CHICAGO -- For months now, Chicago White Sox fans have been hearing about their club's plans to create a brighter future with a lot of young men they mostly know from reading prospect rankings.
That changed Wednesday when Yoan Moncada morphed from theory to practice, making his Chicago debut on, of all things, "Game of Thrones" night at Guaranteed Rate Field. And the opponent was no joke: The high-flying Los Angeles Dodgers.
Moncada was picked up early in the day from the airport by first baseman Jose Abreu, whom he has known since he was 15 years old. As it turns out, Abreu and Moncada both hail from Cienfeugos, Cuba. In fact, the 22-year-old Moncada is young enough to have a bit of hero worship for Abreu, who is only 30 years old.
"I was glad to see him [at the airport]," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We got a chance to talk a little bit about everything. He was the superstar of our town and at that moment in Cuba, he was the best player in our country."
Manager Rick Renteria has learned his strategic locker assigning well, giving Moncada the stall smack between two veterans: Abreu and Melky Cabrera. There's a method to that, of course, with the goal being to find the right mentor for the young player. Similarly, young Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson was put next to Todd Frazier during his early time in the majors, until Frazier was dealt to the Yankees on Tuesday.
"The only thing I can tell him is just keep playing his game," Abreu said through the interpreter. "It's the same as it was when he was playing the minors. He has to first be more focused in the game. I'm going to try to help him as much as I can."
There's no doubt there was extra buzz to the early proceedings of Wednesday's game. The media horde was swollen about three-fold from its usual G-Rate size -- I'm sure there's a "Game of Thrones" analogy to be made here, but we'll skip it for now -- and the White Sox announced 5,000 tickets were sold after word got out that Moncada would be summoned from Triple-A Charlotte.
"The fan base is obviously very excited about what the organization is doing in general," Renteria said. "I think for them to be able to see one of the young men we were able to get in a trade, having him here with us, they are very excited to get a little taste of what the future is going to look like."
That made for a festive early few innings. When Moncada strode to the plate for the first time in the second, he got a standing ovation from his new fans. He fell behind 0-2 to the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda but worked his way back to a full count. The crowd rose to its collective feet as if the game were on the line and, when Moncada walked, it was the loudest cheer of the night.
Moncada went 0-for-2 with that walk before a monsoon halted things in the eighth and the game was called for a 9-1 Dodgers' win. The nine pitches Moncada saw in his first plate appearance were two more than he saw in any of his 20 trips to the dish during his audition last season for Boston. Both of Moncada's outs were well struck, a groundout to first and a hard liner to center that, had it found an opening, would have scored Abreu from second.
"I feel good," Moncada said, who added it felt like a second major league debut for him. "I didn't get any base hits, but I hit the ball hard. I executed my plan. I feel relief after that game, the first one. It's going to be good."
But those results were secondary. For both the White Sox and Moncada, this game was about the future ... and all of those touted prospects brought into the organization over the past couple of years who are expected to follow in Moncada's wake. Wednesday was only a taste; a little sample, like the ones they put out in the cheese department of Whole Foods.
The game also served as a kind of warning for all the excited White Sox fans. The Dodgers barely broke a sweat in their routing of the Sox which, again, is something screaming for a "Game of Thrones" reference. The Dodgers are very much where the White Sox hope to be at some indeterminate point in the future. But the path from here to there is long and rocky and fraught with pitfalls -- kind of like the Kingsroad in Westeros. (Finally!)
Someday, the White Sox hope we'll look back on Wednesday as the day their rise started. Make no mistake though, one look at the scoreboard tells you the length of the journey still ahead.
"I can feel the excitement," Moncada said. "And that's something that makes me feel happy. I just want to take advantage of it."
Nolan is rollin: Nolan Arenado enjoyed something of a career day in the Colorado Rockies' 18-4 shellacking of the San Diego Padres. I add the qualifier only because he has had other career days and is sure to have more in the future. Arenado, simply put, is one of the best players in baseball. He's a wizard at third base, where he ranks third among all defenders regardless of position with 17 defensive runs saved.
He's pretty good with the bat, too. Arenado went 5-for-6 with three homers and seven RBIs against San Diego. His 14 total bases tied a team record held by Larry Walker and Jeff Cirillo. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, only the Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz (107) has hit more homers than Arenado's 104.
Nolan going once!— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 19, 2017
Nolan going twice!
Nolan going three times! pic.twitter.com/ipXh6MApks
Arenado is a man of his context, of course. His five-hit, three-homer game was the third of the season -- the Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon and the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett also did it. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, there have never been more than two such games in any season since 1920.
There's also this: It was the 20th three-homer game in the 22 years since Coors Field opened. That's the same number Tiger Stadium in Detroit saw in 87 years of existence.
Coy Keon: It has been a terse, tight series this week between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, and that was certainly the case Wednesday. Milwaukee led 2-1 in the ninth inning when John Jaso made a bid for a tying homer. Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton made a fine leaping catch, then decided it would be a good idea to be coy on the subject of the ball being in his glove. Jaso didn't think it was a good idea.
The Pirates came back to win in 10 innings anyway when Max Moroff, who started the day hitting .152, singled home Josh Harrison. Pittsburgh has won the first three of the four-game series by a combined score of 11-7.
The Pirates have closed to within a game of .500, passed the St. Louis Cardinals for third place in the National League Central and are now only four games behind Milwaukee atop the division. It's hand-wringing time for the Brewers, who in less than a week since the All-Star break ended, have seen their lead over the Chicago Cubs shrink from 5½ games to 1½, and are now tied with them in the loss column.
Ho-hum, another Dodgers rout, yawn: With their blowout win over the White Sox, the Dodgers have won 31 of 35. The next-fewest losses by any other team in that span is 13, by the Kansas City Royals.
Meanwhile, Justin Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk a day after he quietly passed the threshold needed to qualify for the batting title. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, his MLB-best .372 batting average is the best a Dodgers hitter has had through Turner's number of plate appearances (296) since Duke Snider in 1954.
Turner's career trek is amazing. Through his age-28 season, he had a .684 career OPS. Now, at age 32, he leads all position players on the majors' best team in WAR. Not Corey Seager, not Cody Bellinger. Justin Turner.
They might be Giants: With his ninth homer in 11 games, the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton set the franchise record for home runs in July, per ESPN Stats & Information research. When you factor in the break, he basically did so in half a month.
Stanton now has 30 homers and is on pace to hit 52 this season. The New York Yankees' Aaron Judge also remains on pace to hit more than 50, though he hasn't homered since July 7. There haven't been two 50-home-run sluggers in the same season since 2007, when Prince Fielder and Alex Rodriguez did it.
Unfortunately, reaching 30 homers so early in the campaign did little to brighten Stanton's mood.
Tidbits: The New York Mets' Jacob deGrom has won seven straight starts, a feat also accomplished this season by Kansas City's Jason Vargas and little-known Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is working on a streak of eight straight winning starts.
Miguel Sano hit his 23rd homer in the Minnesota Twins' 6-1 win over the Yankees on Wednesday. It was his 66th homer in 285 career games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that's tied with Albert Pujols for the most homers in 285 career games among Dominican-born players.
Great showcase outing for Sonny Gray in the Oakland Athletics' 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Gray gave up two runs in 6⅓ innings and struck out six. He's 4-1 over his past five starts with a 1.62 ERA. Gray got a nice ovation from a home crowd that recognized it might be seeing his last outing for the A's.
Here's a scenario: The Mariners land an AL wild-card slot, start Felix Hernandez in the wild-card game and win. That puts James Paxton on the mound in Game 1 of a potential American League Division Series matchup with the Houston Astros. Paxton beat Houston on Wednesday and now has given up one earned run in 20 innings this season against the AL's best team. Am I overthinking this?