White Sox

Sox Drawer: Exceeding expectations

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Sox Drawer: Exceeding expectations

After two weeks of baseball, who are these Chicago White Sox and what in the name of Philip Humber is going on here? This early in the season I normally stay away from such questions, mainly because you can never expect whats transpired in the first 15 games to actually play out for the final 147.If that holds true, AJ Pierzynski will be an MVP candidate, Jake Peavy will be gunning for a Cy Young Award, Humber will throw 15 perfect games, and the White Sox will shatter a major league record by striking out 4,872,299,513 times.Still, there are some interesting developments and intriguing story lines taking shape that deserve immediate attention.Well begin with this:Humber almost didnt survive his perfect gameAfter the final out on Saturday, Humber was mobbed on the field by his teammates. Jake Peavy was the first to arrive, and basically tackled him. What was the first thing Humber said to his overjoyed compadres?I cant breathe guys, youve got to get off of me! Humber recalled in an interview Sunday on White Sox Pregame Live.The game, as well as the next few hours, was an out-of-body experience for Humber, who did his best to be as present and in-the-moment as possible.

After the game I was trying to soak up as much of it as I could. Someone compared it to the reception after your wedding. Its all kind of a blur. You just dont remember any of it, Humber said. I really just tried to slow down and just remember as much of it as I could. Just take mental pictures of everything and savor the experience because chances are Im never going to come down this road again.Before the White Sox claimed him off waivers from Oakland on Jan. 18, 2011, Humber had been an unwanted man at every stop in his career. The As, Royals, Mets and Twins all had him and yet decided they could go on without him. What are they thinking now after Humber threw a perfect game?Theyre probably thinking, I wish he had figured it out a little earlier. Maybe they would have had a good pitcher on their hands, Humber said. I dont think any of them are regretting their decisions.At that time, I wasnt the pitcher that I am now. Im thankful for where Im at. I wouldnt trade any of the experiences, the ups and downs for anything. Its all been worth it. Its made me the person that I am.As for his sudden fame, the humble Humber still sees the same guy when he looks in the mirror. Just like Mark Buehrle, hes about as real and down-to-earth as you can get. In that way, the two make for quite a perfect combo in White Sox history.For a little while I think people are going to recognize me a little bit more, but Im still just who I am, Humber said. Ive got 12 major league wins to my name, and one of them happens to be a perfect game, which is kind of cool. I dont think Ill have to fight off the paparazzi or anything. Ill just continue being me.Adam Dunn is raking. And I told you so.Well, actually I didnt predict this. I just reported what Dunn said during the winter and spring training about how he was promising a comeback season. He even went as far as guaranteeing hell win the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.Its mine. Ive already claimed it, Dunn said in a February interview.Very few White Sox fans believed him. The reactions I received on Twitter were scathing about Dunn.The wounds from watching him in 2011 apparently didnt heal.Feeling better now?Friday, Dunn had his first two-homer game as a member of the White Sox.He hasthree homers, 13 RBIs, andsix doubles. Last year, he had 16 doubles for the whole season. Hes finally looking like the guy Kenny Williams thought he was getting when he signed himtwo winters ago.The lesson here is this:Going from the National League to the American League is not as easy as it looks -- especially for power hitters. Just ask Albert Pujols. In his first 16 games with the Angels, hes batting .246 and has yet to hit a home run.Why has it been so tough? Theres one huge reason thats been overlooked.Pitchers dont hit in the American League. Yep, thats it. Heres why:In the National League, most starters are reluctant to consistently pound the inside because they know that three or fourtimes during the game, they themselves are going to be standing in that batters box, a sitting duck if a team wants to retaliate. You can almost hear them say, Dont hit the hands! Dont plunk my knee! Pitchers are a delicate piece of china. Therefore, its almost like theres a code in the NL: Be nice to our power hitters, and we wont put your star pitcher on the 15-day disabled list.Not so in the American League.Justin Verlander, Jared Weaver, etc. can stand comfortably on the pitchers mound,sizzle the inside and then escape to the dugout after every inning, where a warm windbreaker is waiting for them.Prince Fielder has adapted better to the AL than Pujols so far. Hes batting .317 withtwo homers andeight RBIs.But did you see how the White Sox pitched to Fielder when the Tigers came to town? They kept jamming him inside, making life much more difficult than it was in the cozy National League.If you watched closely, Prince was pissed.Dunn struggled to adapt to this last season, which led to his dismal start. Pretty soon, the scouting report on Dunn likely said'THROW INSIDE'in bold, capital letters. It often set the tone for many of his at-bats. Eventually, pitchers threw all sorts of junk at Dunn and he would chase it.He just never got comfortable.Not this year.Who is AJ Pierzynski?Frankly, I dont know this man anymore. In his 14-year career, he has never exceeded 18 home runs and 77 RBIs in a season. Right now hes on a pace for 43 homers and 151 RBIs. Last week he belted hisfourth homer of the season. Last year he didnt hit hisfourth until July 25th!Again, its April. Most statistics get distorted this early in the year. Eventually his numbers will come back down to earth (I assume), and hell likely go back to his career averages. However, there is one new wrinkle to his game that truly has me baffled.Pierzynski is throwing out baserunners. Hes2-4 Meanwhile, Tyler Flowers is a perfect 4-4, meaning White Sox catchers have thrown out 75 percent of attempted stealers. Thats the best percentage in the major leagues. Last year, the Sox were dead last at 14 percent.Its the little things that count. So far, theyre paying big dividends. And A.J.? Dont know him.Other quick observations: The Royals have lost 10 in a row.Theyre 0-9 at home.Theyre not hitting. Theyre not pitching. Theyre not winning.All those people who picked them to finish second in the AL Central, theyre not talking. Alex Rios has a 10-game hitting streak. During that time, he has raised his batting average from .111 to .333. Thirdbase coach Joe McEwing is a human windmill. Watch how he waves baserunners home. Its a work of art and can probably provide enough energy for the entire South Side of Chicago. Matt Thornton, Addison Reed and Nate Jones have combined to throw 20.1 innings. Their combined ERA: Zero. Jake Peavy is healthy.Cross your fingers and hope he stays that way all season. If he does, well, lets not go there yet.

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your 2020 White Sox Opening Day starter is ... (drumroll, please) ... we don't know yet.

That's not entirely true, of course, as Lucas Giolito is the overwhelming favorite to take the mound March 26, when the White Sox open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But if you're talking about an official announcement from the manager, well, you're going to have to wait a little longer.

"You want the scoop?" Renteria teased Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. "We won’t lay out a scoop yet."

Giolito has expressed on multiple occasions during the early days of camp that he hopes to be the guy that gets the Opening Day nod. In his first meeting with the media this spring, he said he'd "hopefully" be the Opening Day starter and expanded on that in a couple interviews Wednesday.

Giolito's enthusiasm for the job isn't enough to convince Renteria to move his announcement up to the first week of full-squad workouts. But even the skipper, known to take his time before announcing such things for public consumption, can't deny that Giolito, after his transformational 2019 campaign that saw him go from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff, has earned a shot at the title of Opening Day starter.

"I’m glad he wants to be the Opening Day starter. He’s really grown, and I certainly wouldn’t say to you that you would be surprised if you saw him doing it.

"He’s definitely earned an opportunity to possibly have the Opening Day start."

Giolito was sensational last season, posting a 3.41 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 29 starts. Even with this offseason's signing of Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume, Giolito still looks to be the ace of the staff heading into 2020.

Finishing sixth in last year's AL Cy Young voting would seem to indicate that Giolito has reached the status of one of baseball's elite arms. But here's a question: Can he get better? After all, he's just 25 years old, and many of these young White Sox are said to only have scratched the surface of what they can do. Can Giolito surpass what he did in 2019?

"I don’t know I want him to go past it as much as remain consistent and just continue to have incremental growth," Renteria said. "That was a huge jump for him. And it was a great jump for him. He learned a lot from that season. He learned a lot over the previous year and made the adjustments he needed to over the winter. He came in and did what he needed to do and was able to go ahead and be so effective for us.

"All in all, good health, knock on wood, he gets back out there and he has a chance to continue to do what he does. His pitch sequencing, his pitch mix gives him an opportunity to do that. Hard to pick up a ball out of his hand, now with the new delivery. He just needs to get back out there and pitch."

Certainly that's what Giolito is hoping to do, particularly after he gets past the strained chest muscle he suffered trying to work a little too quickly while still feeling the effects of the flu last month. As Giolito said last week, though, he has a "zero-percent" concern that injury will have any significant impact on his readiness for the season.

So bring on the Opening Day start, right?

"Hopefully," he said last week. "We’ll see. I’m excited.

"That’s not my decision."

Well, it shouldn't be too difficult of one for the person whose decision it is.

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