When they left Toronto last week, the White Sox led the majors in home runs. They were having no problem blasting the ball out of the yard. You’ll remember the six long balls they hit on Opening Day.
Fast forward to now, and the White Sox bats have gone as cold as the freezing Chicago temperatures that have so far dominated this homestand.
Whether the weather is to blame or not, the White Sox haven’t been without their opportunities to score runs and win games. And yet they’ve gone 0-4 in four games to start the home portion of the 2018 schedule, with a quartet of losses to a pair of expected non-factors in the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays.
Manager Rick Renteria uttered a common baseball phrase after the latest loss Monday: “We just couldn’t get that big knock.” That’s been the unfortunate trend for this lineup in these last few games.
In the home opener, the White Sox were 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving a total of nine men on base. Saturday they went 0-for-8 and stranded 11 runners. Sunday it was 0-for-3 with four left. Monday they were 2-for-16 and stranded 12. Add it all up, and in games played at Guaranteed Rate Field this season, the White Sox are 6-for-40 with runners in scoring position with 36 runners stranded.
None of that is good, and there have been some particularly glaring moments, too. The White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the first inning both Sunday and Monday and got just one run out of the deals. Saturday, they loaded the bases with nobody out in the second inning and scored zero runs. Monday — after Yoan Moncada and Avisail Garcia struck out with two men on in the eighth — they had runners at second and third in a one-run game and grounded out weakly three straight times, unable to score.
None of this speaks to anything, necessarily, just as all occurrences at this part of the year demand filing in the Department of Small Sample Sizes. But this rebuilding team has a lot of young players, and the front office has talked about these players continuing to develop at the major league level so they’re ready when the time of planned contention arrives.
So after all these early struggles to cash in on opportunities, how does Renteria and his staff go about developing clutch hitters? When the development is complete, should these guys be expected to perform differently in similar situations?
“I think that’s more a byproduct of slowing the game down a little bit, making sure you don’t try to do too much,” Renteria said after Monday’s loss. “Ultimately the result is based on putting yourself in the position to get a good pitch that you can handle and do what you can, put a good swing on it.
“But I think, as you continue to play these games and you have those opportunities — I can assure you that those experiences that they’re having right now in those particular moments, that we’ve had a couple over this homestand actually where we haven’t been able to get that big hit, where in the mindset sometimes of a hitter they start thinking about the hit as opposed to the pitch and just getting something that you can handle. Because the guy on third is nothing until he crosses home plate, he’s just a runner on the base.
“I know they want to get the big hit. I think that the biggest thing is allow them right now to marinate on what’s going on and let them gather their thoughts. Because I know what they’re wanting to do, I know the result that they’re wanting to get. At the end of the day, it’s going to be tomorrow when it’s all settled down, you can talk to them and say, ‘OK, what was the thought process in that particular at-bat? Did you feel like you got the pitch that you wanted? Did you feel like you put the swing you wanted to put on it?’ And they’ll have the answer to that question. But they’ve got to experience those moments.
“It’s a great question: Can you develop clutch hitters? I think you just develop guys that slow the game down and give themselves a chance to go through a process and put in a good swing on a pitch that they can handle, try not to do too much.”
So far this season, we’ve already seen some big strides made at the plate by hitters like Matt Davidson, Tim Anderson and Yolmer Sanchez. The latter two softly grounded out in the ninth inning Monday. It goes to show that, as general manager Rick Hahn has said about these young players, they’re not finished products.
Perhaps when they are, games like Monday’s — and Thursday’s and Saturday’s and Sunday’s — don’t happen very often. Until then, in what is already becoming a common theme in this rebuilding season, the growing pains will be on display.