White Sox

Sox Drawer: Exceeding expectations

742442.png

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.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

0622-lucas-giolito.jpg
USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

0622-avisail-garcia.jpg
USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.