Astros, Guardians will require White Sox to find a second strength

The standings alone say that this is going to be a challenging week. Four games against the Astros, who have the American League’s best record at 75-43, are followed by three games in Cleveland against the Central-leading Guardians, who have won nine of 13 games in August.

Adding to the difficulty? The White Sox are facing teams with the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. Houston is tied with Washington with the second-lowest K rate at 19.6 percent, and they’re beaten only by Cleveland at 18.3.

As a pitching staff, the White Sox have the seventh-highest strikeout rate in baseball (23.9 percent), but in a battle of strength against strength, the White Sox’s strength is weaker. Only the Colorado Rockies have struck out less frequently against Sox pitching than the Astros and Guardians, but that sample size is two whole games.

TeamRecordK%
Guardians5-818.7
Astros1-219.2
Everybody else53-4624.7

Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn were able to lead a stat-padding effort against Detroit over the weekend racking up 39 strikeouts against five walks over the three games. They only faced 103 Tigers in total, so that’s a 37.9 percent strikeout rate during the weekend. Despite the dominance, the White Sox won each game by only two runs, and each final score reflected the closeness of the game as it unfolded.

Now here come two teams who have whiffed half as frequently. If 38 batters come to the plate on average over the course of a game, that’s an extra seven or so balls in play each night, which is a lot when you consider the quality of the White Sox defense, and all the positions you’d rather not see tested on a regular basis.

The problem with the White Sox is that they don’t have an auxiliary strength to fall back to when the primary source goes out. They walk their share of batters, but don’t walk much themselves. They yield homers at an average rate, but their HR/FB rate is the fourth-worst in baseball (with three other Central teams below them). They have the third-worst defense in the American League according to Defensive Runs Saved. They hit for average well enough, but without walks, extra-base hits and stolen bases, it’s empty.

That’s why hustle — or the lack thereof — has come to the forefront, even among people who might ordinarily regard it as eyewash. Running hard on routine plays may only come into play 3 percent of the time, but when you’re losing in every other category, the missed opportunities on the margins stand out more than they should.

Likewise, that’s why it was disproportionately refreshing to see the White Sox rewarded for max efforts that might have ordinarily gone overlooked.

On Saturday, José Abreu put himself in position to score the winning run by legging out an infield single, then tagging up from first to second on a deep fly. He barely made it safely to second if he was safe at all, so every foot counted.

On Sunday, Andrew Vaughn picked up a go-ahead RBI for a third straight game because he did his damndest to beat out a double-play ball. Unlike Abreu’s plays, his hustle alone didn’t determine the success. It required cooperation from Tigers first baseman Kody Clemens, who dropped a stretchable-but-catchable ball, but Vaughn went from being out by two steps to logging an RBI because double plays can’t be assumed.

After the game, Vaughn, who offered the most support for Johnny Cueto after Cueto openly questioned the White Sox’s fire, seemed to take some satisfaction with the lesson, because he didn’t think he was safe when he ran through the bag.

It came as a surprise to Vaughn, who thought the inning was over.

“That’s why the helmet was on the ground,” said Vaughn with a wry smile. “I was running as fast as I could, I didn’t hear anything. Just trying to beat it out and didn’t think I did. I was frustrated in that situation, work on it all the time. Try to get the ball in the air.” […]

When asked if there was a difference between this weekend and previous games played, Vaughn responded: “Big time.”

There are two problems with emphasizing hustle, fire, effort, or whatever other labels are slapped on it. The first is that it should there should always be an adequate supply, even when accounting for players who might not be able to give 100 percent 100 percent of the time. If the White Sox aren’t guilty of excessive loafing, then they’re guilty of fielding an excessively injured roster.

The second is that it all sounds so … quaint when you see a team like the Houston Astros come into town. The White Sox aren’t the Mighty Ducks or the Little Giants, a team that can topple Goliathes if they just work hard and work together.

The hope is that the White Sox don’t resemble such underdogs as the week unfurls, and there’s reason to think it’s possible. The starting pitching works. The bullpen works, especially when Reynaldo López is off the injured list and still looking worthy of high-leverage cameos. The offense, while still not cohesive, has more working parts with Vaughn, Eloy Jiménez and AJ Pollock all on hot streaks.

Or, all these strengths and assets are merely mirages made possible by the ineptitude of the 2022 Detroit Tigers. Ideally, we’d have a better idea of what the 2022 White Sox actually are after 115 games, but it’s led to a week where the 116th, 117th, 118th, 119th, 120th, 121st and 122nd games might be among the season’s most instructive.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Wayne

It will be very interesting to see how this week plays out.

a-t

I don’t have a great feeling about this upcoming stretch. Which is mostly connected to their two best position players being sidelined. Would be nice if Pollock really has finally woken up, but he might also just have been feasting on crappy left-handed pitching.

a-t

Small unrelated nugget from a week ago: Bowden says that Pito is expected to re-sign w the Sox this offseason, to the shock of precisely nobody

soxfan

The only immediately identifiable solution to the various areas of substandard performance is improve the outfield defense by starting Engel in CF, Pollock in one corner, and rotating Jimenez, Vaughn, and Sheets through the other corner, DH, and/or 1B if Abreu gets a day off this week. If we start two of Jimenez, Vaugh, and Sheets in the outfield it’s going to be a long week. If Grandal plays DH or 1B it’s going to be a long week. Engel is far from an offensive star, but neither Grandal nor Sheets’ bats justify sitting his glove, and there’s room for everyone else in the lineup.

texag10

Should Sheets even be on the major league roster right now? He is brutal defensively and while he can hit righties, he’s not great at it. I guess the problem you run into is, who gets his spot?

soxfan

No, he probably shouldn’t be on a major league roster right now. Of all the guys he’s competing for playing time with, he only hits righties better than Engel, he doesn’t hit lefties at all so he’s very susceptible to a pitching change, and he plays the worst defense of the bunch (a very low bar that he still can’t get over).

As Cirensica

Sheets is quasi passable against RHP. He should never face a LHP. And like you say, who else do we have? We have Adam Haseley. That’s it. Haseley is a better fielder, but Sheets is a better hitter. So both cancel off. Maybe Haseley is more valuable if the White Sox didn’t had an OPS problem, but they do.

upnorthsox

I wouldn’t even say he’s a better hitter, more power potential maybe. That’s it.

soxygen

This is sort of a corollary to the premise of the article, but there are times when I wonder why Vaughn or Sheets is at DH and Abreu is 1B. If Abreu loafs, which he sometimes does, the retort is invariably “yes, but he’s so durable!” But then I think, yeah, but where else do we have so many capable backups? Abreu is literally the easiest player on the roster to put at DH because both Sheets and Vaughn are capable defensively, but it seems like the team just lets him play 1B because he prefers it, even when he might be too hurt to run the bases…which just seems silly to me given the options but he’s the captain so I guess that’s how it works. Meanwhile, Sheets is at RF and Enge is sitting on the bench. But who knows, maybe Engel is unavailable?! And around and around we go.

As Cirensica

Yeah but….oh nevermind

soxfan

Welp

Joliet Orange Sox

Welp? With Robert unavailable, I think this is the lineup we all pretty much expected with Urquidy (RHP) starting for the Astros. Engel, Zavala, and Sosa are on the bench. I hope the Sox have a lead late so we can see Engel as a defensive replacement.

Just John

My goodness. Have you ever seen a slower 1-5?

soxfan

I’ve played softball, so yes.

As Cirensica

Very dour Jim. Very truthful too. This is the game where Cueto’s words apply the most. And I am not talking about the fire thing. I am talking about the preamble:

“WE CAN’T GET COMFORTABLE. WE NEED TO GO OUT AND PLAY AND PLAY HARD AND SHOW WHAT WE CAN DO,” 

I have seen that within this White Sox team. They played a weak opponent, win some, score some games, and then the next day they can’t hit at all, they look lethargic. The stupor of winning could create a Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner effect.

Greg Nix

My spider sense is telling me that the Astros are about to make the White Sox look very bad. Hope I’m wrong.

texag10

Thankfully mlb.tv’s blackout restrictions prevent me from having to see whatever happens.

soxfan

FWIW (probably not much), ESPN Analytics has the Sox has slight favorites in 3 out of 4 games and a slight dog in the 4th.

As Cirensica

ESPN does not know the White Sox even exists. This analytics algorithmic gimmicky must have a glitch or something.

Foulkelore

Maybe they overcorrected for always forgetting the 2005 White Sox by always plugging that version of the team into their algorithm.

GrinnellSteve

538 has the Sox as slight underdogs in all 4 games. Coin flips, really.

Root Cause

If the starters keep pitching as they have as late, we are in it. Offensive and defensive toughness is the question. Either they fight and scrap for wins this week or they roll over and play dead. This is the defining week of the year.

Last edited 3 months ago by Root Cause
Qubort

I hope they go 4-3 over the stretch. It’d be nice to see an actual win streak after sweeping the Tigers, but realistically this team isn’t that good and hoping to keep their heads above water seems the most hopeful.

soxygen

“If the White Sox aren’t guilty of
excessive loafing, then they’re guilty of fielding an excessively injured roster.”

Couldn’t have said it any better…It makes it really hard to discuss what we see!

I’ve mentioned this instance before, but there were a couple of games (against Texas ? maybe back in early June) when Robert was really loafing on the bases and in the field. It was bad enough that Steve told a whole story about Bobby Cox benching young Andruw Jones for loafing shortly after Jones came up to the bigs. After the game, TLR was giving an injury update on the various maladies and said in a not-very-convincing way something like “…and Robert, I guess he has a leg thing.”

Anyhoo, it has been frustrating this season because we often seem to have guys on the active roster who are unavailable. But then we have guys who are available and who maybe have been sanctioned for loafing (and BTW we can’t be totally sure that the training staff and coaching staff are communicating on that). Then we also have players who are loafing sometimes who easily could have been put at DH but weren’t. Is that because everyone else is hurt and has been sanctioned for loafing? Or is it because there is a failure to communicate between the player, the training staff, and the coaches? We don’t know.

The good news, I guess, is that we can argue among ourselves about it! The bad news is that people who root for the same baseball team end up arguing with each other over things that no one can really know the answer to, which underscores the silliness of the entire enterprise of the fan comment fields. People who don’t know arguing with other people who don’t know. C’est la vie.

Alfornia Jones

I think their lack of hustle has been a factor in their shitty season, right behind their:
1) inability to hit HR’s
2) inability to provide quality RP two days in a row
3) inability to draw BB’s
4) inability to play defense
5) inability to get XBH’s
6) inability to run the bases

They aren’t going to beat the Stros or Yanks beating out infield hits.

This group reminds me of the 2001-2004 teams, except they achieve mediocrity differently. Those teams could score runs, but couldn’t pitch or play defense. This team needs a big shake up just like the 04 team.

a-t

The Twins have now also been victimized by Vinnie Pasquantino, down 2-0 after 1. They’ve lost 5 of 6… shame that Cleveland is surging, but Minny’s collapsing pitching is still worth cackling at.

Twins pitching thru June 25: 3.79 ERA (11th), 4.06 FIP (18th)

Twins pitching since June 26, when it was announced their pitching coach Wes Johnson was leaving for LSU: 4.55 ERA (25th), 4.35 FIP (24th).

Last edited 3 months ago by a-t