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Two innings last week provided as good an indication as any why the White Sox have won six of their 10 games in the month of June.
The first came on Wednesday against the Twins in the top of the sixth inning as the Sox turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 advantage in a game they eventually won by the same score. Speed, execution, and a little help from the opposition were the keys.
With the bases loaded and one out, Yolmer Sanchez scampered home on a wild pitch to tie the game. Tim Anderson, who easily leads the team in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 1.6, singled in two more, and then the speedy Anderson stole third and came home on an excellent bunt by Adam Engel, who was nabbed by an eyelash at first base.
The White Sox were nursing a 2-1 lead on Sunday at Fenway Park when Red Sox starter Rick Porcello walked Anderson, whose 20 walks already surpass the 13 he drew in each of the past two seasons.
Anderson is one of the league leaders with 13 stolen bases - he's been caught stealing only once - but in this situation, manager Ricky Renteria had Charlie Tilson, a fundamentally sound young player, lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt on the first pitch to advance Anderson to second.
Trayce Thompson, he of the .122 batting average, managed to make contact, grounding to first baseman Mitch Moreland.
This is where the fun began, and you can credit the Sox speed and daring with making it so. Moreland ranged to his right as Thompson raced toward first. Porcello barely beat Thompson to the bag but in doing so, he tripped over the base and then rolled into first base umpire Quinn Wolcott. Had this been the NFL, a flag would have been thrown for Porcello's chop block. Meanwhile, Anderson hesitated for a split second at third. Seeing Porcello's dilemma, he sprinted toward home, beating the throw and becoming the answer to the White Sox trivia question, "Who scored from second on a grounder to first base?"
Anderson's run made it 3-1, and a two-run ninth-inning double by Daniel Palka provided breathing room in the 5-2 victory, giving the White Sox a most unlikely series win against one of the elite teams in all of baseball.
For those who wager on these contests and others who might be thinking of doing so once sports betting becomes legal throughout the land, consider Friday's game in which former White Sock Chris Sale faced off against unheralded Dylan Covey. The loyalists at Fenway never heard of Covey. The oddsmakers installed the Red Sox as 3-1 favorites, which might be the most lopsided line of the season. No way the White Sox were going to win this one. The perennial Cy Young candidate Sale pitched admirably against his former mates. He covered eight innings, yielding a run on six hits with 10 strikeouts. However, Covey was even better. He allowed the Red Sox just three hits over six innings, fanning seven. Jace Fry, Nate Jones and Joakim Soria finished the job over the final three innings without giving up a hit.
Furthermore, it was Thompson's one-out base hit to right field that scored Kevan Smith for the game's lone tally in the top of the seventh. The same Trayce Thompson who's been released three times this season, who's been playing regularly only because of injuries. Thompson gets a hit approximately once every 10 at-bats, and chances are he'll either be released again or sent to Charlotte once Avisail Garcia is activated in the next 10 days. Yet Sale couldn't get him out late in the game on Friday.
Returning to the topic of the White Sox team speed, the fellows continue to lead all teams this season with 53 stolen bases. They've been thrown out just 11 times for a success rate of 83 percent compared to the MLB average of 72 percent.
That's only part of the story. For instance, on Sunday in the first inning, Yolmer Sanchez was running on a 3-2 pitch to Jose Abreu, who slammed his 25th double off the Green Monster, giving the White Sox an early lead. If Sanchez isn't going with the pitch, he doesn't score.
According to Fangraphs and much of the sabermetric world, unless a team's stolen base percentage is at least 75, run expectancy isn't enhanced in the least. Looking at specific situations with no outs this season, the Sox have swiped second base nine times in 11 attempts. Six of those runners scored. Was it worth the risk?
According to SB Nation, runners on first base with no outs score 44 percent of the time. That increases to 63 percent with a runner on second, so the Sox do somewhat better than average when they successfully steal second with no outs.
Stealing second with one out, as the Sox have done 21 out of 25 attempts, increases the chance of scoring from 26 to 40 percent, which is roughly the rate that Sox runners have crossed the plate this season.
If your head is spinning with all this minutiae - congratulations, you've read this far - we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that stolen bases add flavor and pizzazz to the game. The Sox hit only five home runs in their recent 10-game splurge, but, as mentioned, the running game has created more than its share of excitement.
The Sox have a history of this. After stealing a franchise-low 19 bases in 1949, the arrival of Minnie Minoso and the birth of the Go-Go Sox began the following season when the team swiped 99 bases. In the pennant-winning year of 1959, led by Luis Aparicio with 56, the Sox accounted for 113 stolen bases. Comiskey Park came alive with chants of "Go Go Go" each time Aparicio was on first base.
Rudy Law stole a franchise record 77 bases in 1983 when the Sox won 99 games. The team that year had 165 stolen bases and a 77 percent success rate, slightly lower than this season's edition. Making that squad more complete was the fact that power hitters Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle and Carlton Fisk stole few bases but bashed the ball out of the park, helping Tony LaRussa's crew to score 800 runs, tops in the AL.
The present ballclub obviously is developing, and even in the running department there are glitches. Runners have been picked off eight times so far, a few in crucial situations which extinguished potential rallies like against the Cubs at Wrigley Field when Matt Davidson was picked off second with two runners on and no outs.
But they've also executed four double steals, which always is thrilling to witness.
And before departing for another week, let's mention the vast improvement by the pitchers over the past 10 games. The starters have posted a 3.18 ERA in this recent surge. Carlos Rodon returned on Saturday after being shelved since last September, capping an injury-filled season when he pitched in just 12 games. Against a formidable Red Sox lineup, Rodon threw 97 pitches over five innings and gave up just a couple of earned runs. He struck out seven.
Meanwhile, the heretofore undependable bullpen has posted a 1.89 ERA over the last 30-plus innings, including shutting out the opposition in the last 12 frames.
Up until recently the Sox theme song for the season might have been Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty." Maybe it's time to reach back to the '60s for the Newbeats' "Run Baby Run."
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