Post-Quintana sweep shows how rough life could be for 2017 White Sox after trade deadline

Post-Quintana sweep shows how rough life could be for 2017 White Sox after trade deadline

Very few folks gave the White Sox bad reviews for the Jose Quintana trade.

Rick Hahn’s front office shipped out the team’s best pitcher earlier this week in a shocking crosstown swap that sent the 2016 All-Star hurler to the Cubs in exchange for that organization’s top two prospects. From the standpoint of the White Sox rebuild, it was a stellar move, the latest from Hahn, who also brought huge return packages of prospects back in offseason deals involving Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

And more is expected. As the trade deadline approaches, several veteran White Sox have had their names brought up as trade candidates: third baseman Todd Frazier, relief pitchers David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak and Tommy Kahnle and perhaps even outfielder Melky Cabrera.

While the deals that have already happened and the deals that could follow have been great news for the farm system and the team’s future, the first series following the Quintana trade offered a grim picture of what things could look like after the team’s top performers are sent out of town.

Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the visiting Seattle Mariners ended a sweep at Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox 0-3 in their first three games after Quintana was traded.

Off the field, the White Sox have explained their feelings on Quintana’s departure: “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the business.” And surely they do feel that way. But on the field, at least the timing of these three results just didn’t look so hot.

“It’s always hard when we lose a teammate and a good person,” outfielder Avisail Garcia said. “But it’s part of the game. We’re here today. We don’t know tomorrow.”

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Of course, the White Sox were a last-place team when Quintana was traded, and the organization’s announced rebuild has been ongoing for several months. It’s not like dealing away the ace of the starting staff signaled some bold new direction that hadn’t already been understood.

But with Quintana dealt, trading season is officially on on the South Side, and that means manager Rick Renteria and his players have been answering questions about more rumors and more deals for the past three days. It means they’ll continue to get asked those questions for the next few weeks.

And to add to the visual, Quintana made his Cubs debut Sunday, turning in a spectacular performance, allowing just three hits and striking out 12 in seven shutout innings. That was vintage Quintana, the kind of performance that, albeit quietly, made him one of the American League’s top pitchers over the past several seasons.

“I haven’t sensed that the guys are down,” Renteria said. “Their friend, their teammate — who threw very well today, obviously, in Baltimore — they’re pulling for him. They know that the game of baseball has elements that not everybody likes. You would like everybody to be on the same team as long as possible, but change occurs and they’re pulling for him.”

That kind of pitcher no longer exists on the White Sox starting staff. The team is hoping one day soon that guys like Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech and others can lead a fearsome rotation. As of now, it’s a patchwork quilt of the guys we saw this weekend. James Shields gave up four runs and watched his ERA balloon to 5.10 in Friday’s loss. Mike Pelfrey couldn’t make it five innings in Saturday’s loss and now owns a 4.64 ERA. Derek Holland gave up five earned runs in Sunday’s loss, his ERA now sitting at 5.18 after blowing a 5-0 lead.

And what about in the bullpen? If Robertson, Swarzak and Kahnle all get traded, who's next in line? Chris Beck? He gave up the game-winning home run to Nelson Cruz in the 10th inning Sunday.

Again, these kinds of things were happening before Quintana was traded, and his absence alone won’t change a trajectory that already had the White Sox heading toward a last-place finish in the AL Central standings. But without him, the present-day positives become more difficult to locate, and the focus will increase even more on what’s going on down in the minor leagues, where the future of this team is growing.

As for the guys who will play the remainder of the team’s 2017 schedule, they have to continue to go about their business knowing that Quintana won’t be coming back — and that others are likely to follow him out the door.

“We wish Q the best, obviously. We’re talking about him leaving, and we saw him perform very well today, too, so you’ve got to give hats off to him,” Holland said. “But at the same time, we can’t get caught up in those kinds of things. We’ve still got to play the game whether we lose a guy or we gain a guy, whatever it is we’ve still got to show up every single day. To get caught up in something like that, it’s just not right. It takes away from your teammates, too, it shows you’re not focused.

“The outcomes (this weekend) didn’t go the way we wanted to. Look at how each game was, they were close. We’re doing the right things, got to keep plugging away. Things are going to change, can’t get caught up in that kind of stuff.”

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Willson Contreras wasn’t too thrilled with Anthony Swarzak’s final two pitches being called strikes, but for the White Sox reliever, that pair of perfectly-placed fastballs were the culmination of years of work. 

Swarzak earned his first career save in the White Sox 3-1 win over the Cubs in Monday’s Crosstown opener at Wrigley Field, retiring Javier Baez in the eighth and then pitching past Kris Bryant’s two-out infield single and Anthony Rizzo’s ensuing walk in the ninth. After home plate umpire Angel Hernandez rung up Contreras to end the game, Swarzak unleashed a yell that encapsulated the energy of the day — even though the White Sox, in snapping their nine-game losing streak, remain at the bottom of the American League. 

“I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time,” Swarzak said. “It’s nice that I went in there and got it done. You think about that moment for years and then it finally happens. You just are trying to take a step back and reflect on what just happened, and I’ll be able to come in tomorrow and be ready to go.”

While both teams paid lip service to the “it’s just another game” approach to Crosstown matchups, the crowd of 40,849 was electric. Third baseman Matt Davidson — who slammed a 476-foot home run in the eighth inning — remarked that Monday afternoon was the closest atmosphere he’s felt to a playoff game. Swarzak felt that same energy, too. 

“When you work really hard on executing and in the biggest situation, runners on against the Cubs, Wrigley Field, to be able to execute, that means that you’re working on the right stuff and you’re headed in the right direction,” Swarzak said. 

With David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle shipped to the New York Yankees last week, and Nate Jones and Zach Putnam out for the rest of the season, Swarzak should get more high-leverage opportunities going forward — that is, unless he’s traded within the next week. The 31-year-old Swarzak, who lowered his ERA Monday to 2.23 with a tidy 2.34 FIP, is one of the White Sox few remaining trade chips, but his success this year makes him an attractive target for a team vying for a playoff spot. 

If Swarzak is traded to a contender, he’ll pitch in plenty more high-leverage spots in front of charged-up crowds. Playoff baseball may be in his future, and Monday afternoon could prove to be a preview of what he’ll be up against over the final few months of the season if he indeed is traded. 

“Pitching the ninth inning is different,” Swarzak said. “Guys are more patient, they know what you’re going to throw, they’re locked in a little more. And that was just one. There’s a long list of career saves and I’m on the bottom of it. Hopefully I can get a few more opportunities and we can win some more games.” 

Where does Yoan Moncada fit in the White Sox lineup of the future?

Where does Yoan Moncada fit in the White Sox lineup of the future?

It may be fun to project what the White Sox lineup could look like in 2020, after waves of prospects land in Chicago and, potentially, the organization has splurged on a big-ticket free agent or two. But until those players make it to 35th and Shields, it's just a projection -- and even for the first hyped prospect to come to the White Sox, there's still plenty to figure out. 

Yoan Moncada is expected to be the centerpiece of that lineup of the future. But first, the White Sox need to figure out where in that batting order he’ll fit. 

After hitting sixth in each of his first four games since being promoted from Triple-A, Moncada hit second in Monday’s Crosstown opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It’s a tantalizing possibility to hit Moncada ahead of Jose Abreu or whatever middle-of-the-order hitters the White Sox have down the road, given the 22-year-old’s ability to put together quality at-bats and drive in runs. 

“I know he handles the bat very well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he’s showing he has some plate discipline. These are some of the things that were worked on and talked about with him. We’ll have to see how he continues to develop and where he’s at.”

Moncada’s speed and on-base skills could make him an intriguing leadoff. If his power continues to develop, he could hit third, fourth of fifth -- and if not, he still should be able to be a run producer hitting ahead of middle-of-the-order mashers. Or maybe the White Sox lineup in 2020 is so deep that he could hit sixth. 

It’s far too early to make any sweeping declarations about where Moncada could hit, of course. But the White Sox will have plenty of options, and have plenty of time to figure out which one of those will be the best. 

“He probably could be anything,” Renteria said. “Do I see him anywhere from the first to sixth spot in the lineup? Yeah, possibly. It would be very difficult for me to give you that assessment yet. 

“… Lineups the way they’re set up day, the way they’re configured, there are a lot of different variables people use, but certainly a guy with speed like that and if he can handle the bat, you can see him pretty much anywhere throughout the lineup.”