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Not Irrelevant

Rebuild, baby, rebuild. If this is what it looks like, the White Sox should have done it years ago.

Led by strong starting pitching, a near-perfect bullpen, and timely late-inning hitting, the Sox surprised a lot of people possibly themselves included by taking two road series' last week in Cleveland and Minnesota to raise their season record to 6-5.

How can this be?

Past performance indicated that Jose Quintana is a premier pitcher who most probably will be traded before July 31 for a bevy of prospects. Yet Quintana was tagged for five runs in the second inning on Opening Day when Detroit beat the Sox 6-3, and the lefty was torched again for five runs last Saturday in the very first inning at Minnesota as the Sox bowed 6-0.

Sandwiched between was a strong outing against the Twins to close out the Sox opening homestand. Nevertheless, Quintana was the losing pitcher in that game, exiting in the seventh inning of an eventual 4-1 defeat.

While Quintana stands at 0-3, the trio of James Shields, Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzalez - clearly not a threesome anyone thought capable of striking fear in the minds of American League hitters - have a combined 3-1 record with an ERA of 2.29.

Coupled with a bullpen statistically ranked number four in all of baseball prior to Sunday's 10-inning 3-1 win against the Twins, one can begin to take note of this early success of Rick Renteria's ballclub.

Over 37-plus innings, the bullpen has a 1.43 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .190 against Sox relievers.

Just think where the team might be if the Sox could only hit. They have scored just 40 runs in 11 games with a team batting average of .220. Both are in the bottom five of MLB.

Along with the two final innings of the Sox 2-1 victory over the Twins on Friday, the Sox went 19 innings without scoring in Minnesota yet won two of three. Ervin Santana hogtied them Saturday for the second time this season, and the South Siders seemed destined for another tight defeat on Sunday, trailing 1-0 going into the eighth inning. But Matt Davidson's sacrifice fly tied the game in the eighth before Avi Garcia's two-run bomb over the right field wall won it in the 10th.

Talking about Garcia, he's on fire, leading all big league hitters with a .465 mark. His 20 hits also are tops. This space last week was devoted to an assessment of Garcia's future with the Sox. I doubt whether the Beachwood is high on Avi's reading list, but, wow, it seems as though he is responding to the challenge of advancing his career toward the huge upside acknowledged by most observers.

Garcia's four hits on Sunday came amidst a lineup missing Melky Cabrera - he was with his wife awaiting delivery of the couple's fourth child - but including rookie centerfielder Jacob May, who is now 0-for-21 in his major league debut, along with another rookie, catcher Kevan Smith, who is hitless in seven at-bats. Renteria rested shortstop Tim Anderson with his .140 average, while Jose Abreu is limping along at .186. It was no wonder that the Sox were scoreless over the first seven innings.

Nevertheless, this has been a refreshing team to watch over the season's first two weeks. Third baseman Matt Davidson has had to fill in for Todd Frazier, who has been battling the flu. Davidson is the guy who came to the Sox for Addison Reed prior to the 2014 season in what heretofore had been a bum deal for the Sox. Davidson's propensity for striking out has mostly relegated him to the minor leagues ever since coming to the Sox organization, but that may be history for him. Davidson had a decent spring training (.241 BA with three homers and eight RBI) and has continued to hit despite whiffing in about half of his plate appearances.

Davidson clubbed a three-run first-inning homer on Thursday as the Sox scored five times en route to a 10-4 triumph. He homered again on Friday in Minnesota, leading off the seventh inning to give the Sox a 2-1 lead which relievers Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam, Nate Jones and David Robertson preserved. And Davidson's sac fly on Sunday enabled the Sox to get the game into overtime so that Garcia could win it.

Other happenings last week included the first time in baseball history that a team started three outfielders with the same last name. Because of Cabrera's absence, Willy Garcia, a former Pirate prospect, was summoned from Charlotte. He joined Leury Garcia in center and Avi in right. Willy belted a double in his major league debut although he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Chances are Willy Garcia will return to Charlotte as Melky comes back for a three-game series starting at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. The TV camera caught Renteria with an arm around the newest Garcia, no doubt reassuring him that he very well could be back on the South Side in the near future.

The presence of Renteria seems to be having a positive effect on this team. Everyone runs hard to first base whether the ground ball is routine or a tough play in the hole. He is showing patience with May while at the same time giving Leury Garcia a chance to play center field or a middle infield position.

After Willy Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez singled to lead off the top of the seventh on Sunday, Renteria instructed Kevan Smith to bunt. He had lefties Omar Narvaez and Cody Asche on the bench as possible pinch hitters to face righthander Matt Belisle. More than a few managers might have played that percentage.

Smith popped up a bunt attempt for the first out; May flied out; and Leury Garcia grounded out to end the threat. Why ask someone (Smith) to do something he's not capable of doing? Yet a check of Smith's minor league record discloses that over his career he has, indeed, successfully bunted a dozen times to move over runners.

I'm confident that Renteria knew that Smith, if not exactly Rod Carew, had bunted successfully in the past. It just seemed unlikely to see a 6-4, 230-pound catcher try to square around and bunt. In the end, things turned out well. Smith simply failed to execute.

Renteria also was seen complimenting Shields when he came out of the game on Sunday.

Quintana, after giving up the five runs in the first inning on Saturday, settled down and pitched into the sixth. Again, Renteria was caught on camera talking to Quintana, in Spanish no less, no doubt pointing out that Jose saved the bullpen from needless work.

From a fan's observation, compared to the low-key Robin Ventura, Renteria appears to be more engaged with his players. All of them are getting playing time. While a guy like Anderson hasn't started to hit, his defense has been outstanding. Renteria should get some credit for keeping his fellows confident and focused on the present as opposed to what they can't change.

The sample size is small, but at least the White Sox at this point are not irrelevant. Let the rebuild continue.


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

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021