White Sox

State of the White Sox: Shortstop

State of the White Sox: Shortstop

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to shortstop.

What happened in 2019

There was perhaps no better story on the South Side than the transformation of Tim Anderson, from a .240 hitter to the big league batting champion.

Anderson entered the season facing legitimate questions about whether the guy who hit .240 and reached base at a sub-.300 clip in 2018 could do enough offensively to cement himself as the team’s long-term shortstop. He spent the offseason fending off questions about where he stood in relation to the White Sox pursuit of free-agent shortstop Manny Machado. But Machado went to San Diego, the White Sox were left with Anderson as their shortstop, and Anderson went to work proving that he was indeed a cornerstone of this rebuild.

He started strong but made more headlines for the things that didn’t show up in the box score. His April bat flip grabbed national attention as he declared himself a crusader for a more fun version of baseball, becoming a face of the “let the kids play” school of thought in the face of the old-schoolers, like Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller, who beaned Anderson after that bat flip.

Though he maintained his swagger, Anderson let his play do the talking for the majority of the remainder of the season, and it spoke volumes. He finished the season with a .335 batting average, the highest in the majors and a number nearly 100 points higher than the one he finished 2018 with. He joined Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and James McCann in making extreme transformations and elevating themselves to the status of some of the best players at their positions in the game.

All along, Anderson remained a critically important member of the White Sox off-the-field, bringing energy they noticeably lacked during his extended stay on the injured list while recovering from a high ankle sprain. The team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, Anderson also continued to establish himself as a presence in the community on the South Side.

“If we had 26 guys playing the way Tim Anderson plays, we'd be thrilled,” general manager Rick Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last week. “From a makeup standpoint, from an energy standpoint, from a will to win standpoint, you can't ask for anything more. That coming with a little bit of flair and emotion on the field, that's great. Fantastic. Give me 25 more guys like that.

“The jump in batting average has obviously been remarkable. I think it's a historic improvement from one year to the next, at least for this organization. He's always had the hands and the quickness to do damage in and around the zone as we've seen. I think a little added level of confidence has come this year, as well as some modest tweaks mechanically that have helped unlock that.

“Obviously the baseball gods have smiled upon him too, for the most part, and it's been a sensational year for Timmy. He should go into this offseason very proud of what he's accomplished and at the same time knowing he's also capable of doing even better.”

Jose Abreu might still be the face of the franchise, but Anderson is right there with him, not to mention, at 26 years old, a valuable piece of the puzzle as the White Sox look to make their transition from rebuilding to contending.

What will happen this offseason

Anderson is the guy at shortstop now, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll have to have the same conversations we had last year about where he’ll go and whether the White Sox look for an upgrade like they did last winter with Machado.

But if there is an area that everyone, Anderson included, knows needs improvement, it’s on defense, where he led baseball with 26 errors this season. Errors have long been a bugaboo for Anderson, and he’s committed 88 of them in his four big league seasons.

“I’ve got to continue to get better defensively and keep growing offensively, as well,” Anderson said last month. “I think I’m going to keep getting better and continue to have fun.”

Manager Rick Renteria said multiple times during the season that Anderson’s high error total is due in part to his range and that he was attempting plays many wouldn’t have been able to. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s evident that improvement in necessary. Anderson showed this year what an offseason of work could do for his offensive game. Perhaps he’ll try to make a similar jump defensively leading up to 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

It might not be terribly realistic to expect Anderson to repeat his 2019 performance next season, but then again, no one expected a 100-point jump in his batting average this season, either. So we’ll wait until 2020 to determine just how repeatable 2019 was.

What we can expect is for Anderson to be a fixture at shortstop for the foreseeable future. He’s under contract for three more seasons, with multiple team options after that.

Anderson’s 2019 turnaround — along with Giolito’s and Moncada’s and McCann’s, plus the performance of Abreu, plus the arrival of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, plus to the soon-to-arrive Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, plus what’s expected to be a busy offseason for the White Sox front office — has 2020 looking like the year in which the White Sox can make that long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending.

Anderson’s expecting exactly that.

“We’re in a good spot right now,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep the same energy and keep the same focus going into next year. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

He’s got a batting title in hand, but he’d like something more.

“I think it's time to get on the winning side of things and hopefully we can continue to be playing at this time next year,” he said Sunday. “We've just got to keep coming together as a team and keep having fun. We're getting there.

“(Winning the batting title is) huge, obviously, but I prefer to be playing for something I can share with the whole squad, which is playing for the World Series.”

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: The time A.J. and Marte saved the day


White Sox 2005 Rewind: The time A.J. and Marte saved the day

Sometimes you’ve just got to shout out a game-saving play.

In this instance, the fact that the play was needed was actually the fault of the person who made it. But that’s baseball for you: You always have a chance to make up for what you just did.

On April 23, 2005, the White Sox and the Royals were locked in a two-all tie in the bottom of the ninth of a tilt in Kansas City. Damaso Marte, however, was in a bit of a jam. After Luis Vizcaino gave up the tying run in the previous inning, Marte loaded the bases with one out.

In a pressure-packed moment that could have instantly ended with the White Sox the losers, Marte did not help his own cause by throwing a way-off-the-mark pitch right past A.J. Pierzynski.

The runner on third, Matt Diaz, came home in an attempt to score the game-winning run and walk off the visiting White Sox. But Pierzynski and Marte sprung into action. Pierzynski fed Marte, Marte met Diaz at home and the reliever tagged the runner for the second out of the inning.

Game saved.

You’ve got to love Hawk Harrelson’s call on that one, too: “Here comes the runner! Give it to him! You got him! Yes!”

Marte followed that up with an inning-ending strikeout, allowing the White Sox bats to score the game-winning run in the 10th inning. Ozzie Guillen sent Marte back out for the bottom of the 10th, and Marte went 1-2-3 to lock down the win.

Every championship season — and plenty of those that don’t end with a trophy — features those kinds of game-saving plays. And it was, in general, a game-saving performance by the White Sox bullpen as a whole in this one.

Jose Contreras lasted just 3.1 innings — details on that below — forcing the South Side relief corps into duty for a whopping 6.2 innings. They limited the Royals to just one run.

I talked earlier during our #SoxRewind about how good the White Sox bullpen was, combining with that sensational rotation to make a truly championship-caliber pitching staff. And Adam Hoge wrote about Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts, two of the four White Sox relievers who stepped up to fill the Contreras-less innings in this one.

It’ll be a recurring theme, that great relief.

And on this day back in 2005, a reliever even got in some defensive excellence, too, saving the game for the White Sox.

What else?

— After giving up a leadoff homer to David DeJesus, Contreras was dealing. He struck out six of the last eight batters he faced coming into the bottom of the fourth. But coming off the mound on a ground ball hit by Mike Sweeney, he tweaked something in his leg. After a lot of hobbling around the infield, he faced Matt Stairs, who tried to take advantage of Contreras’ physical condition with a bunt attempt. When Contreras hit Stairs with the next pitch, Guillen took his starting pitcher out of the game. Darrin Jackson was under the impression the hit batter had nothing to do with Contreras’ leg hurting and instead was in retaliation for Stairs’ bunt try. Whatever the reason, perhaps both, Contreras lasted just 3.1 innings, his shortest outing of the 2005 season.

— How good was the White Sox rotation in 2005? Contreras’ 3.1-inning outing April 23 was the shortest start made by any of the team’s top four starters that season. The team experienced just three shorter outings by a starting pitcher in 2005, two by Orlando Hernandez and one by Brandon McCarthy.

— The Royals lost 106 games in 2005, and it's not difficult to see why. Kansas City made mistakes all over the place in this one, including two huge ones in crunch time. Diaz coming home on that wild pitch with the bases loaded and just one out was ill advised and potentially prevented the Royals from scoring the winning run in the ninth. Then in the 10th, the Royals botched a double play, only getting one out when the ball was lost on the transfer at second base. It allowed Pierzynski to stay at first base, and he eventually came around to score the winning run on an Aaron Rowand base hit.

— One of the best pitchers in modern baseball history was not so great in 2005. Zack Greinke was a 21-year-old kid when he faced the White Sox in this one. He was good in this game, giving up only one earned run in his seven innings. But he ended up losing 17 games, the most in the AL, in 2005, finishing the campaign with a 5.80 ERA. Fast forward four years, and Greinke was the AL Cy Young winner thanks to a pencil-thin 2.16 ERA that led the major leagues. In his 16-year big league career, Greinke has finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting five times, turned in six 200-strikeout seasons, made six All-Star teams and won and won six Gold Gloves.

— Pierzynski isn’t the prototypical speed demon. But he motored home from first base on a Juan Uribe double in the second inning. Any sort of good relay would have been sure to nab Pierzynski at the plate. But the Royals couldn’t put that together, and he scored easily. Even Jackson was surprised at the decision to send Pierzynski home: “There's no way he's supposed to send Pierzynski home on that play.” Well, it worked.

— The White Sox 14-4 start was the best through 18 games in club history.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 21, 2005: The White Sox took back-to-back walks to force in a run in the first inning, but Jeremy Bonderman was otherwise strong. The South Siders needed to make a late comeback to topple the Tigers this day, Scott Podsednik driving in a pair with a seventh-inning single to flip a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win. White Sox win, 4-3, improve to 12-4.

April 22, 2005: The White Sox wore out Royals pitching, scoring eight runs on 12 hits, but hit no homers. Podsednik drew three walks and stole three bases. White Sox win, 8-2, improve to 13-4.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Thursday, when you can catch the April 25, 2005, game against the A’s, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Jon Garland goes the distance, and Chris Widger goes deep.

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NBC Sports Chicago to simulate White Sox games with MLB: The Show

MLB: The Show, via Forbes

NBC Sports Chicago to simulate White Sox games with MLB: The Show

Chicago, IL (April 1, 2020) – NBC Sports Chicago will present weekly Chicago White Sox MLB: The Show game simulations - based on the team’s original 2020 same day game schedule - beginning tomorrow, Thursday, April 2.  The network’s 2020 White Sox MLB: The Show “Game of the Week” simulations, which will include the same video and audio components of MLB: The Show gameplay, will debut every Thursday at 2:00 PM CT exclusively on NBCSportsChicago.com, the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app and YouTube.com/NBCSportsChicago.  NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox experts Jason Benetti (@jasonbenetti) and Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) will also be a part of every game simulation, providing entertaining play-by-play and analysis via an in-game video chat.  (NOTE: Fans located anywhere in the U.S. can download MyTeams for free on iOS and Android devices in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.)

In addition, for all games that were originally scheduled to take place in between NBC Sports Chicago’s MLB: The Show “Game of the Week” simulations, fans can visit NBCSportsChicago.com and the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app for a quick “In :60” video highlight reel, along with a complete game recap.  Please note NBC Sports Chicago’s complete White Sox MLB: The Show game simulation schedule below (NOTE: All games debut at 2:00 PM CT; schedule subject to change):

Thursday, April 2 -- WHITE SOX at BOSTON (Red Sox home opener)
Thursday, April 9 -- WHITE SOX vs. SEATTLE (from Wed, Apr. 8 due to off day on Apr. 9)
Thursday, April 16 -- WHITE SOX vs. TEXAS
Thursday, April 23 -- WHITE SOX at LOS ANGELES (Angels)
Thursday, April 30 -- WHITE SOX at COLORADO (from Wed, Apr. 29 due to off day on Apr. 30)
Thursday, May 7 -- WHITE SOX vs. TAMPA BAY
Thursday, May 14 -- WHITE SOX vs. TORONTO
Thursday, May 21 -- WHITE SOX at MINNESOTA
Thursday, May 28 -- WHITE SOX at BALTIMORE

NOTE:  For the latest news, analysis, team/league updates and team-specific podcasts, fans are urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com or download the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app.  

NBC Sports Chicago, a partnership between the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago White Sox (MLB) and the NBC Sports Group, features over 275 live pro games in high definition each year.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago delivers extensive pre/post-game coverage for its core pro team partners, as well as Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs multi-platform coverage, plus - local sports discussion programs that includes SportsTalk Live, and massive cross-platform coverage provided by the network’s growing digital platform, NBCSportsChicago.com, the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app, and its variety of fan-focused social media outlets. Fans can follow the network on Twitter via @NBCSChicago.

NBC Sports Regional Networks is NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of nine regional networks that delivers more than 2,200 live sporting events and original content to more than 35 million homes. Aligned within Eastern and Western Divisions, the NBC Sports Regional Networks are: NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia +, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington + and SNY; and NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago/NBC Sports Chicago+, and NBC Sports Northwest. For more information on NBC Sports Group properties, including press releases, photos, talent and executive bios, headshots and logos, please visit www.NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com.