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.”

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”