White Sox

White Sox lose fourth straight, drop series opener to Twins

White Sox lose fourth straight, drop series opener to Twins

Tuesday night’s contest is one of those painful times general manager Rick Hahn promised would come.

A rebuild often includes some ugly moments that drive fans mad. Normally, they come in bunches, too.

What can make it even more frustrating is when a familiar face comes back to do some damage. Hector Santiago played that role yet again on Tuesday as he shut down his old teammates, who were looking to bounce back from their worst series of the season after a surprising start.

Santiago and the Minnesota Twins were too much as the White Sox dropped their fourth straight with a 7-2 loss in front of 14,498 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mike Pelfrey took the loss for the White Sox, who dropped to 15-16.

“We’ve got to put everything together,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “We’ve got the energy, but it seems like right now we’re not clicking on all cylinders.”

Pelfrey looked good early against the Twins, the team he pitched for from 2013-15. Making his fourth start of the season for the White Sox, Pelfrey retired the first eight batters he faced and nine of the first 10.

The White Sox took advantage and spotted Pelfrey a 2-0 lead with a pair of RBI singles in the bottom of the third inning. But the lead was gone in an instant as Minnesota rallied for three quick runs in the fourth.

Jorge Polanco led off with a single, stole second and scored on a Max Kepler RBI single. Kennys Vargas then turned around a 92-mph sinker from Pelfrey and deposited it into the right-field bleachers, the two-run shot exiting his bat at 115 mph to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.

“It’s never good to give up three, but especially after we score two,” Pelfrey said. “I’m pretty disappointed in myself for that. That kills the team. That’s not good.”

“I don’t think we ever gave up in Baltimore and kept fighting and had some close games. That’s a good team, a really good team.

“Tonight, I’ll take the blame for that. These guys gave me a lead and I gave it right back. That can be demoralizing and that’s my fault.”

A replacement for the injured James Shields, Pelfrey’s output began to rapidly slow down. While he recorded two more outs, the right-hander exited with two runners aboard after he walked Kepler in the fifth inning.

Dan Jennings retired Vargas to end the threat.

But it was the third time in four starts that Pelfrey hasn’t completed five innings.

The outing left too much work for a banged up bullpen, which is missing Nate Jones, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka. Jennings, who appeared for the 15th time in 31 games, allowed three earned runs and three hits in 2/3 of an inning as the Twins began to pull away. Minnesota had six hits in seven at-bats to start the top of the sixth against Jennings and Chris Beck, scoring four times to make it 7-2.

That was more than the White Sox offense could match.

For the sixth time in nine games, the White Sox scored fewer than three runs. An offense that appears to be woefully short on on-base percentage has scored three or fewer runs in 17 of its 31 games.

The White Sox appeared to have found the elixir to solve Santiago’s dominance against them. Omar Narvaez walked with one out in the third inning and singles by Willy Garcia and Tyler Saladino made it a 1-0 game. Jose Abreu then continued his hot streak with an RBI single to right to make it 2-0.

But Santiago, who entered 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA against his former team, settled down. He worked around three hits and five walks to limit the White Sox to two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Were that not enough, the White Sox threw in a pair of outfield errors for good measure on consecutive plays. Avisail Garcia overran the two-run single of Ehire Adrianza in the sixth inning, which allowed the batter to reach second base. Adrianza then scored on Byron Buxton’s RBI single that made it 6-2. Willy Garcia made an error on that one, which allowed Buxton to move into scoring position. He then scored easily on Joe Mauer’s RBI single.

“We couldn’t minimize their damage as they continued to tack on runs and we weren’t able to respond,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s that simple.

“When you’re trying to establish a way of playing the game of baseball, of which they’ve kind of taken hold of it -- we’ll move forward and we can’t get too high or too low. You’re right, this is four in a row. As far as this one, it’s done.”

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

It was Jose Abreu's worst season in the major leagues. And he still started the All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger.

The White Sox have a decision to make at some point, though not necessarily this offseason, on what to do with Abreu in the long term. His on-field production isn't a question. His role as an off-field mentor isn't a question. But when Opening Day 2020 rolls around, he'll be 33 years old. Does that "align" — to borrow a word used very often by Rick Hahn at last week's GM Meetings — with the White Sox long-term plans?

Abreu's entering the final season of his current contract coming off a year defined as much by freak injuries and a prolonged slump as by the accolades he received in spite of those things. For the first time as a big leaguer, he finished a season without hitting at least 25 homers and racking up at least 100 RBIs. Only playing in 128 games, he posted career lows in most stat categories, with his 36 doubles, the second most in his career, a notable exception. His .473 slugging percentage was only the second lowest of his five-year major league career.

But if the awards were any indication — though it should be added there was a dearth of productive first basemen in the American League last season — he still has the ability to be one of the game's best at his position. His 162-game average over the course of the past five seasons: a .295/.353/.516 slash line with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs. Three times in five seasons, Abreu has received MVP votes, finishing as high as fourth during his Rookie of the Year season in 2014.

And on top of all those numbers, Abreu has earned consistent praise for his role off the field. He's been an omnipresent mentor to Yoan Moncada, who's not even two years removed from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball, with the two Cubans' lockers right next to each other in the White Sox clubhouse. And Abreu is touted as an example to all the team's young players, who can look to him as a model for how to go about one's business and prepare on a daily basis.

So the value is obvious. But in order to make a decision on Abreu, the White Sox have to figure out when their planned contention window is going to open. Significant injuries to a host of their highly touted prospects — most notably the elbow injury that forced Michael Kopech into Tommy John surgery — has muddied the waters when it comes to predicting when this wave of minor league talent will was ashore on the South Side.

If that year is soon, if it's still 2020, then having a 33-year-old Abreu in the middle of the order doesn't seem like a bad thing at all. But in order to make that happen, the White Sox will need to give him a contract extension at some point before this time next year, or they'll have to give him a new contract if he were to reach the free-agent market. If the year when the contention window opens is much past 2020, how old is too old to help the White Sox make a championship run? When does the dropoff in production that comes with most aging players arrive?

The White Sox talk highly of Abreu, giving no indication they plan to move on from the guy they spent lavishly on after the 2013 season. And for his part, Abreu continues to talk glowingly about the White Sox and remains committed to saying that he hopes to be in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

"Everybody knows that 2019 is going to be the last season of my current contract, but I try not to think about that because I am part of the White Sox and I believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time," he said through a translator during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "That’s something that’s out of my hands right now because I have one season left on this current contract.

"But in case the next season is my last one, I’d like to thank all the White Sox organization and all the people who have been around me during my time on this team, especially the owner, Jerry (Reinsdorf). He has been an outstanding person to me. He’s one of the greatest people that I’ve met in this country.

"But I try not to think about that because I truly believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time. But we’ll see. I know that this is a business, and that’s the way you have to approach it."

That answer to a reporter's question covered all the bases, a masterclass in the public-relations friendly response. But Abreu does always come off as someone who wants to stick with this team. He knows what's going on in the minor league system and he knows how bright the White Sox future is.

And the White Sox know what Abreu can do. Their reported desire to trade Avisail Garcia might be an indication they're ready to move on from their older players, but Garcia and Abreu are vastly different cases, with Abreu far more productive on the field and more commonly discussed as an asset to the young players off it.

During the 2017 season, the decision on Abreu seemed an easy one for the White Sox: Keep this extraordinarily productive player and team leader around as long as you can. But injuries might have made that decision more difficult — and not the freak ones Abreu suffered during the season, but the ones suffered by prospects that might have changed the timeline of this whole thing, and therefore the "alignment" of Abreu and this team's bright future.

Luis Robert has opposing players in awe: 'What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?'

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AP

Luis Robert has opposing players in awe: 'What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?'

SURPRISE, Ariz. — When Luis Robert comes to the plate, you can’t take your eyes off him.

This isn’t just me talking. It seems like everybody stops. Fans, coaches, teammates, security guards, birds.

Even Robert’s opponents pause with curiosity, wondering what might happen next.

“I hear them in the dugout. They’re all at the top of the dugout when he comes up to hit, so that just tells you how they feel about him as well,” said Charlie Poe, Robert’s hitting coach here in the Arizona Fall League as well as with the Class A Winston-Salem Dash. “I see them, I hear them in the dugout. ‘He’s up! He’s up! What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?’”

It would be one thing if these were high school or college players talking about the Cuban phenom. But no, these players gawking at Robert are just like him, some of the best prospects in the game, in awe of the potential of this possible future White Sox star.

Robert has left such an impression, these players from other teams often come to the field before games just to watch Robert take batting practice.

As Poe explained, “He does things on the field that make you say 'wow' because you can tell he’s going to be good for a very long time.”

The first thing you notice when you see him on the field is his size.

At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he’s cut like an NFL wide receiver.

A scout told Mike Ferrin of MLB Network Radio: “When he dies, he wants to come back for a second life in Luis Robert’s body.”

After thumb injuries limited him to 50 games during the 2018 regular season, Robert has been making up for lost time in the AFL. In 17 games, he has slashed .329/.373/.443, showing the White Sox and everybody else what he can do. Monday, he was named the AFL Player of the Week, and he recently had a 14-game hitting streak snapped, a feat that considering the competition here should not be overlooked.

“This is some of the best of the best in the minor leagues,” Poe said. “It’s pretty tough to have a two-game hitting streak with some of these pitchers that they’re throwing out there. For him to have a 14-game hitting streak — and he wasn’t playing every day — to keep that consistent every day is really hard because we see some good arms out here. Everybody throws 95-plus and he was very consistent using the whole field and his main thing was just getting good pitches to hit. He wasn’t jumping out at the ball. He was being more consistent, tracking pitches and putting himself in good counts and that’s what he was doing very well. That’s why he was hitting for so long.”

One of Robert’s highlights this fall was a majestic home run he hit last week in Mesa. He demolished the baseball with such authority, those in attendance saw their jaws drop to the ground.

“Everybody in the stadium was just like, ‘Ahhhhhh.’ Big wows,” Poe said about the reaction to Robert’s mammoth blast.

One of Robert’s biggest challenges is the language barrier. The Cuban native is trying to learn English. Just about every day he tries to learn a new word with Poe. His new favorite word is “perfect.” Whenever Robert hits the ball on the screws, he’ll see Poe and tell him: “Purrfect, C-Po, purrrrrfect!”

Despite his impressive talent, Robert is not a finished product. He still needs plenty of seasoning in the minor leagues. He’ll likely spend most of 2019 at Double-A Birmingham.

The key for him is to learn, develop and yes, stay healthy.

“You can tell his ceiling is very high and he’s going to do a lot of good things in this game,” Poe said.

Besides working with Robert, Poe has also been the hitting coach for some of the top offensive prospects in the White Sox organization: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Nick Madrigal, Micker Adolfo, Luis Gonzalez and Gavin Sheets.

He knows firsthand what the White Sox have in the minors and what will eventually be headed to the majors with Robert.

“They’re coming,” Poe said. “There’s a lot of good young players in this organization that will be in Chicago in the next coming years. It’s going to be fun to watch, because they are coming.”