1. With the White Sox flying out to an unreal six-game lead in the AL Central on May 10, it seemed like it would be a fun exercise to find the last time an AL Central winner had to claw back from a six-game deficit.
It turns out, it was not a fun exercise. The last club to make such a climb was the 2012 Detroit Tigers, who were not even in second place in mid-June when they dipped to a season-worst six games behind another surprising White Sox team. They came back.
Six games is a bit easier to climb back from when the division tops out at 88 wins, but the 2011 Tigers were down eight games in early May, and wound up winning the division with 95. Going 46-24 in the second half will help with that.
Instead of assurance, this is a reminder that while the White Sox have started off great, and the significant majority of 23-10 stretches throughout history belong to contenders, and while it is typical for division winners to hang near the top of the standings all year long, they remain in target range for a brutal league correction.
2. A factoid from looking at Monday night’s box score that stuck: The White Sox finished the night with five players with an OBP over .350. Those players are Adam Eaton, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera, Alex Avila and Avisail Garcia.
The encouraging takeaway, is that this shows a lot of life and productivity throughout the order outside the slow-starting middle core of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, the former of whom is a decent bet to join this group by the end of the year, and the latter can be counted on to be productive without doing so.
Another interpretation is that this is profoundly weird. Eaton is the only person who would have been projected to reach base at this rate at the outset of the season. Lawrie was devalued because of his lack of on base skills, but has discovered a 12.5 percent walk rate this season. Cabrera has been able to touch .350 in peak seasons and may be having one of his better ones right now, while taking pitches might be the only thing Avila is still proficient at offensively at this state of his career. And then there’s Avisail, the biggest enigma, and yet statistically the most successful hitter in the lineup.
It’s a decent microcosm for the lineup as a whole: full of guys it doesn’t seem like can be trusted but cannot really be pushed out while the team is rolling.
3. Which brings up Austin Jackson, who has none of these outward indicators of success (.243/.302/.346) and has experienced such a steady drop in power production over the last four years that there is a post in my draft folder about reasons for optimism about his offense that has been sitting there, almost completely blank, for more than a month.
That said, Jackson seems borderline immovable at this stage. His stewardship of center field has unlocked the final stage of Adam Eaton: All-Star, and helped forged the elite defensive identity that has been the lifeblood of this team and the franchise’s turnaround. Add on the fact that he’s been fulfilling manager’s dream tasks like executing safety squeezes, and Jackson cannot be replaced by anyone besides a superior version of Austin Jackson.
After being a team that could obviously use a bat of any kind at any place, until the Garcia situation normalizes they can only slot in offensive upgrades at center field, shortstop and catcher, which is where everyone wants offensive upgrades.
4. Abreu, Frazier, Cabrera, Lawrie and Jackson have all played all 33 games this season. Eaton, who got a day off when his wife gave birth to their child, has played 32.
No one who tuned in Monday night came away very taken with the versatility offered by Jerry Sands, and the temptation to mess up a team that’s on an inconceivable roll is understandable, but the law of diminishing returns is bound to start rearing its head here soon. With Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino holding major league experience at every spot on the infield between them, and the primary DH being a 24 year old who was a regular right fielder up until this year (albeit a bad one), and Eaton’s center field experience, there really isn’t a reason not be more explorative with what little depth they have.
5. Baseball Prospectus’ own Craig Goldstein excitedly messaged Ethan and I about a guy he took video of throwing on the back fields in Spring Training this year who was “super nasty.” I expected him to forward video of not Spencer Adams or Carson Fulmer, but someone I was more familiar with than Zach Thompson.
Watching the 22-year-old, six-foot-seven right-hander, there’s plenty of inconsistency and erratic movement, but the reason for the video is clear: he’s got a big-mid 90s fastball with plenty of downward plane, which is the type of tool that you don’t need to surround with much else to be an effective middle reliever if it can be commanded. Future Sox noted he was a project at the time he was drafted in the fifth round of 2014, and a knock on him would be a lack of development and refinement as he repeats Low-A in his second full year in the organization. So it’s possible that he was just this tantalizing when he was first picked. His game log, as could be expected, is a roller coaster, and 16 walks in 29.1 innings blunts some of the thrill of how hard it is to square him up.
I wouldn’t bother expecting Thompson before 2018, and that would still include a big breakthrough at some point, but hey, I promised Craig I would use his video.
Lead Image Credit: Jerome Miron // USA Today Sports Images