White Sox

White Sox ace Chris Sale finds a new way to dominate in win over Angels

White Sox ace Chris Sale finds a new way to dominate in win over Angels

It seems strange that Chris Sale — who set a White Sox franchise record for strikeouts in 2015 — would enter a game not looking to rack up forwards and backwards K’s. 

But that was the plan on Wednesday, and Sale excelled with it. The lanky left-hander cruised through seven innings of work to push the White Sox to a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels in front of 12,785 at U.S. Cellular Field. 

This wasn’t a typically-dominant Sale start, complete with the deluge of swings and misses that’ve been staples for the ace left-hander last four years. He only struck out three — just the second time he’s had fewer than four strikeouts in at least seven innings of work — but held the Angels to just two hits, both ground ball singles off the bat of 2014 AL MVP outfielder Mike Trout. 

“When I came out, I was like, Trout was 2-3 off me with two singles, and I feel like I beat him,” laughed Sale, nodding to Trout’s mega-superstar status. 

But the Angels entered Wednesday striking out in just 15 percent of their collective plate appearances, the lowest rate in baseball. Sale talked during spring training about trying to be more efficient by letting opponents put the ball in play, but on Wednesday, he was essentially forced into it. 

The result was Angels hitters peppering White Sox infielders and outfielders with soft-hit grounders and fly balls, none of which really seemed to pose much of a threat. 

“With a team like that, to be honest with you, it doesn’t make sense to go out there and try to get strikeouts,” catcher Alex Avila said. “They put the ball in play and tend to have good at-bats. So you have to pick your spots. You can run yourself out of a game real quick. You can still pitch well but it could be a five inning game for him.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Sale tipped his cap to the White Sox defense, which he said helped get him an extra inning by making all the plays behind him. 

At the least, that reliability is an improvement from last year’s group, which ranked at or near the bottom of baseball by just about every defensive evaluation, advanced or otherwise. It’s early in the season, and defensive metrics can be wonky in a small sample size, but the White Sox defense looks better to the eye and rates in the top seven in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

Despite setting a franchise record for strikeouts and not issuing many walks or home runs, Sale had a career-worst 3.41 ERA last year. The additions of Austin Jackson, Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, as well as Adam Eaton’s move to right field, have already provided a major boost to the defense behind Sale. 

Manager Robin Ventura said opposing teams, too, are bound to be more aggressive early in the count given Sale’s propensity to blow them away with two strikes. 

“We do have a pretty good defense right now of guys being able to go get it as well as the approach of (opponents),” Ventura said, “You don't want to wait around too long because if you get yourself in a two-strike count, the odds go up of him punching you out rather you putting it in play.”

Even if Sale continues to focus on being more efficient and generating weak contact, the strikeouts are bound to come. He had nine in his masterful shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays last Friday. It’ll always be a big part of his game.

But Avila talked about working with Sale to dial things up when he needs a strikeout, but not focusing on getting one every at-bat. There will be games and situations in which Sale needs to reach back and keep the ball out of play; there will also be games like Wednesday in which that’s not entirely necessary.

“He’s going to get his strikeouts,” Avila said. “We’re not worried about that. It’s a matter of him being more efficient.”

Sox Drawer Q&A: Is this the White Sox 'Jon Lester' offseason?

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USA TODAY

Sox Drawer Q&A: Is this the White Sox 'Jon Lester' offseason?

Back for another round of questions here in the Sox Drawer. Let's go.

Q: Do you believe this is the Sox "Lester" offseason where they make a large investment in a player for the future? Or are we still one year away from seeing this? — @BCurley3

CG: That's a question many White Sox fans are wondering about. And by the "Lester" signing, I assume you are referring to the likes of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. I'd like to think that if the White Sox have a desire to sign a big-name free agent, they will make every attempt to do it now and not wait for the 2020 free agents, even if it's coming off a 100-loss season. As general manager Rick Hahn put it in his season-ending press conference, "You can't always control when certain players become available. You can say in 2020 or 2021 we expect to be this, and we know we are going to need X. You can't look at the projected free agent and say that player will be available, much less that player will be a White Sox when the time comes." It might turn out that the White Sox don't sign that marquee free agent this offseason, but going off what Hahn said, I believe they will go all-in when their targeted "Jon Lester" is available.

Q: If you had your choice, would the White Sox sign Manny Machado or Nolan Arenado? — @Dehhmac_

CG: I'll take either. Arenado gets the edge defensively. Machado has the advantage offensively. One stat about Arenado that gives me some pause is his career home/away splits. At Coors Field, he's slashing .320/.374/.609. Away from Coors Field, he's at .263/.318/.469. He's still a great player, but his numbers are inflated due to the higher elevation in Denver. If they don't sign him to a contract extension this winter, I'm curious to see if the Rockies listen to trade offers during the Winter Meetings like the Orioles did with Machado last year. The Rockies are much more competitive than the Orioles, so they might decide to go for it one more time with Arenado. If not, a crazy Winter Meetings just got crazier.

Q: I have long expected this to be the offseason when the Sox start signing free agents. However, lately, I've heard about possible big-name trade potentials. Do you expect trades this early in the rebuild or mainly acquisition through free agency? — @ToddHertz

CG: At some point, the White Sox will probably dip into their farm system to acquire major league upgrades where they see fit. Because there were so many injuries to prospects last season, I'm not sure they've seen enough to know exactly what they have to make those kind trades just yet. However, the one position in the minors where they seem very deep right now is in the outfield. That could be an area they could subtract from to add elsewhere. I think the White Sox timed their rebuild very well with free agency. Last year's lackluster free-agent class was a great time to be on the sidelines. The next two winters will have much better talent available. The White Sox don't have much on the books and will be in a good financial position to make upgrades.

Q: After Eloy comes up in April who's the next guy in waiting and when does he come up? —  @franknacchio19

CG: With two open spots in the rotation, we could see a few prospects compete for starting jobs in spring training. Jordan Guerrero, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams are possibilities. All three of them finished the season at Charlotte and could be close to knocking on the door. The next big name after that would seemingly be Dylan Cease, who if he continues to pitch like he did this past season will probably be on the Michael Kopech timeline to the majors, and Kopech came up in August.

Q: If the rumors are true and the Diamondbacks dismantle their roster, which player on their roster makes sense for this White Sox team long term? —  @mr_zablocki

Q: Who would you hypothetically trade for Goldshmidt? — @DaRealScaletta​​​​​​​

CG: Looking at the Diamondbacks' roster, there aren't many natural fits with the White Sox rebuild. Where's the All-Star third baseman on a rebuilding team with a four-year, team-friendly contract? I like Zack Greinke, but he's going to be 35-years-old and has three years and $104 million left on his contract. A 27-year-old Robbie Ray would be solid, but he's under team control for only two more years. Paul Goldschmidt is an all-world first baseman with three Gold Gloves, but he's a free agent after next season. Depending on what the White Sox do with Jose Abreu, who also has one year left on his contract, maybe they go after Goldschmidt next offseason if they don't re-sign Abreu.

Q: Tell a Yolmer story. — @NJBooth20

CG: Yolmer was wearing this cool T-shirt in the clubhouse this past season. On the front, it said "play hard" with a photo of him making Mickey Mouse ears. On the back it said "have fun," and there's the photo of him pouring Gatorade all over himself. I asked him if I could have one of those T-shirts. He said, "50 dollars." I countered with, "How about 30?" With perfect comedic timing, Yolmer came back with, "Make it 10." He might not be the best bargainer in the world, but Yolmer Sanchez is definitely one of the funniest people around.

Q: Why did Nagy run the ball on 3rd and 4?? — @rypie182​​​​​​​

CG: Not sure.

Q: Can I leave a voicemail? Too drunk to tweet. — @HurriKayne26​​​​​​​

CG: Rough Bears game.

Q: Who will be the biggest surprise and/or the greatest improvement for next season's team? — @nicklicious33​​​​​​​

CG: Good question. If he's able to come back, I can think of one person in particular who would be quite an incredible surprise in 2019. That's Danny Farquhar. At home in California recovering from his near-death brain aneurysm, Farquhar is training with the hopes of pitching in the majors again, possibly as soon as 2019. I wouldn't put it past him. He's a special person who has been defying the odds since that horrific night in April. It would be great to see!

Thanks again for all of your questions. We'll do it again next week.

Sorry, White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

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USA TODAY

Sorry, White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

For the biggest dreamers among the White Sox faithful, here's how this offseason might be playing out.

Rick Hahn said the team will make some additions to the pitching staff. So for those dreamers, it's a rush to the top of the list of free-agent starting pitchers, right? Why not hook one of the biggest fish in the pond?

The top of that list looks like this: Clayton Kershaw (should he choose to opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and seek a new, more lucrative one), Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin. Some might even have those last two names flipped, with Corbin, coming off an All-Star season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, second only to one of the best to ever throw a baseball.

The White Sox might not be capable of outbidding baseball's biggest spenders, and that's without even mentioning that they might simply not be looking to ink a hurler to a long-term contract. After all, that's what all those talented prospects are for, right? Assembling the rotation of the future? Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all already part of the 2019 staff. Michael Kopech, when he's done recovering from Tommy John surgery, will join them in 2020. And Dylan Cease was just named MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year. With all that in mind, any offseason additions to the rotation for 2019 might simply be one-year fill-ins.

But fans often like to dream big, and a lot of them have Corbin on their wish list.

That's not surprising when you look at his numbers. He threw 200 innings last season and struck out 246 batters while finishing with a 3.15 ERA, those last two numbers the best of his six-year big league career. He's 29 years old and a long-term deal would figure to have him in the starting rotation as the White Sox plan to shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Just one problem: There's plenty of belief out there that Corbin's destination this winter has already been booked.

This has been a talking point for a while now, as the Yankees tried to bring Corbin to the Bronx via trade last offseason. They're expected to try to do so again, this time via free agency, as they've got a ton of money to spend. Corbin was quoted in the Nightengale story from April saying: "It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan."

Sorry to burst your bubbles, White Sox fans. But don't blame me. Blame the Yankees, which seems to be becoming a frequent refrain. If Didi Gregorius' elbow injury means Manny Machado ends up in the Bronx this winter, too, White Sox fans might drop the Cubs as Public Enemy No. 1.

The White Sox have enough hurdles to clear in any pursuit of one of the game's top free agents: They have to compete with baseball's traditional big spenders, and they have to try and beat win-now pitches with a pitch of planned — though not yet arrived — long-term success. It's not like that hasn't been a winning battle before, though, as the rebuilding Cubs got Jon Lester to believe in their future and brought him in to help make their transition from rebuild to championship contention.

But throw in the hurdle of a history between a player and another team, and it makes it an even harder job.

The White Sox will be making some additions this offseason, though they might not be the ones fans are dreaming about. But not landing the winter's biggest fish doesn't mean the organization's biggest, most important dream of building a perennial contender on the South Side is going anywhere.