White Sox

As Yoan Moncada closes in on 200 strikeouts, he's actually finishing on a good note

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USA TODAY

As Yoan Moncada closes in on 200 strikeouts, he's actually finishing on a good note

It might not come as much of a comfort to White Sox fans bummed out about how this season will end for the South Siders, but Yoan Moncada has been a lot better lately than his disappointing 2018 campaign would lead you to believe.

Moncada is almost surely going to finish this year with the 11th 200-strikeout season in major league history. His .224/.304/.391 slash line can only get so much better with 17 games remaining on the schedule. And while these are examples of the to-be-expected growing pains of a still-developing young player, Moncada's recent status as the top prospect in the game and one of the biggest names of the White Sox rebuild have made him fall drastically short of fans' expectations of him in his first full big league season.

But for those looking for something positive to focus on heading into the offseason, Moncada's numbers as the season has wound down have been significantly better than they were earlier in the summer.

Following Tuesday night's loss to the Kansas City Royals, the second baseman is slashing .263/.333/.408 with 20 hits, six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last 21 games. Additionally, he's racked up only 19 strikeouts during that span.

Those numbers might not exactly leap off the screen, but compare them to what came before it, and you'll notice a sizable difference. In the 22 games prior to this current stretch, Moncada slashed .145/.250/.241 with only four extra-base hits and a whopping 40 strikeouts.

Interestingly, though perhaps not very meaningful, Moncada's stretch of increased success came after a day off and started with Michael Kopech's major league debut against the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 21. He homered that night, too.

And, as a quick aside, Moncada has only committed five errors since the beginning of July. So that's five errors in a two-and-a-half-month span after he committed 13 in the season's first three months. He still ranks fourth in baseball with 18 fielding errors on the year.

What about, though, the area of Moncada's game that the White Sox remain so high on, his eye at the plate? The team keeps talking up Moncada's mastery of the strike zone, using it as a kind of explainer for the high strikeout numbers. But are there walks to go along with that good eye?

Over his last 21 games, Moncada has walked eight times in 84 plate appearances. That includes a pair of bases on balls Tuesday night, one of which came with the bases loaded and forced in a run during an interesting ninth inning. In the prior 22 games, he walked 12 times in 97 plate appearances.

Before jumping to any conclusions from that, though, perhaps the smallish amount of walks could be Moncada doing what the White Sox want him to do and being more aggressive at the plate. That would be, maybe, a good sign that the strikeout numbers won't be quite as high in 2019.

General manager Rick Hahn was asked about Moncada's high strikeout total earlier this month and had this to say:

"That’s part of his game. And we try to evaluate players holistically, for lack of a better word, and that being based on everything they bring to the table and not just one element. I’m not going to tell you this guy is an impact player simply because he has power. And we’re certainly not going to disregard what a player can bring, in his case a substantial ceiling, simply because of strikeouts.

"Is the number higher than we would like? Absolutely. It’s higher than he would like. One encouraging part of it, though, is as you guys have seen him repeatedly take pitches on the borderline, some of which have gone against him despite their location, the kid knows the strike zone and that’s a tough thing to teach. If we have to teach him to be a little more aggressive earlier in counts when he gets hittable pitches that he’s looking for, we’ll take that challenge.

"This kid’s got a world of hitting ability, blessed with fantastic tools, power. The plate discipline’s one of the things that’s tough to teach, and he already comes with that. So the things that we do have to teach in order to decrease those strikeouts a little bit down the road, that’s a workable project."

Should Moncada's final 17 games look like his last 21, he probably won't break baseball's single-season strikeout record of 223 punch outs. He probably won't break the franchise record of 222, either. (In case you were wondering, that's Adam Dunn's record, set in 2012.) But he's still probably going to strike out at least 200 times during his first full season in the majors. The White Sox are confident such a campaign won't write the script for the remainder of Moncada's career, and there's plenty of recent precedent from some of the game's best young players to back that up.

A lot of strikeouts would probably be more palatable if Moncada's other numbers looked better. It's possible, should he keep this up over the campaign's final weeks, that his last roughly 40 games will make that a bit of a reality.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: With a little help from old friend Tony Graffanino

White Sox 2005 Rewind: With a little help from old friend Tony Graffanino

In the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 2000 ALDS, the White Sox inserted Tony Graffanino into the game as a pinch-runner.

He was erased when Paul Konerko hit into an inning-ending double play. Graffanino stayed in the game at third base and was on the field when the Seattle Mariners walked off Keith Foulke and the White Sox.

The White Sox didn’t get back to the postseason for another five years.

But when they did, Graffanino was there again, this time playing for the opposing Boston Red Sox. He started at second base and had one of the best seats in the house to watch the South Siders beat the defending champs’ brains in for a 14-2 win in Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS. The next night, he factored into things a bit more prominently, though certainly not in the way he hoped.

Graffanino played for the White Sox from 2000 to 2003. He started the 2005 season as a division rival, suiting up for the Kansas City Royals before being dealt to the Red Sox in the middle of the campaign. He had himself an excellent season, and his good numbers with the Royals got even better when he went to Boston. He hit .319 and reached base at a .355 clip in his 51 regular-season games with the Red Sox.

But his defense, or lack thereof, would be his key contribution to the ALDS that season, unintentionally helping turn the tide in the middle of the series’ second game — for his old mates.

After torching Matt Clement for eight runs in Game 1, the White Sox offense wasn’t finding things quite as easy against another former South Sider, David Wells, who had the bats well silenced through four innings. Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle was atypically hittable in the early going of this one, giving up two first-inning runs — he only gave up six first-inning runs in his 33 regular-season starts — and two more runs in the third.

But the same White Sox lineup scored two touchdowns the day before and was obviously capable of banging around Boston’s lackluster pitching staff. The White Sox strung some hits together against Wells in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit in half, and Juan Uribe came up with a runner on first and one out. He tapped a grounder to second, hitting what appeared to be a pretty routine double-play ball.

Except Graffanino whiffed.

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: Underdogs? 14-run ALDS coming-out party said otherwise

Instead of an inning-ending double play, Graffanino’s error kept the inning alive. And after Scott Podsednik popped out to third base, the bill came due. Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead, three-run homer that sent the South Side into pure chaos.


All three runs were unearned, but they still counted.

Buehrle settled down nicely, and after giving up his fourth run, he retired 13 of the final 15 hitters he faced, allowing just a couple singles. Bobby Jenks was stellar in his first career playoff game, called upon for a two-inning save in a one-run game. No matter. He retired six of the eight batters he faced, including Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, the only hit he gave up a ninth-inning double to, who else, Graffanino. But with the tying run 180 feet away, Jenks got a pop out and a ground ball to put the White Sox a win away from an ALDS sweep.


Now, I’m not trying to revive the one-time trend of jumping all over a guy who lets a ball roll under his glove during a key playoff game on the right side of the Red Sox infield. That’s, as the kids say, tired and not at all wired.

And the White Sox deserve plenty if not most of the credit. They were no strangers to comebacks of all stripes during that 2005 season. It's one thing to be gifted an opportunity. It's another to be able to capitalize. Iguchi was clutch as could be, and his defensive plays at second base in this one were important, too, earning him an enthusiastic hug from Buehrle in the dugout after the seventh inning. Buehrle and Jenks’ efforts on the hill were just as important as a big inning at the right time.

But how funny does the world work — the baseball world, in particular — that with the White Sox attempting to erase an 88-year title drought, who should be there to turn the game around in their favor but a former teammate and a guy who was on the field the last time they were this close, half a decade earlier?

That’s team-of-destiny stuff right there.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 3 of the ALDS, airing at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC Sports Chicago.

 

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MLB The Show: White Sox complete sweep of Twins as power surge continues

MLB The Show: White Sox complete sweep of Twins as power surge continues

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Twins 13-4
Record: 24-29, T-3rd in A.L. Central (5.5 GB of Twins)

W: Dylan Cease (3-3)
L: Rich Hill (3-4)

Game summary: Things couldn’t have gone any better for the White Sox in this weekend’s four-game series vs the Twins. The South Siders took the first three games by offensive force and the finale was no different.

Nick Madrigal’s unlikely tenure in the cleanup spot has mostly been underwhelming, until Sunday afternoon. The slight-in-stature second baseman ripped a three-run homer to left to give the White Sox the lead in the first.

Chicago doubled the advantage in the second, when Edwin Encarnacion slugged a two-run homer and Eloy Jimenez drilled a solo shot. Jimenez remains the gift that keeps on giving, as he now has 19 long balls on the season, second in the American League and already a career-high. The White Sox led 6-0 after two frames.

Meanwhile, Jose Abreu continued his torrid stretch. The first baseman extended his hitting streak to 17 games, going a perfect 4-for-4 on Sunday. He also went deep twice: a two-run homer in the fifth and a three-run blast in the eighth. His five-RBI night ensured this was yet another blowout vs. the division leaders.

The White Sox clobbered the Twins 13-4 for their sixth straight win and suddenly sit just 5.5 games back in the AL Central.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 2-5, HR (15), 2 RBI, 2 R (.312 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 3-5, 2B, HR (19), RBI, 3 R (.270 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 1-4, R (.258 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-5, HR (6), 3 RBI, 3 R (.246 BA)
Jose Abreu:  4-4, 2 HR (17), 5 RBI, 3 R (.309 BA)
Tim Anderson: 1-5, RBI (.296 BA)
Luis Robert: 1-4 (.240 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 1-5, R (.295 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-5, RBI (.244 BA)

Scoring Summary:

Top first

Nick Madrigal homered to left field, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez scored. 3-0 CHW.

Top second

Encarnacion homered to left field, Yasmani Grandal scored. 5-0 CHW.
Jimenez homered to center field. 6-0 CHW.

Bottom second

Mitch Garver homered to center field. 6-1 CHW.

Bottom fourth

Garver homered to left field, Josh Donaldson scored. 6-3 CHW.

Top fifth

Jose Abreu homered to center field, Madrigal scored. 8-3 CHW.

Top seventh

Tim Anderson singled to center field, Yoan Moncada scored. 9-3 CHW.
Nomar Mazara singled to second baseman, Abreu scored. 10-3 CHW.

Top eighth

Abreu homered to left field, Jimenez and Madrigal scored. 13-3 CHW.

Bottom ninth

Eddie Rosario doubled to center field, Donaldson scored. 13-4 CHW.

Notable performance: The home run played a vital role in this series sweep of the Twins. The White Sox hit 14 long balls as they completely eviscerated the division leaders in four games.

Next game: Monday, May 25 - Game 54: White Sox at Orioles (Reynaldo Lopez, 4-2, 4.36 ERA vs Asher Wojciechowski, 1-5, 4.89 ERA)

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