White Sox took advantage of simple sequences in comeback against Astros

With every terrific White Sox win comes the question of whether the White Sox have turned a corner.

A sweep of the Detroit Tigers, followed by an inspiring late-game rally in the opener against the Houston Astros have Monday, would kinda be what it looks like, at least when accounting for the absences of Tim Anderson and Luis Robert. The pitching has been sturdy, and while the offense is still sputtering, it’s more competent and capable of stringing together productive plate appearances for crooked numbers.

After 4½ months of mediocrity, though, I’ve mentally tabled the idea of corner-turning and have steeled myself for a meat grinder to the pennant. With only two games separating three teams, the pursuit is more micro than macro. What did the White Sox do today? What did the Guardians and Twins do today? Then repeat.

If I were trying to identify a potential turning point, I wouldn’t have confidence in giving Monday that particular stamp, because at the heart of the White Sox’s eighth-inning rally were some really curious pitch selections by Rafael Montero.

Montero faced five batters and didn’t retire a single one, and when you look at his pitch mix, it appeared like he was mailing it in. Or almost using it like a spring training appearance. Sequencing took a back seat to executing the same pitch over and over again.

Andrew Vaughn saw five pitches, and all were fastballs outside. The second one was a couple inches off the plate, but Chris Conroy called it a strike, much to Vaughn’s chagrin.

Vaughn had to be on guard for a wide plate, but Montero didn’t really indulge the luxury afforded to him by exploring a vulnerability to inner-half stuff. Instead, he kept hammering the outside corner with heat. In his defense, when his fourth attempt blew by Vaughn’s bat at 97 to even the count at 2, maybe he and Martin Maldonado didn’t want to risk speeding up his bat with something slower.

Joke’s on them, because it turns out that Vaughn is a gifted enough hitter to eventually figure solve one problem presented to him on loop.

Eloy Jiménez also saw the same pitch three times. Montero threw him all sinkers, but the mode of attack was a little more nuanced, at least from the results.

Jiménez swung at all three pitches and whiffed at the first two, including a first-pitch two-seamer that ran several inches inside. Montero then got a swing under a high sinker, although Maldonado again called for one running inside.

Montero then returned to Maldonado’s mitt in Jiménez’s kitchen, throwing nearly an exact duplicate of the first one that tied Jiménez up so severely. This time, Jiménez pulled the hands even further in and kept the resulting batted ball fair.

Thanks to all manner of injuries, we’ve only caught fleeting glimpses of the well-rounded hitting ability that made Jiménez a consensus top-five prospect. In most cases, you’d rather not have a guy expanding the strike zone three to four inches toward his person, and Jiménez’s first swing looked like one from a guy whose plan was easily exploitable or nonexistent.

The third swing looked like a guy who knows how to set up a pitcher, the way Miguel Cabrera homered on pitches no other hitter could keep fair. We’ve seen plenty of Miguel Cabrera over the years, and Jiménez is no Miguel Cabrera, but his scouting reports have likened the two before. From 2019:

For as long as he’s been a prospect, Jimenez has projected as an elite hitter who can hit for average and power. Five seasons into his minor league career, he’s done nothing to dissuade evaluators in that regard. He has at least double-plus power to all sectors now, and he hit a system-best 22 home runs in 2018. He has shown he can hit the ball out to all fields. His coiled lower half and rubber band-like takeaway in his swing remind some evaluators of Miguel Cabrera. He also shows an impressive knack for learning how pitchers plan to attack him, and then adjusting to the strategy within the same game. These qualities should allow Jimenez to be a plus hitter with plus-plus power.

If you can’t count on Jiménez to develop above-average plate discipline in the traditional sense, then the next best thing is a Jiménez whose plate coverage combines with an understanding of how he’s being attacked to make fans give him the benefit of the doubt with his decision-making.

Speaking of taking: To cap it off, here’s Montero walked Yasmani Grandal on six pitches, all of them changeups. Grandal didn’t swing at any of them.

Why did Montero take such a shy approach to Grandal, when Grandal hasn’t been thumping pitches of any sort, and has especially struggled with velocity? Beats me. I’d imagine the White Sox were similarly stumped, in the sense that it should’ve been more complicated.

Anyway, that walk to Grandal loaded the bases and forced Montero to throw pitches in the zone to Yoán Moncada. He threw 97 down the middle, Moncada lined it to center, and the White Sox scored a sorely needed win in a series that doesn’t get any easier from here.

Then again, the White Sox were the last team to beat Justin Verlander this season, and with Dylan Cease taking the mound on their side, they’re particularly well equipped to keep breaking brains.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
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.

Articles: 3728
20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
HallofFrank

I’m not interested in calling this a “turning point” because, as you said, we’ve been punked too many times for that. But I do think this is repeatable. I might even go so far as to say that last night’s game is the blueprint for the Sox to win against good teams in 2022.

The reason is simple: the White Sox are actually good at getting hits. They’re 4th in MLB and 2nd in the AL in team AVG. Now, that’s not manifested itself in runs because they have virtually no power. They only hit singles and they have little speed. So they’ll string 2-3 hits together in an inning but not score. But, when a pitcher has an off inning or they finally see a reliever they like, they can pounce and string together a crooked number pretty fast with their aggressive approach.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is a good strategy. It’s not. It’d be far better to hit home runs! But it is a strategy, and, for good or ill, it’s who the 2022 White Sox are. If they are going to keep up their winning ways, I’d expect a lot more wins that look similar to this one.

soxfan

Is “chaining” the right word here? I remember after OBP first became a thing and was combined with SLG to make OPS there were early discussions of whether or not OBP or SLG were more important. The early answers – not sure if they’ve been confirmed or refuted yet – seemed to say that whichever one you had, you should stack (or “chain”?) those same types of hitters in a row rather than alternating between them. So you’re better off having 4 high OBP guys in the lineup together and then 5 high SLG guys, rather than OBP/SLG/OBP/SLG…

Unfortunately for the Sox right now, they have Pollock, Harrison, three nearly identical hitters in Abreu, Vaughn, and Jimenez, and four guys who you’d prefer not be in the lineup, so there’s not really a chain to put together. La Russa could make it easier on himself by moving Moncada and Grandal down and benching Sheets, but we’re basically hoping the top of the lineup can put together one good inning and the pitching can be lights out – at least until Robert and Anderson return.

Last edited 1 month ago by soxfan
As Cirensica

I think we are past the “turning point” moment. There won’t be any. The White Sox are a flawed team with a very solid pitching down the stretch. Our pitchers will give us a chance to win which is a very scary premise considering pitching management is one thing a manager’s influence can be felt most, and you know, hate to tell you this, but our manager is bad. Used to be good or at least successful about 20 years ago, but not anymore.

upnorthsox

I’m not seeing any blueprint going forward from last night. There’s only a reminder that hey we’ve got some damn good starting pitching and if we can get just average run support(and don’t wait til the 8th inning) we can stick with the best.

HallofFrank

But that is a blueprint: damn good starting plus average run support. All I mean by blueprint is a realistic way forward for this team to win with some level of consistency. We’re way passed this team being who we thought they were. But they have the pitching to keep things close enough for an offense that should usually be able to stumble into 4-ish runs.

fustercluck

that walk to Grandal loaded the bases and forced Montero to throw pitches in the zone to Yoán Moncada

nobody tell Houston that a pitcher with the benefit of a wide plate does not need to challenge Yo-yo

upnorthsox

We are not even going to talk about his first AB when he swung at that slider away, way way way away.

calcetinesblancos

I still have no idea how the hell Jimenez managed to both hit that ball, and hit it fair.

lifelongjd

The Eloy one is the most baffling because a slider 3 foot outside or a high fastball was all they needed to strike Eloy out.

Agreed on the turning point nonsense. Last night is what we should expect from this team. For the Sox to be any good/competitive, they need guys like Yoan and Eloy to produce consistently.

upnorthsox

And the curve to Yoan is an insta-swing-n-miss but maybe Montero doesn’t have one?

metasox

fyi: MLB running a piece on Cease’s pitches
https://www.mlb.com/whitesox/news/how-dylan-cease-became-an-ace

As Cirensica

No Luis Robert again. Can we just place him on the IL already? Call up Oscar Colas or someone that can actually PLAY. Always playing undermanned rosters. Needs to end.

soxygen

Ugh. And Yaz at DH instead of Abreu/Sheets.

HallofFrank

I don’t mind keeping Grandal in the lineup. The bat is (slowly) coming around. He’s running an .883 OPS in the last week with more BB than K. The Sox could really use some offense from him. So keep him rolling to see if you can keep things going vs. the rough righty.

Sheets, on the other hand, has shown nothing for the last few weeks.

soxygen

He’s had some good at bats recently. My issue isn’t about his bat, but more about using our backup catcher as the DH and about the possibility of asking Yaz to do too much if one of the things we need from him this season (post McGuire trade) is a lot of duty behind the dish.

upnorthsox

Yaz is 3 of 9 with a HR vs Verlander.

Didn’t realize Jose owns Verlander

HallofFrank

I’m not sure calling up Haseley or whoever makes this roster appropriately “manned.” I’m not in the know on Robert’s injury so maybe he should be on the IL. But, in principle, I’m fine playing “undermanned” if it means we get more Robert.

In other words: I’d rather have 7 games of no one followed by 7 games of Robert than 14 games of Haseley.

soxygen

Adam Engel says hello to everyone!

Wayne

10-day IL stint.