Reasons To Keep Watching

Bobby Winkles, the baseball coach who won three NCAA championships at Arizona State before managing the Angels and A's in the 1970s, tells the story about his near-miss at making the major leagues as an infielder in the White Sox organization in the 1950s.

Winkles had advanced all the way to Triple-A Indianapolis in 1959 when his manager, the old catcher Walker Cooper, summoned the young Winkles to his office.

"Bobby, there's only one thing keeping you from being a major leaguer," Coop said.

"What's that, Skip?" enthused the fledgling youngster. "I'll work on it."

"Your ability," said Cooper, and that was that. Winkles was finished as a player after that season.

Current White Sox manager Rickey Renteria conceivably could have a similar conversation with almost half his roster even though, because of rebuilding, all the athletes are wearing a Sox uniform with 19 games remaining in the season. Renteria is stuck basically with two groups of players: legitimate and wannabe major leaguers.

A reasonable place to begin is the pitching staff. After Dylan Cease's 3⅓-inning start against the Angels on Sunday, he along with Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Ivan Nova have been the starting pitchers in more than 68 percent (98 games) of the team's games this season. Giolito has established himself as one of the top pitchers in the game, while the other three have had their moments of competence.

Despite walking five hitters Sunday and throwing 88 pitches, miraculously Cease only gave up a first-inning run to the Angels as the Sox won 5-1.

How about the other 45 games in which a parade of pitchers - Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, Manny Banuelos, Carlos Rodon, Ervin Santana, Odrisamer Despaigne, Hector Santiago, Carson Fulmer and Ryan Burr - have toed the rubber to face the opponents' first batter? It's not a pretty picture.

The aforementioned gang of nine has covered almost 200 innings, the equivalent of one proverbial "innings eater." The only problem is that the combined ERA of these fellows, as starting pitchers, is an alarming 7.01. Any one pitcher giving up that many runs might be accused, as Walker Cooper told Winkles, of a lack of ability. He certainly would be eating his innings at a lower level.

Meanwhile, the quartet which has handled the vast majority of starting roles this season has a 4.60 ERA, which still is a few ticks above the 4.52 posted by all starting pitchers in MLB this season. Subtracting Cease from the mix, Giolito, Lopez and Nova have an ERA of 4.35.

Suffice it to say that the ballclub hasn't had an effective fifth starter - let alone a fourth - all season, a fact that partially explains why they currently stand at 63-80 in this Year Three of the rebuild.

Nevertheless, despite losing 10 of their last 13 contests while going 21-36 since the All-Star break, attractions worth observation remain between now and the end of the season. Two of those are focused on Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, who currently are leading the American League in batting and RBIs, respectively.

Temporary manager Joe McEwing - Renteria had surgery last Friday to repair a rotator cuff - rested Anderson on Sunday, giving the shortstop two consecutive days off given that the team is idle today before Kansas City visits The Grate for three games starting Tuesday.

Anderson, a .240 hitter last season, stands at .334, six points better than the Yankees' D.J. LeMathieu. Only free agent-to-be Anthony Rendon of the Nationals is hitting higher, at .337.

After missing about a month with a sprained ankle, Anderson returned to the lineup on July 30th and has raked at a .363 pace since. In that time over 165 plate appearances, the budding Sox star has walked a total of four times. Pitchers continue to give the guy something to hit, and he's missing less and less. Coming into this season, Anderson had struck out 26 percent of his plate appearances. He's lowered that to about 21 percent this season.

The last White Sox hitter to lead the league in hitting was Frank Thomas, in 1997 with a .347 mark. Prior to that, Luke Appling led in 1936 (.388) and 1943 (.328). In 119 years, that's it. Go Timmy!

Meanwhile, Abreu has been on a tear. In seven games this month, Jose has driven in 10 runs to increase his total to 112, five more than runner-up Raphael Devers of Boston. The Braves' Freddie Freeman leads both leagues with 115.

On Sunday, Abreu hit his third home run in the last four games. The blast that almost cleared the seats in left field was his 31st of the season. Abreu now has 600 RBIs for his six-year White Sox career. That's easy math. He also is within shouting distance of the 36 home runs, his career high, he hit as rookie.

Dick Allen stands alone with 113 RBIs in 1972 as the only Sox player who has led the American League in runs driven in. Stay tuned.

Giolito also is worth watching. He appeared to be headed for his 15th victory last Friday, exiting after seven innings with a 4-2 lead over the Angels. For just the second time this season with the Sox leading after seven innings, the bullpen wasn't able to hold on as Aaron Bummer and Alex Colome each gave up home runs in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively; the Sox dropped a 5-4 decision.

Giolito will get four more starts to try to improve upon his 14-8 record and 3.27 ERA, facing the Tigers, Royals, Indians and Twins. So far in 2019 in 12 games against these foes, Giolito has gone 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA.

Despite the lofty accomplishments of guys like Anderson, Abreu and Giolito, we're still talking about a team 17 games below .500. As mentioned, you can point a finger at the lack of depth in starting pitching, but there's not enough fingers on both hands to target the other deficiencies of this team.

Ridiculous baserunning was on full display last week. With the Sox trailing the Indians 8-6 in the ninth inning last Wednesday, our fellows loaded the bases with one out. Eloy Jimenez hit a screamer to dead centerfield that was headed for a bases-clearing drive until Oscar Mercado made an unbelievable over-the-head diving grab. Abreu could have crawled home from third. However, he was running with the crack of the bat, so the bases remained jammed as Ryan Goins fanned to end the game.

Abreu was apologetic afterward even though Renteria pointed out that his run was pretty much meaningless since the Sox were down by two. However, the play made the Sox look unprofessional and unprepared, while it also would have been helpful to see how relief pitcher Nick Wittgren would have reacted protecting a just one-run lead with the tying run on second.

On Saturday en route to an 8-7 loss to the Angels, Yoan Moncada's fifth-inning base hit scored Anderson from second as the Sox mounted a comeback. The routine throw from the outfield was cut off by Albert Pujols, who found Moncada foolishly halfway between first and second for an easy out. In a close game every out counts.

There have been many other gaffes on the bases, botched rundowns, and ill-advised throws from the outfield. Ballclubs can have players leading the league in hitting and RBIs, but without the mental acumen to minimize mistakes, along with questionable ability, you have a recipe for lots more losses than victories.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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