A White Sox offense that slumped its way through much of a 2-8 stretch to close out the regular season would look a lot better if Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada snapped out of their deep September slumps.
Well, they might be doing just that. And the timing couldn't be better for the White Sox.
The playoffs start Tuesday, and the White Sox biggest task isn't necessarily solving the Oakland Athletics, their opponents for the AL Wild Card Series. It's solving themselves. After spending much of the regular season with one of the best, if not the best offense in the American League, a disastrous seven-game road trip through Ohio was a different story entirely. The White Sox scored just 22 runs on the trip, going 1-6. Then they came home and were blanked by the Crosstown-rival Cubs in a 10-0 blowout Friday night.
A lineup that was discussed as having no holes throughout much of the campaign was suddenly full of them as Robert and Moncada went cold and season-long slumps continued for Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara. Even MVP candidate Tim Anderson wasn't immune, going 3-for-33 over his final nine games and losing 55 points from his batting average over his final 11.
But Robert and Moncada showed some mighty positive signs during the series against the Cubs.
Heading into the Crosstown series, Robert was 0-for-his-last-26 and owned a September batting average of .086. But he went 5-for-12 with three runs scored, an RBI, a stolen base and a walk against the Cubs. When he woke up Friday, Moncada had just three hits in his previous 37 at-bats. Over the weekend, he went 3-for-12 with a three-run homer, four runs scored and a pair of walks.
None of that is necessarily tearing the cover off the ball, but it could be a good omen for what these dangerous bats could be capable of against the A's and, the White Sox hope, beyond.
Robert is going through the kinds of adjustments that any player would be expected to deal with in his first season in the major leagues. Pitchers adjusted to Robert after he started his rookie year with a bang, and he looked mystified through much of the past month.
"This month, I didn't get the results I was getting the first month. But I kept working and the last few days I feel better," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo after Sunday's game. "Sometimes when you hit a wall, sometimes when you're struggling, you try to change your approach or your mindset at home plate and that makes things worse. I just try to stay with myself, with my plan, and now I feel much better."
"I’m optimistic that what he showed (Sunday) was what we needed to see," manager Rick Renteria said. "His swings he was taking (Sunday) are not timid, they were very confident. I think that — I don’t want to jinx it — it looked good."
The White Sox could certainly use Robert returning to the form he showed during his first 33 games in the majors, when he slashed .298/.348/.612 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs. That would add some much needed heft to a lineup that will see nothing but the kind of high-end pitching it did over its final 14 regular-season games, which all came against playoff teams.
"We need him. We need him to be the player that we all saw that he can be in the middle of this season and the player we know that he can be in the future," first baseman José Abreu said through Russo last week. "We all know he's going to be a superstar, and we need him. It's not a joke, he's a very important player for us, and we need him to find his stride again and help us because the race is not going to get any easier. We need him."
Moncada's lack of production at the plate has been for a much different reason than Robert's.
"Definitely my body hasn’t felt the same after the virus," he said through Russo at the beginning of September. "I feel a lack of energy, strength, it’s just a weird feeling. It’s different. When I got to Chicago, before I tested positive (for COVID-19), I was feeling strong and with energy.
"Now, it’s like a daily battle to try to find that strength, that energy to go through the day. But that’s something that I have to deal with, and it is what it is. I have to find a way to get through it."
Frankly, it's amazing, after hearing Moncada describe what his life has been like since his COVID-19 infection, that he's done what he has this season. There was no more stark reminder of what he's dealing with on a daily basis than seeing Renteria fanning an exhausted Moncada with a towel after he tripled and scored on a ground out last week in Cleveland.
Somehow, Moncada has found that energy. Saturday night, he homered for the first time in a month and a half. Who knows how deep he'll be able to keep digging now that playoff intensity gets added to his daily battle. But if he contributes some more production, the White Sox will be in an even better place, offensively.
"I've been feeling better for the last two weeks, more energy, better overall," Moncada said Saturday. "I am still having the effects of the corona but I feel better, and every day I feel like my energy level is improving and I'm going to be good for the postseason."
If both Robert and Moncada can flip their September scripts for the postseason, then the White Sox will be a lot closer to what they were when they were blasting balls all over the place in the middle of the campaign and the misfortunes of the last 10 games will be a lot easier to put behind them.
There are signs of a turnaround. Now, it needs to happen. And fast. Because there's not much time to feel things out in a best-of-three series with the season on the line.