White Sox

Ivan Nova isn't going anywhere, but on the field, the White Sox aren't getting what they expected out of the veteran so far

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USA TODAY

Ivan Nova isn't going anywhere, but on the field, the White Sox aren't getting what they expected out of the veteran so far

Ivan Nova struggling is different than some of the other White Sox pitchers struggling.

It seems pretty obvious that Nova, who the White Sox traded for over the offseason to be this year’s version of James Shields, isn’t in any danger of getting jettisoned from the starting rotation, like Ervin Santana was earlier this season. With the starting staff in the fragile state it’s in — perhaps turning to Ross Detwiler if necessary Monday night in Houston — the White Sox might even be rethinking that decision to move on from the Ervin Santana Experiment after just three starts.

Nova has certainly had his good moments, and he doesn’t deserve to have people marching toward him with torches and pitchforks any more than any other White Sox starter. Four of his nine starts this year have been quality starts, including the two prior to Friday’s. And just because some of the other results haven't been pretty, it doesn't mean he isn't having the desired effect inside the White Sox clubhouse as a positive influence on young pitchers.

But on the field, Friday was one of the bad ones. Nova gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, and lasted just three innings. Three of the eight hits he gave up to the Toronto Blue Jays, who entered with the worst offense in the American League, left the ballpark. Nova’s given up 10 home runs in his last five starts, which is obviously not good. To be fair, though, Shields gave up 34 homers last season and still got showered with praise for being an innings-eater and a mentor to the team’s young pitchers. That likely won't come as much comfort to White Sox fans.

“I didn't have command of my pitches,” Nova said after Friday's game. “Didn't throw my curveball for a strike. Threw a slider that didn't do nothing. Didn't command the changeup. I missed my command today. I was walking people, falling behind guys and paid the price.

"You never want to give up a lot of homers, obviously, that's how they do a lot of damage. You want to keep the ball in the park. It's off so far, but we continue to work on it."

Nova is earning much of the same ire being directed at every struggling White Sox starter by fans who see Dylan Cease putting up one quality start after another at Triple-A Charlotte and wonder why he can’t come to the South Side and take the place of guys who just aren’t performing.

Of course, as general manager Rick Hahn has said, a need for starting pitching at the big league level won’t have anything to do with when Cease makes his eventual major league debut later this season. But the frustration is understandable from this standpoint: Some of these starting pitchers have to get some outs.

Things have stabilized a bit lately, and a staff that had just one seven-inning effort for much of the season has gotten a few of them in recent weeks. Lucas Giolito is the team’s most reliable starting pitching at the moment, chasing away the demons of 2018, when he had the highest ERA in baseball. Reynaldo Lopez had an ERA north of 12.00 after his first three starts of the campaign but has chopped that in half since. Manny Banuelos went on the injured list Friday, a move plenty of fans on Twitter greeted with sarcasm that Banuelos — who has a 9.15 ERA as a starter this season — was no great loss for the rotation. With the organization’s starting-pitching depth what it is, that’s clearly not the case.

But Nova is different. He carried with him some expectations of the kind of performance the White Sox could expect coming into the 2019 season. In the three seasons prior to this one, Nova had a combined 4.16 ERA and averaged 170 innings a year. At the moment, Nova owns a 7.42 ERA and has averaged a little more than five innings an outing.

Shields didn’t always mow down opposing lineups, but the consistency of what he did deliver was invaluable in 2018. Nova was supposed to do more of the same. He hasn’t so far in 2019. If Nova can’t deliver on being an innings-eater, that’s troublesome for a pitching staff that’s been plagued in the season’s first month and a half by brief outings that have led to a taxed bullpen.

Given Nova’s veteran status, there’s more confidence, perhaps, that he can figure things out, that performances like Friday’s won’t be the norm for long. But so far, Nova’s been Jekyll and Hyde: really good when he’s on (a 1.38 ERA in his four good starts) and really not good when he isn’t (a 14.77 ERA in five tough starts).

"You would hope that they're capable of doing it quickly,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked how fast Nova might be able to right the ship. “But if a guy doesn't have it and you're trying to get him through working as deep as he can, even though his pitch count got up there. Obviously we've had a mixed bag, and today just wasn't one of his better days."

Those better days are going to have to start coming if the White Sox are going to get what they expected out of Nova. There’s no “growing pains” or “continued development” excuses for the veteran.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

If you were paying really close attention during Game 2 of the ALCS, you saw it.

One fan in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field was hoisting a sign that perfectly summed up how the White Sox scored their runs during a 99-win regular season and during a march to the World Series.

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Small ball was rebranded “Ozzie ball” by these White Sox, who reaped the rewards of Kenny Williams’ bold offseason trade. The general manager shipped away a productive slugger, Carlos Lee, for a speed demon on the base paths, Scott Podsednik. Lee was pretty darn good at swinging the stick. But the White Sox craved balance in their lineup, and with Podsednik’s base-stealing ability causing chaos at the top of the order, they got it and scored more runs in the first inning than any other during the 2005 season.

Paul ball, well that’s obvious. Paul Konerko was the team’s MVP in 2005. He smashed 40 homers for the second straight season and hit triple digits in RBIs for the third time in his career. He was particularly potent during the second half, helping to prevent a complete free fall out of first place with the Cleveland Indians charging in September.

And over-the-wall ball? Well, as balanced as the White Sox lineup was thanks to Podsednik’s arrival, the South Siders still hit a lot of home runs. Seven different hitters launched at least 15 dingers. Even Podsednik, who had zero of them during the regular season, got in on the power display in the playoffs, hitting one in the ALDS and a walk-off homer in the World Series.

Fast forward two nights from when that sign was lifted up on the South Side, and you saw the White Sox follow that script to a “T” in Southern California.

In the first 17.2 innings of the ALCS, the White Sox scored three measly runs. A tip of the cap to the Angels’ pitching staff, but this was not the same production from a lineup that mauled the Red Sox during the first round of the playoffs. Then A.J. Pierzynski swung, missed and ran to first base and the White Sox offense woke up. Over the course of the next five White Sox hitters to step to the plate — Joe Crede’s walk-off double to finish Game 2 and the first four batters of Game 3 — the White Sox scored four runs.

How’d they do it against John Lackey in Game 3? How do you think?

Podsednik did his thing at the top of the lineup and got on base with a leadoff hit. Then Tadahito Iguchi bunted him into scoring position ahead of Jermaine Dye’s RBI double. Paul Konerko followed with a solo homer slammed into the left-field seats — the beginning of a three-hit, three-RBI night for him — and the White Sox had a crooked number on the board. Just like that.

Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.


Of course, this all leaves out the most important ingredient in the White Sox success that season and in this series, in particular: starting pitching. While the offense took a while to wake up in the ALCS, the pitching was on point from “go.” Jose Contreras threw 8.1 innings in Game 1. Mark Buehrle allowed just one run in nine innings in Game 2. And Jon Garland followed with the second of what would be four straight complete-game efforts by White Sox starters in this series.


Though there was more to come, with Freddy Garcia and Contreras going the distance in Games 4 and 5, through three games, White Sox starters had already turned in an impressive string of games, allowing just six runs in 26.1 innings for a 2.05 ERA.

But as good as the pitching was — and it was out-of-this-world good — the White Sox needed to get back to their run-scoring ways following the quiet offensive performances in Games 1 and 2. They did just that, and not until Game 4 of the World Series did they score fewer than five runs.

When it came to how they scored those runs moving forward, the sign didn’t lie.

Small ball? Podsednik wrecked havoc the very next night in Game 4 of the ALCS, reaching base four times (thrice via the walk), stole a pair of bases and scored two runs.

Paul ball? Konerko had more damage to do, with at least one hit in each of the next five playoff games, including an unforgettable grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series.

Over-the-wall ball? The White Sox hit three homers in the final two games of the ALCS, then six more in the World Series, including iconic shots from Konerko, Podsednik and Geoff Blum.

So there are a few hundred words on the subject. But did I really do any better with all those words than that fan did with eight?

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 4 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Friday on NBC Sports Chicago.

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MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

Where do things stand right now between Major League Baseball and the players union?

Let’s just say the owners are in New York and the players are in Los Angeles. Hopefully, they can meet somewhere in the middle — like Chicago — and we can have baseball in 2020.

But it's going to take a lot of work.

MLB's much-anticipated, first economic proposal presented to the players on Tuesday features a sliding scale of pay cuts where the players making the most money lose a greater percentage of their salaries, while those making less will have smaller cuts.  

The players' didn't like it one bit.

"The owners have a long way to go," one player said.

Fortunately, this isn’t the ninth inning of negotiations. There’s still time to make a deal.  

But with the clock ticking, there’s a big divide and harsh feelings that need to be addressed.

According to one agent, “I like to think I’m an optimist, but it’s ugly right now. While it’s a complicated situation, it comes down to money. The little hope I have is cooler and sensible heads [will] prevail.”

Will the two sides come to an agreement? If so, how and when?

That’s what I discussed with my NBC Sports Chicago colleagues Adam Hoge and Vinnie Duber on this Give Me Baseball edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast. 

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