Carlos Sanchez is still hitting well below the Mendoza line, but on Friday he showed why the White Sox have so much faith in him.
The 22-year-old second baseman highlighted a strong defensive afternoon as the White Sox beat the Cubs, 1-0, in Friday’s Crosstown Cup curtain-lifter in front of 41,580 at Friday Field. The White Sox turned five double plays and Sanchez’s diving stop recorded the final out of the game — and earned him the game ball from closer David Robertson.
“(Sanchez’s) been buried offensively and working his way out of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “But you start seeing what he does every day defensively and where we were and kind of how it’s turned the corner for us. If we’re not going to score a ton of runs, we need to play like we did today on the defensive side of the ball, and he’s doing it.”
The White Sox ended each of the first four innings of the game by turning double plays ranging from spectacular to sloppy. Cubs rookie All-Star Kris Bryant hit into a 4-6-3 double play in the first, and Alexei Ramirez’s diving stop and quick shovel to Sanchez — who quickly flipped a throw to Jose Abreu at first despite Chris Denorfia sliding in hard — started a sensational double play in the second.
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Despite Avisail Garcia’s errant throw home after his diving catch in the third, the White Sox were still able to turn a 9-2-6 double play to end that inning. And the Cubs’ double steal attempt with one out in the fourth inning resulted in a strikeout of Jorge Soler and Bryant being thrown out by Tyler Flowers at third.
All those double plays helped erase the six walks issued by White Sox starter Carlos Rodon, who fired six scoreless innings while only throwing 57 of his 104 pitches for strikes.
“They kept me in the game,” Rodon said. “Those quick double plays kept the pitch count down and without that I'd probably be done by the fourth or something. Defensively we played great and that's what kept us in that game.”
After Jake Petricka got Castro to hit into another double play in the seventh, the White Sox manufactured their only run: Emilio Bonifacio was hit by a pitch and stole second, advanced to third on Adam Eaton’s bunt and scored on J.B. Shuck’s sacrifice fly.
Bad defense has been one of the chief reasons why the White Sox dug themselves a sizable hole through the season’s first three and a half months.
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While the players, coaches and the front office see a defense that’s improving, as a group it’s still last in UZR and second to last in defensive runs saved, FanGraphs’ two major advanced defensive metrics. With a lagging offense that’s struggled to support a strong pitching staff, the defense (and baserunning) has frequently been a starting point in explaining the White Sox 44 losses.
“Today was a good day for us, Avi made a very good play in right field (and) Alexei’s (play),” Sanchez said through a translator. “It was key for us today for us to win this game. Every time you can play good defense, you’re giving a best chance to your team to win the game.”
The White Sox know they have a steep path to navigate to enter the American League playoff race. Ventura wants his team to embrace its current underdog status, and beating a crosstown rival that’s in position to make the playoffs is a nice push in that direction.
Especially when that push came thanks to what Ventura considered more than the team’s best defensive game of the season.
“Probably in a couple years, I would say,” Ventura said, “not just this year.”