White Sox

White Sox see Chris Sale’s leadership emerge from losing streak

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White Sox see Chris Sale’s leadership emerge from losing streak

As the White Sox continue to plummet to the bottom of the American League, manager Robin Ventura has seen at least one positive emerge from his team’s eight-game losing streak.

After flirting with a perfect game and striking out 14 over eight shutout innings Friday — and after David Robertson blew the save by allowing two runs in the ninth — Sale defended his teammates and proclaimed his club’s skid would come to a stop soon.

The White Sox offense scored a lone run on Friday — coming on a Tyler Flowers home run — and haven’t supported its pitching staff recently, posting a .431 OPS over the last seven days. This is a team that’s last in baseball in FanGraphs’ defensive and baserunning ratings. Only three position players (Jose Abreu, Geovany Soto and Adam LaRoche) have a positive WAR.

[MORE: White Sox lose eighth straight despite Chris Sale's 14 strikeouts]

With all that in mind, Ventura has come away impressed with how Sale — who’s been arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the last month — has handled his team’s malaise.

“The way it’s going, it’s easy to sit there and point fingers,” Ventura said. “That’s his maturity level. His leadership qualities are coming out. You are looking at a guy that is in his fourth year of starting. This is what is taking shape. This is the guy that he has become.”

The White Sox have both of Sale’s starts by 2-1 scorelines on this losing streak, which began right after the team swept a three-game home series against the first-place Astros. The 26-year-old left-hander joined Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in baseball history with 10 or more strikeouts in five consecutive games. He’s averaging 12.08 strikeouts per nine innings, putting him on pace to be the first starter since Johnson in 2001 to average more than a dozen strikeouts per nine innings in a season.

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And yet, it hasn’t been good enough. Sale’s done his part to be the stopper in the White Sox rotation, the kind of guy whose presence on the mound should mean a losing streak never gets past five games.

Sale knows he’s in Chicago for the long haul, with his incredibly team-friendly contract running through 2017 with club options for 2018 and 2019. He’s not out of his mid-20’s but is already in his sixth major league season, No. 4 as a starter. And he’s developed into not only the ace of the White Sox rotation, but a guy who will support his teammates in the clubhouse even if they’re not supporting him with runs on the field.

“It’s impressive,” Ventura said. “Not only the numbers that he’s putting up but in difficult times, and he’s had difficult times just like (Jose Quintana) has had and this is the result of it. You are seeing a team guy first and he goes out and pitches. It’s also helping with his pitching. It’s what he can control.”

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: