White Sox

In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the White Sox are going to start winning in 2020, they're going to have to learn how.

Certainly a talented roster will play a large role in that. But the influx of veterans this winter didn't just bring on-field capabilities. In adding Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez and Steve Cishek, Rick Hahn's front office injected this team with winners, guys who have been to the playoffs and made sizable impacts on winning clubs.

If anybody can teach the young White Sox how to win, it's these guys.

"Yasmani's been in the postseason each of the last five years, Keuchel four of the last five years and Edwin each of the last five years," Rick Hahn said after the Encarnacion signing became official in early January. "That's obviously a tremendous track record for each of them but also speaks in part to what we're trying to accomplish not just on the field but in terms of taking that next step in our clubhouse and this young core not only growing together but learning how to win and learning what it takes to be successful not only over the course of the summer but well into October, as well."

And that playoff experience is rather extensive:

— Grandal won four consecutive NL West championships with the Dodgers and went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018 before helping the Brewers reach — and hitting a home run in — the NL wild card game last season.

— Keuchel reached three out of four postseasons with the Astros, including in his Cy Young season of 2015 and the team's now-controversial World Series season of 2017, and won an NL East title with the Braves in 2019.

— Encarnacion played in three of the last five AL Championship Series and won AL Central crowns with the Indians in 2017 and 2018.

— Gonzalez played in four postseasons with the Nationals and made the NLCS with the Brewers in 2018.

— Cishek pitched with the Cubs team that played in the NL wild card game in 2018.

Considering even the White Sox team leader, Jose Abreu, has never finished a major league season above .500, all this new playoff experience adds something that was sorely missing.

"You've got to have the talent, and we have the talent on this team," Encarnacion said. "This team makes me remember the team that we had in 2015 with the Blue Jays. A lot of young talents, a few veteran guys and we put everything together and this team is going to be right.

"The team has to be together. If you're going to win, we've got to be together like a team. Pick up your teammates. That's why you have to stay together. If your teammate does something wrong, you're going to feel it and you're going to want to do something to help them out. That's all about it.

"This team makes me remember what we had in Toronto. ... This team has the talent to compete in the division and win."

That 2015 Blue Jays team won the AL East and made it to Game 6 of the ALCS before being eliminated by the eventual world-champion Kansas City Royals. Encarnacion hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs that season, a set of numbers that would be good news for the White Sox half a decade later.

But in addition to that production, the White Sox could reap the benefits of Encarnacion's playoff experience. The same goes for what they can glean from Grandal, Keuchel and Gonzalez.

"I think that these guys in particular have played a huge role in postseason play in terms of actually performing and being in the limelight. I think their presence in and of itself and probably some of the conversations that they suddenly have with the group play a big part," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. "I think that's one of the things that we're hoping to take advantage of. For us, it's a really important time, because now we're trying to take those young men that have developed and are putting themselves on the map, as very good Major League Baseball players trying to take it to the next place.

"And it's like anything too, those moments you can't replicate until you get there. So everybody deals with them differently. Hopefully we're able to deal with them positively. And they have some guys in that I've gone through it that will help them be able to make some adjustments."

The winning-experience ingredient has been added to the interesting gumbo that is the 2020 White Sox, a team that has designs on bringing October baseball to the South Side for the first time in more than a decade. All these veterans can serve as resources for the young guys and teach them what is necessary to be a contender along the way.

And these veterans can feed off the talent of those same youngsters to drive toward another addition to their postseason resumes.

"Once you get a little taste of the playoffs, that's why you play is to get that feeling," Keuchel said. "As much as you want to replicate it in the regular season, for guys who have no playoff experience, I think the regular season is that feeling. But there's another feeling to it that pushes you and wants you to be a better player.

"Ultimately I told Rick Hahn this: I said, 'Four out of the last five years, I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years (during the contract with the White Sox) to be any different.'" 

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Lucas Giolito: White Sox won't let 2020 delay negatively 'affect what we're building'

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USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito: White Sox won't let 2020 delay negatively 'affect what we're building'

The White Sox ascent to winning baseball was supposed to be underway by now.

After a 2019 campaign filled with breakout performances from young core players and an offseason filled with exciting acquisitions, Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project was scheduled to vault into contention mode during the 2020 season.

Now, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gripping every facet of American life, White Sox fans are left to wonder if the 2020 season will ever come.

“It’s a weird vibe for guys like me,” Lucas Giolito said during a Tuesday conference call. “Pretty much every guy around the league will probably tell you the same thing. It sucks. We wish we were out there playing.

“At the same time, we are in the middle of a crisis and we can’t force the issue. We have to let everything run its course, and hopefully we can get this going as soon as possible.

“I know that a ton of sports fans around the country are really not very happy about what’s going on. But at the same time, there are some more important things going on. There’s unfortunately people dying from this, and it seems like it continues to spread more and more.

“So the whole baseball thing does have to take a backseat.”

The White Sox were ready to make that jump, too, with positive vibes and playoff expectations the talk of spring training. Even while everything around us has changed, that optimism hasn’t.

“What I was witnessing around camp and what I've kind of gathered from talking to guys, I think we're just going to pick right back up where we left off,” Giolito said. “We were in a very good spot when things did come to an abrupt end there. But when things do resume, I think that we're just going to pick up where we were.

“We had a very good team collective mindset, and we're not going to let this pause to what we were doing affect what we're building toward in a negative way.

“I think when it comes time to start playing again, we'll all come together and pick it up right where we were.”

With so much unknown about the future of circumstances in the country at large, it’s impossible to guess what that future holds for Major League Baseball. Discussions between the league and the union have reportedly included a wide range of possibilities: games without fans present, games played away from home stadiums, the regular season stretching into October and the playoffs approaching Thanksgiving. They’ve also reportedly talked about the worst-case scenario of no season at all.

That would be a tough blow for every baseball fan, and White Sox fans are no exception. They’ve waited patiently through this rebuilding process for brighter days to return to the South Side. Now, on the cusp of what looks like a new winning era, everything is on hold.

Of course, the White Sox are built for the long haul, which was the main objective of Hahn’s front office during this process. This season, like every other individual campaign, was not designed to feature a brief chase at wild-card glory, only to yield to a recession back into mediocrity. The long-term deals the White Sox handed out to their young stars like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada point to visions of an extended contention window.

Even facing the prospect of losing a year of quality production from those guys and other youngsters, the amount of team control the White Sox hold with their players continues to point to an elongated period of winning potential.

That likely won’t do much to soften the emotional blow of a reduced or altogether canceled 2020 season, which had the potential to be the first taste of winning in a long time on the South Side. The White Sox haven’t finished above .500 since 2012. They haven’t made the postseason since 2008.

But it signals that even in the event of that worst-case scenario, the White Sox will remain positioned to compete, contend and captivate for years to come.

In the meantime, as Giolito said, baseball, and the White Sox leap into contention mode, has to take a backseat.

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Lucas Giolito in 'self-quarantine mode' at home while staying ready for baseball

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USA Today

Lucas Giolito in 'self-quarantine mode' at home while staying ready for baseball

Lucas Giolito was holding out hope that he could stay in Arizona and resume spring training activities soon. Eventually, he realized it was time to go home.

“It just got to a point for me where it’s like, OK, things are getting worse, it’s time to really get serious about this and practice the social distancing thing for real,” Giolito said Tuesday.

So last weekend the White Sox pitcher and his wife, Ariana, jumped in the car and went home to California, where they’ve put themselves in "self-quarantine mode" out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just traveled across state lines. Just trying to be as cautious as possible,” Giolito said. “We were at gas stations and I know those are hot spots. I don’t want to be responsible for infecting anyone else or getting infected or anything like that.”

Technically, the White Sox facility at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. is still open. But the number of players there is dwindling and Giolito said the team is reducing the number of days it is available for players. It is safe there – players keep their distance and frequently wash their hands – but as the reality of a significantly delayed season sunk it, Giolito felt like it was time to go home.

"It was getting to the point where, for me personally, being around a bunch of people every single day isn't really what we're supposed to be doing as people in this country,” Giolito said. “If we want things to get better, people have to buy in and adhere to what we're supposed to be doing here."

Ariana Giolito is in veterinary school and happens to be studying infectious diseases right now, so that also impacted their decision to head home. Now, like most of the country, they’re hunkered down at home spending a lot of time in the kitchen and watching Netflix.

“We’ve been crushing a lot of things. Last night (we) watched five straight hour-long episodes of this reality show Love is Blind on Netflix,” Giolito said. “Watching a lot of Curb your Enthusiasm, that’s one of my favorite shows. TV, movies, pretty much on a nightly basis.”

(Insider’s note: Go watch the Jon Hamm episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm. You won’t regret it.)

But Giolito isn’t just sitting on the couch and falling out of baseball shape. He has a meal delivery plan and a home gym set up in the garage. He has a net in his backyard and a park nearby where he can throw into a fence. He monitors his throwing program by counting his pitches as he goes.

“(It’s) kind of like a test to see, despite limited resources, how focused can you be on a daily basis on the work you need to get in? You try to make it fun, turn it into a game. It is what it is,” Giolito said.

The White Sox are providing as much guidance as possible. Giolito said he’s in constant communication with pitching coach Don Cooper and bullpen coach Curt Hasler, as well as the medical staff.

"As far as specifics with the throwing program, I think it depends on the guy,” he said. “As a starting pitcher it's important to try and get off as slowly as possible and try and get up-and-down work to maintain that stamina. We're doing our best to do that with limited resources.”

The good news is that Giolito is fully healthy. After his 2019 season ended a couple weeks early with a lat strain, he was sidelined at the start of spring training with a pulled chest muscle that occurred while he was battling a bad case of the flu. That was well before the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and Giolito said he has not been tested for COVID-19 and does not know of any teammates who have been tested either.

“That was taken care of pretty early on in the spring. By the time I was building up and throwing and getting off the mound for the first time it wasn’t even a thought,” Giolito said. “I was looking forward to a nice full season. It’s obviously not looking that way but we’ll see what we can make happen here. I’m feeling very good, very strong, doing my best to just maintain where I’m at. Hopefully we get the call soon.”

Hope is all the players – and fans – have right now. And pretty much everyone feels the same way.

“It sucks. We wish we were out there playing,” Giolito said. “At the same time, we are in the middle of a crisis and we can’t force the issue. We have to let everything run its course and hopefully we can get this going as soon as possible.”