White Sox

White Sox see offense, defense coming together for playoff push

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White Sox see offense, defense coming together for playoff push

After two blowout losses put some of their good vibrations on hiatus, the White Sox returned to what got them into the American League playoff race.

Melky Cabrera launched a three-run homer and Carlos Sanchez and Avisail Garcia came up with big defensive plays to push the White Sox to an 8-2 win over the New York Yankees in front of 34,379 Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field. John Danks fired 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to help the White Sox reverse their fortunes after losing back-to-back games by a combined 13 runs.

“It says a lot about this ballclub,” Danks said. “We put last night behind us and understood that we had a game to win today. … We just gotta win as many as we can and see what happens. In order to do that, you gotta put the good and bad behind you.”

The White Sox got on the board in the first when Adam Eaton scored from first on Jose Abreu’s double down the left field line. Alexei Ramirez — like Cabrera, another slow starter who’s hit the ball well lately — ripped a solo home run, his sixth of the season, in the second off Yankees starter Bryan Mitchell.

[MORE: Still in Chicago, Jeff Samardzija sees White Sox as contenders]

In the third, Garcia robbed Yankees shortstop Didi Gregarious of a home run, perfectly timing his leap at the right field wall to catch a ball that would’ve otherwise landed in the visitor’s bullpen. A run scored on what turned out to be a nothing more than a sacrifice fly, and the White Sox held on to the lead.

With New York threatening in the sixth, McCann pinch hit and hit a rocket to Sanchez at second. The ball took a difficult hop, but the 22-year-old second baseman made the play to beat back a potential late rally.

“We’ve had our issues early in the year defensively, and part of that is we know we’re going to be able to pitch and our guys go out there and they’re trusting the defense,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think you can’t be afraid to throw strikes and be able to let the defense work for you. Especially our infield right now, we feel pretty good about it and being able to turn some hard-hit balls into outs.”

Saladino punched an RBI single to right to score Eaton — who blew through third base coach Joe McEwing’s late stop signal — to help tee up Cabrera’s three-run blast in the fifth.

On the morning of June 8, Cabrera had a .226 batting average and .521 OPS. In 47 games since, he has 64 hits in 179 at-bats with 18 doubles, two triples and six home runs with an OPS well over .950. During the White Sox recent seven-game winning streak, Cabrera had 18 hits in 33 at-bats (.545 batting average) with two home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.589 OPS.

“He’s been in the middle of a lot of it,” Ventura said. “Right now, you feel pretty good about him and Jose back-to-back. … Melky’s been swinging it as good as anyone on our team.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Danks said he had his best stuff in two years and topped out at 94 miles per hour, according to BrooksBaseball.net — “The first time I looked up and saw 93, I wanted to throw confetti out there,” Danks said — though he didn’t make it out of the sixth. He limited New York to three hits and tied a season high with eight strikeouts, but issued four walks, limiting his ability to go deep into Saturday’s game.

With Minnesota’s walk-off win over Seattle, the White Sox remain three and a half games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot. But the White Sox are confident that they’re playing the kind of baseball necessary to hang in a bunched-up, competitive playoff race.

“I think defense really correlates to better hitting and better pitching,” Eaton said. “The more you have better defense, the more outs you’re going to get, less outs you’re going to give the opponent and get right back in to hit again. Pitchers feed off that as well. So I think if we continue to play good defense, our hitting will come along and our pitchers are going to help us out.”

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.

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

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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.