The frenzy of the crowd rose above even the boom of the fireworks as Yoán Moncada’s go-ahead home run settled in the White Sox bullpen Saturday night.
“I hope we can carry this to the postseason,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo after the White Sox’ 5-4 win against the Tigers on Saturday, “and compete the same way that we’ve been playing lately.”
The White Sox have talked plenty in the past couple months about how their team is different from last year, when the A’s eliminated them in an AL Wild Card series. There are the obvious changes, from the pitching the White Sox have added to the experience they gained in 2020.
Don’t overlook, however, the difference in Moncada’s season this time around.
"Huge,” manager Tony La Russa said when asked the kind of playoff weapon Moncada could be in clutch situations like Saturday’s. “You know he's going to hit somewhere in an important spot in the lineup.”
Moncada was dealing the aftereffects of COVID-19 last year, saying in September 2020 that fatigue was still a “daily battle”. His batting average slipped to .225, after hitting a career-best .315 the year before.
Moncada entered this season with renewed strength and optimism. But his stats at the beginning of the year were head-scratching. Halfway through August, Moncada’s walk rate (14.3 percent) was on pace for a career high, but he was hitting .251.
“He takes a lot of pitches, and I think sometimes he's taking too good of pitches,” White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago last month, as Moncada was in the middle of a hitting streak. “In the major leagues, you can't afford to be giving up too many good pitches per at-bat. And they were pitching around him, and he's got a good eye.”
Too good, in some cases.
With a smile, Moncada agreed with Menechino’s assessment.
“I had to analyze video to realize what I was doing,” he told NBC Sports Chicago. “… I wasn’t as aggressive as I was in 2019, when I was swinging at those pitches. I had to make that adjustment because the umpires were calling those pitches, and I was striking out at a high rate, and that’s not (the kind of hitter) that I am. I analyzed all this, and I started working on that, and finally I figured it out and I got the results.”
To keep himself from over- or under-correcting, Moncada visualizes a box like the one on the TV broadcasts and anticipates the next pitch.
“When I have two strikes, I turn it on,” he said.
Since Aug. 14, Moncada is slashing .303/406/.476, including a career-high 19-game hitting streak. His strikeout rate wasn’t bad before that point (26.2 percent), but he posted an improved 23.1 percent strikeout rate in the last month and a half of the season.
“I’m feeling amazing,” Moncada said in a media scrum at Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend. “And I appreciate this opportunity to get back to the postseason. To me, the key is to just keep playing the game the way that I play the game: just hard, try to enjoy the game, and try to do my thing. There’s not anything else that I think I need to change. It’s just, keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Moncada stepped up to the plate Saturday in the eighth inning with two doubles, including one on a 3-2 count, already under his belt on the night. He drove a first-pitch fastball over the left field wall to complete the White Sox’ comeback.
“We never ever lose confidence in ourselves,” White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said after the game. “We never succumb to the pressure our whatever it may be. Tonight was a really good example. That’s what I like to see out of us right now heading into the playoffs next week.”
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