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Walking And Crawling

Watching the White Sox these days is somewhat similar to observing a would-be toddler preparing to walk. The little guy or gal first figures out that crawling is the lone available means to get from Point A to Point B. Once those stubby, little legs gain strength, standing, albeit holding onto something, becomes a bold endeavor, and the first wobbly, exploratory steps are soon taken to the delight of parents, grandparents and anyone who appreciates the marvels of how we humans develop.

However, it's not that simple. That first step is celebrated, but crawling remains an option because that initial stride is followed by series of stumbles and plops. These kiddies are not foolish. They remember that motoring on all fours wasn't so inconvenient after all. Literally, there is one step forward and a generous display of crawling until the steps become more secure and numerous, and off we go.

Eloy Jimenez is a case in point. Just two years ago he was hitting .345 at Double-A while last season he was slashing .355/.399/.996 at Charlotte - a sure sign that he was ready to walk into the major leagues. Sox loyalists clamored for the front office to promote the kid to the big time. Sort of like uber prospect Luis Robert today.

After hitting his first two home runs as a major leaguer in Yankee Stadium in the same game in mid-April, Eloy was off to a splendid beginning with a .319 batting average. His eighth-inning, two-run blast at Wrigley Field on June 18 to provide the margin in a 3-1 win over the Cubs will easily make the highlight video for this season and will be remembered for a long time.

However, among other developments have been two trips to the injury list. In the seven games since returning for the second time, Jimenez was in a 4-for-29 funk until he unleashed a three-run homer to right center Sunday in a 10-5 thrashing of the Phillies. Prior to that home run, Jimenez's first since July 18th and his 18th of the season, Eloy hadn't driven in a run since his return from the IL, while striking out 10 times without drawing any walks. His average has dropped to .235, hardly the stuff from a guy who once was the No. 3-rated prospect in baseball.

Despite the trials and tribulations, Eloy Jimenez bobbleheads with be the door prize Saturday at The Grate before the Sox face the A's. Assuming that Jimenez eventually fulfills the potential predicted for him, maybe an Eloy blow-up doll waits in the wings.
While patience is required for our Eloy, consider Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was the top-rated prospect when he debuted for the Blue Jays in late April. Amidst all the excitement and hoopla, Vlady was hitting a measly .191 after 13 games without a home run and just one RBI.

However, the 20-year-old Guerrero appears to have found his comfort level. Since the All-Star Game, his 24 RBIs are second only to the Twins' Nelson Cruz's 26, while Vlady's hitting at a .361 clip since the break. Overall, Guerrero's slash is .279/.352/.819. This data is not aimed to remind us that Jimenez to this point hasn't lived up to the hype - it's to illustrate that these young guys are works in progress. As mentioned, the irrepressible Vlady was below the Mendoza Line at the start of his career.

While Jimenez and shortstop Tim Anderson are back playing again, Yoan Moncada pulled up lame with a strained hamstring in the first inning last Tuesday and will be lost at least for another week after going on the IL. This clearly hurts a team that has lost 17 of 23 games since the All-Star break. Moncada was rolling along at .301/.358/.893, better even that the flashy Vlady. Lest we be remiss, one year ago this morning, Moncada's line was .222/.305/.705. Yes, folks, this guy has learned how to walk.

With four games at cellar-dwelling Detroit (32-75) beginning this evening, just maybe the tough times are over for the South Siders. Surely taking two-of-three in Philadelphia was encouraging.

Bizarre as well. The 15-inning 4-3 victory last Friday night featured Phillie pitcher Victor Velasquez playing left field like Carl Yastremzski. He made two outstanding throws to the plate the last two innings, nailing Jose Abreu and just missing the speedy Leury Garcia.

Then he took a hit away from Jimenez with a shoe-top diving catch to close out the top of the 15th, all in support of center fielder Roman Quinn who wound up pitching the last two innings. It was great theater.

Reflecting on the malaise of the past few weeks, there are some obvious explanations. In the 17 losses, the Sox scored only 32 runs, hitting .152 with runners in scoring position. Compare that to the 39 runs in the team's six wins in which they hit a robust .418 with runners thirsting to score. Granted that NL East Division foes, the Mets and Phillies, threw pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola against the Sox, and you can understand the challenges that the athletes faced. However, they also lost four straight to Kansas City while getting outscored 28-11 in losing three-of-four to the Twins.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of the recent streak has been the bullpen. Sox relievers have a 3.46 ERA since the All-Star break, good for 5th among all the 30 clubs. That number shrinks to 2.33, the best in the majors, since July 18.

The bullpen corps has been led by the surprising Aaron Bummer, a left-hander who didn't even make the team out of spring training. Last season Bummer split time between the South Side and Charlotte. His ERA with the big club was 4.26, and he gave up more hits than innings pitched.

But here is another case of a young - Bummer is 25 - player who has learned to walk. Bummer's 1.69 ERA is tied for 10th among all relievers, and he's done it by throwing primarily fastballs and cutters. Opposing batters are hitting .178 against him.

While there are high expectations and more than enough buzz for prospects like Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech, Bummer was a 19th-round draft choice out of the University of Nebraska, which makes you wonder whether these youngsters might be better off away from the spotlight while they hone their craft.

While the relievers have been effective, the same can't be said for the starters, who have a 5.27 ERA over the last 23 games. Part of that is a result of the fact that the team lacks a fifth starter. Veteran Hector Santiago, whom the Sox signed in June after the Mets released him, will get an opportunity to start the nightcap of a doubleheader in Detroit on Tuesday. He joins a cast that this season includes Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, Ervin Santana and Odrisamer Despaigne, all of whom have been called upon to fill the No. 5 spot.

Reynaldo Lopez got his sixth win on Sunday even though he failed to complete the sixth inning. This is a pattern which requires fixing. The first two times through the order, Lopez has held opponents to a .260 batting average. However, the third time he's faced hitters in a game that number balloons to .321, and the on-base percentage is an astounding .399.

The fellows return home for a weekend set with the steady, consistent A's, who stand at 64-48, just a half-game out of a wild card berth. Those baby steps will come in handy. Let's hope the Sox aren't back to crawling come Sunday evening.

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

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