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Mercedes shows off in-house solution to Sox offensive woes

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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The solution to the Chicago White Sox problems might be out there on the trade market.

But then again, it might be right in front of their face.

Most likely, it's a combination of the two. Outside boosts are a typical remedy for contending clubs in the middle of the summer, sometimes the difference between a World Series run and a failure to reach the postseason's finish line. But for a scuffling White Sox team, even bits and pieces of a 2-7 stretch show where meaningful contributions could come from in hopes of getting back to the winning ways of earlier in the season.

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"Playing better" is a pretty obvious solution, one easier said than done, but the end point is the same. If the White Sox want their offense to more closely resemble what it was supposed to look like in February — or what it did look like in April and May, when they boasted the game's best run differential — the healthy hitters need to bust out of their current slumps.

And that's what Yermín Mercedes did Sunday.

Time will tell whether he's back in the groove that produced a white-hot start to his rookie season or if this was a blip of success amid a struggle that's lasted weeks. But Mercedes had two hits, scored twice, drove in three runs and made a pair of energizing headfirst slides to help the White Sox to a 7-5 win in their series finale with the visiting Seattle Mariners.

 

If Mercedes can get back to the middle-of-the-lineup hit machine he was in the early going, well that's one way for the White Sox offense to get a little life.

"There's no question that his work, the process is working good, and he's taking it into the game. He looks more like he did early, right?" White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "It'd be a great time for him to get back to being himself. He was critical today. ... It's exciting to see him have those kinds of at-bats."

During the first two months of the campaign, the White Sox were defined by who stepped up amid some serious injuries, and no one stood out more than Mercedes, who carried an improbable .415 batting average into May and was still hitting as high as .384 in the middle of that month. Since, of course, things have not gone nearly as well, and he was hitting just .161 over his previous 33 games coming into Saturday.

Why?

"There's an awful lot of distraction, or motivation, from different circles to hit more home runs. 'You can contribute more if you hit for power.' And most guys when they do that, they come off the baseball, and their contact suffers," La Russa said. "He's so strong that if he barrels the ball, he's going to get a lot of hits and he's going to hit more home runs.

"I don't know where they hear it, because they don't hear it from the hitting coach or the manager, and not the players, either. ... His swing was just getting too big. And he doesn't have to be big."

Indeed, no one's expecting him to be Ted Williams from here on out. All he needs to do, to borrow his favorite catchphrase, is "be Yermín."

He showed the kind of impact he can have Sunday, busting it down the first-base line on a swinging bunt and diving into the bag to beat out an RBI infield hit. Shortly thereafter, he motored his way from first and made another headfirst slide to complete a bases-clearing double for Zack Collins.

Mercedes' first-inning double was a better indication of the kind of offensive help that can really benefit the White Sox and assist them in pulling out of a rut. But that willingness to do the little things, to will hits into existence, was present in Mercedes' month-and-a-half tear. If he can recapture that magic, the White Sox could be up a hitter they're searching for right now.

"He carried us through the first month, coming in, filling Eloy (Jiménez's) spot and doing what he did was huge for us," Collins said of Mercedes. "(He's) struggling as of late, but always working and continuing to get better, get faster, scoring from first twice and diving into first.

 

"It’s always good to see him get a couple of hits, get that confidence back up."

And it's not just Mercedes, of course.

José Abreu is slumping, as well, and the MVP flipping a switch would go a long way, though the team will wait to see how bad of shape their leader is in after taking a bullet of a pitch off his knee after Saturday's suspended game was resumed Sunday afternoon.

Tim Anderson, the 2019 batting champ, has a .295 average on the campaign but came into Saturday hitting .172 in his last seven games. Yoán Moncada's had a great season but hasn't exactly been on fire in June.

With Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal — not to mention Adam Engel and Adam Eaton — all missing from this lineup with injuries, there hasn't been much margin for error for the healthy guys, something they learned the hard way this last week and a half. Truly, the best way to improve the White Sox offense would be to get Jiménez and Robert back, whenever that's possible.

But the next best thing would be seeing Abreu, Moncada, Anderson and Mercedes contribute in the way they've shown they can.

Sunday's originally scheduled contest saw the White Sox score seven runs for the first time since they wrapped the last home stand with an 8-7 walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays that briefly made them the best team in baseball. They haven't looked like anything resembling the best team in baseball since leaving for Houston.

But they're still a first-place team and still have the talent to be a World Series contender. They just need to play like it.

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