White Sox

As Yoan Moncada closes in on 200 strikeouts, he's actually finishing on a good note

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USA TODAY

As Yoan Moncada closes in on 200 strikeouts, he's actually finishing on a good note

It might not come as much of a comfort to White Sox fans bummed out about how this season will end for the South Siders, but Yoan Moncada has been a lot better lately than his disappointing 2018 campaign would lead you to believe.

Moncada is almost surely going to finish this year with the 11th 200-strikeout season in major league history. His .224/.304/.391 slash line can only get so much better with 17 games remaining on the schedule. And while these are examples of the to-be-expected growing pains of a still-developing young player, Moncada's recent status as the top prospect in the game and one of the biggest names of the White Sox rebuild have made him fall drastically short of fans' expectations of him in his first full big league season.

But for those looking for something positive to focus on heading into the offseason, Moncada's numbers as the season has wound down have been significantly better than they were earlier in the summer.

Following Tuesday night's loss to the Kansas City Royals, the second baseman is slashing .263/.333/.408 with 20 hits, six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last 21 games. Additionally, he's racked up only 19 strikeouts during that span.

Those numbers might not exactly leap off the screen, but compare them to what came before it, and you'll notice a sizable difference. In the 22 games prior to this current stretch, Moncada slashed .145/.250/.241 with only four extra-base hits and a whopping 40 strikeouts.

Interestingly, though perhaps not very meaningful, Moncada's stretch of increased success came after a day off and started with Michael Kopech's major league debut against the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 21. He homered that night, too.

And, as a quick aside, Moncada has only committed five errors since the beginning of July. So that's five errors in a two-and-a-half-month span after he committed 13 in the season's first three months. He still ranks fourth in baseball with 18 fielding errors on the year.

What about, though, the area of Moncada's game that the White Sox remain so high on, his eye at the plate? The team keeps talking up Moncada's mastery of the strike zone, using it as a kind of explainer for the high strikeout numbers. But are there walks to go along with that good eye?

Over his last 21 games, Moncada has walked eight times in 84 plate appearances. That includes a pair of bases on balls Tuesday night, one of which came with the bases loaded and forced in a run during an interesting ninth inning. In the prior 22 games, he walked 12 times in 97 plate appearances.

Before jumping to any conclusions from that, though, perhaps the smallish amount of walks could be Moncada doing what the White Sox want him to do and being more aggressive at the plate. That would be, maybe, a good sign that the strikeout numbers won't be quite as high in 2019.

General manager Rick Hahn was asked about Moncada's high strikeout total earlier this month and had this to say:

"That’s part of his game. And we try to evaluate players holistically, for lack of a better word, and that being based on everything they bring to the table and not just one element. I’m not going to tell you this guy is an impact player simply because he has power. And we’re certainly not going to disregard what a player can bring, in his case a substantial ceiling, simply because of strikeouts.

"Is the number higher than we would like? Absolutely. It’s higher than he would like. One encouraging part of it, though, is as you guys have seen him repeatedly take pitches on the borderline, some of which have gone against him despite their location, the kid knows the strike zone and that’s a tough thing to teach. If we have to teach him to be a little more aggressive earlier in counts when he gets hittable pitches that he’s looking for, we’ll take that challenge.

"This kid’s got a world of hitting ability, blessed with fantastic tools, power. The plate discipline’s one of the things that’s tough to teach, and he already comes with that. So the things that we do have to teach in order to decrease those strikeouts a little bit down the road, that’s a workable project."

Should Moncada's final 17 games look like his last 21, he probably won't break baseball's single-season strikeout record of 223 punch outs. He probably won't break the franchise record of 222, either. (In case you were wondering, that's Adam Dunn's record, set in 2012.) But he's still probably going to strike out at least 200 times during his first full season in the majors. The White Sox are confident such a campaign won't write the script for the remainder of Moncada's career, and there's plenty of recent precedent from some of the game's best young players to back that up.

A lot of strikeouts would probably be more palatable if Moncada's other numbers looked better. It's possible, should he keep this up over the campaign's final weeks, that his last roughly 40 games will make that a bit of a reality.

With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

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USA TODAY

With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

The White Sox starting rotation of the future won’t be complete until Michael Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery. It won’t be complete until Rick Hahn’s front office is done shopping this winter.

But what the team’s young pitchers, the ones throwing right now at the major league level, have done of late has to have everyone feeling good about the starting staff’s prospects in 2020.

Lucas Giolito called his most recent outing, a shutout of the high-powered Minnesota Twins, the “best I’ve ever felt pitching in my life.” Dylan Cease settled down nicely after some early struggles against the Texas Rangers on Friday and called his performance the best he’s had as a big leaguer. Reynaldo Lopez had to leave Sunday’s outing after just five innings, his days-old sickness a little too much to handle, but he didn’t allow a single hit before his departure.

All in all — and that includes recent strong showings from veterans Ivan Nova and Ross Detwiler, too — the rotation has a 2.09 ERA in the last seven games, five of which have ended in White Sox victories.

“We’re excited,” Lopez said through team interpreter Billy Russo after Sunday’s game. “This is a very, very exciting moment for all of us and for the organization.

“I think the expectations that you can have right now and that we have right now for the future are really, really high because we all know what we’re capable of doing. And if we’re just doing it right now, then it’s going to be just part of the process, just continuing doing what we’re doing right now.

“The learning process for all of us, for the young guys, has been outstanding. I think all of us have been learning a lot outing by outing and just putting those lessons on the field, too. It’s not just learning and, ‘OK, yes, learning this today and going to apply it in a week.’ No, you need to apply it right away and we’ve been doing that.

“I think you can see the results and for us as a group, it’s a very good moment.”

To those not so sure, there are perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical about the makeup of the 2020 rotation.

Lopez has been terrific since the All-Star break, his second-half ERA down to 2.82 after the five scoreless innings Sunday, but that doesn’t erase the woeful 6.34 number he had in the first half.

Cease has shown what everyone, including manager Rick Renteria, calls “electric stuff,” but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s got a 5.76 ERA and has allowed a homer in all nine starts he’s made since his promotion.

Giolito has been an ace but will have to show that his transformation from the guy who gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in baseball in 2018 into an All Star is permanent.

Kopech’s next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer and will come, at the earliest, nearly 19 months after his fourth. And while the White Sox remain confident, there’s no telling, until we see him in action, what kind of pitcher he is following the surgery.

And though Hahn has pledged aggressiveness this offseason, we don’t know what kind of pitcher the White Sox will be able to add this winter.

But all that can be effectively countered by what’s happening right now before our eyes.

“They continue to mature, grow, learn,” Renteria said. “It's not necessarily the outcomes, even though you want those good outcomes to occur. It's what they're feeling in terms of what they believe they're capable of doing in certain moments. They're starting to trust themselves a little bit more and able to execute and get through games.”

No matter what the White Sox front office does this offseason, it figures to have four 2020 rotation spots spoken for: Giolito, Lopez, Cease and Kopech. That’s 80 percent of a rotation made up of homegrown arms, or if you’re a stickler on the definition of “homegrown,” guys acquired in those rebuild-jumpstarting trades in 2016 and 2017.

With Giolito and Lopez dealing of late and Cease getting positive reviews while going through his learning process in his first taste of the major leagues, Lopez’s words ring true. There should be excitement and high expectations for next season. These young arms and what they’re doing right now, not hypothetically but in reality, is part of what makes a transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020 look possible.

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In midst of no-hit bid, Reynaldo Lopez leaves game with dehydration and flu-like symptoms

In midst of no-hit bid, Reynaldo Lopez leaves game with dehydration and flu-like symptoms

Reynaldo Lopez might have thrown a no-hitter Sunday. But his body had other plans.

The White Sox pitcher completed five no-hit innings against the Texas Rangers before departing, suffering from dehydration and flu-like symptoms.

Though Lopez surely isn't feeling good about that, White Sox Twitter breathed a sigh of relief when the team provided that update in the seventh inning. Fans speculated something worse might have been bothering Lopez after he was removed in the middle of such a successful outing with just 80 pitches thrown.

Lopez finished his start with no runs and no hits allowed, six strikeouts, a pair of walks and a hit batter. The five scoreless innings dropped his second-half ERA to 2.82. His season ERA sits at 5.08.

Though Lopez left the game, ending his no-hit bid, the White Sox still had a shot at a combined no-hitter. But that dream died quickly, as the first batter Aaron Bummer faced in the top of the sixth singled.

What this might mean for Lopez's next scheduled turn in the rotation remains unknown. The White Sox will throw Lucas Giolito, Ross Detwiler and Dylan Cease in the three-game set against the Minnesota Twins next week. They then travel to take on the Atlanta Braves next weekend.

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