Showing posts with label Rick Renteria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rick Renteria. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jose Abreu becomes first White Sox player to hit for the cycle since 2000

Jose Abreu
What are the odds that slugging White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu will hit a triple in any given at-bat?

Not high, you say? Well, you are correct.

Abreu has appeared in 596 career games through Sunday, and he has made 2,582 plate appearances. He has 11 career triples, which means he triples once in every 235 plate appearances.

So, when Abreu stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night needing a triple to complete the cycle, I doubt too many people thought he would actually do it. His odds got even worse after he fouled a ball off his leg in that at-bat, and the game had to be delayed briefly while manager Rick Renteria and trainer Herm Schneider checked on him.

Wouldn't you know, Abreu got back in the box and lined the very next pitch into the right-center field gap. Sore leg and all, the race was on, and somehow the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Abreu lumbered into third base to complete the cycle.

He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs in the Sox's 13-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

I had the good fortune of attending Saturday's game, and it was the first time I've seen a Sox player hit for the cycle in person. That part is really not surprising, because cycles have been rare in club history. There are only six of them, and Guaranteed Rate Field isn't what you would call a triples park - with its short power alleys and symmetrical design.

Here are the other cycles in Sox history:

Jose Valentin: April 27, 2000 vs. Baltimore
Chris Singleton: July 6, 1999 vs. Kansas City
Carlton Fisk: May 16, 1984 vs. Kansas City
Jack Brohamer: Sept. 24, 1977 vs. Seattle
Ray Schalk: June 27, 1922 vs. Detroit

I think the Sox should give free admission to an upcoming home game to anyone who was actually alive when Schalk hit for the cycle.

As for Abreu, he continued his torrid hitting Sunday with two home runs in an 8-1 win over the Giants. The Sox took two out of three in the series after losing 9-2 on Friday night.

The .300/30/100 watch continues for Abreu. He's got 31 home runs now, so the "30" part is secure. He's at 90 RBIs, which means he needs 10 more in the remaining 20 games. The batting average sits at .302 entering Monday's action.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Avisail Garcia is hitting a lot of singles since coming off the DL

Avisail Garcia
White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia is second in the American League in hitting with a .322 batting average.

Who would have thought we'd be making that statement on Aug. 29? Garcia continues to perform well above his career norms -- he's a lifetime .272 hitter, and it's not a small sample size. By the end of the week, he will have 2,000 career plate appearances in the big leagues.

Garcia is not going to challenge for the batting title. Houston's Jose Altuve is well ahead of the field with a .356 batting average, but Garcia has been hot since he came off the disabled list Aug. 8.

In his past 16 games, Garcia is 25 for 58. That will pencil out to a .431 batting average. He has at least one hit in 13 of those 16 games. He has eight multi-hit performances, including three three-hit games.

But here's the thing about it: Most of Garcia's hits are singles now. Since coming off the DL, Garcia has only four extra-base hits. All of those are doubles, and the last one came two weeks ago on Aug. 13.

Garcia was sidelined for about two weeks with a sprained thumb, and it's amazing how injuries to hands, thumbs and wrists rob hitters of their power.

Credit Garcia for continuing to get base hits during this period where he likely is not 100 percent healthy, but it's unfortunate that this hot streak has produced only seven RBIs for him.

A modest suggestion for manager Rick Renteria: Flip the batting order and put Garcia third, ahead of Jose Abreu.

For the most part, Abreu has been hitting third, with Garcia fourth. Abreu has seven home runs since Aug. 12, but only 10 RBIs to show for it. The guys hitting first and second haven't been getting on base for Abreu.

Who has been getting on? Well, Garcia has. Put him before Abreu in the lineup, and maybe some of these Garcia singles turn into runs for the Sox, if Abreu can continue to drive the ball off the wall or over it with consistency.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lucas Giolito's first outing not 'excellent,' but respectable

Manager Rick Renteria overstated it when he called Lucas Giolito's first start with the White Sox "excellent." Nevertheless, there were several positives to take from the outing, even though Giolito and the Sox lost, 4-1, to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.

Here is Giolito's final line: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 Ks, 0 BBs, 3 HRs

Notice that I bolded the no walks. The quickest way to endear yourself to me as a pitcher is to throw strikes and get after people. I was satisfied that Giolito did that. He threw 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes, which is a ratio that is above league average. The Minnesota hitters might have beaten him, sure, but he didn't give anything away.

The other thing that stood out about Giolito is that he managed to survive six innings without anything resembling his best stuff. When he's right, the curveball is an out pitch for him. Based on my observations, and the postgame comments I've read, Giolito's curveball was nearly useless in this game. He had to rely almost exclusively on a fastball-changeup combination.

Of his 99 pitches, he threw 69 fastballs, 16 changeups, 12 curves and two sliders. He could not grab any strikes with his breaking ball, so he was relying mostly on fastball command.

And, for the most part, Giolito's fastball command was good. Unfortunately, he did make a few mistakes, and he gave up three home runs, all to left-handed hitters -- Jorge Polanco, Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario. Those homers accounted for all four runs allowed.

That's the thing about pitching in the big leagues: You gotta have something to get hitters off your fastball. It doesn't matter how good the fastball is, if they know it's coming, you better have precise location or you're going to get hit. On those three occasions, Giolito didn't have precise location, and he got hit.

In each case, he appeared to be trying to come inside and missed out over the plate. That's a teachable moment for pitching coach Don Cooper. He can show Giolito that and say, "If you're going to miss, miss in."

Hopefully, Giolito will be able to throw his curve for strikes next time he takes the mound. If he can, he might get away with a mistake or two with the fastball, because a few curves for strikes force the opponent to honor the breaking pitch. Last night, I think the Minnesota hitters just subtracted the breaking ball from their thinking and sat on Giolito's heater, which is good (91-93 mph) but not overpowering.

Despite the loss, Giolito showed plenty to earn himself another start, and it was nice to see, especially coming on the heels of Carson Fulmer's discouraging outing Monday night.

As Sox fans, we all want to see these touted prospects jump up and earn their place on the roster. Ideally, Giolito will show well enough to be in the big-league rotation in 2018. Even if the outing Tuesday was not "excellent," let's call it a good first step.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ill-advised bunt attempts get in the way of potential White Sox rally

Leury Garcia
Let me preface my comments on Tuesday's 5-4 White Sox loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks with this: There is a time and place to bunt and play for one run. (For instance, the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game.)

That said, I often see major league managers fall into the trap of giving away outs when they should not be playing for only one run. Sox manager Rick Renteria did just that in the eighth inning Tuesday, and it contributed to the Sox (20-24) dropping a winnable game.

The Diamondbacks brought Jorge De La Rosa in to protect a 5-3 lead in that eighth inning, and he fooled nobody. Jose Abreu homered to pull the Sox within a run. Todd Frazier walked and Melky Cabrera singled, and the Sox were set up with runners on first and second with nobody out.

That brought up Leury Garcia, who is not my favorite player, but the fact of the matter is he is hitting a respectable .288 this season. Thanks to a double switch, the pitcher's spot was due up after Garcia, followed by .182-hitting catcher Kevan Smith.

De La Rosa was laboring, so I liked Garcia's chances of doing something in that situation. Why give a struggling pitcher an out? And the Sox were moving toward a compromised bottom part of the batting order, so Garcia seemed as good a bet as any to come up with the hit the Sox needed. Unfortunately, Renteria called for Garcia to sacrifice bunt. After two failed attempts, he hit a weak grounder to third base. Now, that grounder did advance the runners to second and third, so it had the same effect as the bunt, but Garcia essentially gave away his at-bat. De La Rosa got an out he didn't earn, and some traction in that inning.

That brought up the pitcher's spot, and Avisail Garcia -- who did not start the game because of flu-like symptons -- was sent to the plate to pinch hit. Alas, first base was open. There was no way the Diamondbacks were going to face the .342-hitting Garcia in that situation. The intentional walk was issued, and Renteria's best option off the bench went to waste.

That brought up the right-handed hitting Smith, and gave Arizona manager Torey Lovullo a good reason to remove the left-handed De La Rosa. Lovullo did just that. He brought in right-hander J.J. Hoover. The Sox used Omar Narvaez to pinch hit for Smith, but Hoover struck him out. Then, he struck out Yolmer Sanchez to escape the bases-loaded situation and preserve Arizona's 5-4 lead.

The Sox did not mount a threat in the ninth against Arizona closer Fernando Rodney, so their best chance to score was against De La Rosa, who had nothing going for him out there. Unfortunately, Renteria did not give Leury Garcia a chance to take advantage of that. Instead, he managed the Sox into a situation where Lovullo had good reason to remove a struggling pitcher and replace him with a pitcher who had his stuff together.

Losing proposition for the Sox.

And, there was no reason for Renteria to want the game to be tied. He needed to get the lead in that spot, because the Sox are carrying 13 relievers and playing with a short bench. Starting pitcher Dylan Covey lasted only 2.1 innings in this game, and three Sox relievers already had been used by the eighth inning. Narvaez was the last position player available when he was used in the eighth.

This was not a situation where the Sox wanted to go to extra innings. They needed to win it in regulation, and by playing for the tie, they increased their odds of losing it in regulation. Lose it they did.

Frustrating loss.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

White Sox manager Rick Renteria admits he stuck with Mike Pelfrey too long in loss to Angels

Mike Pelfrey
White Sox starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey has made it through the fifth inning only once in his first five starts of the season. Once the opposition begins its third time through the batting order, Pelfrey falls apart.

Case in point, Monday's 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Pelfrey worked effectively through four innings, and the Sox (17-19) took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning -- thanks to a two-run homer by Jose Abreu and an RBI triple by Tyler Saladino.

But in the fateful bottom of the fifth inning, Pelfrey walked both Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa. Then, he gave up a long fly-ball out to No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado.

It was decision time for Sox manager Rick Renteria. Two on, two out in the bottom of the fifth, Sox up by three, Pelfrey clearly tiring, but one out away from being eligible for a win. Left-hander Dan Jennings was ready in the bullpen, and the Angels were sending their left-handed hitting leadoff batter, Kole Calhoun, to the plate.

Calhoun also represented the start of the third time through the batting order, which has been poison for Pelfrey all season.

What's your move, Rick?

He stuck with Pelfrey, and Calhoun hit a three-run homer on a 1-0 sinker to tie the game. The next hitter was the best player in baseball, Mike Trout.

Right-hander Anthony Swarzak was ready in the bullpen. What's your move, Rick?

He stuck with Pelfrey, and Trout hit a 1-2 splitter out of the park to give the Angels the lead. That's your ballgame. After the Trout homer, Pelfrey (0-4) was removed from the game. Some might say he was removed two batters too late.

Interestingly, one of the people who believes that Pelfrey was left in too long was the man who made that decision: Renteria.

“I thought Pelf gave us a nice four-plus innings,” Renteria said in postgame remarks on CSNChicago.com. “Really, he gave us enough to do what we needed to do. I had those guys out there ready to pick him up, and I didn’t. I went against my better judgment. We had (Dan Jennings) ready for Calhoun, and we had our righty (Swarzak) ready. So that’s not any of their faults but mine. At least it would have given us a better chance. I couldn’t guarantee that the outcome would have been what we wanted, but I think the matchups would have been better, and pretty much that’s it.”

Isn't that refreshing? No excuses. No blaming of the players. No "tipping of the cap" to the other team. Just an acceptance of responsibility from a manager who realizes that he left a pitcher in too long. Robin Ventura routinely made mistakes such as this as a manager, never learned from them, and never changed his ways.

That said, I can defend Renteria's decision to stick with Pelfrey. Just last week, I criticized the Sox manager for overusing Jennings in middle relief. We're in the middle of May. There's still a long season ahead, and you want Jennings and Swarzak healthy coming out of the bullpen for the duration. You can't run them out there every day just because starting pitchers are not doing their jobs.

For long-term thinking, it wasn't unreasonable to try to squeeze one more out from Pelfrey in Monday's game. But, for purposes of trying to win Monday's game, sticking with him was the wrong move.

Oh, and with those home runs by Calhoun and Trout, opposing batters are now 9 for 12 with two home runs, two doubles and a triple when they face Pelfrey for a third time in a game.

Ugly, isn't it?

Sooner or later, a starting pitcher needs to work into the sixth or seventh inning, and if he cannot do that, then he needs to not be here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jacob May gets second hit, then gets optioned to Charlotte

White Sox rookie Jacob May picked up his second major league hit and third major league RBI on Monday in Kansas City.

Too bad it was the only highlight for the Sox (13-11) in a lackluster 6-1 loss to the Royals, and for now, May's time in the majors is up. He was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the game.

The outfielder made the club with a torrid spring training, but he had a miserable month of April. He went 2 for 36 with 17 strikeouts in 42 plate appearances. And it wasn't getting any better. Despite the rare hit Monday night, May struck out in six of his eight most recent at-bats.

“He might have been a little overmatched,” Sox manager Rick Renteria told reporters Monday. “That’s just the bottom line. You want to make excuses for it. Might have been a little overmatched right now. He had a great spring, showed a lot of hard work, tenacity, even here going and working with the guys and trying to get himself back on track, trying to keep his confidence up. His energy has always been the same. It’s very consistent. He’s done everything for the work in the field and working with the guys in the cages and everything else we could have asked of him. He was doing everything he needed to do. Just things weren’t happening.”

No, they were not, and while it was worth giving May an early-season look, it's clear that he's not ready to play in the majors -- not even in a reserve role. We'll see if he can get back on track in Charlotte.

In the meantime, Willy Garcia has been recalled to take May's place on the 25-man roster.

Garcia, 24, has a slash line of .294/.395/.529 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 18 games with the Knights this season. He was up with the Sox previously from April 14 to 16 while Melky Cabrera was on the paternity list. He appeared in two games and went 2 for 7 with a double.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One thing White Sox manager Rick Renteria did Tuesday that I liked

The White Sox pounded the Kansas City Royals for the second straight night Tuesday, totaling 14 hits in a 10-5 victory.

There were a number of good offensive performances:
  • Todd Frazier had two doubles, a sacrifice fly, three runs scored and three RBIs.
  • Leury Garcia went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
  • Avisail Garcia had three hits, including a double, with two runs scored and an RBI.
  • Omar Narvaez reached base four times with two singles and two walks, plus two RBIs and a run scored.
The Sox finally solved Kansas City ace Danny Duffy (2-1), scoring six runs on nine hits off the left-hander in 4.2 innings.

But all that offense aside, I really liked how Sox manager Rick Renteria kept shaky starting pitcher Dylan Covey on a short leash.

In the ideal world, Covey would be continuing his development in the minor leagues right now. But as a Rule 5 draft pick, he needs to remain on the big league roster or be offered back to the Oakland A's. So, he's serving as the Sox's No. 5 starter for now, and predictably and understandably, he's struggling.

He needed 86 pitches to get through four innings Tuesday night. There was a lot of traffic on the bases while he was in the game: He allowed three hits, walked three and hit a batter. In that context, he's fortunate to only give up two runs in those four innings.

The Sox (10-9) were leading, 4-2, after four innings, and it had to be tempting for Renteria to send Covey back to the mound to try to complete the fifth inning and become eligible for his first major league win.

Wisely, Renteria resisted the temptation. Covey was laboring, so the Sox went to their bullpen. Dan Jennings (2-0), Anthony Swarzak and Nate Jones combined to keep the Royals (7-12) off the scoreboard for the next four innings. Meanwhile, the Sox lead swelled to 10-2 going to the ninth.

Chris Beck, who was recalled Tuesday after Zach Putnam went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, gave up three runs in the ninth to make the score look more respectable for the Royals.

But, one of the keys to victory was Renteria understanding that sticking with Covey any longer would have led to problems. The bullpen was rested after Miguel Gonzalez provided the Sox with eight quality innings Monday night, and using the relievers to secure that win was the correct move. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Matt Davidson makes case for more playing time

Matt Davidson
The White Sox leader in home runs and RBIs through 18 games is ... Matt Davidson?

Yes, that's correct.

Davidson went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and his team-best fourth home run of the season Monday, leading the Sox (9-9) to a 12-1 win over the Kansas City Royals (7-12).

The 26-year-old has 14 RBIs, which is tied for the team lead with Avisail Garcia, but Davidson has posted that total in only 40 plate appearances, while Garcia has 72 plate appearances.

Davidson has been the source of much consternation among Sox fans because he hasn't been playing every day. Before Monday's rout, Davidson had not started any of the previous four games.

I can at least understand manager Rick Renteria's logic. In those four games, the Sox faced a strong contingent of right-handed pitchers -- Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees, and then Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians.

None of those pitchers is a good matchup for Davidson, who has struck out 12 times in his 24 plate appearances against right-handers this season. The flip side to that argument? Davidson also has three home runs against righties, so perhaps he's hot enough right now that "handedness" doesn't matter so much.

Davidson was in there Monday against Kansas City left-hander Jason Vargas (3-1), and he laced an opposite field homer in his first at-bat. But perhaps his best swing came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he delivered an RBI double on the ninth pitch of an at-bat against Royals reliever Peter Moylan, who is a side-winding right-hander. Davidson fought off a couple tough 3-2 pitches, then found one that he could shoot into the right-center gap for a hit.

Later in the sixth inning, during which the Sox scored eight runs, Davidson hit a two-run single off the left-field wall that had an exit velocity of 110 mph. He hit the ball so hard that he couldn't make a double out of it. That one was off a left-handed pitcher, reliever Travis Wood.

The question for Renteria is this: Does he continue to spot Davidson in matchups that are favorable for him? Or does he take the training wheels off, throw Davidson in there against everybody -- even tough right-handers -- and find out whether this hot start is for real?

When I look at Davidson's slash line of .368/.375/.789, I can't help but think "small sample size." But the longer this goes on, the more calls we are going to hear for more playing time for Davidson. That especially will be the case if the left-handed side of the DH platoon, Cody Asche, continues to struggle. Asche is 2 for 35 and has yet to record an extra-base hit in 38 plate appearances.

We won't know Tuesday whether Renteria is going to change course. The Royals are starting their best pitcher, left-hander Danny Duffy, so that means Davidson is going to play. We'll see what the Sox manager does the next time the team faces a less-than-elite right-hander.

Speaking of right-handers, Miguel Gonzalez (3-0) continues to roll for the Sox. He went eight innings Monday, allowing only one unearned run on two hits. He struck out five and walked one, and lowered his ERA to 2.00 over four starts and 27 innings. He's been the Sox's best pitcher this month. Who would have thought that? 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Derek Holland continues mastery of Cleveland in 2-1 White Sox win

Derek Holland
White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is now 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA over five career starts at Cleveland's Progressive Field, after he tossed six shutout innings Wednesday in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the Indians.

Holland (1-1) limited the Tribe to only one hit -- a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the sixth -- while striking out four and walking four.

The 30-year-old veteran has a 1.50 ERA through 12 innings and two starts, and if you look at some of the pitch charts, it's clear that he's changed his approach after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness the past three seasons.

Based on my own observations, it has seemed as if Holland is throwing his curveball a lot more this season than he did during his time with the Texas Rangers, and this research conducted by our friends at SouthSideSox confirms my suspicion.

Holland is throwing his curve on 21.1 percent of pitches this season, as compared with 7.5 percent in 2016. He's also using more four-seamers and fewer sinkers. His sinker use has dipped from 58.9 percent of pitches to 13.9 percent, while he's using the four-seamer 29.4 percent of the time, as compared with only 1.4 percent last year. The use of the changeup and the slider has remained status quo.

Give credit to Holland for realizing he needs to make adjustments. His fastball is sitting at 92 mph, as opposed to his pre-injury 94 or 95. That two or three miles per hour can make a big difference, and sometimes a veteran pitcher needs to make some concessions to Father Time.

Is Holland's early success sustainable as the weather warms and the conditions become more hitter friendly? I don't know. We'll have to watch and learn.

As for Wednesday's game, the Sox offense was limited again, but Holland and three relievers made two early runs stand up. Matt Davidson's two-run single in the second inning accounted for the only Sox offense, and it was enough for a rare win in Cleveland.

Something to watch for in Thursday's game: Both closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have worked in three consecutive games. If it's a close game late, will new manager Rick Renteria have the restraint to not overwork Robertson and Jones, who could be valuable trading pieces for the Sox later in the year?

Renteria shouldn't be afraid to allow Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak to pitch. Even if the Sox were expected to contend, it's too early in the season to be going to the whip with the best bullpen guys on the club. Robin Ventura made that mistake last year, and despite early success, the relief corps crumbled with injury and ineffectiveness in May and June.

Soto to DL; Smith recalled

The Sox have placed catcher Geovany Soto on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Kevan Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

It's too bad for Soto, who was off to a good start with three home runs. (The Sox only have six as a team). It's also too bad for the Sox, as their already shaky defense behind the plate just got a little bit worse.

I saw Smith catch a few games during spring ball, and while he hit well in Cactus League play, let's just say he did not impress me with his receiving skills.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Monday, April 10, 2017

White Sox lose two out of three to Minnesota Twins

Avisail Garcia
The Minnesota Twins lost a league-worst 103 games last season, but they've surprised the American League with a 5-1 start this year. Minnesota starting pitchers have racked up quality starts in five of the team's first six games, and not surprisingly, all five of those games resulted in wins.

The Twins took two out of three from the White Sox over the weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are some observations from the series:

Friday, April 8
Twins 3, White Sox 1: If we're being honest with ourselves, we know the Sox are going to struggle offensively. They don't have much power, and they were limited to seven hits (six singles, one double) by Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (1-0) and two relievers in this loss.

Poor defense cost Sox starter Derek Holland (0-1) a gift run in the fourth inning. He tried to pick Robbie Grossman off second base and tossed the ball into center field, allowing Grossman to advance to third. The Minnesota runner later scored when Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped a shallow fly ball that was not nearly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly.

Grossman also scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a double by Miguel Sano. In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Eduardo Escobar bit Holland, as a double by Chris Gimenez off Sox reliever Nate Jones scored Minnesota's third run.

This game featured Rick Renteria's first glaring managerial mistake of the season. With the Sox trailing 3-1 after eight innings, he put Jacob May in center field in place of Leury Garcia -- presumably for defensive purposes. Naturally, May ended up at the plate after Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto drew two-out walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie, who is hitless through five games, was seemingly unaware that the previous two hitters had walked. He swung at the first pitch from Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and grounded out to second base to end the game. Fail.

Saturday, April 9
White Sox 6, Twins 2: The Sox executed pretty well offensively in the game, knocking Minnesota starter Adalberto Mejia out of the box early with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.

In both innings, the Sox placed a runner on second base with no outs. Both times, they brought the runner around to score. Tyler Saladino doubled to start the game, advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Tim Anderson and scored when Melky Cabrera grounded out to short with the Minnesota infield back.

Todd Frazier walked and stole second base in the second inning. Avisail Garcia did the right thing -- he looked to hit the ball to the right side -- and he drove one off the right-field wall for an RBI triple. Garcia scored later in the inning when the Twins botched a rundown off a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Soto.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-0) protected the lead through six innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Jason Castro in the sixth, but walked off the mound with a 3-2 lead. Garcia and Soto hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth to account for three more runs, providing the final margin of victory.

Garcia finished a double short of the cycle. He went 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

Saturday, April 10
Twins 4, White Sox 1: Again, the big hit was lacking for the Sox. They had 11 runners reach base and stranded 10 of them. The good news: They took five walks and had one man reach on an HBP. The bad news: They had only five hits, and all of them were singles.

The lineup had no punch against Minnesota's best pitcher, Ervin Santana (2-0). The right-hander went six innings, and he allowed only two hits.

Sox ace Jose Quintana (0-2) pitched much better than he did in the home opener. He had his typical quality start, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. Alas, he left with the Sox trailing 2-0, and had nothing to show for a respectable effort.

Minnesota increased its lead to 4-0 in the eighth when Sano got a not-high-enough fastball from Jones and knocked it over the center field wall for a two-run homer.

The Sox had their chance in the bottom of the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Minnesota reliever Matt Belisle. But, Matt Davidson basically struck himself out by swinging at a Belisle fastball that was up and out of the zone. It was a rally-killing at-bat, to say the least.

Kintzler entered the game and plunked Avisail Garcia with a pitch to the give the Sox their lone run, but then he struck out Yolmer Sanchez, who flailed helplessly at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

One area the Sox must improve: They need to cut down on their strikeouts. They are letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the zone in RBI situations. It's a long-standing problem, and part of the problem is they need to get better players. Davidson and Sanchez likely will never be good hitters at the big-league level. But in the meantime, Renteria and his staff need to preach more patience at the plate.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Observations from the first White Sox game of 2017

Jose Quintana
White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana has a reputation for being able to keep the ball in the yard, but he couldn't do it Tuesday.

The Detroit Tigers hit three home runs off Quintana in the first game of the 2017 season, accounting for all their runs in a 6-3 victory over the Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Detroit scored five runs in the top of the second inning, three on a homer by JaCoby Jones and two more on a homer by Nick Castellanos.

Quintana uncharacteristically failed to put hitters away -- Jones hit his home run on a hanging curveball on the seventh pitch of the sequence, and Castellanos hit a fastball out on the sixth pitch of his at-bat. The two long balls turned an early 1-0 Sox lead into a 5-1 deficit.

Detroit's Ian Kinsler added a solo home run in the fourth inning to complete the Tigers' scoring.

Obviously, Quintana's rough outing and Detroit's home run power were the difference in the game, but here are a couple early observations on new Sox manager Rick Renteria's lineup construction:

1. I like that Tyler Saladino is batting leadoff. The second baseman reached base three times Tuesday, going 2 for 4 with a pair of singles, a walk and a run scored. The Sox do not have an ideal No. 1 hitter on their roster, but for the time being, Saladino represents the best choice. He's been in the league for a year and a half now, he has some speed, and it doesn't seem as if he'll change his approach based upon where he hits in the lineup.

2. I'm glad Renteria resisted the temptation to put rookie Jacob May in the leadoff spot. May was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts Tuesday in his big-league debut, although he did collect his first RBI on a groundout in the ninth inning. Past Sox managers (Ozzie Guillen, cough, cough) would insist upon putting a slap-hitting speedster at the top of the lineup, even if that speedster has a low on-base percentage, strikes out a lot and shouldn't be getting the most at-bats of anyone on the team. In May's case, he should be batting ninth until he gets acclimated to facing major leaguers on a daily basis. Tuesday, he was right where he belonged: batting ninth.

3. That said, I'd like to see Tim Anderson batting a little lower in the lineup for the time being. He strikes out too much to be batting second, and he went 0 for 4 with three Ks in Tuesday's opener. The strikeouts all followed the same pattern -- Anderson fell behind in the count and ended up swinging and missing for strike three on fastballs up and out of the zone. I hope Anderson doesn't get the label of "can't hit it, can't lay off it" when it comes to high fastballs, because that is not a recipe for success. He can ask another ex-Sox infielder who was once highly touted about that (Gordon Beckham, cough, cough). I'd rather have Anderson hit sixth right now. Move Melky Cabrera, who had two doubles off Justin Verlander on Tuesday, up to the No. 2 spot. The good news for Anderson? That high fastball is not a strike, so he doesn't need to be able to hit it. He does, however, need to discipline himself to not swing at that garbage.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jose Quintana: Still with the White Sox, but hasn't been named Opening Day starter

Jose Quintana
CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes tweeted Wednesday that the White Sox still have not made a decision on their Opening Day starting pitcher. Manager Rick Renteria wants folks to "give him a few more days."

This is unusual, because if you take a look at the Sox's roster, there is no debate about who should be starting the home opener. Jose Quintana is a proven All-Star left-hander, easily one of the top 20 pitchers in the game, and probably top 15. Then, the Sox have four other guys in the rotation. There is substantial drop-off from Quintana to Carlos Rodon and Miguel Gonzalez, and then another drop-off to James Shields and Derek Holland.

So what's the delay in naming Quintana the starter for the first game? There must be something blowing in the wind on the trade market. The only reason for Renteria to start any other pitcher besides Quintana on April 3 would be because Quintana is no longer on the team.

Jeff Passan, Yahoo's MLB columnist, weighed in on Quintana's situation Wednesday, but there's nothing more to his report than the same things we've been reading from the Sox beat reporters all spring: "White Sox scouts are everywhere. They are willing to deal Quintana, but only for the right price, etc., etc. etc."

The teams mentioned as possible suitors are ones that we've been hearing all along -- the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Passan correctly notes the market for front-end pitching is bleak beyond Quintana. He says sources tell him that Milwaukee's Junior Guerra, who enjoyed a breakout season as a 31-year-old rookie (!) in 2016, is the next-best starting pitcher who might be available after Quintana.

And, the market might not be much stronger when we get to the middle of the season. Perhaps Oakland's Sonny Gray gets healthy and rebuilds his value. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays fall out of the race and become more willing to deal Chris Archer. Perhaps not. Even if the Toronto Blue Jays falter, Quintana still would be a more attractive options for a contender than Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.

The Sox are biding their time, hoping to get the deal they want, and gambling a little bit that Quintana will remain both healthy and effective until they make a move. The club's inability to commit to Quintana as the Opening Day starter makes it clear to me that there's something going on, but somewhat amazingly in this day and age, whatever is going on has been kept under the radar -- even from well-connected national baseball reporters such as Passan.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rick Renteria impresses with answers to fan questions at SoxFest

Rick Renteria (center)
I went to SoxFest this past weekend without much enthusiasm toward the rebuilding project that is just beginning on the South Side of Chicago.

Guess what? I'm still not excited, but after listening to new White Sox manager Rick Renteria talk this weekend, I feel a little better knowing he will be the man leading the team through a 2017 season that is almost certainly going to be trying and ugly at times.

Renteria has been talking all week about doing things the "White Sox Way," so I stood up in the seminar room Friday night and asked him to elaborate on what the "White Sox Way" is, and to provide me with some examples of the things he wants to do differently than what we've seen in the past.

First, Renteria praised me for asking a good question, then he gave a detailed, specific and thoughtful response. He talked about the need for players to play with maximum effort  -- back up bases, run hard out of the batter's box, etc. He talked about how it was his responsibility to hold players accountable for actions they take or don't take on the field. He talked about the importance of improving in several small but key areas, a better two-strike approach at the plate, better base running, understanding situations in the field, hitting the ball the other way when the situation calls for it -- all things that seemed to be lacking during the Robin Ventura Era.

The paragraph above is just a Cliff Notes version. Renteria spoke for about five minutes after I asked my question, and he gave similarly detailed responses to other questions posed by fans. It was a welcome change from previous SoxFests.

Some other highlights from the seminar room:

1. General manager Rick Hahn said repeatedly that all the prospects acquired in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades are expected to start the season in the minor leagues. He added that the Sox still are actively looking to make more moves before the season begins, with the goal of stockpiling as much young talent as possible. Hahn noted that a deal fell apart for him on Christmas Eve, so yeah, all that Jose Quintana-to-the-Yankees stuff around the holidays probably had some validity to it. It just didn't happen.

2. A fan astutely asked Hahn whether he would try to include the declining and overpriced James Shields in a deal with one of his assets. How would that work? Say Hahn wants to trade Quintana. He could go to a team and say, "You guys want Quintana? Well, you gotta take Shields and his high salary as well." Under such a scenario, the Sox would get less return in prospects for Quintana, but they would be off the hook for Shields' bad contract. Hahn said he would not do that under any circumstance, because his goal is to acquire top young talent, and throwing a liability such as Shields into a trade would defeat that purpose. I was happy to hear Hahn say that. We won't have a repeat of the Mark Teahen situation with Shields.

3. Both Friday night and Saturday morning, fans asked Hahn and Renteria about the role sabermetrics play in decision-making. Renteria said there was no shortage of information for he and his coaches to digest, but I was most impressed when he noted that numbers represent outcomes, and while they can be instructive, it's important to stay ahead of the curve by looking at more than just the past. Renteria noted that he has to trust his eyes and his gut, as well, beyond just absorbing the numbers, and there needs to be an understanding of what individual players can and cannot do in certain situations. Good answer.

In summary, Renteria's words, of course, are merely that. He has to produce results on the field, as well, but he gave the die-hard fans at SoxFest reason to believe he might be the right man for the job.

That's no small statement coming from me, because I was skeptical when Renteria was hired, and critical of Sox management for not conducting a more thorough search.

And, hell, I'm still skeptical, but I'm at least a little more open to the direction they are going based upon what I heard from the new manager over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some numbers behind Robin Ventura's pitching mismanagement

Robin Ventura
The gripes are all too familiar. We made them routinely for all the years Robin Ventura was managing the White Sox.

He left his starting pitchers in too long, and once he did go to the bullpen, he misused his relievers. He'd use the same reliever three, four days in a row, sometimes even five days out of six. (Remember Addison Reed in August 2013?) He'd used five relievers to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning, and he was a slave to "handedness"  -- always needing to bring in a left-handed pitcher every time the opponent sent a left-handed batter to the plate.

With that in mind, an article that appeared on South Side Sox this morning interested me, because it pulled out some notes on the Sox from the 2017 Bill James Handbook. These numbers were cited in the article, and they confirmed what we suspected about Ventura all along:

  • The White Sox were one of three teams to use three different relievers 20 times on consecutive days. Those three relievers, not surprisingly, were David Robertson, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings. I complained about the overuse of Robertson and Jones at different points during the season. The Sox would have been the only team with four such relievers had they not traded Zach Duke midseason. The left-hander had 17 appearances on zero days' rest with the Sox, plus nine more such appearances once he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Is it any surprise Duke had Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season? 
  • Ventura led the American League by using relievers on consecutive days 128 times, and no other manager was even close. James also noted that Ventura led the league in "slow hooks" for the fourth consecutive year and "long outings" for a second.
Indeed, it's not an accident that Ventura presided over four straight losing seasons. We all know the front office shares in the blame, but the manager exacerbated the problems by not properly handling the pitching staff. Should we be stunned the Sox bullpen had injury problems this year? Of course not. Should we be stunned that some pitchers, most notably Robertson and Matt Albers, got worse the second half of the year? Of course not.

The question is whether anything will change in 2017, with bench coach Rick Renteria now elevated to manager, and Don Cooper still entrenched as the Sox pitching coach. These are the same guys who were Ventura's top lieutenants in 2016. Are they smart enough to see that this was a problem?

Friday, October 14, 2016

New White Sox manager Rick Renteria's coaching staff will feature familiar people

Joe McEwing
If you were hoping for significant changes to the White Sox coaching staff this offseason, prepare to be disappointed.

The only hope I have is that new manager Rick Renteria was allowed to make his own choices with regard to the coaching staff. I have no evidence one way or the other, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't suspect that these selections were made for him.

In any case, third-base coach Joe McEwing has been promoted to bench coach, taking the role vacated by Renteria when he accepted the job as manager. McEwing, 44, served as third-base coach for each of the five seasons Robin Ventura was manager. He also managed in the Sox's minor-league system for three seasons. He has been with the organization for nine years.

The McEwing move, of course, creates a need for a new third-base coach, a role that will be filled by Nick Capra, who had been serving as the team's director of player development. Capra has been in that front office role for five years, but he also has been the minor-league field coordinator, the assistant director of minor-league instruction and the minor-league hitting coordinator. Before that, he managed in the Sox's system for 10 seasons. Capra, 58, has been with the organization for 21 years.

Minor-league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler will replace Bobby Thigpen as the team's bullpen coach. Hasler, 51, has been the minor-league pitching coordinator for six years. He pitched in the Sox organization from 1987 to 1991, and he pretty much never left. He's been a pitching coach or coordinator somewhere in the organization for the past 25 years.

Don Cooper will return for his 30th year with the Sox and 16th as pitching coach. Hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks also return. Daryl Boston remains as the first-base coach.

The organization men have been shuffled around a little bit, but basically, the gang is still all here -- except for Ventura. Typically, you'd expect bigger changes after four consecutive losing seasons, but as we've learned, that's not the Jerry Reinsdorf way.

Monday, October 3, 2016

White Sox introduce Rick Renteria as manager at uninspiring press conference

Rick Renteria (center)
Sunday wasn't your typical Game 162. At the last home game of the season, win or lose, White Sox players usually come out of the dugout and interact with the fans before everyone leaves the stadium for the final time.

That didn't happen after Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins. It seemed like something was up. Sure enough, Robin Ventura announced immediately after the game he would not be returning as manager for the 2017 season. He called his departure "a personal decision," and added that he believes the organization would benefit from a change in the manager's chair.

"I enjoy this place," Ventura said. "I love this place. At the end, it probably needs a new voice … and I have to be big enough to understand that and go down and voice that."

Fair enough. I agree with Ventura on that, but here's the thing: The Sox turned around Monday and hired bench coach Rick Renteria as their new manager at a press conference that didn't exactly get me fired up for the 2017 season.

Is Renteria really "a new voice" considering that he's been around all year as a coach during this disappointing 78-84 campaign?

Here's a few other takeaways from what we've heard these past couple days:

1. It seems as if Ventura fired himself: General manager Rick Hahn said Monday that Ventura approached team brass about a month ago, saying it would be best for him to step aside at the end of the season. It was at that point that the wheels went in motion for Renteria to take charge. OK, so why was it leaked to the press last week that Ventura could return if he wanted?

If everyone is on the same page, as Sox brass claims, then this should have been handled much more smoothly. It's concerning that the first person to realize the Sox needed a managerial change seemed to be the manager himself. If this is actually how it all went down, then Ventura essentially fired himself. Give him kudos for being the only person in the organization with the courage to take decisive action. The higher-ups in the front office either aren't on the same page, or don't have the wherewithal to make changes when necessary.

The lack of leadership here is alarming.

2. It's disappointing the Sox did not conduct an outside search: Renteria is not an unreasonable choice. He has previous manager experience with the Cubs, and as Hahn notes, he has some other selling points -- a good reputation around the game, a good work ethic, a track record of developing young players, an ability to communicate with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking players, etc. Hahn said if Renteria were to hit the open market, he would be a candidate for other open managerial jobs. I do not disagree.

However, how can the Sox be so certain Renteria is the best man for the job when they haven't interviewed anyone else? You don't know what could happen in the next 7-10 days, or in the next month, with comings and goings around the league, or changes as a result of what happens in the playoffs. There's no way of knowing who might or might not be available without asking questions, and having a thorough search and interview process. The Sox just aren't doing that for reasons I don't fully understand.

I would be more comfortable with the Renteria hire if he had emerged as the top candidate after an interview process involving multiple people.

3. Neither Hahn nor Renteria tipped their hand about the Sox's offseason direction: Hahn was asked directly during the press conference about roster changes and whether Renteria would be given a good enough team to compete immediately. He declined to answer, again reiterating that everything is on the table, and that he would not be telegraphing the organization's plans before he starts making whatever offseason transactions he's going to make.

Renteria was asked whether there is any direction the front office could be taking that would make him uncomfortable managing the team. He did not take the bait, saying that his job as manager is to get the best out of the players he is given, whether it's a veteran group or a younger team. It was an artful dodge by Renteria, to say the least, and no doubt that will endear him to Sox brass.

Taking a guess, I'm expecting the Sox to go for it 2017. I could be wrong. I've been famously wrong before. But owner Jerry Reinsdorf has never had a long-term rebuild in his playbook, and I can't imagine he would change now at age 80. Not to mention, if the Sox were going to start a full-blown rebuild, shouldn't that process have begun at midseason this year? I believe so. The Sox opted to stand pat, so until I see otherwise, I'm anticipating they are going to add to the core that's in place this offseason with the hopes of righting the ship next season. We'll see.