White Sox

Looks like Nomar Mazara will avoid a platoon to start, but can he do it for all of 2020?

Looks like Nomar Mazara will avoid a platoon to start, but can he do it for all of 2020?

What is Nomar Mazara?

Is he the White Sox everyday right fielder? Is he the White Sox most-of-the-time right fielder? Is he one half of a lefty-righty platoon in right field?

“Just happy Nomar Mazara,” he said in his first meeting with the media in the early days of spring training.

That’s a delightful introduction, Nomar. But it doesn’t really answer the question.

This is a question in the first place because Mazara has not hit left-handed pitching well in his already four-year-old major league career. Against righties, he owns a career .271/.337/.462 slash line. Against lefties, it’s .231/.272/.361.

After Rick Hahn made his front office’s lone move of the Winter Meetings, acquiring Mazara in a trade with the Texas Rangers, he asked for judgment to be reserved on the White Sox right-field situation, hinting that there might have been more to come than just sticking Mazara out there every day.

“The player that he has been over the last couple years has had some issues with lefties. So the question is: Will those continue? Can we get him better against left-handed pitching? How much was the thumb injury or the oblique that he fought with over the last couple years factoring into those issues? And make an assessment whether we need to complement him,” Hahn said in December. “If we need to complement him, that's just fine.

“That's a valuable bat against right-handed pitching. Let's see how the rest of the roster comes together before fully assessing how we addressed right field.”

Well, the rest of the roster came together splendidly from there, and the White Sox have realistic playoff expectations because of that work. But there was no further addressing of right field, and talk of the possibility of a platoon evaporated pretty quickly.

It all ended up with Mazara as the everyday right fielder.

“He’ll be out there the bulk of the time, obviously,” Hahn said last month. “Historically he’s had some struggles against lefties, but he’s now going to get the opportunity, at least early on, to show what he’s capable of doing.

“At the same time, we have guys like Leury Garcia in camp who can either spell him against lefties or just from time to time.

“Given the nature of our conversations we have in the front office, I caution against locking anything in before Opening Day. But that seems to be the direction this is heading at least to start the year.”

That shouldn’t come as a worrying thing as Opening Day approaches. Mazara has launched 79 homers in his four big league seasons, driving in 308 runs in that quartet of campaigns. And thanks to all that other work — signing Yasmani Grandal, signing Edwin Encarnacion, assuring Luis Robert will be a part of the Opening Day roster — Mazara is either the team’s No. 7 or No. 8 hitter. Twenty homers and around 80 RBIs from a No. 8 hitter? Not too shabby.

But the other thing that Hahn talked about immediately following the trade — and something that’s been a frequent talking point since — is that Mazara might be a whole lot better than the guy he was in four seasons in Dallas. The phrase “untapped potential” has been the center square on your Hahn-talks-about-Mazara bingo card, and considering the top-prospect resume and the fact that he’s still pretty young, maybe the White Sox can discover a different player than what Mazara’s Baseball-Reference page says he is.

“I’m still 24, and I still have room to grow,” Mazara said. “I keep working on my body, defense-wise, hitting-wise. On everything. … I’m ready to take that next step.”

“Hopefully he comes over and is able to put together something pretty special, becomes a part of what we are moving forward,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And I know that we've all seen him in the past and we know what he's done. We still think he hasn't reached his full potential. And hopefully we have the guys that will be able to put him over the hump and he feels comfortable and confident in what he's capable of doing and he goes out there and is able to exploit all the talents he has and help us do that.”

And so it seems that the answer to whether the White Sox end up platooning Mazara in right field has everything to do with how Mazara performs.

Certainly the Rangers saw the difference in his outcomes against differently handed pitchers. Those career slash lines referenced earlier came in a significantly different number of plate appearances: He’s got 1,615 of them against righties as opposed to 574 against lefties.

Renteria believes a solution to balancing those two sets of numbers out could be simply allowing Mazara opportunities against left-handers.

“You should remain confident in what he's capable of doing, hopefully putting him in situations and matchups and give him an opportunity to have more positive outcomes,” Renteria said. “You don't have to get a hit to have a positive outcome. If you have a good at-bat (or) you have a good swing (or) you have a nice approach against a particular pitcher, that's inching forward where you want to be.

“So what we'll continue to do is to find a way to see if we can help him continue to develop that side of the plate in terms of the pitcher, lefty.”

It’s all part of untapping that potential.

The White Sox are also expected to have more than just three outfielders, with Garcia and Adam Engel both solid bets to make the 26-man roster. Garcia is a versatile player who will play on the infield and in the outfield. He also fared well against lefties last season, with a .311 batting average and a .344 on-base percentage. Engel is undoubtedly valuable for his high-level defensive ability, but he also put up some good numbers against left-handed pitching in 2019: a .313 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.

The White Sox hope they can untap Mazara's potential and avoid anything more than just a few days off here and there for their new right fielder. If the numbers stay what they’ve been, maybe we see more of Garcia and Engel, or maybe we see Hahn get busy at the trade deadline.

But for now, Mazara’s the guy.

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MLB The Show: White Sox offense supplies fireworks in win over Rangers

MLB The Show: White Sox offense supplies fireworks in win over Rangers

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Rangers, 9-6 
Record: 53-37, 1st in A.L. Central (4.0 games ahead of Twins)

W: Dane Dunning (5-1)
L: Kolby Allard (6-3)
SV: Alex Colome (18)

Game summary: Fans were treated to a beautiful Fourth of July in Arlington, Texas as the White Sox tried to take down the Texas Rangers after losing the series opener. The White Sox sent Texas’ own Michael Kopech to the mound and he was wayward of the strike zone early and often. The flame throwing righty only lasted three innings while walking six and giving up three earned runs.

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The White Sox got their offense from the middle of the lineup. Down 3-2 in the fifth, Yasmani Grandal hit a home run to left field to put the visitors out front. With 34 home runs, Grandal continues to lead the American League. After Nick Solak tied up the game at 4 in the fifth, Eloy Jimenez joined the homer parade in the seventh with a solo shot to put the Sox up 5-4. Jimenez continues to keep pace with Grandal and now has 33 home runs in his second big league season.

In the ninth, Grandal was once again in position to come through for the Sox and did with the bases loaded, driving in two with a double down the right field line, propelling the Sox to a 7-4 advantage. The Rangers bullpen then lost control, walking in two runs and giving the South Siders a commanding 9-4 lead.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 1-4, BB (.319 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, HR, RBI (.252 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-4, RBI (.278 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, HR, 4 RBI (.307 BA)
Jose Abreu: 2-4, RBI (.316 BA)
Tim Anderson: 0-4, RBI (.272 BA)
Luis Robert: 1-5, 2B (.255 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 0-3, RBI (.281 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-5, 2B (.253 BA)

Scoring summary:

Top first:

Jose Abreu singled to left field, Edwin Encarnacion scored. 1-0 CHW.

Bottom third:

Shin-Soo Choo homered to center field. 1-1.

Bottom fourth:

Roughned Odor singled to center field. Nick Solak scored. Todd Frazier scored. 3-1 TEX.

Top fifth:

Yoan Moncada singled off the pitcher's leg, Nomar Mazara scored. 3-2 TEX.
Yasmani Grandal homered to left field, Moncada scored. 4-3 CHW.

Bottom fifth:

Nick Solak sacrifice fly to left field, Joey Gallo scored. 4-4.

Top seventh:

Eloy Jimenez homered to left field. 5-4 CHW.

Top ninth:

Grandal doubled to right field, Encarnacion and Jimenez scored. 7-4 CHW.
Tim Anderson walked, Moncada scored. 8-4 CHW.
Nick Madrigal walked, Grandal scored. 9-4 CHW.

Bottom ninth:

Choo homered to left field. 9-5 CHW.
Willie Calhoun homered to right field. 9-6 CHW.

Notable performance: The White Sox Nos. 3-5 hitters did most of the damage offensively. Moncada, Grandal and Abreu went 6-for-12 collectively, driving in six of the nine Chicago runs.

Next game: Sunday, July 5 - Game 91: White Sox at Rangers (Lucas Giolito, 7-7, 4.46 ERA vs Corey Kluber, 5-6, 3.65 ERA)

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

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

It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right?

That's one of baseball's myriad enduring maxims. But like a lot of the other ones, it's going to have to be chucked out the window during this most unusual of seasons.

The sport's typical six-month marathon has been squeezed down to a two-month sprint, the campaign down to 60 regular-season games as Major League Baseball attempts to play in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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All 30 teams, obviously, were built for 162 games, not 60, sending everyone into a fit of head-scratching trying to figure out which clubs are best suited for the sprint to the postseason. That question is basically impossible to answer until teams start playing games.

A big factor? That ol' unpredictable variable: luck.

"Honestly, I think luck is going to play a (big) role in the 60-game season," White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said Saturday. "It's going to be who kind of catches fire early and then who kind of catches fire late. If you can come out hot and play well early, and then idle for 20 games, but then kind of catch fire again the last 10, 15 games — there's a lot of different ways to do it. I've taken into account playoff years from my previous experience, and there's a lot of different ways."

Keuchel would figure to be spot on, and it only takes a glance back at last season to provide some convincing arguments. The Washington Nationals ended up winning the World Series but were under .500 and in fourth place in the NL East standings after 60 games. The Seattle Mariners are the other side of that coin. They got out to a fast start and were in first place in the AL West after 30 games, only to finish the season with 94 losses.

With only about 37 percent of a normal season's games being played this year, each one is worth twice or thrice as usual. A losing streak could dash a team's playoff hopes. A sweep of a division rival could completely rearrange the postseason picture. Some fans are upset about more than 100 games getting lopped off the schedule, but this could prove pretty exciting.

So what about the White Sox? How are they positioned for this sprint?

For the moment, they appear much like they did back in March: on the cusp of leaping out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode, capable of competing with two good teams, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, for the AL Central crown. The young core of Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and Lucas Giolito broke out in a big way last season. Then Rick Hahn's front office went to work in the offseason, adding Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and other veterans with winning experience to the mix. José Abreu, the face of the franchise, returned on a new contract. And highly touted prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal are expected to bring an even further boost.

If some of the young pitchers in the White Sox rotation can answer some questions about their consistency, the White Sox could be even more balanced than the power-hitting Twins or the power-pitching Indians.

RELATED: White Sox in playoffs? Tim Anderson: 'Something dope can happen in 60 games'

Keuchel thinks the White Sox bats could end up being the key, and with Grandal, Robert, Madrigal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara all joining the lineup for 2020, that could definitely be the case. That could be enough lumber, even, to get the South Siders to the top of the division for the first time in more than a decade.

Even with a lot riding on luck, though, Keuchel is confident. Remember, it was his mom who back in spring training gave the White Sox their 2020 rallying cry: "Playoffs or die, b-----s!"

"I think this team, if we can get off to a hot start, if the bats can swing it like we know they can now with how deep our lineup's going to be," Keuchel said, "then I think we might wreak a little havoc in the AL Central."

That's music to White Sox fans' ears, who after sitting through a few rebuilding seasons are champing at the bit for a pennant race, even in a shortened season.

The months-long layoff between spring training and "Summer Camp" could put the White Sox in an even better position, allowing some of their pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery to return to health and provide full-season options for Rick Renteria.

We'll see if they can slug with the Twins, or pitch with the Indians. But they look capable, and Keuchel — he's not the only one on the South Side, either — has confidence a season to remember could be in the works.


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