Jared Wyllys

White Sox look set to get Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson back soon

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USA TODAY

White Sox look set to get Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson back soon

Help is on the way.

The White Sox are off to a 3-12 start since the All-Star break, thanks in part to their struggling offense. They’ve suffered the loss of Tim Anderson - out since June 28 with a sprained right ankle - and Eloy Jimenez - out since July 17 with a right ulnar nerve contusion - and in the weeks since resuming play after the break, the White Sox have been shut out twice and scored just one or two runs in a game eight times. 

But both Anderson and Jimenez look set to return to the active roster soon.

Anderson has been on a rehab assignment in Triple-A Charlotte since July 24, and in three starts he's gone 5-for-13. Manager Rick Renteria said that the plan is for Anderson to play in Charlotte for at least two more games.

"He’s going to go ahead and DH again, play tomorrow [Sunday] and have the natural off-day Monday," Renteria said prior to Saturday's game against the Twins.

Renteria said that all reports from Charlotte on how Anderson is feeling have been positive. The White Sox start a series at home against the Mets on Tuesday, so Anderson looks to be in line to rejoin the team next week.

Jimenez has stayed in Chicago during his time on the injured list, and his return also looks imminent. Before Saturday's game, he took two rounds of batting practice and spent time throwing in the outfield.

"Everything feels pretty good, pretty normal," Jimenez said after his second round of BP. "Now it’s just maybe a couple more days and be back to the field."

Neither Renteria nor Jimenez had much specific to say about when the outfielder might be back on the active roster, but Renteria said that he doesn't believe Jimenez will need any rehab games before coming back.

"He’s been able to manage everything here and it hasn’t been really that long in terms of time," Renteria said. "It would be nice to get him some at-bats [in the minors] but he’s swinging and doing everything he can right now."

Both players coming back to the lineup would undoubtedly help right the ship of what has started off as a disastrous second half for the White Sox. Anderson was an All-Star candidate before getting injured, batting .317 with 11 home runs and 14 doubles through his first 70 games. And Jimenez, who took some time finding his power early in the season, hit .284 in June and had hit 3 home runs in July despite batting for a lower average. The rest of the lineup has undoubtedly felt their absence, especially as they have struggled to win games.

"For everybody on the team, it’s definitely frustrating because we had a really good first half, and now we’re a little bit struggling," Jimenez said. "But I know it’s going to be back."

When assessing the correlation between losing those two players and the team's struggles since the break, Renteria was quick to praise the players called upon to replace Anderson and Jimenez, but there's no question that getting both players back will make the White Sox better. 

In the meantime, the losses are piling up since the break and threatening to undo the positive momentum of going nearly .500 in the first half. 

"They know how to deal with it on a nightly basis," Renteria said of how his team is handling this rough stretch. "We haven’t had an issue of effort, we’ve just had some situations in which we haven’t had both sides of the ball coming together at the same time over the last few weeks."

All signs point to both Anderson and Jimenez returning by next week's series against the Mets, and the hope on the south side is that having them back gets the offense on a much-needed roll. 

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Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

The Cubs have made a trademark out of having a strong second half, and after beating the Pirates 8-3 Sunday, they completed the sweep in their first series since the all-star break and look on their way to putting more space in the NL Central between themselves and the other four teams.

But through the first three innings, the Cubs and starter Jose Quintana looked more like they were going to let the third game of this series get away.

Quintana held the Pirates scoreless in the first two innings, but then in the third he gave up three consecutive singles, threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly, and gave up a double, undoing the 1-0 lead the Cubs had established in the second inning on Robel Garcia's double.

But the difference in Sunday's game was how Quintana pitched after that. He tossed three more scoreless innings, completing a 90-pitch quality start and even contributed an RBI single in the fourth.

"He always goes out there and he competes. He’s so focused," Kris Bryant said of Quintana after the game. "He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does."

Leading up to Quintana's single, Garcia hit a two-out double and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle opted to walk David Bote to get Quintana to the plate for what seemed like a sure out. Instead, Quintana poked Trevor Williams' four-seam fastball to right field, allowing Garcia to score from second and trim Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2.

Quintana had already thrown a scoreless top of the fourth inning, but he gave two more after his RBI single. The hit was a timely confidence boost.

"Felt great, finally to get the base hit," Quintana said. "So excited."

This was Quintana's fifth career RBI and first since 2017, and it may have helped catapult the rest of the offense. The Cubs would score three more runs in the fifth inning to take the lead, and then added some cushion with another three in the sixth.

"Literally, when Q got that hit, Tony goes, 'homer right here,'" Jason Heyward joked after the game.

It wasn't Quintana who got the home run, but Heyward was the one to give the Cubs the lead with his own two-run homer in the fifth after Victor Caratini's sacrifice fly had scored Bryant to tie the game earlier that inning.

"We have fun with that," Heyward said of Rizzo's joking. "But we pull for them obviously because they’re out there pitching their ass off. They want to keep the game close, and sometimes they need to pick themselves up too."

Quintana's last three innings on the mound kept his team in the game. He started the fourth with a walk to Elias Diaz and then did not allow another baserunner until Corey Dickerson's one-out single in the sixth.

"I kept throwing my pitches and believing in my stuff and waiting for our offense to come back in the game, and they did really well," Quintana said. "Always in my mind was they can take more runs, so I wanted to keep it there and wait for our hitters to get back in the game. They did great work. It’s a really good feeling around us right now."

One of the keys to a strong second half for the Cubs is getting more wins like Sunday's. Bryant said after the game that it's important to get a few wins that you shouldn't, like one when the team is down 3-1 halfway through the game. And especially in the last game of a three-game set where the Cubs had already won the first two. With the series win safely secured, it would be easy to let up and drop the final game, but Quintana's timely hit and good pitching in the second half of his outing helped make the difference.

"As soon as he hits his knock, he pitched really well after that," Joe Maddon said. "He got better after the knock."

Quintana might struggle to live up to the expectations of coming from across town in a trade two years ago that cost two darling prospects, but it's worth noting that the average ERA in the National League is 4.39, and after Sunday's win, Quintana's is down to 4.21. If he's the team's back-of-the-rotation starter, that'll do just fine.

He's very capable of stringing together quality starts and pitching like the team's ace, like he has over his last three outings with three straight quality starts, but there are also stretches like his run from May 26 to June 22 where he lost six starts in a row and his ERA climbed from 3.73 to 4.50.

Either way, if Quintana makes more of his starts like Sunday's, the Cubs are in very good position to continue their yearly trend of winning in the second half of the season.

 

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'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

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USA TODAY

'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

The last time Brandon Kintzler gave up a run, it was just a week after Mother's Day.

That May 19 appearance was his third in a row in which he allowed the other team to score, but no one has touched him since, including a scoreless seventh inning in Sunday's win. That lowered his season ERA to 1.91.

He's on fire this season, and Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy credits Kintzler's willingness to embrace some tweaks to his delivery in order to give him better consistency, especially with his release point.

"Release point is the most important thing. We’re trying to simplify everything else so we can get to that more consistently," Hottovy said. "We’re not trying to change who he was, we’re trying to get a better version of himself."

This took some time for Kintzler to embrace, Hottovy said. As a ten year veteran, he was set in his ways to a certain degree. Kintzler was somewhat resistant to making any changes at first, something even he would admit, Hottovy said, and after having some discussions about those changes during the offseason, he came into spring training with still largely the same delivery as he had before. Kintzler began experimenting with what Hottovy was suggesting during spring training, and as he started to see that his velocity and spin rate weren't negatively impacted, he began to buy in. 

"It was really a good job by him to take some of those suggestions that we gave him, but also to buy into them and own it," Hottovy said.

At issue was all that Kintzler was doing with his hands, his leg kick and when he was coming set. In order to get a more consistent release point, Hottovy said that they wanted to clean up his delivery and make it more compact and more athletic. And for this to really set in, Kintzler had to change his approach to his pregame work.

"His routine is diligent, he gets out there every day, does his routine," Hottovy said. "He made that a part of his daily routine, his daily program, and things have just taken off."

The positive impact is undeniable. As a part of keeping runners from scoring, Kintzler's sinker and slider have gotten more consistent drop than in 2018, and both have gone back to being very hard to hit. Last year, batters had little trouble with his sinker, hitting .295 against it, but that's down to .183 this year. And the same has happened with Kintzler's slider. In 2018, it was hit at a .278 clip, and this year, .083. Those are much better numbers than even when he was an All-Star closer with the Twins in 2017. Kintzler is still primarily a sinkerball pitcher, but having a more effective breaking pitch has helped round out his repertoire.

The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel in early June to cement the back end of the bullpen, but it shouldn't be missed that Kintzler's willingness to adjust that has led to his bounce-back year has also played a key role in getting those much-needed final outs.

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