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Dead And Alive

In this Jekyll-and-Hyde, manic-depression, alive-dead season, Sox fans can be excused if they're just a bit confounded this Fourth of July. If Butch Cassidy were a Sox fan, he would likely ask, "Who are those guys?"

Winners of their last nine of 13 games, accounting for four consecutive series wins, can this be the same band of South Siders who previously dropped 26 of 36 decisions? Say it ain't so, but it is.

Even Jose Quintana, who was brilliant, won on Sunday, his first victory since May 8 as he limited the burgeoning Houston Astros to one run and three hits over seven innings, retiring 15 straight batters in the middle innings. Sox hitters finally took pity on poor Jose and scored four times for him.

In seven straight losses, Quintana was supported by a total of eight runs. Fourth of July doesn't mean much in his native Columbia, but you can bet that Jose is ready to enjoy some fireworks on this American holiday.

Meanwhile, Chris Sale, who receives far better treatment from his mates, ran his major league-leading record to 14-2 in Houston on Saturday as the Sox triumphed 7-6. Sale wasn't at his best, going seven innings on a yield of four earned runs, but it was good enough as the Sox collected 13 hits.

By winning two three-game series' last week - at home against the Twins followed by a trio in Houston - our athletes now are 42-40, the best Fourth of July record since the 2012 club was 44-37. The 2010 team which wound up winning 88 games, was only 42-38 on Independence Day. Take heart, Sox fans, there might be light at the end of this tunnel.

Consider that the recent run has not included centerfielder Austin Jackson, whose defense and timely hitting highlighted the early season euphoria. Jackson was sidelined on June 9th with a meniscus tear in his left knee. There is no timetable for his return.

The team's best hitter, Melky Cabrera, played last Tuesday in the 4-0 loss to the Twins before being shelved with a mild right wrist sprain. Maybe he'll appear this afternoon in the first of three games with the Yankees at The Cell. However, the Sox won four of five with Melky observing from the bench.

Matt Davidson, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks for pitcher Addison Reed prior to the 2014 season, was summoned from Charlotte on Thursday, and his fourth-inning hit gave the Sox a nice 4-2 lead in what turned out to be a 6-5 White Sox victory. What wasn't so nice is that Davidson broke his foot rounding first base and will be lost for the foreseeable future.

Davidson is an interesting story. The Sox traded a decent closer, Reed, for him. Davidson always has demonstrated imposing power, but his inability to make contact has relegated him to the minors ever since he donned a Sox uniform. He hit .203 at Charlotte in 2015, striking out 191 times. Sure, he hit 23 homers, but the Sox have had enough of those kinds of hitters.

Figuring that Davidson was not the answer to their third base dilemma, general manager Rick Hahn traded for Todd Frazier last winter. Meanwhile, Davidson slammed five home runs in spring training, hitting .413. And he has kept improving at Charlotte this season with a slash of .268/.349/.792 with 10 homers and 86 strikeouts in 75 games.

So when Matt Purke finally pitched himself out of the big leagues last week, Hahn turned to Davidson. And now the Yucaipa, California native will again wait for an opportunity once his surgically repaired foot heals.

Did the Sox miss Cabrera last week? Apparently not. But over the long haul, this team is far better with Melky in left field rather than Avisail Garcia, another player of interest on this team. Once known as "Little Miggy" when he was with Detroit because of his physical resemblance to Miguel Cabrera, Avi hasn't come close to fulfilling the potential predicted for him by people who were supposed to know. In a nutshell, Garcia will swing at just about anything.

In his final at-bat Sunday in the top of the eighth, reliever Luke Gregerson threw three straight pitches to Garcia not even close to the strike zone. Avi swung at and missed all three. Garcia is not the only Sox hitter who possesses an expansive strike zone, but he'd probably swing at liver and onions given the opportunity. A .243 hitter who whiffs in 25 percent of his plate appearances while getting an extra base hit about five percent of the time just isn't in high demand. Especially if he is an average outfielder at best.

Once Melky Cabrera returns, Avisail will go back to the bench, appearing pretty much as a DH. But consider that the 2014 National League batting champion Justin Morneau, whom the Sox signed on June 9th as a free agent, is on the verge of taking a rehab assignment as he continues to recover from elbow surgery.

You can be assured that Robin Ventura will move quickly to see just what kind of commodity he has in the left-handed hitting Morneau, who will have ample opportunity at DH and may see action spelling Jose Abreu at first base before the end of this month. Assuming that Morneau can be more productive offensively than Garcia - not a huge stretch - Avi then becomes a fifth outfielder behind J.B. Shuck, who has snatched an opportunity to play centerfield in Jackson's absence. While playing just about every day for almost a month, the Ohio State product has raised his average to .235 from .179. He's slammed three homers in his last eight games, while his eighth-inning single last Thursday provided the winning tally to beat the Twins. He's made some outstanding catches in centerfield, ensuring that Adam Eaton can remain in right where he leads the major leagues in outfield assists with 11.

Once Morneau is activated, might it be a sensible idea to send Avisail to Charlotte where he can play each day, tightening his strike zone, and gaining confidence that he still can be a legitimate major leaguer?

That's exactly what we're seeing out of recent call-up Tim Anderson, the Sox's top draft choice in 2013, who has stepped in as the team's regular shortstop and is hitting .300 in his first 22 games. In half of those games, the kid from Tuscaloosa, Alabama has at least two hits. You can say what you wish about Ventura, but he had the courage to insert Anderson in the leadoff position, and that move has paid dividends for the Sox's timid offense.

Anderson picked up his first base on balls last Thursday in his 86th plate appearance after being summoned to The Cell. That's not what one looks for in a leadoff hitter, but Anderson is a work in progress, and he appears to be a quick study. He'll learn to take more pitches, and once he does - coupled with his speed and power - he will make a major impact with the Sox. In addition, Anderson has made 10 errors this season, all at the Triple-A level. He's handled 83 chances without a miscue since being promoted. Not since Ray Durham has a homegrown prospect looked as promising for the future of the franchise.

Of course, we must defend ourselves from any irrational exuberance, and that is no problem with this group. Frazier may be second in MLB in home runs with 23, but 16 of those have come with the bases empty. More often than not, he's killing the team from the middle of the lineup, hitting .127 with runners in scoring position. Without Cabrera between Frazier and Abreu in the lineup last week, guys like Anderson and Eaton died on base with no one to advance them. Abreu hit .317 and .341, respectively, in his first two seasons with runners in scoring position. That mark is .247 this year. Melky is somewhat more efficient at .273.

But what the heck? It's the Fourth of July. We fire up the barbecue, enjoy the summer weather, throw back a few beers with friends, and hope and pray that some misguided fool with an automatic weapon doesn't accost an airport or one of our Chicago neighborhoods. We fervently dwell on the concept that people everywhere bask in safety and happiness, and that Frazier drives a double into the gap with two outs and the bases loaded. Let's hope that both are achievable.


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

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021