The White Sox will close their season with seven games over six days starting with the first of three against Cleveland.
They’re in the familiar position of chasing symbolism instead of significance. If they can win three games, they’ll beat the 70-win projection the systems universally tagged to them, perhaps dragging down Cleveland in the process. If they undershoot that, they’ll have a chance of finishing with the No. 7 pick in the draft. I don’t see them rising any higher on that board, because Pittsburgh looks too toxic to turn it around.
None of that excites me, mainly because this is the seventh consecutive losing season, and top-10 draft picks have become the norm rather than silver lining. I find the individual pursuits more compelling, and there are a handful of them worth tracking over the final seven games.
Will the league leaders lead the league?
At .334, Tim Anderson holds a five-point lead over DJ LeMahieu, Christian Yelich and Ketel Marte for baseball’s batting crown. LeMahieu is the only one who can improve his position, as Yelich (broken kneecap) and Marte (stress reaction in lower back) are done for the year.
Anderson will qualify for the batting title midway through tonight’s game against Cleveland if he’s in the lineup. Anderson is 2-for-13 with three strikeouts against Mike Clevinger in his career, so perhaps the Sox will wait to qualify another day.
If he can hold his ground, Anderson would become the first White Sox to lead the American League in hitting since Frank Thomas‘ .347 in 1997. However, Thomas finished behind Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Mike Piazza for the overall title. Luke Appling is the only White Sox to lead all of baseball in batting average. He accomplished that feat when he collected the first of his two AL batting titles with a .388 clip in 1936. Of all the hitters so far mentioned, Anderson is the only one who doesn’t deserve/hasn’t received Hall of Fame consideration, which reflects why the batting title still has some prestige in the era of more indicative statistics.
As for RBIs, Jose Abreu holds a nine-run lead over Rafael Devers atop the American League leaderboard with seven games to play, but Abreu is one behind Washington’s Anthony Rendon in leading all of baseball. Dick Allen is the only White Sox to accomplish the former, leading the AL with 113 RBIs in 1972. The latter has never been accomplished by the White Sox, because Johnny Bench drove in 125 runs for the Big Red Machine for the MLB RBI crown. Billy Williams was right behind him with 112.
It’s an even more severe dynamic this time around. Of baseball’s top eight RBI men, Abreu is the only American Leaguer. Moreover, Abreu has the lowest home run total of of the group. I couldn’t tell you what Abreu’s crown would mean, but it’d be weird, and the great kind of weird that’s often in short supply for the White Sox.
Can Eloy Jiménez make it to average?
I’m guessing Josh is going to be right about Yordan Alvarez winning Rookie of the Year now that Alvarez has crossed the 81-game mark. He’s hitting .326/.422/.681 with 27 homers and 52 extra-base hits to Eloy Jiménez‘s .269/.318/.514 with 30 homers and 49 extra-base hits. The fact that Alvarez has played 36 fewer games is a point for him, not against him.
That said, Jiménez has redefined his rookie season in just three weeks with one simple trick: hitting .365/.407/.753 with eight homers and 23 RBIs over 20 games in September. He’s gone from an underwhelming regular with promise to an above-average corner bat. He’s at 1.8 wins above replacement in FanGraphs, and 1.4 WAR in Baseball-Reference. It’d be fun to see him either breach 2 WAR or round up to it, especially since he’ll have done so while missing roughly 40 games. I’d also like to see him hike that OBP to .323, which is league average.
Does it matter if he’s a shade below average in these regards? Not really. It just means that I’d need fewer words to describe his season in future posts. I didn’t say whose loose ends we were talking about in the headline.
Will the coaching staff return in its entirety?
Probably, because Rick Renteria said he believes it will, and the White Sox seldom disturb their non-playing personnel. If the White Sox are ever going to let a coach go, this is usually the time when we hear about it, and the Sox are still bad on all the margins where coaches are usually attributed (error counts, strike zone control).
How will the Sox start three games in two days?
The White Sox have Hector Santiago, Ross Detwiler and Dylan Cease lined up for the Cleveland series, which leaves some combination of Iván Nova, Reynaldo López and Santiago for the Friday doubleheader and Saturday games against Detroit.
I’m guessing you’ll see the last hurrah for Santiago’s rubber arm on short rest, which is a fitting way to close his third stint with the White Sox. His willingness to take the ball at any time is his defining quality, and the need to give Santiago so many desperate innings has been a hallmark of recent White Sox staffs.
Can Danny Mendick draw a walk?
Through 12 games and 29 plate appearances, Danny Mendick is staying afloat. He’s 9-for-29 with a homer and eight strikeouts, good for a .310/.310/.414. Curiously, he’s struck out in more than half of his plate appearances against left-handed pitching, while only fanning twice in 18 chances against righties.
Mendick is trying to be patient, as he’s swung at just 46.6 percent of pitches, which is in between Yoan Moncada and Yonder Alonso on the White Sox leaderboard. He’s also swung at just 57.7 percent of strikes, which is the lowest rate on the team. But even with that general restraint, he’s only found his way to one three-ball count in 29 tries. He’s just getting challenged, seeing a first-pitch strike in three of four plate appearances. He’s going to have to hit his way out of it, and so he’s doing fine in that regard.
Walk droughts — and specifically ones to open a career — have been a recurring theme for the White Sox throughout the decade. Mendick is only responsible for what he’s seeing and can’t control the context in which he’s operating. We’re the ones who have to deal with the bigger picture, but it’d also be great if Mendick separated himself from that particular past by getting a little separation between his average and OBP before the season comes to a close.