White Sox

White Sox sim-game chatter shows entertainment potential in empty stadiums

White Sox sim-game chatter shows entertainment potential in empty stadiums

Baseball is going to look weird in 2020.

And it might sound even weirder.

Already, even though players are just stretching, tracking down fly balls, throwing bullpen sessions and taking batting practice during the MLB-branded "Summer Camp," the experience of baseball being played in an empty major league stadium is somewhat bizarre.

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But once regular-season games start? It's going to be like a different game from a different universe.

We got a little taste of what it might be like Wednesday, when White Sox ace Lucas Giolito threw a simulated game at Guaranteed Rate Field, throwing at game speed while his teammates took game-style at-bats.

Sim games are not among the many newfangled baseball inventions for a pandemic-delayed season. They've been around for a while and they're always weird, with only one pitcher pitching, sitting in the dugout for 10 minutes to simulate the other half of an inning that is not actually being played, and then facing off against the same players who just backed him up defensively the last time he was out there.

But as we prepare for regular-season games without fans, this simulated game was perhaps more realistic than ever.

The silence was deafening, obviously. The roar of the crowd that would have accompanied back-to-back strikeouts to start off the game for Giolito was met with nothing. Tim Anderson swung and missed at Strike 3 and went back to the dugout. Luis Robert looked at Strike 3 and went back to the dugout. No clapping, no cheering, no blaring clip from Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle," which the White Sox employed during Giolito ("Lido," "-lito," get it?) strikeouts in 2019.

But in the absence of crowd noise, there's an opportunity for a new aspect of entertainment to arise. Because you know what you could hear? Everything the players said. And some of it was pretty darn funny.

Simulated games don't have umpires, so it was on catchers Yasmani Grandal and James McCann to call Giolito's balls and strikes. And Grandal got into it. When Robert stared down that third strike, he made an exaggerated punch-out motion with his fist, earning laughs from the White Sox dugout, with one dugout denizen invoking the name of infamous umpire Joe West in a joking response. Grandal kept it up, feeding off the reaction a la Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun," and punched out Zack Collins later in the sim game, earning more laughs.

When Nomar Mazara connected on a Giolito pitch for what most would have assumed would be a line drive to right field, the diminutive Nick Madrigal, perfectly positioned in an exaggerated shift, came up with a nice catch to steal a hit away from Mazara. The response from the dugout? "You got bad luck if you can't hit it over his head."

And there was more. Giolito started talking at McCann when the catcher got his pitcher for a double into the left-field corner. The energetic Anderson was pretty loud while cheering for his teammates from the dugout. Coaches could be heard shouting out instructions.

The absence of crowds means fans watching on TV might be able to hear things they've never heard before, adding a new element of entertainment.

"With (our) teammates, we’re going to mess around, we’ll be talking trash," Giolito said Wednesday. "I’m interested to see how that carries over once we get to the regular season. You can hear pretty much everything everyone is saying."

RELATED: Why White Sox-Cubs games could be 'a little taste' of Crosstown World Series

The White Sox will do their best to fill the fanless void at Guaranteed Rate Field. They announced Wednesday the ability for fans to have their likenesses on cardboard cutouts in the stands during the season-opening series against the Minnesota Twins. And players seem unsure about whether crowd noise will be played over the speakers once the games begin. That would be equally weird, though it might help out the players, grasping for any sense of normalcy in a season where their routine-oriented day-to-day work lives have been turned upside down.

But why not keep the crowd noise away and use this opportunity to show off a new element to the game?

TV broadcasts were hoping to mic players up and have them chat with announcers during games. We'll see if that pans out, though the lack of an agreement between the league and the players' union seemed to disperse any optimism of that happening on a regular basis. In place of that, this on-field chatter could be wildly entertaining.

"I think it might (add some more entertainment value)," manager Rick Renteria said. "The guys, they were chirping in the dugout today. It was fun to hear them. They're just like everybody else. You love to play the game, and you have an opportunity to go out and play in your home park, even though you're playing against each other. It's a nice energy to have. Who wouldn't want to play baseball in a big league park? And they share that joy that they all have when they are out there competing."

So get ready for it all: trash talk, disagreements with umpires, pitchers and hitters jawing back and forth, cheers from the dugout and just plain short jokes.

Baseball's going to sound mighty different in 2020.


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José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

Dallas Keuchel spoke, and the White Sox responded.

That was an easy way to read what happened this week in Detroit.

After a seemingly listless performance in the series-opener — a 5-1 defeat that followed the sting of a missed opportunity against the Cleveland Indians one night earlier — Keuchel addressed the team. Then he told reporters what he told his teammates.

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“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss last night,” the veteran left-hander said Monday. “We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. … We've got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we've got some guys going through the motions. So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we're going to have to start that now.

“When you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it's very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get go.”

The White Sox won the next two games in Detroit, scoring 15 runs on a combined 18 hits.

So Keuchel woke everybody up. His words spurred these White Sox.

Right?

“I think the conversation that we had with him, that he had with us, it didn’t really effect the way that we played the last two games,” first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think that we would do that either way.

“I do appreciate the conversation that he had with us. He had some concerns, and he’s a veteran. He shared those concerns with us, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a secret that the first game in Detroit wasn’t one of our best games. That was a bad game for us. But it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do good. It just was one of those games where we couldn’t do better in that particular time. The next two days, we did perform and we did what we were supposed to do.

“That’s why I think there’s no reason for people to put the spotlight on what Dallas said because we won the last two games. I think we would do it either way.”

Before anyone thinks of making the leap to clubhouse controversy, know this. Abreu, who’s been described as a team leader and certainly has been a mentor and a role model to the young players around him over the last few seasons, has been a vocal proponent of two things: the need for players to work hard and do the things they’re supposed to do to put themselves in position to win, and the high level of talent these young White Sox have.

With rebuilding cornerstones like Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and now Luis Robert firmly under his wing, it’s understandable Abreu would be protective of them and their fellow youngsters when called out for a lack of effort. And why shouldn’t he if that’s not what he’s seeing? Few are closer to those guys on a daily basis, and he would know if they weren’t living up to his own high standards when it comes to work ethic. Of course, Keuchel didn’t name any names, and those closest to Abreu might not have been the ones he was referencing Monday night.

Abreu has spent years talking up how good this group of players can be, and he knows what it's capable of. It's no surprise that he believed the White Sox capable of turning in a better performance than the one they did Monday night, and that belief would have been the same whether Keuchel opened up or if no one said a word.

RELATED: White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

For what it’s worth, another White Sox mainstay was more willing to connect the dots between what Keuchel said and what happened in the days that followed.

“I hope they had some effect,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday. “I hope it affected them. I think any time you have a peer trying to motivate you, it's a good thing, especially somebody who's been around a little bit.

“As we've talked about before over the last three or four years, at some point we want the players to go ahead and take ownership. We've had guys doing it subtly, you guys haven't heard about it. In this instance, you heard about it. And I hope it did have an effect.”

This seems less like the White Sox answering the prayers of talk radio with a brewing battle inside the clubhouse and more just an interesting comparison of vantage points.

Keuchel knows what it’s like to win. He’s got a World Series ring on his finger. But Abreu knows this team. He knows these guys. Keuchel’s a newcomer, but one brought in partially because of his winning experience. Abreu has no winning experience in the major leagues, all six of his previous White Sox seasons ending in sub-.500 finishes, but perhaps no player in that clubhouse is more familiar with the intricacies of this franchise’s rebuilding process. And the White Sox made what seemed like an easy decision to keep him a central part of it with his three-year contract in the offseason.

This season — before it was all jumbled up by the pandemic — was supposed to be about the White Sox finally reaching the stage of their rebuild where they started to win. But it was also supposed to be about getting to that point. A schedule squeezed down to 60 games, and an American League playoff field expanded from five to eight teams, might have given the White Sox a better chance to do something they haven't done in more than a decade. But the shortened season robbed them of the typical six-month marathon in which a team can evolve into a winner.

Keuchel and Abreu both have important roles to play in getting the White Sox to where they want to be, and both of those vantage points will be critical along the way.

Remember: They both want the exact same thing.

“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during spring training, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years to be any different.”

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said around the same time. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”


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White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

Despite their preseason stockpile of starting-pitching depth, the White Sox will resort to their second bullpen day of the season in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Lucas Giolito, the ace of the South Side staff, takes the ball in the first game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, who will be seeing game action for the first time in more than two weeks as they finally resume play at the end of a pause caused by nearly 20 positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria revealed Friday that Game 2 will feature another group effort by his relief corps. Remember that doubleheader games are now just seven innings long.

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This bullpen day comes just one week after the last. A week ago, in the second game of the White Sox series with the Cleveland Indians, Renteria called on seven different relievers in a 7-1 loss. While Matt Foster started things well, Drew Anderson, who was newly called up from the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg, fell apart in the fourth inning and was tagged for six runs. With the White Sox unable to solve Indians starter Zach Plesac that day, the remaining five White Sox pitchers mostly served in mop-up duty.

Now, that's certainly not to say every bullpen day will yield a similar result. The White Sox bullpen has looked like a strength this season, even if the team's relief ERA of 4.15 was just the 15th best in baseball as of this writing. But it's a perfect example of how quickly the White Sox starting-pitching depth has been drained and the position it's put the team in just a third of the way through this shortened 60-game season.

Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón remain on the injured list with no timetables for their returns to the White Sox rotation. Gio González has been called on to fill in for López, and he's been unable to make it out of the fifth inning in any of his first three starts in a White Sox uniform, though the team has won two of those three games. There has been no replacement in the rotation for Rodón.

RELATED: White Sox, Cardinals to play doubleheader after Friday's game postponed

Back on Aug. 5, general manager Rick Hahn said both injured pitchers could be back in action within a few weeks, certainly better than season-ending diagnoses for those two key cogs. But a few weeks is a big chunk of this 60-game season. With Renteria not delivering timelines for either pitcher Friday, it seems Saturday's bullpen day might not be the last one we see from the White Sox this summer.

For those wondering where highly touted pitching prospect Dane Dunning fits into all this, Hahn specifically said that Dunning would not be called upon to take Rodón's spot last weekend. The general manager said on Aug. 5 that Dunning, coming off Tommy John surgery, had not yet worked his way to the kind of length the team wants to see from starting pitchers at the big league level. That's not to say Dunning won't appear at all for the White Sox this season, but as of nine days ago, he wasn't ready yet, not to mention that the front office continues to operate under the idea that an injury at the major league level should have no effect on when a prospect is ready for a promotion.

But with López and Rodón on the shelf — along with youngster Jimmy Lambert, who's on the 45-day injured list — Dunning not ready, Michael Kopech electing not to play this season due to personal reasons and Ross Detwiler limited to a relief role at the moment, there are few if any places for the White Sox to turn. The team inked veteran left-hander Clayton Richard to a minor league deal, but Hahn said going outside the organization for rotation help isn't very likely with the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month.

That all makes it seem like bullpen days might be something to get used to for a little while.


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