White Sox

White Sox at Memorial Day checkpoint: Still rebuilding, but better than last year


White Sox at Memorial Day checkpoint: Still rebuilding, but better than last year

Welcome to Memorial Day, a classic checkpoint for baseball teams trying to figure out exactly who they are in any given season.

Surprises can come after late May, and teams can certainly discover themselves deeper into the 162-game schedule. But traditionally, people talk about Memorial Day as a good time to know which teams are contenders and which are already out of the race.

The White Sox, it seems are not far from where they were at the beginning of the 2019 campaign: still rebuilding, still not ready to compete against baseball’s best, but better than last year. The rebuild, despite the rapidly evaporating patience of a large chunk of the fan base, is still on track.

If the 100-loss season a year ago was the toughest part of this process from the standpoint of what was happening on the field at the major league level, then what was this past weekend in the Twin Cities?

The first-place Minnesota Twins are among the best teams in baseball — no treat after the White Sox had to face off against another member of that group, the Houston Astros, immediately prior — and swinging white-hot bats. The Twins demolished the White Sox in the division rivals’ first series of this season, sweeping the three games by a combined 25-6 score.

It was the first time the White Sox lost three straight games by at least seven runs each since August 2007, during a parade of merciless routs at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who outscored them 46-7 in four straight.

But the 2019 White Sox were not exactly constructed to go toe to toe with baseball’s best, to make a run at the pennant or stake any claims to belonging atop baseball’s mountain. Instead, the rebuild marches on.

The pieces have yet to all arrive at the major league level, with Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Zack Collins, Nick Madrigal and more still going through the development process in the minors. The pieces who are here — Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez — are still developing, as well. And Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Micker Adolfo and Dane Dunning aren’t doing anything right now other than recovering from season-ending surgeries.

And so getting crushed by the seemingly postseason-bound Twins (yes, the American League is that top heavy in 2019 that declarations such as that one seem perfectly reasonable) says nothing about the rebuild other than it clearly isn’t done yet. And no one was arguing otherwise before those three hard-to-watch ones in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

On Twitter (the Land of 10,000 Takes, nailed it), the big-picture frustrations over the White Sox big-picture prospects might be growing louder when the fortunes are at their worst at the big league level. But this is still an ongoing process of a top-to-bottom transformation of this organization. And that requires waiting. A lot of it.

While that’s the same unpopular prescription White Sox fans received in 2018, there’s plenty of bright spots and silver linings that have already made 2019 better than last year — and helped contribute to the idea that brighter days are coming.

When the sun came up on Memorial Day, Anderson led the AL with a .337 batting average, third in baseball to only the bonkers seasons of Cody Bellinger and Josh Bell in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, respectively.

To this point, Giolito has exorcised his demons from last season, when he led baseball’s qualified starters with a monstrous 6.17 ERA and the AL with 90 walks. Through his first nine starts in 2019, he’s 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA and a 59:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s fresh off maybe his best start in a White Sox uniform, a complete-game shutout against the Astros last Thursday, and he’s set to get another crack at the Kansas City Royals, who he’s pitched well against, on Tuesday.

Moncada might not be free of his strikeout-heavy ways — he’s on pace for 192 more of them this season after punching out 216 times in 2018 — but he’s improved on a woeful first full season in the big leagues, coming into Memorial Day 2019 with a .282/.336/.490 slash line to go along with his nine homers and 32 RBIs, those last two totals both ranking second on the team.

It sure sounds like Jose Abreu is part of the White Sox plans past the 2019 season, and he’s having a fine campaign, slugging .522 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs. And James McCann has been somewhat of a revelation, slashing .322/.361/.504 and perhaps working his name into the All-Star conversation. He’ll very easily be with the White Sox in 2020 if they want him back.

Now, that doesn’t mean all is sunny in the rebuild. While Dylan Covey and Manny Banuelos getting roughed up by the Twins means nothing for the long-term fate of the franchise, Lopez getting equally smoked is potentially more impactful. Lopez was the team’s best starting pitcher in 2018 but has ceded that title fully to Giolito as he struggles with an ERA north of 6.00. He’s given up 14 homers on the season; only two pitchers have given up more, both of whom pitch for last-place teams in Baltimore and Seattle.

The injuries continue to be of even greater concern. Rodon will be out until the second half of next season. When Kopech returns after more than a year on the shelf, he’ll still be getting his feet wet in the big leagues. There are questions about Collins’ defense, questions about Jimenez’s defense, questions about Madrigal’s power. And with the free-agent market drying up thanks to preseason extensions for some of the best players in baseball, there are questions about who that big outside addition is going to be and if he will be one big enough to vault this team into contention mode.

And so the White Sox reach 2019’s Memorial Day checkpoint without outside expectations of pennant-chasing and banner-raising later this year. But that’s no great surprise. The things that have gone well are things that are good signs for the seasons to come, and the things that have gone wrong, largely, are things that won’t doom those future plans. And that has to please Rick Hahn and his front office.

The fan base might, at the moment, be less sated by silver linings after watching the Twins tee off on White Sox pitching all weekend. Bad news in that department: There are 16 games remaining against those Twins. But impatience and frustration are certainly understandable emotions.

All the while, though, the rebuild is still on track. If there’s one conclusion to draw from the first two months of White Sox baseball in 2019, it’s that. The idea is that the bright spots will become increasingly brighter as the summer rolls on, more signs that the rebuild is moving in the direction Hahn & Co. want it to move. And maybe by next Memorial Day, we’ll be evaluating a team that has realistic expectations of involving themselves in a playoff chase.

Until then, Tom Petty keeps proving prophetic for South Side baseball fans: The waiting continues to remain the hardest part.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

If you were paying really close attention during Game 2 of the ALCS, you saw it.

One fan in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field was hoisting a sign that perfectly summed up how the White Sox scored their runs during a 99-win regular season and during a march to the World Series.

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Small ball was rebranded “Ozzie ball” by these White Sox, who reaped the rewards of Kenny Williams’ bold offseason trade. The general manager shipped away a productive slugger, Carlos Lee, for a speed demon on the base paths, Scott Podsednik. Lee was pretty darn good at swinging the stick. But the White Sox craved balance in their lineup, and with Podsednik’s base-stealing ability causing chaos at the top of the order, they got it and scored more runs in the first inning than any other during the 2005 season.

Paul ball, well that’s obvious. Paul Konerko was the team’s MVP in 2005. He smashed 40 homers for the second straight season and hit triple digits in RBIs for the third time in his career. He was particularly potent during the second half, helping to prevent a complete free fall out of first place with the Cleveland Indians charging in September.

And over-the-wall ball? Well, as balanced as the White Sox lineup was thanks to Podsednik’s arrival, the South Siders still hit a lot of home runs. Seven different hitters launched at least 15 dingers. Even Podsednik, who had zero of them during the regular season, got in on the power display in the playoffs, hitting one in the ALDS and a walk-off homer in the World Series.

Fast forward two nights from when that sign was lifted up on the South Side, and you saw the White Sox follow that script to a “T” in Southern California.

In the first 17.2 innings of the ALCS, the White Sox scored three measly runs. A tip of the cap to the Angels’ pitching staff, but this was not the same production from a lineup that mauled the Red Sox during the first round of the playoffs. Then A.J. Pierzynski swung, missed and ran to first base and the White Sox offense woke up. Over the course of the next five White Sox hitters to step to the plate — Joe Crede’s walk-off double to finish Game 2 and the first four batters of Game 3 — the White Sox scored four runs.

How’d they do it against John Lackey in Game 3? How do you think?

Podsednik did his thing at the top of the lineup and got on base with a leadoff hit. Then Tadahito Iguchi bunted him into scoring position ahead of Jermaine Dye’s RBI double. Paul Konerko followed with a solo homer slammed into the left-field seats — the beginning of a three-hit, three-RBI night for him — and the White Sox had a crooked number on the board. Just like that.

Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.

Of course, this all leaves out the most important ingredient in the White Sox success that season and in this series, in particular: starting pitching. While the offense took a while to wake up in the ALCS, the pitching was on point from “go.” Jose Contreras threw 8.1 innings in Game 1. Mark Buehrle allowed just one run in nine innings in Game 2. And Jon Garland followed with the second of what would be four straight complete-game efforts by White Sox starters in this series.

Though there was more to come, with Freddy Garcia and Contreras going the distance in Games 4 and 5, through three games, White Sox starters had already turned in an impressive string of games, allowing just six runs in 26.1 innings for a 2.05 ERA.

But as good as the pitching was — and it was out-of-this-world good — the White Sox needed to get back to their run-scoring ways following the quiet offensive performances in Games 1 and 2. They did just that, and not until Game 4 of the World Series did they score fewer than five runs.

When it came to how they scored those runs moving forward, the sign didn’t lie.

Small ball? Podsednik wrecked havoc the very next night in Game 4 of the ALCS, reaching base four times (thrice via the walk), stole a pair of bases and scored two runs.

Paul ball? Konerko had more damage to do, with at least one hit in each of the next five playoff games, including an unforgettable grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series.

Over-the-wall ball? The White Sox hit three homers in the final two games of the ALCS, then six more in the World Series, including iconic shots from Konerko, Podsednik and Geoff Blum.

So there are a few hundred words on the subject. But did I really do any better with all those words than that fan did with eight?

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 4 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Friday on NBC Sports Chicago.

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MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

Where do things stand right now between Major League Baseball and the players union?

Let’s just say the owners are in New York and the players are in Los Angeles. Hopefully, they can meet somewhere in the middle — like Chicago — and we can have baseball in 2020.

But it's going to take a lot of work.

MLB's much-anticipated, first economic proposal presented to the players on Tuesday features a sliding scale of pay cuts where the players making the most money lose a greater percentage of their salaries, while those making less will have smaller cuts.  

The players' didn't like it one bit.

"The owners have a long way to go," one player said.

Fortunately, this isn’t the ninth inning of negotiations. There’s still time to make a deal.  

But with the clock ticking, there’s a big divide and harsh feelings that need to be addressed.

According to one agent, “I like to think I’m an optimist, but it’s ugly right now. While it’s a complicated situation, it comes down to money. The little hope I have is cooler and sensible heads [will] prevail.”

Will the two sides come to an agreement? If so, how and when?

That’s what I discussed with my NBC Sports Chicago colleagues Adam Hoge and Vinnie Duber on this Give Me Baseball edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast. 

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