White Sox

The critics dont bother Aramis Ramirez

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The critics dont bother Aramis Ramirez

PHOENIX Aramis Ramirez doesnt know how he will be received when he steps into the box at Wrigley Field on April 9 wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. He doesnt really care either.

I have no clue, Ramirez said Saturday. Thats part of baseball. Ive been booed before when I left Pittsburgh. Its been nine years and every time I go back I still get booed. I dont know how theyre going to take it. I dont really worry about it. I cant control that stuff.

Ramirez never showed much emotion, which is why it was so surprising that he nearly fought Carlos Silva the last time the Cubs drove over to Maryvale Baseball Park. It was a bad image to project, a team unraveling after the first inning of the fourth game in spring training.

You certainly cant draw a direct line to Mike Quade and Jim Hendry getting fired.

But in the 12 months since that dugout altercation, you can look back and think the cracks were beginning to show for a first-year manager and the long-time general manager, who was close with Ramirez. The mix wasnt quite right for a team that would finish in fifth place again.

New president Theo Epstein made it clear to Ramirez agent last fall that the Cubs planned to go young and werent interested in a 16 million mutual option for 2012, or renegotiating a new deal. So Ramirez got his money from the Brewers, a three-year 36 million insurance policy against losing Prince Fielder.

In the past, Ramirez has said that you cant rebuild in big market, that you need a name product to fill 40,000 seats every game. How long will Cubs fans really stay patient with Epstein?

Thats a good question, Ramirez said. Im not a fan. Im a player. I dont know. Its going to take time, hopefully sooner than later. Hes been successful before in Boston. Im sure hes got a good plan. Hes got something working right now.

For Ramirez, it was always just business. He was their third baseman for eight consecutive Opening Days beginning in 2004; the Cubs had seven different ones in the eight years before that. Ian Stewart will be there April 5.

How come Ramirez never really connected with the fans the way, say, Tony Campana did as a rookie extra outfielder last season?

Because Im slow, man, they like the fast guys, Ramirez said with a smile. No, I dont know. I cant really point at anything. I just tried to do my job, and I think for the most part I did it. Thats all you can ask from a player. I cant really answer that question.

Ramirez hit 239 homers for the Cubs which ranks sixth all-time in franchise history and drove in more than 800 runs during his time on the North Side. He played in the Bartman game in 2003 and was a force on teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008.

The Ramirez critics questioned his hustle, desire and defense. The loudest may have been television analyst Bob Brenly, who managed the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 and is appreciated by viewers for his candor.

I dont care, Ramirez said. Hes a broadcaster. He should just worry about calling the game. Hes not a coach. Hes not a manager. He should just call the game. The coaches, the managers, the GMs they should take care of the other stuff.

There has been a lot of talk about changing the culture at Wrigley Field. Ramirez will turn 34 this summer and doesnt have time for that. He wants to win a ring.

The only difference is these guys won 96 games last year, Ramirez said. Its different because theyre ready to win now. Theos got different plans. They want to go young. Here, theyre going in a different direction.

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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