White Sox

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

SEATTLE -- Though he has never been hotter at the plate for a longer period than right now, Avisail Garcia strives to remain level-headed.

Acquired in July 2013 from the Detroit Tigers, Garcia has easily been the best White Sox hitter throughout the seven-week old 2017 campaign.

Not only has his production been outstanding, Garcia -- hitting .352/.397/.566 in 155 plate appearances -- has had few off nights through the team’s first 39 games. He went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 White Sox loss at the Seattle Mariners, his 15th multi-hit effort of the season.

But through his experience and discussions with peers and coaches, Garcia has determined the way he operates best is if he can stay right down the middle. He wants to avoid getting too high or low and just focus. Garcia hopes his mental approach can help him sustain what could be a breakthrough season.

“You’ve got to forget everything quick,” Garcia said. “To stay in this game, forget about everything quick. Doing good, forget about it. Doing bad, forget about it because tomorrow’s another game. You’re doing good today, but maybe not tomorrow.”

Garcia has dealt with several ups and many downs to reach this point. His two full seasons in the majors have been marred by bursts of hot stretches followed by lengthy cold spells.

In that period, Garcia hit .252/.308/.374 with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs in 1,054 plate appearances -- good for a wRC+ of 85, according to fangraphs.com. The league average baseline for wRC+ is 100.

But Garcia has found something this season. He’s staying focused in each plate appearance and trying to carry over the approach he used with runners in scoring position in 2016 when he hit .355.

The mental shift has helped lead to a four percent reduction in strikeout-rate and a strong run through nearly two months of play. Garcia entered Thursday third in the American League in average and seventh in OPS (.948), slugging percentage (.553) and RBIs (28). He’s also second on the team with six home runs.

“He has been giving us really good at-bats, just trying to focus on getting pitches he can handle and not giving at-bats away,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been doing a very nice job.

“His at-bats in general overall have been much better, more consistent. His approaches have been solid. I think he’s taking the idea of what he wants to do at the plate and maintaining a consistent approach. That’s as easily as I can explain. It’s been very consistent.”

Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had a lively, ongoing discussion with Garcia dating back to 2014.

He’s more the psychologist than the fix-it guy. Most hitting coaches are mental gurus rather than technicians. Steverson’s role is to be the “little guy that sits on (Garcia’s) shoulder” and ask if what he’s doing is the right thing.

What Steverson has seen from Garcia this season is a significant boost in confidence. But that belief isn’t only based on all the success Garcia has experienced, Steverson said. It’s just as critical that Garcia understands his failures. His understanding of the down times has helped Garcia make quicker fixes when failure has returned and he hopes they can help him avoid a lengthy slump.

“The only way to be sustainable is to learn both sides and how that applies to you,” Steverson said. “I think that’s where we are with him. You can’t control what a guy throws, but you can control your brain and what you do when you’re in there. What do I want to do? Is he controlling my at-bat or am I controlling my at-bat?

“It’s necessary. If you don’t learn from it, you can’t move forward. You take this game for granted or the good times for granted, and you don’t understand what you’re doing during that time, or even when you’re not going well, then that’s where the game will bring you back to your knees and say, ‘You need to work on you again.’ It’s all a process of who you are. To change something, you have to know what you’re changing.”

Garcia thinks his ability to handle the ups and downs is the key to his consistency. He knows that even former teammate Miguel Cabrera has days with rough at-bats. Though his previous seasons have been a struggle, Garcia looks at it all as a positive because of the knowledge he has gained. Garcia has learned to take or leave all the different advice he’s gathered over the years and stick with what’s best for his individual game.

He thinks that experience has helped him stay more focused. He’s pleased with how he battles during each plate appearance and how even the outs are hard right now. And that has helped him stay as grounded as he’s been in his career.

“Always when you have tough situations, like those years, you’re learning,” Garcia said. “You’ve just got to be the same. Don’t try to be too high or try to be down, try to be in the middle. This game is like that. You go up and down, up and down, up and down. You’ve got to stay in the middle and never change.

“Think about it a little bit and then throw it away.”

MLB The Show: White Sox take down Blue Jays behind Dallas Keuchel

MLB The Show: White Sox take down Blue Jays behind Dallas Keuchel

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Blue Jays 7-1
Record: 51-36 this season, first in AL Central (3 games ahead of Twins)

W: Dallas Keuchel (5-5)
L: Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-4)

Game summary: The South Siders continued their three-game set vs the Blue Jays north of the border on Wednesday. And just like Canadian summers, their bats took a little longer than normal to warm up in this game.

Fortunately for the White Sox, they didn’t need a lot of runs early as Dallas Keuchel had his entire repertoire working. The veteran lefty, a frequent sore spot in the rotation this season, went eight innings while allowing just one run and striking out five batters. Sporting an ERA above 7 at times this year, Keuchel is now sitting at 5.90.

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After just scoring just two runs through the first seven frames, the White Sox offense broke out in the eighth. Tim Anderson emerged from his power slump in a big way, hitting a three-run bomb to left. Then, Nomar Mazara also went deep, slugging his 17th homer of the season.

The White Sox winning streak is now at three games, the same total they lead the AL Central by as All-Star weekend approaches.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-4 (.311 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, 2B (.251 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 1-5, HR (23), RBI, R (.278 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 1-3, 2 BB, R (.309 BA)
Jose Abreu: 3-5, 2 2B, 2 R (.311 BA)
Tim Anderson: 1-5, HR (15), 3 RBI, R (.275 BA)
Luis Robert: 1-5, R (.256 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-3 (.283 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 2-4, HR (17), 2 RBI, R (.257 BA)

Scoring summary:

Top first

Yoan Moncada homered to left field. 1-0 CHW.

Top fourth

Nomar Mazara singled to left field, Luis Robert scored. 2-0 CHW.

Bottom fifth

Bo Bichette homered to left field. 2-1 CHW.

Top eighth

Tim Anderson homered to left field, Yasmani Grandal and Jose Abreu scored. 5-1 CHW.
Mazara homered to right field. 6-1 CHW.

Top ninth

Anderson reached on throwing error, Abreu scored. 7-1 CHW.

Notable performance: Mazara is the human embodiment of the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Despite being in the nine-hole, Mazara has hit 16 homers and is ninh in the AL with 63 RBIs. There's no reason to move him elsewhere in the lineup.

Next game: Thursday, July 2 - Game 88: White Sox at Blue Jays (Dylan Cease, 4-4, 5.40 ERA vs Ryan Borucki, 6-4, 5.11 ERA)

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Yoan Moncada: White Sox still on track for success in 2020, even after layoff

Yoan Moncada: White Sox still on track for success in 2020, even after layoff

It's been a bit of a deflating experience for White Sox fans over the past few months. They were ready for their team to finally ascend into the realm of baseball's contenders, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to put those plans on hold.

The most anticipated season of White Sox baseball in years wasn't happening.

Well, it's kind of happening now, albeit in a squeezed-down, 60-game version that has some fans already bemoaning the 2020 campaign's illegitimacy before it starts.

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But White Sox fans who had the wind taken out of their sails shouldn't be so down in the dumps. Even after a three-month layoff and staring at a two-month sprint to the postseason, the White Sox seem to be in as good a position as they were back in March to make their jump out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode.

Though so much has changed in baseball and around the world in the last few months, that one aspect of the White Sox outlook for the 2020 season has not, according to one of the team's best players.

"I think that each one of us has been working out, has been doing what they are supposed to be doing in order to get ready for the season," Yoan Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo on Wednesday. "If that's the case, and I truly believe that’s the case, we are going to be ready, when the season starts, to compete right away. I think there’s not going to be any major difference."

Indeed, there's reason to believe that the White Sox are positioned quite well to compete for an AL Central title and reach the postseason, much like there was back in March. The young core of Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito were excellent in 2019, especially toward the end of the season. The front office added numerous impact veterans with winning experience during the offseason. And Luis Robert is a much-hyped prospect who could provide a huge boost to the lineup right away.

And the layoff has even allowed for some improvements to the roster, at least on paper, with a pitching staff deepened by the potential full-season additions of recovered arms Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning.

While the White Sox have their fair share of questions — look to that same pitching staff, where it's unknown what kind of results the team will get from Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez — they could wind up the most balanced of the three non-rebuilding teams in the Central. The defending-champion Minnesota Twins have a powerful lineup that now includes perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, but their pitching staff past ace Jose Berrios needs to prove its dependability. The Cleveland Indians, on the other hand, have arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, but their lineup is top heavy with major questions past Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Moncada is of the mindset that to be the champs, you've got to beat the champs.

"I see ourselves in a very good position to compete in this division," he said. "I think that the team to beat is the Minnesota Twins. But I think we have a very good team to compete against them."

RELATED: White Sox not adjusting high hopes for 2020: 'I'm still extremely optimistic'

The third baseman doesn't seem to be alone in his thinking that the White Sox are still in a good position to reach the high expectations they put on themselves during the spring, when everyone at Camelback Ranch was talking about snapping the franchise's more than decade-long playoff drought. Team brass was sticking to those high hopes last week.

“I’m still extremely optimistic,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We come in with the same mindset, to build on what we were building when we were cut off in the spring. And I continue to be optimistic about how positively we can roll forward.”

Obviously this is a season unlike any other, and no one truly knows what will happen when the games start being played — including how many of those games the COVID-19 pandemic will allow Major League Baseball to complete. A fast start will be important to the White Sox and every other team looking to sprint to the regular season's finish line.

Some more good news, at least for Moncada? This is a season in which he doesn't have to worry about battling Chicago's frigid April and May conditions.

"I don't like cold weather," he said. "I think starting the season in this kind of weather is going to be an advantage for all of us. I think we're going to feel much more comfortable, and for me, I think I'm going to feel like I'm playing in Cuba because this is the kind of weather we're used to in Cuba. It's going to be comfortable for us."

White Sox fans have reason to believe they could be very comfortable with their team's fortunes, even after a three-month layoff.


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