White Sox

Positives keep piling up for White Sox, who start 'important' series against Yankees on winning note

Positives keep piling up for White Sox, who start 'important' series against Yankees on winning note

As Rick Hahn has said again and again, this White Sox team is going to be judged less on how many games they win and more on how they win them.

Well, chalk up positive marks for both categories after Thursday night’s comeback victory against the visiting New York Yankees.

The Bronx Bombers came to the South Side in first place in the once again hyper-competitive AL East, jockeying with the Tampa Bay Rays and perhaps trying to rack up as many wins as possible before the defending-champion Boston Red Sox get clear of their World Series hangover. But the sub-.500 (for now) White Sox got the last laugh in Act I of this four-game set, erasing a 4-0 deficit thanks to a pair of clutch homers from Tim Anderson and Leury Garcia.

Anderson’s game-tying, three-run blast in the fifth inning was the kind of great sign Hahn is referencing when he talks about the goal for the 2019 season, a young core player continuing a breakout campaign that cranks up the brightness on seasons to come as much as it does for the current season. Anderson is still in that All-Star conversation at shortstop and could make the team even if he doesn’t get elected a starter.

After Eloy Jimenez had a big night against the Washington Nationals two nights prior, Anderson playing a starring role Thursday is the kind of winning — or just the kind of play — that this front office wants to see as the rebuild moves toward the contention window potentially opening as soon as next season.

“I like those moments. Those moments are the moments you want to be in,” Anderson said. “Not being afraid to fail. Just keep going and continue to work and keep getting better. I like those moments.”

But for all the continued signs of progress from that Anderson-Jimenez-Lucas Giolito-Yoan Moncada core, contending teams need role players, too.

No one is ever going to suggest that Leury Garcia will have a good enough 2019 season to block the rapid rise of Luis Robert, who’s destined to take over in center the second the White Sox deem him ready for the major leagues. Given the way he’s massacred the ball in the minors this season, it wouldn’t even be shocking if that were to happen before time runs out on the 2019 campaign.

But Garcia has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him as the White Sox everyday center fielder. That job figured to belong to Jon Jay back in spring training, but here we are in mid June and Jay has yet to make his White Sox debut. Meanwhile, Garcia hasn’t exactly showed the makings of a future star, but he’s performed really well. Expected to be little more than a versatile bench player, he’s hitting .278 after a couple of RBI extra-base hits Thursday night. His home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh broke a 4-all tie and ended up the difference.

That Garcia, whose one-year deal in the offseason was met with little reaction from fans, gave the White Sox a win over the first-place win against Adam Ottavino, the high-priced free-agent reliever some fans wanted imported into the South Side bullpen, was noteworthy.

Things can certainly change, but right now Garcia is showing the kind of value that should intrigue a White Sox front office looking to construct a winning roster in the near future. He can play every position besides first base, pitcher and catcher, and if he brings a reliable bat along with him, who wouldn’t want that coming off the bench?

“It has been great. I've been trying to take advantage of this opportunity because I know the importance of it,” Garcia said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think I've been taking advantage of it, and I feel very good and happy for this opportunity.”

And then there’s the aforementioned South Side bullpen, which had one of its more notable performances Thursday night. After Alex Colome threw nearly 40 pitches to win Tuesday’s game against the Nationals, the White Sox relief corps had to do the job without their dominant closer. So Josh Osich, Evan Marshall, Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Bummer turned in 3.1 shutout innings. Herrera has shown recent flashes of returning to his old self. Bummer bounced back from a rough night Tuesday for his first career save. Marshall threw up another spotless inning.

This isn’t to say that the back end of the White Sox next contending bullpen will include all these faces. But to have a growing number of reliable arms in the relief corps is nothing but a positive.

“It’s awesome to see,” Bummer said. “It’s kind of that rhythm that the bullpen is in. We are going to go out and get the job done.

“As a whole, I think the entire bullpen is throwing the ball extremely well. It’s a lot of fun to be down there. Hopefully we can continue to build.”

The list of positives keep growing for the White Sox, who took three of the first four games they played against the Yankees this season. It’s hard to declare this one win a statement game or this weekend a pivotal one, in the traditional sense, especially in an American League that already seems to have a determined outcome. The Yankees and Rays seem like postseason locks, the same for the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. That leaves one playoff spot up for grabs between a host of teams hovering right around that .500 mark.

But even if the White Sox don’t vault themselves into the postseason race (in June) this weekend, they can add the way they’ve played against one of the game’s elite teams to their growing list of positives.

“We talked about that before the game, the importance of this weekend for us,” Garcia said. “We played hard today, as always. We always go out there, try to do our best and to win games.

“We know that we're facing a very good team, but we try to do our best with our best effort. It was a good win tonight, a team effort.”

It was. Inside the White Sox clubhouse, they’re viewing this series as important because of what it could mean for their standing in 2019. But as Hahn has mentioned all along, regardless of what that win-loss record ends up looking like, it’s the way these White Sox play that counts. And with a premier opponent across the field, how they play this weekend is important for 2019 and 2020 and beyond.

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Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California


Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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