South Side Morning 5: The Most Cautious of Optimism

1. After a turgid five-runs-in-four-games stretch for the offense, which plummeted them to the depths of the major league standings in total offense, the White Sox offense can hardly be redeemed by their top two sluggers knocking around mediocrity from Matt Shoemaker, but…

Todd Frazier basically jumped on the type of mistake we have been waiting for him to hammer for the past week: a center-cut 92 mph fastball essentially challenging him to act until he broke out his little whip swing and drove it out to left. Jose Abreu got a pitch that was possibly even worse; something 89 mph with little sinking action that he obliterated out to deep center.

It was not a great proving ground for their talents, but if we think there is value in streaky power hitters busting out their stroke, it was a relief. Frazier in particular, is a streaky pull hitter, like it or not, and is not going to be functional unless his confidence to jump out on fastballs is squarely in place.

2. Adam Eaton still holds the crown of best hitter on the team for the moment since he’s secretly getting on base at all times while we’re not looking, but Melky Cabrera is quietly having the start that the Sox needed from him last year. A two-hit night on Tuesday raised his season line to .320/.370/.380, with less strikeouts (three) than walks (four) through 54 plate appearances. His swing plane is just not set up for power and he’s going to keep losing the oomph to overcome it as he ages, but that kind of natural bat-to-ball ability isn’t just floating around elsewhere in the lineup.

Cabrera’s booming triple off Jose Alvarez in the eighth was his first time reaching base against a left-hander this season. He’s largely been platooned away from them entirely (it was his eighth appearance), so there’s no strong indicator if his issues against lefties (.226 TAv against them in 2015) have persisted. Giving him the opportunity to turn the tide with key insurance runs aboard in the eighth was bizarre, but Jerry Sands striking out in six of 10 plate appearances doesn’t demand those PAs.

3. It’s still a little hard to match the excitement with Mat Latos‘ results and some of the brief flashes of his vintage stuff with anything that shows up in more complete metrics of his performance.

He struck out five Tuesday night, but only had five swings-and-misses again. He only allowed two hits and just a pair of hart-hit balls on the night, but was probably most impressive pounding the zone with his sinker for contact. The big tumbler had a steep downward plane coming out of an over-the-top delivery from the six-foot, six-inch Latos, and looks like it will play well going forward at The Cell, but everything Latos does right now seems like it should work forever, even if it can’t.

4. Erik Johnson is with the big club, and could possibly stay through the end of the weekend to provide insurance for a bullpen that had Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Dan Jennings all pitch three innings, or in part of three innings Monday night, and got two innings from Nate Jones Tuesday.

By that measure, there could be work for Johnson, but he’s an odd man to answer the bell. He’s barely worked out of the bullpen throughout his entire professional career and never in the majors, and has prepared all year as a starter. Robin Ventura called Johnson a security blanket in case a start like Monday’s happens again, but that reads like getting struck by lightning and preparing for a recurrence. Before Monday, the last time Carlos Rodon went less than six innings was the day Matt Albers‘ scoreless streak began. John Danks has struggled but certainly eats innings. Who would have thought the rare situation that screamed for Scott Carroll would find him on the disabled list.

5. If a slump at the end of a tiring year unfairly colored opinions of Avisail Garcia, this year’s gruesome opening is…at least providing some variation on the problem? Garcia’s .219 TAv through his first 50 plate appearances certainly is bad and not the start he needed after an offseason where his job hung in the balance throughout.

Garcia’s lack of plate discipline gets a lot of attention, and he still ranks among the league leaders so far in swing percentage outside of the zone. But you’ll find a lot of effective hitters with great bat-to-ball skills up near the top of that list as well. Garcia also shined a light on his poor pitch recognition Tuesday night when he froze on a grapefruit of a hanger with the bases juiced in what could have been a huge fourth inning, instead mistiming the pitch and whiffing late. Still the biggest discouraging eyesore in his early numbers is that he’s getting more fastballs than ever, but is matching it with what would be a career-high 19.5% swinging strike rate. As big as the other issues are, simply not being able to handle major league velocity could be the biggest hurdle to tapping into his raw power.


Lead Photo Image: Mike Dinovo // USA Today Sports Images

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