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Outperforming April

Whaddya mean the Sox can't hit? They're killing the ball.

This basically was the message I got a week ago from folks who stop here on Mondays after mentioning the team's anemic offense just as Rick Renteria's crew began a six-game winning streak which ended Sunday with a 7-3 loss in Detroit. Just maybe the fellows weren't buying comparisons to weak hitting teams of the past. They felt challenged, maligned, disrespected.

Whatever the reason - how about the patience of batting coach Todd Steverson? - the bats came alive last week in leading the Sox to a three-game sweep of Kansas City before taking two-of-three in Detroit.

Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu highlighted the three-game sweep of Kansas City before departing to Detroit. The Sox offense accounted for 43 runs in the six games while averaging .310. Abreu went 10-for-18 to raise his average to .280. Jose clubbed a couple of homers in the 6-4 10-inning victory over the Tigers on Saturday. For the week he had five extra-base hits and as many RBI.

A couple of weeks ago, this space dwelled on which direction Garcia's career was going to take. Blessed with obvious talent and potential, the 25-year-old right fielder has been pretty much a bust up until this season.

But how's this for an answer at this early juncture? Garcia, who came out of Sunday's game on a wet field in the fifth inning because of a mild groin strain, is a slimmer (by 20 pounds), faster, and far better version of his former self. So much so that Avi is leading the American League in hitting at .368 and is in the top seven in RBI, OPS, OBP and hits.

Coming into this season, Garcia has been steady, if not outstanding, in April and May, hitting .262 and .298, respectively, in the seasons' first two months. Historically Avi has tanked in June and July with a combined slash of .220/.283/.570 over those two months. Compare that to his current .368/.409/1.029. Let's just say, "so far, so good," and leave it at that.

Meanwhile, Sox pitchers continue to lead all of baseball in ERA with a mark of 3.11. No one saw that coming with a rotation minus the departed Chris Sale, the disabled Carlos Rodon, or with the re-tooled James Shields going on the DL after three sterling starts.

Trotting out the likes of Dylan Covey, who will open a four-game set Monday night in Kansas City, and Mike Pelfrey, called up to replace Shields, every five days doesn't seem to be a recipe for a club with a 13-10 mark for April, just a half-game behind division-leading Cleveland as the Age of Rebuilding has begun.

The obvious explanation is a bullpen which easily has been the most effective in major league baseball so far this season. The numbers are quite staggering: 74-plus innings, 47 hits, 89 strikeouts, 25 walks, 1.94 ERA, batting average against .181, and a WHIP of a stingy 0.97.

So now that the pitchers have outperformed all expectations, along with an awakened - at least temporarily - offense and a flourishing Garcia, it is time to pay attention to a defense that over a 162-game schedule will result in far less success than heretofore enjoyed by our athletes.

Let's begin with shortstop Tim Anderson, a gifted young man who runs like an Olympic sprinter, exudes confidence and desire, and will hit a lot better than his present .204 batting average once he stops flailing at breaking balls outside the strike zone.

Anderson was charged with his major league-leading sixth error of the season on Sunday on a ground ball that jumped out of his glove in the Tigers' four-run fourth inning. Anderson also bobbled a potential double-play ball - he had to settle with getting Jose Iglesias at first - in the same inning and couldn't handle a line drive to his right that was scored a hit. While Anderson made an amazing running catch on a pop-up off the bat of Jim Adduci in the second inning, he tends to attempt to spear ground balls rather than getting in front of the ball and setting his feet. Sunday wasn't a good day for the Sox shortstop.

In 98 games last season after being called up from Charlotte, Anderson was charged with 14 errors. Obviously he'll pass that number by mid-May unless Renteria, a former infielder, and coach Joe McEwing can fix him. Anderson exhibited similar poor mechanics when he debuted in 2016, but he improved with time and experience. There's no reason why he won't shed those bad habits again. If not, we're looking at as many as 40 miscues before the season ends. Winning teams rarely have shortstops who can't catch the ball.

Todd Frazier, Yolmer Sanchez and Tyler Saladino are more than adequate infielders. Fangraphs pegged Abreu at number 14 in fielding efficiency in 2016, which is better than most fans would say.

The Sox's outfield is adequate but still a notch below last season when Adam Eaton - more about him in a moment - was a Gold Glove candidate in right field. Melky Cabrera catches just about everything he can reach in left field, and Leury Garcia has been a nice surprise in center, but he certainly is far from an elite outfielder. Garcia made a wonderful catch in foul territory to end the game last Friday, but, again, Avi is average at best.

Geovany Soto threw out his first would-be base stealer Sunday in Detroit after seven successful stolen bases while he's been behind the plate. However, Omar Narvaez has cut down three of five steal attempts.

Getting back to Eaton, who was traded to Washington for three pitching prospects last winter, his leap to beat out an infield hit Friday night resulted in an ugly injury. He tore his left ACL while also suffering a high ankle sprain and torn meniscus. He's out anywhere from six to nine months. Eaton was off to a rousing beginning for a very potent Nationals' attack. Batting leadoff, his slash was .297/.393/.854. His 24 runs scored rank third in the National League.

Meanwhile, if Chris Sale thought he was going to enjoy great run support from his new Red Sox teammates, so far he has been disappointed. In five starts - all good ones for Sale - Boston has scored just ten runs, resulting in a 1-2 record for Sale despite a 1.19 ERA and a major league-leading 52 strikeouts in 37-plus innings. They better hide the scissors.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 22, 2021