White Sox

Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

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Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

Kerry Wood wrote the perfect ending, walking off the mound at Wrigley Field for the final time and embracing his son. Whoever cuts the highlight film for the 2013 Cubs Convention already has the feel-good moment for the diehard fans.

That it took almost three months for the new Mr. Cub and Theo Epsteins front office to agree on a one-year, 3 million contract was probably a sign.

The deal was announced last January at the convention, inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom, roughly 90 minutes after the team president said you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations.

Woods retirement may wind up being what chairman Tom Ricketts likes to call an inflection point. (So could his fathers Super PAC.)

Everythings supposed to be cold and clinical now, and this month confirmed what we already knew: No one is untouchable.

Epstein said as much this week, when reporters surrounded him during batting practice at Wrigley Field. The losing streak had reached 12 games, shattering the idea that the Cubs could contend this year.

More than two months from the July 31 deadline, people were talking about Ryan Dempsters no-trade rights, and Epstein was planning to meet again with his Opening Day starter.

Every option has to be on the table, Epstein said.

Heres the disclaimer: The Cubs would have to be absolutely blown away to deal a Matt Garza or a Starlin Castro. Youd have to get multiple impact players in return to even consider it, and those deals are increasingly difficult to engineer.

When the Cubs open a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at AT&T Park, they will again be trying to find out who is and who isnt a foundation piece. Thats the lens through which you can view the rest of this season.

Carlos Marmol and Rafael Dolis lost the closers job in May, and the Cubs are planning to go by committee in the ninth inning with James Russell, Shawn Camp and Casey Coleman.

As Epstein predicted, Bryan LaHair cooled off and didnt produce at a Babe Ruthian level. But no other first baseman in the National League has more home runs (10), and only Joey Votto has a higher on-base percentage than LaHairs .396.

Trying to jumpstart the lineup, manager Dale Sveum removed Castro from the No. 3 hole, opening another debate on how high the All-Star shortstops ceiling will be.

Its easy to forget, but remember that Castro is around the same age as the college players who will be taken in next weeks amateur draft. The 22-year-old already has two .300 seasons on his big-league resume, and appears to be on his way to a third.

Castro has walked five times in 205 at-bats. Can he learn to grind out at-bats and become patient at the plate?

A lot of people do, Sveum said. You understand (that) it takes time. Some guys are built to do it. Some guys take 2,000-3,000 major-league at-bats until it all starts gradually coming together. A lot of times you just get tired of it. You get tired of rolling over. You get tired of swinging at bad pitches.

Thats the maturity level that comes with major-league at-bats.

Castro is up to 1,437 plate appearances now, and hes playing for his third manager in three years. You can wonder how the losing environment will effect him.

But the Cubs didnt really explode or lash out during that 12-game losing streak. Insiders say the clubhouse is more quiet and emotionally level without Carlos Zambrano and Marlon Byrd.

Nobodys wondering whos in charge or who might get fired. Sveum and his experienced group of coaches have essentially seen it all before. They will be judged subjectively in 2012, far beyond the won-loss record (18-32).

Theyve done a really nice job of being prepared and being even-keeled during these moments, general manager Jed Hoyer said. I know sometimes people want to see throwing helmets and broken coolers and things like that.

(But) at some point were going to win seven out of eight (and) you got to stay in the middle and not (have) players feel like youre running hot and cold on them.

It wont be easy maintaining equilibrium. Alfonso Soriano smiled when a reporter asked what happened to the clubhouse wall after Wednesdays walk-off win over the San Diego Padres.

Part of it had been smashed, leaving a dent and cracks in the space between the lockers of Soriano and Dempster (who got a no-decision that afternoon).

Oh, I dont know, Soriano said. For sure, thats not me.

Those moments of frustration have been kept behind closed doors. Soriano essentially shrugged: Thats part of the game, too.

This is a business. Once the draft ends next week, the Cubs will shift gears and focus on the trade deadline. They will block out all the noise about Anthony Rizzo (and his sore right wrist heard around the Twitter world).

I understand fans have a right to be upset anytime were not playing winning baseball, Epstein said. I just think if we start making decisions based on it or scrap plans because of it (and) try to put Band-Aids on situations were doing the fans a disservice in the long run.

Ill always operate with the belief that the only way to make fans happy in the long run is to get to a point where were playing baseball in October on a regular basis. And nothing is going to get in the way of that.

Sometimes when you rip the scab off, theres some pain, until we grow some new skin and were born anew. Were going places. Its just (that) this is a tough road.

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

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USA TODAY

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

Yoan Moncada continued his hot start to the season with a leadoff home run in Detroit on Friday.

He finished with two hits and a bases-loaded walk in a 7-3 White Sox win.

Moncada’s base numbers are all up this season. He is hitting .325 with a 1.002 OPS and a team-leading six home runs. Beyond that, a deeper look at the numbers show why Moncada’s production is up.

Moncada didn’t show much, if any, improvement in 2018 from 2017. Most of his numbers across the board were similar or slightly worse.

Moncada was patient at the plate, but maybe too patient in his first two seasons with the White Sox. He led the majors with 217 strikeouts last season and 85 of those were strikeouts looking. So far this season, Moncada is yet to strikeout looking.

This season, Moncada is swinging at more pitches both in the strike zone and overall, which is leading to a lower strikeout rate. A look at the advanced stats from FanGraphs shows Moncada swung at 63.9 percent of pitches in the zone in both 2017 and 2018 (these numbers are before Friday's game). That number is up to 69.1 percent this season. On top of that, Moncada is making more contact on those swings on pitches in the zone (up to 86.5 percent this season after 77.5 percent in 2017 and 79.8 percent in 2018).

His strikeout rate (32 percent in 2017, 33.4 percent in 2018) is way down at 24.1 percent. Strikeouts were the biggest red flag for Moncada last year. By being more aggressive this season, Moncada has been able to cut way down on that number.

His power has gone way up as well. He already has 12 extra base hits (in 82 plate appearances) and his home run on Friday was an absolute bomb. Moncada took it deep for 458 feet. That’s the longest White Sox home run of the season and is tied for the eighth longest home run in the majors this season.


He later showed that despite being more aggressive, he still has that plate discipline that was such a big part of what made him a coveted prospect in the first place. He drew a five-pitch bases loaded walk in which he did not swing the bat.

No matter how it's happening, Moncada’s turnaround has been one of the most important things in the young White Sox season.

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It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

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