This is the offense that baseball purist White Sox fans long craved for. They put a bat on a ball (sixth-lowest strikeout rate in the AL is a great leap forward for them, and it's combined with the fourth-lowest walk rate) and they don't swing for the fences hardly at all (AL-worst 23 home runs). In fact, with a .109 ISO (worst in baseball, despite half the league having to put pitchers in their lineup) they make a point of never getting close.
It goes without saying this has gone bad for the Sox (still tied for last in the AL in runs scored), and with the starting pitching cooking again, having the might to overcome lineup black holes is the biggest long-term obstacle for their playoff chances, but it really bore out against Trevor Bauer Tuesday night in the Sox 3-1, win streak-snapping defeat.
Enter the world of lazy comps and imagine Bauer as an even more erratic Jeff Samardzija: live arm, electric stuff and frequent total disconnect with where it's going. When Bauer's on, against a swing-happy Sox lineup, it can result in something like 7.1 innings, seven strikeouts and just four hits. Bauer walked three, notably getting himself into trouble by losing his mark and walking two and loading the bases in the fourth. But that was before Alexei Ramirez strolled up, hacked at everything in sight (and some things above it) and ended the threat mostly on his own.
It's no revelation for the Sox lineup to be unable to allow an erratic pitcher to hang himself, but they suddenly lack the power to make big on the few mistakes they jump on. 23 home runs in 36 games while playing in U.S. Cellular Field is incredibly sparse production. The Mariners have over double that total playing with their backs to the Pacific Ocean. And while park factors have been slowly downgrading The Cell's hitter-friendliness, it's probably the team's fault. Unless 35th & Shields is on top of black hole, there's no reason for them to be in last place by a mile in fly ball rate. It doesn't matter what ballpark you play in; grounders are hard to take for extra bases.
Jose Abreu is not boosting this total like expected, but getting next to nothing in power production from guys with 10-15 home run potential like Alexei Ramirez, Conor Gillaspie, Melky Cabrera, Tyler Flowers, and 10-15 production from guys who have the strength to hit 20 like Avisail Garicia and Adam LaRoche drag the total down much quicker than Abreu's slow start. The Sox aren't particularly good at hitting three singles in an inning, because no one is.
We're still in the period of waiting for things to stabilize, but the longer the Sox persist with bizarre extremes in their performance (Avisail's crazy swing rate, no one hitting with any lift, veterans wildly underperforming) it's only going to bring uncomfortably urgent scrutiny. Todd Steverson & Co. are working against history here, but lose credibility when existing problems worsen under their stewardship.
- Speaking of coaxing uniquely awful performances from veterans, there's only so much patience to be had for letting the Indians use a LOOGY on Adam LaRoche to kill the last meaningful Sox scoring threat of the game in the eighth inning. LaRoche has a .596 OPS vs. lefties since the start of 2013, and yet Ventura stood idly by while Terry Francona played individual matchups with Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Cody Allen on the last three hitters. This roster doesn't afford Ventura a right-handed masher to trot out on command off the bench, but Gordon Beckham vs. a LOOGY is better than leaving LaRoche out to die, which is to say that nearly anyone is better.
- Jose Quintana's final line certainly had some ugliness to it (four strikeouts and walks apiece over seven innings, albeit just two earned runs), but he tuned up big-time to hold the Indians to 0-6 on the night with runners in scoring position, and lit up the crowd when he powered up to strike out Nick Swisher with high heat to end his night after seven. With Quintana and Sale shaking off bad starts and Danks streaking, the weakest points of this rotation are Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Rodon. Most teams are going to be fine with that.
- Since Zach Putnam gave up a bomb to Brandon Moss in the eighth, it wound up not being the margin of defeat, but the first night of gimpy Avisail wasn't without incident. He looked sluggish misreading a line-drive off the bat of Jason Kipnis to lead off the game that went down in the scorecard as a triple (Kipnis would eventually score). And he looked pained again on the bases, which of course came after he hit another crucial, two-out RBI single to tie the game in the fourth. Logically, it should be hard for Garcia--a power-starved singles hitter for the most part--to be a plus player without good wheels and defense, but he is just the weirdest kind of awesome this year.
Next game is Wednesday at 7:10pm CT vs. the Indians on WPWR