In a normal season, the 50-game mark is around the time where teams start shifting away from ideas that aren’t working. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, by the time 50 games rolls around, most of the teams are working toward aligning their rotations for the postseason.
The goal remains the same: addressing deficiencies. But now, upgrading is only possible if key players return from the injured list at full strength. Perhaps Evan Marshall only received a sanctioned 10 days of rest, but it’s harder to feel great about Aaron Bummer and Carlos Rodón parachuting into important situations from their 45-day IL sequesters.
With no time for plugs, it’s more about combing over the bald spots, and we saw one new path from Rick Renteria when he batted Nick Madrigal in the second spot on Sunday. Madrigal is an ideal ninth hitter in a deep lineup, but when three different starters are mired in quicksand, the hitters slotted behind them risk becoming an additional casualty if they can’t come to the plate as often as the other good hitters. You’re better off stacking the best bats 1-6 to ensure they all get more at-bats than the guys you definitely don’t want to see, even if it results in too many righties in a row.
Renteria’s most effective solution for the DH spot is playing both his catchers, which he might be more willing to do regularly once the postseason starts because there’s no long game to play anymore. But beyond that, he’s got a handful of other players to evaluate over the last week of the regular season in terms of what they might be able to contribute to the postseason.
Dylan Cease: He has one more start to change minds, but there’s a low ceiling on his ability to convince doubters for the remainder of the season. The stability of his mechanics feels like an inning-to-inning proposition, or maybe even batter-to-batter. The low end of his spectrum is “an ugly three,” while the high end of his spectrum is “an ugly five.” I don’t see him leap-frogging Dane Dunning unless injury strikes. That’s not saying Dunning is secure himself, but he’s allowed to stumble in the final week because it’d be his first. Reynaldo López might also be a better option for a couple of innings if Cease can’t right himself.
Tim Anderson: The White Sox said he departed Sunday’s game with a mere hamstring cramp, and they should hope so. Leury García admirably covered for one Anderson absence, but with García hurt, Danny Mendick already exhausting his own patch powers and Yoán Moncada permanently day-to-day, the infield can’t really take on additional strain, be it literal, figurative or anatomical.
Edwin Encarnación: When the White Sox signed Encarnación, I set my expectations for a decent home-run total surrounded by eroding production. I didn’t expect it to look as warped as it does. Encarnación has 10 homers in 37 games while batting .164. Those 10 homers makes him worth rostering, because he showed on Sunday that he still has the strength to take 95 low and away out to the opposite field. That’s useful for situations where the White Sox’s hopes are down to one big swing. He just can’t turn on even average velocity anymore, so there’s no reason to plop him in the middle of the order against guys who can keep 95 belt high and above.
Nomar Mazara: Unlike Encarnación, I’m not sure how Mazara can do damage. He’s got a better average because he doesn’t have Encarnación’s pop-up problem, but there’s no real rhyme or reason to the pitchers or pitches he can punish, which makes him all the more perilous to play if he can’t heat up. Sure, he homered off Trevor Bauer, but Jerry Owens took Roy Halladay deep. Quantity is more important than quality in both cases, and when Adam Engel is doubling him up in that column, it’s easy to wonder what the White Sox are chasing.
Luis Robert: He drew two walks and broke a six-game strikeout streak on Sunday, which indicates awareness that his extreme aggression led him into a dead end. At the same time, little of his contact is being hit to the pull field, which gives the impression that he doesn’t have a lot of conviction when he does swing. I’m skeptical he can strike a balance this season, so I’m more or less Renteria treats him like a defensive specialist, where he bats seventh or lower and everybody hopes he brings the great glove to the table.
Garrett Crochet: Speaking of sure swings, the Reds looked better in the box after seeing Crochet a second time, although Crochet still threw a scoreless inning. He’s only been used in low leverage situations as Renteria attempts to better understand what he has. Ideally, Renteria probably wants a bullpen deep enough to avoid thinking about using Crochet on consecutive days, or in situations where one bad pitch can ruin the game. His talent can be transcendent, though, so I’m interested in seeing how Renteria manages this particular temptation, if any registers.
(Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
What about Moncada? I guess the easy answer is play him, bat him down in the order, and hope for the best. I did like the move of moving Madrigal and his great contact up to the two spot.
Given his situation, there’s nothing particularly instructive about this week. It seems like it’s about crossing fingers, hoping he has good days when they could use them, and batting Madrigal ahead of him/Yolmer if he doesn’t have it.
I think the 1-3-4-5 positions are the only one secured (Anderson-Abreu-Grandal-Eloy or Anderson-Abreu-Eloy-Grandal). The 2nd spot is Moncada’s to lose. It all depends how he is doing physically, but Rentaeria will likely use him in the 2nd spot during the playoff because even a diminished Moncada is still an above average player. Renteria has used Grandal batting 2nd when McCann is catching and Moncada batting 5th
So I guess, for the play off lineups will depend on whether Renteria goes 2 catchers or 1 catcher :
Just curious: why does Moncada slide to #5 in the 2-catcher set if Encarnacion/McCann are #6 either way?
I like the 2-catchers lineup best—and I like Moncada at #5—but I’d sub in Engel for Mazara.
Even though Engel has proven to be more productive than Mazara this season, I bet Mazara stays in the lineup just because he is a left-handed bat. Other than the switch-hitting Moncada and Grandal, all other projected starters are right-handed, I believe. And traditional line-up construction would suggest that you want a 3rd lefty to break up the line-up and create match up problems for the opposition. I’m not sure how effective that strategy is when the lefty is not much of a threat, but I suspect that’s what we will do.
Renteria has used Moncada in the 5th spot when having McCann and Grandal in the lineup.
Wouldn’t hate flipping Madrigal and Anderson if they’re comfortable with it. Also fine putting Grandal, Abreu and Jimenez in whatever order 3-5. Like Jim said, they need to get their best guys clumped together in the first 6 spots and that means those five plus McCann hitting 1-6.
Tim Anderson is batting leadoff today,. Ideally, that means his hamstring is not going to affect him.
I’m excited to see Crochet over these next couple, hopefully few, weeks. He seems like he’s got an outside chance of being a 2005 Bobby Jenks-type presence for the playoffs.
Colome, Heuer, Foster, Marshall and Bummer make him less necessary than Jenks, but with Marshall and Bummer coming back from injury, it puts just enough pressure on the Heuer/Foster duo that it’s all too easy to imagine Crochet moving from luxury to fireman in a hurry.
Am lifting up a glass for the plugs…comb over…bald spot troika. Nicely done.
Funny thing… I thought of Trump when I read that.
Hope it’s not soon, but Moncada sure deserves a recuperative off-season….