White Sox

White Sox defense improving, but still has to close the gap

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White Sox defense improving, but still has to close the gap

The White Sox entered Sunday winners of four in a row, and not coincidentally haven’t had any major defensive blunders against St. Louis and Baltimore.

But as a team, the White Sox defense still ranks last in Ultimate Zone Rating and second to last in Defensive Runs Saved, the two major advanced defensive metrics available on FanGraphs. Even if those stats don’t always have pinpoint accuracy, they nonetheless show a defense that’s been one of the biggest factors to the White Sox disappointing first half.

“We tried to address some of that with Carlos Sanchez promotion,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “You’ve seen Gordon (Beckham) get more times at third base to give Conor (Gillaspie) a break and even Gordon at short to give Alexei (Ramirez) a day when he needed it. The defense has improved, I believe. It’s not to the level where we need it to be.”

[MORE: White Sox wowed by Avisail Garcia's game-saving catch]

Avisail Garcia’s game-saving catch on Saturday was a much-needed defensive boost, as the right fielder took away what would’ve been a game-tying home run from Orioles slugger Chris Davis. It felt like one of the first times the White Sox defense has picked up its pitching staff this season.

Entering Sunday, White Sox pitchers had a collective 4.05 ERA, ninth-worst in baseball. But that doesn’t tell the whole story — the pitching staff has actually been good at maximizing strikeouts and limiting home runs and walks, the three fielding-independent things pitchers can control.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) tracks a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed — none of which can be affected by the defense behind him — and spits out a number on an ERA scale that represents how good he is in those areas. As a pitching staff, the White Sox have a 3.64 FIP, 10th-best in baseball.

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That 0.41 gap between the White Sox ERA and FIP is the fourth-highest in baseball and represents a significant disconnect between how well the White Sox have pitched and how many runs they’ve allowed. The team’s defensive issues have had a lot to do with it.

But it’s a gulf that Hahn sees narrowing, and the last four games have only fueled that optimism.

“Physical errors are going to occur from time to time even on elite defensive clubs. But we need to eliminate the mental mistakes,” Hahn said. “I think those lapses have become fewer and farther between. But it’s a matter of them keeping the focus on daily basis, whether that’s through substitution or moving guys around a little bit. They are trying everything to improve that area because it’s important.”

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson turned 24 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with a bang.

Anderson smashed a three-run home run in the first inning against the A's. It was actually his first swing on his birthday. Anderson took the first two pitches before launching the 1-1 pitch over the right field fence.

That home run, Anderson's 13th of the year, gave the White Sox a 5-0 lead. Things took an ugly turn later in the game with Oakland winning 7-6. Dylan Covey left in the fifth with a hip injury, which manager Rick Renteria said will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the severity of the injury.

Anderson finished 2-for-4 on his birthday. He later added a single, a stolen base and a run in the sixth inning.

Anderon's power surge this year has him on pace to blow past his 17 homers from a year ago. He is four shy of last year's total and has done so in just under half as many plate appearances.

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

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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.