White Sox

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.

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Max Scherzer speaks out, players plan to counter MLB with more games, no pay cuts

Max Scherzer speaks out, players plan to counter MLB with more games, no pay cuts

Negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players’ union are getting ugly.

Well, they might already be pretty ugly, if the players’ reaction to the league’s financial proposal made just Tuesday is any indication.

Fans are unlikely to have any patience for billionaires and millionaires fighting over how to divvy up billions of dollars during dual public-health and economic crises that have left 100,000 Americans dead and tens of millions more without a job. But that’s exactly what’s happening, with the players not having the owners’ proposal for salary reductions.

The strongest public statement yet came late Wednesday night, with Max Scherzer, one of the best pitchers in recent memory and the Washington Nationals’ union rep, taking to Twitter to voice his displeasure.

“After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players,” Scherzer wrote, “there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions. We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a second pay cut based upon the current information the union has received.

“I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic viewpoint will change if all documentation were to become public information.”

The players agreed back in March to receive prorated salaries based on the number of games played during a 2020 season shortened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Major League Baseball reportedly proposing an 82-game schedule, the players are set to receive roughly half their salaries this year.

But team owners argue that deal was made under the assumption that there’d be paying customers in the stands, even though their absence was a possibility being discussed back then. With games expected to take place without fans, the league is arguing the decline in revenues will be so steep that the only economically feasible way to stage a season is with further reductions in player pay.

After ditching the idea of a 50-50 split in revenues — something the players considered a step toward a salary cap — the owners pitched a sliding-scale pay plan that would allow the lowest paid players to receive close to their prorated salaries while hammering the highest paid players, such as Scherzer, with drastic cuts.

This was expectedly unpopular.

RELATED: MLB dips into NFL playbook with proposal – here’s why it probably won’t work

But the union doesn’t plan to go silent. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, they’ll do what Scherzer said: make a counter proposal that does not involve any further pay cuts.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported Wednesday night that the players also plan to propose a longer schedule, perhaps in the 100-game range, which would earn them more money. But the league asserts it will lose more money with a longer season.

While it’s easy to view this as a bunch of really, really rich people scowling at each other and standing in the way of fans getting to watch their favorite teams, there’s one big thing to understand, which is exactly what Scherzer laid out. The owners are telling the players they can’t afford to both stage a season and pay the players what they previously agreed to be paid, but they’re doing it without showing the union the math.

It doesn’t take a great leap to understand that baseball’s revenues will be dramatically lower than in a normal season. Not only can they not sell tickets and $7 hot dogs, but with the number of games cut in half, the annual flood of money made by airing the games on television won’t be nearly as big.

But that doesn’t mean the league won't take in a ton of money. Baseball made a record $10.7 billion in revenues last year. Some estimation by Passan earlier this month figured that number could be less than half in a shortened 2020 season, potentially under $5 billion, which is still a lot of money, potentially twice as much as the players’ prorated salaries, worth roughly $2.5 billion, per Passan’s estimations.

The players, though, believe the owners aren’t truthfully representing the economic situation they face. And if they’re to believe them, the players want to see proof the owners have yet to provide.

It all makes for a nasty outlook at the moment. As Heyman alluded to, this might just be part of the negotiating process. But the clock is undoubtedly ticking, with the league hoping to start a second round of spring training in the middle of June and open the season in the first few days of July.

Will they make a deal? There's still a lot to be gained — billions of dollars, for example — by having a season. But the gap is big.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski delivered one of baseball's best moments

White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski delivered one of baseball's best moments

It’s no less bizarre a decade and a half later than it was that night.

The night A.J. Pierzynski pulled a playoff win out of nowhere.

If you’re still arguing whether or not the ball hit the dirt, you’re missing the point. Fifteen years later, the White Sox long the winners of that game, that series and that world championship, watching Pierzynski run to first base and flip the 2005 ALCS on its head is like watching a movie you never get tired of.

Yeah, I know the Avengers win in the end, but that doesn’t mean I’m able to take my eyes off the screen.

Nothing about running to first base after you’ve already been called out fits our typical parameters for sports greatness. Pierzynski didn’t deposit a walk-off homer into the bleachers. He didn’t use blazing speed to beat out an infield hit. He swung at a pitch he immediately knew he shouldn’t have. He screwed up. What’s so great about that?

But baseball is entertainment, let’s remember. And there might not be any better form of sporting entertainment than seeing something you’ve never seen before — and haven’t seen since.

So I’ll argue that this is one of baseball’s greatest moments. Because it’s absolutely insane.

Pierzynski, apparently playing a different game in his head than the one the Los Angeles Angels were playing on the field, ignored the rules of the sport. Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings made a fist, made the call, and Pierzynski took off. Better safe than sorry, he must have thought, and indeed he did end up safe. I’m sorry?

The Angels stood around watching Pierzynski like he had sprouted octopus tentacles on his way down the base line. Mike Scioscia, their manager, was outraged, and rightfully so, that not only did Pierzynski flat-out ignore that he’d already been called out, but that the umpires then seemed to ignore that they’d already called him out, too. Everything about it pointed to Scioscia being involved in the most elaborate episode of “Punk’d” that Ashton ever drew up.

RELATED: White Sox Talk Podcast: Distant Replay: The Pierzynski dropped third strike game

Somehow, Pierzynski was safe. He didn’t even stay on the field long enough to witness the end of Scioscia’s pleadings with the umpires, bounding into the dugout with Pablo Ozuna taking his place as a pinch runner. Three pitches later, Joe Crede brought Ozuna home with a walk-off double. The White Sox won.

And everyone was still trying to figure out how.

We might never have an adequate explanation, part of what makes this all so continually hilarious.

But what was abundantly clear that night was that the White Sox offense needed a wake-up call. The South Side bats that used small ball, Paul ball and over-the-wall ball to win 99 games during the regular season and beat the brains out of the defending champs in the ALDS did none of those three things during the first 17.2 innings of this series. The lone run they scored in the first 8.2 innings of Game 2 came home on a ground out.

The pitching was sensational, of course, with Jose Contreras coming two outs away from making the eventual complete-game streak five instead of four in Game 1 and Mark Buehrle delivering what he called one of the best games of his career — before the no-hitter and the perfecto, of course — in Game 2. That pitching kept the White Sox close, holding the Angels to a grand total of four runs in two games, the same amount the White Sox scored.

But when Pierzynski baffled the baseball universe, he also lit the fuse on the White Sox offense. All it took was three pitches for Crede to blast a double to left field and win Game 2. Two nights later, in Game 3, the White Sox hung a crooked number in the first inning, getting an over-the-wall ball from Konerko. They banged out 11 hits in Game 3. Another three-run first followed in Game 4, thanks to another Konerko homer, and the White Sox scored eight runs for their third straight win.

The offense came back. Sleepy as could be in the wake of the sweep of the Red Sox, the franchise’s first playoff series win in 88 years, the offense was awoken by, of all things, a strikeout.

Play to the whistle? Hell, play past the whistle. You just might win a playoff game.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 3 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Thursday on NBC Sports Chicago.

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