As we pass the midpoint of the summer and look to the fall, all of Chicago’s major sports teams are either in training camp, about to start camp, or in the case of our baseball teams, getting ready for their immediate future. Or not. The White Sox are like a cab that lost a wheel in a pothole on the Dan Ryan, sitting around waiting for help to arrive.
A couple miles up the road at Soldier Field, the Bears have burned through half of their preseason and played their first string offense a total of nine plays and gained four yards. For more on them, here is a link to an article I wrote last week, in case you missed it, for the Last Word on Pro Football:
Winners to the North…
Some of these teams operate without a care in the world. The others, like the Blackhawks and Cubs are in a perpetual state of self evaluation, using all of their might, against the economic constraints of their league’s and a player acquisition process that penalizes success in favor of parity.
The Bulls and White Sox are the careless downtrodden, gaming the system that rewards failure and…tanking. The Blackhawks and Cubs are the recent champions and dynastic builders, trying to improve their teams, railing against the system for another run at glory. Yes they too were once the downtrodden, but more because of their greedy ownership was busy counting money while the seats were always filled. Those owners didn’t know anything about team building or evaluating talent.
The Cubs were sold high, and the Blackhawks mercifully passed to the son that had pride in the team and the city. Both new owners remembered the past and romanticised what winning would bring. They have both accomplished what was once thought impossible…dynasty building! The problem with winning on a large and frequent scale is maintenance. Both team Presidents John McDonough and Theo Epstein aren’t content with just the playoffs anymore. They will go as long and as hard as they possibly can to push their general managers, personnel departments and coaches to pursue championships. So while the Cubs listen to their fanbase, and kick over almost every rock in search of people who will help them win another World Series title.
The opposite is true on the south side.
The White Sox are setting all kinds of records this season. Just none of the good kind. They have been on pace since the end of April to set the franchise record for futility. Considering the Sox have been around over 120 years, this year’s version being the worst ever, is saying something. I’ve never cared for Rick Hahn, the Sox GM, I met his father once, that’s all it took. Story for another time.
I have been indifferent about Ricky Renteria, their coach, but this season he’s been an absolute jackass. He clearly seems to favor, or have a soft spot for the latin players on the team, while sluggers like Matt Davidson languish on the bench. Hahn is clearly not paying attention or being extremely hands off. Either that or he takes a lot of naps, and is working on his golf game, like another Rich I know.
While the GM sleeps, Renteria has been acting like a clown, having a fake tantrum and mistakenly accusing shortstop Tim Anderson of not hustling, when his line drive was clearly caught before he even stepped out of the box.
Now it has caught my attention that the young superstar Hahn delivered, and Renteria is trying to develop, could possibly set the major league and team record for strikeouts in a season!
Second baseman Yoan Moncada is leading the major’s in strikeout’s with 169 right now, putting him on pace to break the major league season record of 223, set in 2009 by Mark Reynolds. When I went to look at the White Sox webpage, it said Dave Nicholson set the team record of 175 in 1963. But I knew that wasn’t right, so I looked at Adam Dunn’s career stats, and ESPN said that Dunn had more than 175 three years in a row, topping out at 222 in 2012.
Now I remember those years and what then coach Robin Ventura did for Dunn was hold him out of a few games. When Dunn spoke up and felt slightly embarrassed about not playing, for fear of holding a bad record, Ventura re-inserted him and let Dunn take his cuts like a man. Ventura knew the type of person Adam Dunn was, everyone associated with the Sox loved him when he was here. And Ventura being the great guy that he was, and holding a bad record himself, cared enough to try and spare the big guy some embarrassment.
So what’s Ricky Renteria’s excuse with Moncada? Renteria when pressed on the matter said it’s part of the process, and he was content to keep putting him in the lineup. He doesn’t want Moncada to lose his aggressiveness, he said.
In the last few days Moncada, who is batting .132 since the all-star break, was dropped down to 8th in the order this past Friday.
“To give him a break,” Renteria said, further adding, “we’re going to give him a little breath as opposed to sitting him and not playing him. Have him watch other guys go about their business.”
After hitting a home run and striking out twice on Saturday, Moncada was moved up to bat 6th on Sunday and struck out two more times. On Monday he struck out two more times again, and on Tuesday in Detroit, alerted the Sox training staff that he was having pain in his teeth. He finally didn’t play, even though he made it to the ball park in time, after having the first half of a root canal procedure. Renteria said, “he was available if I needed him.”
But on Wednesday he was back in the lineup to go 0-4 with three more strikeouts before receiving the 2nd part of his root canal in Detroit on Thursday, an off day. By the way he’s 23 years old. Got to eat a lot of candy and take pretty bad care of yourself to have a root canal at 23. I know, I had one a few years ago.
Have the Sox been monitoring Moncada at all? Do they speak to him and ask him how he’s feeling. Do they perform exams on their own players? And I’m sorry, give the kid a day off between procedures for crying out loud, which Moncada probably was.
If he’s hitting .132 the last month, give him a few days off anyhow. A lot of organizations would send down a player in that spot. The Sox are just content to let him struggle for weeks to a month at a time. By the end of the week Moncada was back in the leadoff spot, 175 strikeouts and counting. And this years White Sox are on pace to strikeout more than any team in their history.
Instead of being aggressive at the plate like Renteria wants, they should try looking at some pitches and try to discover what strike zone pitches look like.
Only the Bulls
The Bulls will open camp soon after drafting Duke center Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison a small forward from Boise State. The Bulls matched a $78 million contract offer for Zach LaVine and signed Jabari Parker away from Milwaukee for another 20 mil a year. They also signed guard Derrick Walton Jr. away from Miami. A lot of basketball people now feel that the Bulls have the best, under 23 years old, core in the league.
They might have the largest group of talent under 23, but Philadelphia’s base is the best in terms of high ceiling talent. The problem the Bulls are going to face is piecing together units that will play together first and play defense second. Head Coach Fred Hoiberg faces a huge task in finding the right combinations of players that will play together. Many media people including Dave Kaplan of Sports Talk Live and ESPN Radio are already guessing Hoiberg will become a scapegoat soon after New Years.
Investing the bulk of their payroll into two players like LaVine and Parker, who said, “They don’t pay me to play defense!” has a lot of risk. LaVine himself graded out on ESPN’s defensive plus/minus metric 441st out of 468 players. Ruh-Row Freddie!
The city itself is like the plus/minus metric, with the dividing line represented by the Eisenhower expressway: Cubs on the north or plus, Sox definitely minus for now, and the Hawks and Bulls tetering in the middle, just a couple blocks north of minus.