HOUSTON — Yoán Moncada's 2020 campaign was defined by what he wasn't.
He wasn't at full strength, his energy sapped by the aftereffects of the COVID-19 infection he experienced before the season started. What he called a "daily battle" to muster the ability to take the field was obvious when he ran around the bases in Cleveland one night and shortly thereafter was spotted getting fanned by then-manager Rick Renteria in the dugout.
Chicago White Sox coaches didn't know if he'd be able to return to the field to play defense in the bottom of the inning.
This year, things were supposed to be different. And so far, they have been, with Moncada shaking off the impact his health issues had on his production. But earlier this week, Moncada was again not feeling himself. Headaches, congestion, body aches and a lack of energy.
Thankfully, after testing, Moncada knew he didn't have COVID-19 again. But he was knocked out of the entirety of the White Sox recent series with the Tampa Bay Rays with a sinus infection. He returned for the start of the current series against the Houston Astros in Texas, but not because he felt back to normal.
"The team needs me. My teammates need me. We're a team," Moncada said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Even though I’m not feeling good, the easy response would be, ‘I don’t want to play.’ But no, I want to play. I want to help this team. I want to help my teammates to win games. And that’s why I have to find a way to get through this.
"I have to keep grinding and doing the best that I can to help this team, no matter what, if I’m feeling 100 percent or not. But I know that even though I’m not 100 percent, I can still help this team do better and to win games."
The White Sox have made a habit of winning games without key components this season, a first-place club despite the significant injuries that have knocked Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal out of the lineup. And even without Moncada, they managed to take two of three from the Rays, briefly owning the best record in baseball at that series' conclusion.
But Moncada is right, the White Sox do need him.
Without Jiménez, Robert and Madrigal, the White Sox need their biggest boppers to do their thing if they want to achieve their sky-high, championship-level goals. And Moncada is one of those big boppers. He was in 2019, during a breakout season that had people whispering about a future MVP candidate, and he has been so far this season, leading the White Sox in OPS, on-base percentage and doubles.
"For the most part, I've been feeling good this season so far on the field," Moncada said. "I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to do, and it’s good. I think I’m on the same path to have a season kind of like the same that I had in 2019, or even better."
Now, in addition to the production, he's showing the White Sox his level of dedication by playing through what's currently bothering him.
"I don't think you can give him enough credit," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said before Friday's game in Houston. "It just doesn't seem like we talk enough about him. He's been very consistent, he's gotten as many or more big hits than anybody on the team, and he makes a lot of plays defensively.
"He's always got a smile on his face, very popular. He's one of the highlights of this team. I didn't know until I got here just how special he is. He's very special, in every way."
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, but the way Moncada is acting and the way the White Sox are talking about him — not mention what he's providing from a production standpoint — reminds plenty of his locker buddy and mentor, José Abreu. And just like you wouldn't expect anything less from Abreu than to play despite not feeling 100 percent, maybe it's time to expect similar behavior from Moncada.
"It’s definitely a pride thing, I will say, a professional pride to want to be here," Moncada said. "You want to be accountable, you want to help the guys.
"I still can play. Probably not at 100 percent, but I can play and I know that I there are ways I can help this team."