White Sox

Playoffs on the South Side? White Sox players have their eyes on the Wild Card

Playoffs on the South Side? White Sox players have their eyes on the Wild Card

Back in spring training, after the White Sox missed out on Manny Machado and another rough season was expected by many on the South Side, somebody made a remark to Ivan Nova that has stayed with him this whole season.

“You got traded to the White Sox. They’re rebuilding right now. You should be on a contending team,” this person told Nova.

The veteran pitcher looked at the guy and fired back.

“What I see here," he said, "is good enough to compete.”

End of conversation.

As the White Sox hit the All-Star break, to the surprise of even the harshest critics, they are competing. Last season at the break, they were 29 games under .500 (33-62). This season, they’re only two games under (42-44). They have three players in the All-Star Game, plus three others who could have joined them (Yoan Moncada, Alex Colome and Tim Anderson), and a budding superstar in Eloy Jimenez who now has his former Cubs compadre, top pitching prospect Dylan Cease, with him in the majors.

It was a good first half for the White Sox. But speaking with several White Sox players, they’re hoping for an even better second half.

Yep, the goal is to make the playoffs.

For a team that lost 100 games last season, is currently seven games out of the second American League Wild Card, has a run differential of -71 and whose starting rotation has combined for a 5.40 ERA (29th in the majors), it’s perfectly understandable to believe that the White Sox have no business making the playoffs this year.

But confidence is building on the South Side, and although general manager Rick Hahn consistently states that 2019 is more about development than wins and losses, there’s a feeling inside the White Sox clubhouse that if things continue to come together in the second half, the playoffs can be had for this White Sox team.

“Oh yeah,” said Nova, who admits that he’s been watching the Wild Card standings lately and knows that if their starting pitching was better, and that includes him - “I have to pitch better. I know that.” - they’d be in the mix right now for the playoffs.

“If we had good pitching from the beginning to this point, we wouldn’t be (12.5) games out of first place, we’d be 5 or 6, 3 or 4, who knows?”  Nova said. “We still have to play the teams that are ahead of us like Oakland, Texas, Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa. If you look at that, then we’re in good shape.”

Gone are the days of Ervin Santana and Odrisamer Despaigne in the rotation. They both went 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in 13.1 innings in their abbreviated stints and were quickly jettisoned from the roster. All-Star Lucas Giolito mentions the two new additions to the rotation and sees a big upgrade.

“It’s good to be getting reinforcements now with Dylan Cease, Ross Detwiler stepping in and taking a role,” Giolito said. “You know how I am about starting pitching. I feel like it’s the heartbeat. Us as starters take the ball a little more consistently, we’re going to continue to win a lot more games.”

When James McCann signed with the White Sox in the offseason, he had no idea where they’d be at the All-Star break, let alone where he would be.

McCann is in Cleveland for the All-Star Game, and along with Giolito, is one of the biggest surprises in baseball in 2019.

He also admits that he’s watching the standings: “I know where we’re at. I think you’re a liar if you don’t know where you’re at. I think it’s impossible not to,” he said.

And the Wild Card?

“It’s a possibility.  We’re right there in the standings,” McCann said, “It’s not a secret we have some work to do. There’s definitely that potential of being there come August and September.”

Can the White Sox finish with a better record than the Red Sox, A’s, Indians and Rays? That’s probably what we’re talking about for them to make the playoffs. They’ll need to leap-frog at least three of those teams to get into the Wild Card Game.

No easy feat.

Then again, nothing has come easy for most of the pillars of this White Sox team in Giolito, McCann, Moncada, Anderson and Aaron Bummer. All five of them are having breakout seasons in 2019 after so many doubted them just a year ago.

“I’ve learned that we’re fighters,”  Giolito said about the White Sox in the first half. “A lot of these games that we’ve lost and these series that we’ve lost we’ve been right there, just a few mistakes, maybe a few missed opportunities, leaving runners on base or one poor pitching performance where we’re so close to taking series from really good teams.  So it just goes to show that we’re fighting, we’re coming together, we’re playing much better baseball than we have in the past. We just need to continue to stay on that path.”

Winning series against the Yankees, Twins and Indians, and splitting series with the Yankees, Astros and Cubs are proof that the White Sox have been able to hang with some of the best teams in the majors, even with their deficiencies such as Reynaldo Lopez and his 6.34 ERA.

Lopez believes he has solved his pitching problems and promises to be “much, much better” in the second half. A rejuvenated Lopez resembling the pitcher we saw at the end of last season (1.38 ERA in his last seven starts) will go a long way toward making such Wild Card talk a reality.

Even if the White Sox go on a run in the second half, their biggest hurdle might be something out of the players’ control. All those teams ahead of them in the standings will probably be making improvements to their current rosters before the trade deadline, while the White Sox likely won’t. Hahn has repeatedly spoken about the long term vision for the White Sox this season, and with many of their surplus prospects either injured or having slow starts (although several top prospects with the Birmingham Barons have been red-hot lately), there might not be much for Hahn to deal in return for a core player for the future.

Top prospect Luis Robert is being promoted to Triple-A.  Unless he’s called up in September - and there are currently no signs that he will be - don’t expect any big impact players to be walking through the door this season. For the White Sox to make a push for the playoffs in 2019, it will probably have to come from the players already here.

Fortunately, the room is filled with believers.

“I think we expect to win every game,” said Bummer, whose 1.89 ERA has helped solidify the back end of the bullpen. “The better we play each and every day, we know that we can do this. It’s one of those things where you’re slowly starting to figure out the pieces. We’re playing a lot of close games and we feel like we can win them.”

Still, the White Sox know who they are and what they’ve been. They haven’t been great. They’ve been good.

And as Bummer stated: “Good is good, but good is not good enough.”

“I think everyone in this clubhouse is striving to get better," Bummer added. "I don’t think anybody is happy with where they’re at. We all understand that we have more things we want to do, and so it’s one of those things where you start checking off those boxes of those things you want to accomplish, and always trying to be better, you’re going to look at the standing and the standings are going to take care of themselves.”

After throwing 5.2 scoreless innings to get the win against the Cubs on Sunday, Nova won’t have much of an All-Star break. He’s staying in town to prepare for his next start, one of the first games this weekend in Oakland.

He’s still thinking about what that person said to him about the White Sox during spring training.  Think of it as fuel for Nova going forward.

“I’m waiting for him to come talk to me about it, because he knows I told him we’re going to be in good shape,”  Nova said.

So far, that guy has been silent.

The White Sox?  They’ve started to make some noise.

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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