White Sox

The end goal of the White Sox rebuild? Be like the Astros

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USA TODAY

The end goal of the White Sox rebuild? Be like the Astros

The White Sox are walking down the same path as the Houston Astros. Of course, whether they arrive at the same destination remains to be seen.

The Astros went through the same loss-heavy, developmental seasons the White Sox have experienced for the last three years. But their mostly homegrown rebuilding strategy paid off in the form of a World Series championship in 2017, and they remain one of the favorites to win the whole thing this season, too.

That’s what the White Sox are trying to do, obviously.

“They’re certainly one of the best examples of someone who has done it well,” manager Rick Renteria said before Tuesday’s doubleheader against the visiting Astros. “On the North Side, they’ve done a nice job of doing the same thing. I think Cleveland kind of did a little of the same thing a few years back, and they still have the remnants of those guys on that ballclub. And I hope that we are one of those guys that end up doing the same things.”

Impatient White Sox fans sick of the losses that have piled up at the major league level in recent seasons — 95 of them in 2017, 100 more last season and 64 during the team’s first 116 games this year — can look at the same thing happening, to a much greater degree, in Houston several years back. The Astros lost a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014.

Three years after the last of those, a 92-loss campaign in 2014, the Astros were world champs, thanks in large part to a homegrown core of superstars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

Well, the White Sox are in the process of building their own homegrown core, with several of those players already on the South Side. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada are in the midst of breakout seasons, with Eloy Jimenez creating plenty of highlights during his rookie season. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal figure to join that group relatively soon, too.

The White Sox also potentially have something brewing the Astros (and the Cubs and Kansas City Royals before them, for that matter) never managed to accomplish: a mostly homegrown starting rotation. Lucas Giolito was an All Star this season, Reynaldo Lopez is pitching tremendously since the All-Star break, Dylan Cease is here, and Michael Kopech will return to the starting staff in 2020. If you want to include other names like Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert in that group, too, go right ahead.

There’s a lot that needs to happen before they do what Giolito said they have the potential to do and become “one of the most dominant rotations in baseball.” But if even three of that group of young arms become good major league starting pitchers, that will be an accomplishment not experienced by the Astros, Cubs or Royals during those teams’ rebuilding projects.

Of course, even if it does happen, it’s not going to stop Rick Hahn’s front office from doing something those three teams did with great success: add high-impact starting pitching from outside the organization. The Astros traded for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, so they are the best example, but the Cubs’ franchise-altering signing of Jon Lester and the Royals’ midseason deal for Johnny Cueto led to World Series wins, too.

Hahn has clearly stated that going out and getting some starting pitching will be an offseason priority for the White Sox this winter — maybe a run at Cole? — and so there’s another page he hopes to take from the Astros’ rebuilding playbook.

“Be like the Astros,” though, is much easier said than done. The Astros’ roster is stocked with some of the best players in baseball. And while the White Sox hope the same can be said about them within the next few seasons, is there more to the equation?

The Astros are one game removed from owning the best record in baseball. The White Sox and any other rebuilding team can emulate the way the Astros built their championship-caliber roster. But can the players on the field emulate the Astros, too?

“They play the game the right way,” White Sox catcher James McCann said Tuesday. “Guys hustle down the line. They protect the ball, they don’t make a lot of errors. And you can see the fun that they have on the field in their highlights.

“There’s a confidence, an aura about their team that they give off that is something that every team should look at. I know there’s a fine line between being cocky and arrogant and being confident. They’re definitely a confident team.

“You look at teams and you look at where they are and their expectations, and the natural thing to do is make comparisons. They went through the rebuilding process however many years ago, and obviously now they’re beyond that. But there’s definitely things you can take from every team, and they’re one of those teams that we can definitely take some things from.”

While every team has a window, the Astros have kept adding fuel to their burning contention fire. Rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez has been one of baseball’s best hitters since his big league arrival earlier this season. They went out and traded for Greinke at the deadline. All that after signing Michael Brantley to be one of their everyday outfielders last offseason.

The White Sox minor league depth doesn’t look quite as impressive as it did a few months ago, but there’s at least one more huge name down in the lower levels of the organization in Andrew Vaughn, the slugging first baseman selected in this year’s draft. He doesn’t figure to be joining the big league club two years after a World Series run like Alvarez and the Astros, expected here sooner than that, but he could be another member of that core that comes up and has a huge impact. The White Sox, too, expect one day to be the kind of team that makes big free-agent splashes and swings a pennant-race-altering trade at the deadline, too.

It’s important to note, obviously, that the Astros have reached the top of the baseball mountain and the White Sox are trying to get there. But the South Siders have the ingredients to write a similar rebuilding success story. Time will tell if they’re able to, of course.

But for White Sox fans wondering what all this waiting is for, just look across the field this week. That’s the endgame.

“It is at times a reminder,” McCann said, “to see, ‘Hey, we keep pushing and this is the eventual result.’”

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The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: