Early Returns: First Week a Mixed Bag for the White Sox

The 2021 MLB season is underway. The boys of summer are back. Fans are in attendance across the league, albeit in a limited capacity in most host cities. The air at the stadiums are filled with the smells of our favorite ballpark delicacies, as well as the cheers and jeers of the onlookers in their pods of seats. After a discouraging 2020, for all of the reasons one could possibly dream up, the energy amongst lovers of baseball is palpable.

The White Sox started their 2021 campaign with a seven-game road trip that left many fans of the Pale Hose feeling slightly disappointed. After their first series against the Angels left them with a 1-3 record, the Sox moved on to face the Seattle Mariners where they took the first two games of a three-game set. That seven-game trip came to end ultimately leaving the South siders with a record of 3-4.

Not the kind of start most fans had envisioned after a winter of hype by just about everyone under the Sun. So much so, that many folks have taken their thoughts and opinions to the many outlets of social media like hyenas to a carcass. Some opinions can be categorized as the ‘hot take’ type. Others may be justified.

We’ll take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve always been one who likes to eat his dessert after his meal, so I’ll start with the ugly and work my way back to the good and finish on a high note.

The Ugly

Injuries

The injuries, that have left the Sox looking snake bitten since the departure of Head Athletic Trainer, Herm Schneider, continue to pile up. Eloy Jimenez got some good news about his ruptured pectoral in that it’s thought the damage was done in an area that should leave him with the best possible outcome and recovery time. He’s still likely to be out 4-5 months.

Having said that, in game one against the Angels, Tim Anderson pulled up grimacing, about three-quarters down the line trying to beat out a play at first base. He was diagnosed with hamstring tightness and was thought to be back in time for the team’s home opener on April 8. The day before that game, the team announced it was taking the cautious route, and put Anderson on the 10-day IL retroactive to April, 5.

Also finding his way onto the injured list early in the season is Billy Hamilton, due to a hamstring injury as well. That situation led to the White Sox calling up bounce-back hopeful Nick Williams and moving Jace Fry to the 60-day IL. But that’s not all. Super utility man Leury Garcia has taken a bench role for the time being, while dealing with some leg tightness of his own. Also missing is Adam Engel, with, you guessed it, a hamstring injury.

The Bad

Defensive Blunders

With Yoan Moncada supposedly back to being fully recovered from the effects of COVID-19 and another Spring Training under the belt of Nick Madrigal, the Sox infield was looked at with the hopes of being one of its best defensive infields to start a season in some time. We’ve already discussed the Tim Anderson injury that leaves him off the field early, but with a bevy of different players starting at shortstop in his absence, it would be easy to blame the timing and flow on exactly that.

Unfortunately, balls not going into or staying in gloves when they should, or throws being completely botched, cannot be blamed on chemistry. The defensive miscues that haunted second baseman Nick Madrigal in 2020 seem to have followed him early in the 2021 season. It will be his first full season with the major league club and his first in front of fans, so there is still hope that these early lapses are rookie jitters, and he returns to the defensive form that had him thought of as a highly-touted defender during his time in college and the minor leagues.

Photo: AP Photo

The outfield hasn’t done the pitchers any favors either. We all know Eloy Jimenez will probably never be a gold glove caliber left fielder, but Andrew Vaughn making starts out there doesn’t exactly feel great either. Although Vaughn hasn’t been seen diving into the outfield netting like he’s diving into a hammock, or hanging on walls like jungle gyms, he hasn’t looked comfortable, or fleet of foot. He’s made a few routine plays look more difficult than they should be, and missed a few that would have been caught by a serviceable outfielder. His only reprieve is that he was drafted primarily as a first baseman, and has been thrust into a position he’s clearly uncomfortable in, with very little time to prepare himself. Maybe with more reps as the season progresses, Vaughn will progress as well.

Also misplaying balls in the outfield is the White Sox top position player free agent acquisition, Adam Eaton. Spanky has been a solid defender most of his ten-plus-year career. He’s always been known for having an extremely competitive mindset. Unless the 32-year-old Eaton is starting to show signs of regression, the feeling is that he should clean up his miscues and remain a solid defender as long as he’s healthy. He needs to do so quickly.

Pitching

I hate to put the pitching in the bad category, but I can’t, with any semblance of honesty, put it in the good category. In reality, it hasn’t been all that bad, but it has suffered the fate of poor fielding and errors, as well as some poor decision-making on behalf of Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa. With the departure of Rick Renteria and the storied bullpen prowess of La Russa, White Sox fans had hoped bullpen mismanagement was a thing of the past. At the time of this writing, it appears it is not. The only hope for fans, at the moment, is that a new manager and pitching coach are still learning what’s in their arsenal and how to use it.

After the final game of the road trip and the implosion of a loss to the Mariners, La Russa addressed the media and took the blame squarely on his shoulders. Here’s what he had to say after leaving Matt Foster in the game to face eight batters during a sixth inning that would ultimately result in the Mariners scoring seven runs on Wednesday afternoon.

We were in an excellent position going into the sixth inning, and the best way to explain it is, I did a really lousy job of managing that inning. It really hurt our chances to win.”

That’s the clearest example of why I’m upset with myself. He faced too many hitters. That’s lousy managing. Pushed him too far. Lousy, stupid. No excuse.”

We were set up to pitch the last four innings of the game. We had all those innings covered. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, and we paid the price with all those extra runs. I don’t enjoy saying it, but I enjoy it less not taking responsibility”

Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Here’s to hoping a valuable lesson was learned and his candidness was genuine.

As far as the starting pitching is concerned, the only real knock against them is that most would like to see them get deeper into games. Again, the problem here is actually the defensive woes we highlighted earlier. Double plays not being turned, catches not being made, and off-target throws have extended innings for opposing teams too many times early this season.

The Good

Replacement Players

Leury Garcia hasn’t been hitting the cover off the ball, but, before being shelved by leg tightness, he has been a solid defensive replacement, both in the infield and outfield. Being able to play just about anywhere on the field, the club hopes his ailment heals quickly because of his overall versatility.

Billy Hamilton, most notably known for his speed, had actually gotten off to a decent start at the dish as well. Something he’s not been known for in his career. Unfortunately, like we had shown previously, he also finds himself shelved due to injury at the moment.

Upon his return due to some of the injuries, in small sample size, Danny Mendick has gotten off to a hot start and is trying his best to stay with the club when others are due to return.

All around, the replacement players have done a great job of taking the sting out of losing some of the top players on the team.

Starting Pitching

I know I kind of put pitching in the bad category already, but aside from the reasons I stated there, the starting staff has been pretty good. They should end up getting deeper into games when the defense cleans up its act, and a bit of a slow start for Dallas Keuchel hopefully is behind him now. As the warmer weather approaches and arms get stretched out more, this should still be a rotation that looks to be one of the best in the game.

Lucas Giolito looks as filthy as ever.

Lance Lynn still looks like an absolute workhorse, and, on Thursday evening, pitched the first complete game in front of the home crowd, on Opening Day, since 1985. It was also the first home opener, complete-game shutout since Wilbur Wood did it in 1976! He threw 111 pitches.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

The biggest surprise for many people is how focused and on point, Carlos Rodon has started his season. There are those of us that could say they saw that coming, but his continued success will hinge upon him remaining healthy. Should the former first-round draft pick do that, he could end up being the best fifth starter in baseball by year’s end.

Bullpen Standouts

Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet have been slinging some heat out of the bullpen. Both thought of as future starters, they will look to continue their early successes as the season grinds on, and could be called upon to make some starts down the road if need be.

The Offense

Aside from some minor hiccups, like Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert getting off to slow starts, the offense has produced well. Scoring six or more runs, in five out of their first eight games, the lineup looks to continue the success it enjoyed during the 2020 season. Moncada and Robert have shown some signs of improvement as of late.

Reigning American League MVP, Jose Abreu has hit two Grand Slams and already has nine RBI through the first eight games of 2021. There has been some swing and miss in his approach thus far, but he’s typically known as a bit of a slow starter. Look for him to heat up as the weather does.

Although the Sox have left some guys on base and in scoring position, the lineup has taken advantage in a few key situations and the runs are being scored.

The Cherry on Top

I know some of you have been cussing me out for not mentioning his name earlier, or thinking I had forgotten about him, but there’s one name that has been an absolute standout so far. Yermin Mercedes. The Yerminator! Say it loud, say it proud.

Yermin has been off to a torrid start, going eight for eight in his first plate appearances of the season. White Sox announcer Jason Benetti has called his start, “Hollywood golden ridiculous.”

Mercedes has either matched or set numerous White Sox and MLB records with his bat. His 12 hits in his first four games is a modern-era record. Those 12 hits were the most of any Sox player in his first four games in the history of the club. His first three-plus hits in three of his first four games haven’t happened since Hall of Famer Roy Campanella did it in 1948. It’s the first time in franchise history.

Albeit a short week, the DH was named American League Player of the Week, April, 1 through April 4.

On Monday, Yermin raised his average to .667 after getting that illustrious 12th hit. There was no keeping him away from the questions of the media. He was a happy human. He wanted to address his fans.

I want to see my fans over there on Opening Day in Chicago. I want everyone to talk to me. I want to see my people. I want to see the Yermin fans, the Yerminator fans. I’m so excited, I can’t wait

When he stepped in the batter’s box for his first at-bat in the bottom of the first inning of the home opener, after a two-run bomb by Yoan Moncada, the Yerminator delivered for those fans. In a 2 and 1 count, Mercedes took a Brad Keller breaking ball DEEP to left field, to the tune of 485 feet. As fans watched a 113 mph rocket leave the field in amazement, Yermin started his trip around the bases with a few slow steps to admire his work, before giving his bat a slight flip.

He would finish the night going 2-for-4, DROPPING his average to .565, but before heading to the clubhouse, he would first talk to and take pictures with his fans in the stands. After the 6-0 win over the Royals, Yermin had this to say of those fans.

They love me right now because of the things I’m doing. That’s what I want after the game…I want to know my fans, just to give love.

They know I’m in love with them. They’re feeling that. They’re crazy with me when I’m close to them. They take a photo. They take a video. I feel great about that because I know I have big fans here in Chicago. I just want to give love too. That’s what I want to do.”

There’s sure to be at least some regression in his bat, but right now it’s the Yermin show in Chicago, and across MLB as a whole. I think it’s safe for me to say that I speak for all of us when I say, “we love you too Yermin, we love you too!”


Featured Photo: USA TODAY Sports


 

 

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