White Sox

In Miami, Ozzie wont stop being Ozzie

737098.png

In Miami, Ozzie wont stop being Ozzie

MIAMI Marlins Park is sensory overload. It looks like they dropped a spaceship into the middle of Little Havana.

There are half-naked women dancing in the Clevelander bar beyond the left-field wall. The music is loud rap and salsa and so are the colors - lime green, bright orange, deep blue.

When Hanley Ramirez steps to the plate, he can see his image lit up in a fluorescent Andy Warhol portrait on the center-field scoreboard. Ozzie Guillen is supposed to be the magnet to help draw them to the site of the old Orange Bowl.

Even if the Marlins never envisioned their manager making pro-Fidel Castro comments to TIME magazine, this is what they wanted, flashbulbs popping and the microphones hanging on every word.

Guillen returned from his five-game suspension on Tuesday and spoke to the media for almost 17 minutes, before opening it up to questions from the Spanish-language outlets. He will apologize and reach out to this citys Cuban community, but he cant alter his DNA.

I dont think Im going to change, Guillen said. Just be careful who you talk to. Thats all it is. I made a mistake. I paid for it. And Im here to make it better and win some ballgames.

Guillen believes winning cures everything. The sculpture in center field lit up and sprayed water in the eighth inning after Ramirez drilled a 95 mph fastball off Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis for a three-run homer, snapping a tie game and lifting the Marlins to a 5-2 victory. The manager had no doubts hed be back in that dugout.

I never worried about being fired from my job, Guillen said. Thats not up to me. That was up to the people running this ballclub. They were really, really behind me 100 percent.

Obviously, theyre not too happy. They dont agree with what I did, but they supported me.

The Marlins are standing behind Guillen. Team president David Samson put it like this: I said to Ozzie in a very personal moment: We want you to not change the way you manage or who you are. We want you to think about anything other than baseball as probably not funny.

Guillen and the Marlins front office are looking into community outreach opportunities, and plan to make significant contributions through their charitable foundations.

But Guillen knows when you hurt somebodys feelings, you dont resolve it with money. And the manager is braced for the backlash: I dont expect everybody to be 100 percent onboard with me.

The Marlins drew only 24,544 fans on Tuesday night, though that could say more about this citys indifference to their baseball team than Guillens politics.

Are they going to forgive me? Guillen said. I expect that. I hope that. I want that. Are they going to do it? Time will tell.

This is life inside the echo chamber, where a modern manager might sit through close to 400 media sessions a year, and have anything he says blasted out on Twitter and across cyberspace.

I dont care where you are, if you dont say the right things, (its) going to be magnified, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. Theres too much media and some people take one thing the wrong way and thats all it takes. It snowballs throughout the whole country.

So its just something you got to be careful of and try to stick to what we know in baseball and thats it.

The Marlins are going to keep Guillen up on that tightrope.

If youre winning and I do what I think I should do in this community it will be better, Guillen said. I want the community to know Im for real. Im not lying to them, and I respect them. I hurt them, yes, but Im for real and Im going to let them know Im going to make it happen.

The Marlins designed this place with off-the-field distractions in mind, but say they want the focus back on baseball now. Time will tell if Guillen can keep this promise.

From now on, lets talk about winning and losing, how good we play and how bad we play, Guillen said. I hope this is the last time I will talk about this situation. And it will be the last time. It will be. I dont care if we go to New York, Atlanta, this will be the last time I talk about the issue.

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

kimbrel.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

Mark Schanowski, Mark Carman and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs take 2 out of 3 from the D'Backs thanks to a surprisingly solid start from Tyler Chatwood. Should the Cubs trust him more than they trust Yu Darvish? Meanwhile, the bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

12:00- The guys preview the huge series against the Dodgers at Wrigley.

16:00- The White Sox lose 2 of 3 in Detroit but Kap is still excited about the future.

20:00- The NBA Eastern Conference playoffs are becoming a fight. So who will win the East? And can anybody even threaten the Warriors?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe: