As the White Sox were locked in a Sunday afternoon clench with the feckless Seattle Mariners, I was running through possible post ideas in my head
Jeff Keppinger starting the season with a thud? Obscure and needless quibbles about Chris Sale? Dayan Viciedo swinging like a maniac? Something that captures the dysfunction of this mediocre start. I’m angry and I have a blog, dammit!
It was then that Dayan Viciedo golfed a ball to the moon for a walkoff win and the White Sox were sent into their day off with a perfectly acceptable pair of home series wins against two teams unlikely to make the playoffs. Clearly there were some things going right that I was not acknowledging. So let’s acknowledge them, and other stuff.
That’s a very homer-dependent offense, guys
Not that we’re prone to getting bent out of shape about this sort of thing around these parts, but 15 out of 22 runs on the season coming via the long ball is noticeable. Especially since 11 home runs in six games is a power surge that seems like it should produce better than 3.67 runs per game. Such is life when your No. 1 and No. 2 hitters are still in hibernation and not on base.
Approximately 30% of baseball games are decided by one run, so the White Sox playing four such contests in their first six is quite the white-knuckle week. Also, taking three out of four of those contests like the White Sox have would not typically be considered a sustainable rate, even if we assume that the White Sox were the favorites (and at home) in every instance.
But what charmed season where a plucky group plays above its head and grabs a playoff birth doesn’t have a bunch of one-run luck? The 2005 White Sox rode a 35-19 record in one-run games (also revealing they played a ton of them) and last year’s #YOLOrioles grabbed a Wild Card berth with an even crazier 29-9 mark. The model for their success–crazy stupid luck and elite bullpen work–is hard to sustain year-to-year, but nevertheless something the Sox are gunning for and basing their playoff campaign on.
To that end…
The right-handed relief corps looks great
Where has Matt Lindstrom been all of our lives? A right-hander who touches mid-90’s with sinking action and a hard slider to generate groundballs at a rate in the mid-50’s? I was led to believe Don Cooper slow-cooked these type of pitches in his basement during the winter. One of the 13 batters Lindstrom has faced this season has reached. At the very least he should be insulation against Nate Jones‘ command slumps.
Despite missing most of spring training and being beset with velocity troubles during his rehab work, Jesse Crain looks exactly like himself. He works up in the zone and can never get groundballs, he throws curveballs in 3-1 counts and his swing-and-miss rates are top-notch. Yup, Jesse is back.
Addison Reed has been flawless converting his three save opportunities and even contributed a saber-friendly closer-pitching-in-a-non-save-situation scoreless inning of work in the 10th inning Sunday. Most encouraging has been his slider use, which has been both liberal and effective–showcased with two snappers to close out the contest Saturday.
Nate Jones has had good moments too, but I only had time for the guys who had yet to allow a run this season.
Alex Rios seems fine
Already coming into the season needing to dismiss concerns about his ability to string two good seasons together, Rios spent the final week of the season trying to fight off a sore back and admitted two games into the season that his missed time left him feeling behind schedule physically. He also spent some time pondering the differences between his approach moving from the No. 5 to the No. 3 slot that left his manager a bit confused.
The point of mentioning all this doubt is just to waive it away, because Rios’ compact right-hand power swing looks to be in great condition and producing at the same Team MVP rate as last year. He even took three walks in his first week, which is nearly a month’s supply for him.
Other hot hitters
Tyler Flowers, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo have all supplied useful thunder while also whiffing at prodigious rates that put them all on pace to have some of the worst 40-HR seasons of all-time if they kept at this for six months. Viciedo’s strike zone judgment is clearly bananas at the moment, to the degree where Jeff Manto conceded that he’s just waiting for him to calm down before he even thinks about pushing the leg kick back in. Flowers and Dunn have both looked formidable in punishing mistakes with Tyler in particular looking sound in his approach, but they’re both guys at risk for overloading themselves with strikeouts who have been striking out too much.
Alexei Ramirez still looks like he’s holding on for dear life against top-notch velocity, but has nevertheless started the season hot and powerfully driving hanging off-speed pitches after struggling to find a groove of any kind at any point last season. He may not be trusted to become a house of fire in mid-summer anymore, but he still has issues with April that it’s nice to see him subvert a bit.
Gordon Beckham is 6-18, all singles, so far, but has been impressive in the way he’s driven the ball early on. His stance is as uncomfortable to look at as it’s ever been, but to hear Jeff Manto tell it–which is probably optimistic, though he did acknowledge Viciedo’s foibles in the same interview–Beckham’s set-up right now is as directly influenced by the instruction of Ventura and himself as it’s ever been. As he described (really, listen to this segment, I insist), Beckham came to his coaches for help out of a sense of, if not desperation, exhaustion with all the remedies he had utilized thus far. That, as Manto said, is when a hitting coach can really get in and do some work.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan