White Sox

José Abreu: White Sox expectations still high, but 'it's on us' to meet them

José Abreu: White Sox expectations still high, but 'it's on us' to meet them

José Abreu has always kept the faith.

He's never played for a White Sox team with a winning record, but while playing through the last three rebuilding seasons — where the losses piled up to a combined 284 — Abreu never wavered in his belief that brighter days were around the corner. He spent the 2019 season heaping praise on Rick Hahn's rebuilding effort, practically giving away in the months before free agency that there was only one place he would consider continuing his major league career: on the South Side of Chicago.

Well, he's back, with a new multi-year contract in tow, ready to finally see his team make the leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. There's good reason to believe all the promises Abreu made last season will come true. "I know we are going to be very, very good," he said after hitting that walk-off homer last July. Then the young core of Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito broke out in a big way. Then Hahn's front office went and added Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and other veterans with winning experience. Then Luis Robert got a big-money deal to pave his way to the majors.

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It finally looks like Abreu's words are coming true. But the man with all the faith knows it's only possible if these White Sox do it themselves.

"It’s on us," he said Sunday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We have to keep our focus and do our work and our job to perform and to do the things we all know we can do and to keep that excitement level that we had through spring training.

"I don’t have any doubt we are going to do it. It’s something we have to work on and to keep our focus on that."

Those words are really no surprise coming from Abreu, lauded in the White Sox clubhouse for his work ethic and his preparation. He's passed those values on to Moncada and Jiménez. Robert figures to be the next member of the Abreu mentorship program. Part of the reason these White Sox appear ready to do big things is that Abreu has pointed them in the right direction.

All the good feelings that flowed out of Camelback Ranch during spring training seemed warranted. The White Sox seemed to be on the precipice of contention.

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said in February. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”

RELATED: Dallas Keuchel suggests White Sox can 'wreak a little havoc in the AL Central'

A lot has changed since then.

Baseball's typical 162-game marathon has been squeezed down to a 60-game sprint to the postseason by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the White Sox are participating in "Summer Camp" workouts while the pandemic continues to grip American life. The White Sox themselves announced Sunday that two players tested positive for COVID-19 prior to workouts starting. Players around the league are opting out of the season, and the game's best player, Mike Trout, remains undecided about whether he'll play or not this season. Outside the walls of major league ballparks, the number of cases is rising in many states.

Still, though, the White Sox remain confident that they'll be able to accomplish what they set out to accomplish in spring training, even though they enter a season just 60 games long and full of unknowns.

"I think our goals are going to be the same and our expectations are going to be the same," Abreu said Sunday. "Of course, in spring training we were preparing for 162 games. Now, it’s just 60. But I think if we keep up with our work and keep doing what we were doing there, we are going to be able to do the same in the 60-game season."

Abreu's obviously not alone in that opinion, with Moncada, Jiménez, Keuchel, Hahn and Rick Renteria sharing similar thoughts in recent days.

It's been tough for White Sox fans to get so amped up for the most anticipated season of South Side baseball in years, only for the pandemic to take it away. Even with the season scheduled to happen at the moment, White Sox players have a lot of challenges ahead of them.

But it doesn't appear that recapturing the excitement or reestablishing high expectations are among them.

As long as they put in the work, Abreu style.


White Sox no fans of MLB extra-inning rule after experiencing it vs. Indians

White Sox no fans of MLB extra-inning rule after experiencing it vs. Indians

Before the season started, White Sox manager Rick Renteria let it be known he wasn’t a fan of baseball’s new extra-inning rule, the one that starts every extra inning with a runner on second base.

He was speaking without experiencing it. Now that he’s been through it, he’s got all the more reason not to like it.

“The same,” he said after Sunday’s stinger of a loss to the Cleveland Indians, asked how he felt about the rule after watching it cost his team a game.

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The White Sox can point to several reasons why they walked out of Guaranteed Rate Field hurting Sunday night. They had a one-run lead after seven innings, Lucas Giolito out-dueling Shane Bieber in a phenomenal pitching matchup, and it didn’t stick. They managed just six hits on the night compared to 16 strikeouts, half of those coming in the game’s final four innings. And Jimmy Cordero gave up two runs in the top of the 10th, when the Indians started with just one rule-gifted runner in scoring position, not two. It’s that extra one that proved the difference in the final score.

But Cordero — who followed Evan Marshall and Alex Colomé, Renteria’s two highest leverage relievers now that Aaron Bummer is on the injured list, out of the bullpen — didn’t have to do much to watch a tie game turn into a two-run deficit. He gave up just one hit to the outfield, the other base knock he gave up an infield single on which Yoán Moncada couldn’t make a play. One piece of hard contact, and that was enough to make it a two-run inning.

That’s baseball, of course. Whether this new extra-inning rule is or not, that's up for debate.

The Indians started with José Ramírez on second base, and that’s where he stayed after Francisco Lindor flied out. Carlos Santana bounced the grounder at Moncada, who was ranging wide to his left and couldn’t control the ball. Had he made the play, it would have been an amazing one. In reality, he might not have got the out even had he been able to make a throw. Instead, the go-ahead run was 90 feet away, and it promptly scored on a squeeze play. Yasmani Grandal, playing first base, made a flip to James McCann at home plate, but Ramírez was flying down the base line. Perhaps no play would have beat him home.

A fly out, an infield hit and a bunt. And Cordero was losing.

The inning continued with a fielder’s choice that moved a runner to third, and that run came home when Mike Freeman lined a base hit into the outfield, the first ball to get there in the inning. The White Sox came up with their own run in the bottom of the inning, their free runner scoring, too. But a 45-minute rain delay snapped any momentum generated from the Indians trying to pitch and field in a downpour, and once the field was rung out by The Sodfather & Co., a new Cleveland pitcher finished the South Siders off.

“Yeah, that was a tough loss,” Giolito said. “You see the weird extra-innings thing come into effect there. And then a weird rain delay. It was a very strange last inning for sure, to say the least. It's unfortunate we didn't come out on top.”

Some like the zaniness of the new extra-inning rule, which is being compared to how overtime works in college football, typically an entertaining setup. Certainly it’s doing what it was intended to: bring an end to games. Without the added time of the rain delay Sunday, the 10th inning might not have been exactly swift, but it would have wrapped up faster than 11 innings or 12 or 13. And that’s the idea.

It also seems, though, like it’s just punishing for pitchers. Cordero didn’t have to do much of anything to be saddled with a couple game-deciding plays. For the most part, he did his job as he was supposed to. And still a couple of runs and an extra-inning loss.

“It’s one of those things that it’s set up to do exactly what it did, I guess,” Renteria said. “You have to deal with it. We just have to be efficient and effective.”

RELATED: White Sox stung by missed chance vs. Indians: 'This one hurts a little bit'

McCann went a step further in his discussion of why he doesn’t like this rule, pointing to a perhaps unintended consequence that could sap home-field advantage right out of the baseball rule book.

“I'm not a huge fan of it,” McCann said. “The reason for me is it changes the game a whole heck of a lot. And it actually, in my opinion, gives the away team the advantage a lot of time because in a tied ballgame in the ninth, the home team uses their closer. The away team doesn't use their closer in a tied game.

“So when you give the away team that type of an advantage, it takes away from the whole purpose of having the home-field advantage and getting the last at-bat and saving your closer.”

Not a bad point, and of course that’s exactly what happened to the White Sox on Sunday night. Renteria called on Colomé, his closer, to get through the top of the ninth and preserve a 3-all tie, and Colomé did. The Indians, waiting for a lead before they called on Brad Hand, did just that, bringing in their closer only after scoring twice in the 10th. Now, Hand wasn’t terribly effective — pitching in a watery environment looks tricky — but that’s something unique to this game, with McCann’s argument still applying when speaking generally.

Whether this rule sticks around past the unusual 2020 season remains to be seen. In a season where Major League Baseball is trying to limit the time players spend around other people, it’s a perfectly reasonable move. In a normal season, maybe not so much. But baseball seemed to be working toward bringing this to the big leagues before the COVID-19 pandemic was a thing, test driving it in the minors last season.

Renteria and McCann have both admitted themselves “old school” at times, and it was part of Renteria’s explanation for his dislike of this idea before the season started. But you don’t have to be “old school” to notice how little needs to happen for a game to be swung in one direction or another and how microscopic the margin of error is for pitchers in such a setup.

It might not have been the only reason the White Sox lost Sunday, but it certainly didn’t help.


White Sox stung by missed chance vs. Indians: 'This one hurts a little bit'

White Sox stung by missed chance vs. Indians: 'This one hurts a little bit'

“This one hurts a little bit.”

Rick Renteria summed it up well.

The White Sox were on national TV, with a chance to take a series from a division rival. They did just enough against the best pitcher in the American League. They came back in somewhat dramatic fashion in another game dripping with playoff feeling. Their ace pitched great and turned it over to what’s been a nigh-untouchable back end of the bullpen.

And then … 

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Despite all that, the White Sox left Guaranteed Rate Field with another loss Sunday night. Instead of leapfrogging back over the Cleveland Indians and back into second place — an unexpected Minnesota Twins losing streak gave the White Sox a chance to be just a game out of first place — they tumbled back to .500 and fourth place in the constantly shifting AL Central standings.

Even in this most unusual season, this is still baseball, and all that can be flipped around tomorrow night. But with a chance to do something big on a national stage, they let one slip away.

Will it be the difference in the division standings come the end of the season? Who knows. But with every game meaning so much in a 60-game sprint to October, this is like dropping two or three in somewhat crushing fashion all at once.

Lucas Giolito was walking guys early and often in this one but settled down brilliantly and ended up relinquishing just two runs in his seven innings. He figured things out midway through and finished with nine strikeouts, including three in his final inning, in which he mowed down that trio of Cleveland batters and strode off the mound screaming.

Meanwhile, the White Sox won their showdown with Shane Bieber, who entered as and probably still is the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. He added eight more strikeouts to his season total Sunday but gave up three runs. José Abreu hit a solo homer in the second, and James McCann did the same in the sixth. Yasmani Grandal’s RBI double gave the White Sox a lead heading to the late innings with a win in their sights.

But Evan Marshall’s season-starting scoreless streak came to an end in the first inning after Giolito’s departure. That tie spun the game into extra innings, where the league’s new rule putting a runner on second to start every extra frame bit the White Sox in their first experience with it this season. Cleveland only hit one ball out of the infield in Jimmy Cordero’s busy top of the 10th, but they scratched across two runs, including the tie-breaker on a squeeze play.

One run in this new extra-inning reality is almost to be expected. A second is difficult to overcome. The White Sox cashed in their own free runner in scoring position not long after and put runners on base against Cleveland closer Brad Hand. But a 45-minute rain delay washed away that momentum, and the White Sox left the runners where they stood.

RELATED: White Sox at quarter pole: Injuries, starting-pitching woes cloud rest of 2020

Baseball players like to take things one game at a time. They know tomorrow’s a new day in this sport. And they’re not terribly fond of admitting that one opponent means more than any other. But all the circumstances aligned for a golden opportunity Sunday night, and the White Sox felt the sting of letting it slip.

“This one hurts a little bit,” Renteria said. “They all hurt, but this one hurts a little bit because these guys really battled today. … It was a really good ballgame, but we wanted to be on the right side of it.”

The White Sox are already more than a quarter of the way through their season now, with nine of the 20 scheduled games against the Twins and Indians behind them. They won only three of those first nine, losing all three series two games to one.

That’s no way to compete alongside the division’s incumbent powers for a shot at the Central crown. The White Sox seem capable of having the most balanced group of the trio, but so far they’ve been bludgeoned twice by the Twins’ powerful bats and repeatedly silenced by the Indians’ sterling rotation. There’s no other option but to start figuring out how to tango with those elite units.

Sunday was a decent stride in that department, doing more damage against Bieber than the Indians could do against Giolito. But in order to be a contender, every unit has to be firing on all cylinders. Giolito held up his end of the bargain Sunday night, and the offense did what it could to Bieber, which seemed like enough. But games spin on after the starting pitchers depart, and what’s been an excellent White Sox bullpen was touched for three huge runs, while the White Sox offense mustered just six hits on the night compared to 16 strikeouts — half those Ks coming in the game’s final four innings.

As Giolito pointed out, as capable as the White Sox seem on paper, everything needs to click for the White Sox to run with the Twins and Indians.

“I think we stand well,” Giolito said, summing up the White Sox position in the division race. “It's just losses like this are tough. But all we can do is learn from it and move on, take care of business on this next road trip.

“When our offense, pitching and defense comes together, we can beat anybody. We've seen that this year against the Twins and the Indians. We've just got to try to get everything in sync more often.”

With a seemingly ever-growing list of injuries and some big question marks behind Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, that will be easier said than done.

They had an opportunity to grab a big one Sunday night. Instead, the White Sox are hurting.