon going forward.

 

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