Yolmer Sanchez

With offense scuffling at home, how can rebuilding White Sox develop clutch hitters?

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With offense scuffling at home, how can rebuilding White Sox develop clutch hitters?

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.

Meet the machines: Home opener ends in loss, but White Sox 'prove it' players continue hot starts

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USA TODAY

Meet the machines: Home opener ends in loss, but White Sox 'prove it' players continue hot starts

Meet the machines.

The White Sox are off to a 3-3 start after Thursday's 9-7 extra-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers in the home opener. The bullpen's meltdown will get plenty of attention, but it was perhaps a perfect example of where the priorities lie in this developmental season. No matter what the win-loss record looks like by season's end, general manager Rick Hahn wants to see young players progress. And that's exactly what some of these guys are doing, putting on some impressive offensive displays here in the season's early going.

It was definitely the case Thursday, with the White Sox banging out 11 hits, spraying baseballs all over the field as the snowflakes fell from the sky.

Meet Matt Davidson, the on-base machine.

Davidson has garnered plenty of attention for his power stroke in the season's first week. He hit three homers on Opening Day and added another earlier this week in Toronto. His season total would've reached five in any other weather Thursday, as he drove a fifth-inning double high off the wall instead of over it. But Davidson has been doing something that hasn't earned as much attention but is certainly more important to his long-term prospects on this team: He's getting on base. He walked twice Thursday, his fourth and fifth free passes of the season, remarkable considering he had just 19 of them in 2017. After those two walks and two hits against the Tigers, Davidson's on-base percentage sits at .444 through six games. It was .260 last season. Obviously, getting on base more means scoring more, and Davidson scored four times Thursday.

Meet Tim Anderson, the base-running machine.

Anderson is fast, but he stole just 15 bases last season while playing in 146 games. Well, he's off to the races in 2018, with four steals after swiping second base in the second inning Thursday. In fact, he put on a base-running clinic that inning, singling, stealing second, moving to third on a grounder and finally using his speed to rush home and slide in on a pretty shallow sacrifice fly. Getting on base was a struggle for Anderson in 2017, too, just like Davidson, and he's already seeing some improvement in that category, as well. He also walked twice Thursday after doing so just 13 times in all of last season. The more he gets on base, the more he'll be able to use that speed and create runs.

Meet Yolmer Sanchez, the triples machine.

Sanchez led the White Sox with eight triples last season. He's already a quarter of the way to matching that total after hitting a pair of them Thursday. Sanchez picked up three hits to add to his 2018 total. He was 5-for-15 with four RBIs coming into the game. He's now 8-for-19 with seven RBIs.

All this stuff of course comes with the "small sample size" caveat. But it's a great sign for the White Sox to see these guys starting off their "prove it" seasons strong. Davidson, Anderson and Sanchez all entered 2018 with varying levels of questions about their ability to stay in the long-term picture of this rebuilding franchise. The longer they can continue to succeed at the plate, the longer they'll keep themselves in that conversation.

The White Sox are down to .500, but they keep crushing homers

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The White Sox are down to .500, but they keep crushing homers

The White Sox saw their dreams of going 162-0 dashed Monday. One night later, they fell to .500 and found themselves on the brink of a three-game sweep against the Toronto Blue Jays.

But in this still-nascent season, the South Siders are just crushing the ball. The White Sox bashed three more home runs in Tuesday night's 14-5 loss to the Blue Jays, bringing their season total to 12 in just four games.

Tim Anderson, Avisail Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez did the honors Tuesday, a night after Welington Castillo had a two-homer game in the series-opener.

Anderson's fourth-inning blast helped score the shortstop a bit of redemption after he made his first error of the season and allowed a run to score in the bottom of the third.

Sanchez lifted a ball to the second deck to bring the White Sox within two in the eighth.

But the highlight of the night for the visitors was Garcia's shot in the fifth, a 481-foot bomb that went down as the longest homer of the season in baseball and the longest for a White Sox hitter since Statcast started keeping track of such things in 2015.

Coming into Tuesday night, only the Colorado Rockies had more homers than the White Sox, with 10.

But when it's come to hitting the ball out of the park, what a rip-roaring start for the South Siders, who ranked just 24th in homers in 2017. Already they have three players with multiple home runs on the season in Matt Davidson (three), Anderson (three) and Castillo (two). Garcia and Sanchez joined Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada in the one-homer club Tuesday.