1. Todd Frazier looks like someone punched him in the face, right below his bottom lip. Considering the possibilities that were shuffled through after he superhero leaped into the stands in Arlington and stuck a face first landing on a hard plastic seat, before sprinting off the field with his glove cupping his face (to put pressure on the bleeding? to catch all the teeth? to hold the shards of his skull together?), the five-stitch wound seemed like a relatively happy resolution.
This was after all, a collision that appear so brutal that Hawk Harrelson felt compelled to sprint down from the booth to the clubhouse, in an endearing burst of energy, just to check on the health of the Sox still relatively new third baseman. Attempts on Twitter to recall previous instances when Hawk felt compelled to do this included the Jake Peavy injury, which Deadspin’s Tim Marchman once described as (paraphrasing) “muscles bunched up like twisted miniblinds inside a man’s back,” which was not a fun moment to recall.
The White Sox have been uncommonly achy so far this year, but this was their first real brush with a significant blow that would alter their season, and the prospect of exploring their positional depth was not a cheery one. To some degree, it’s hard to understand why the Sox are as good as they have been, and any threat to fuss with the magical calculus seems disastrous.
2. But now that his teeth have been taken out of his lip, and with an off-day, Frazier is expected to not even miss a day. It would be histrionics to pretend Frazier is the most valuable member of the lineup, but he’s been exactly as advertised. From the eerily similar stats (.309 OBP/.498 SLG in 2015, .303 OBP/.496 SLG through Wednesday) to the stabilizing defense that’s been a godsend to an infield going through a, ahem, transitional year at shortstop, Frazier has improved everything he’s touched, and helped make navigating the Sox lineup more complicated than ‘get around Jose Abreu.’ Frazier’s 31 RBI–as Tom Fornelli pointed out, 20 percent of the Sox runs–doesn’t reflect his talent level, but speaks to his level of involvement in every key breakthrough.
More importantly, he’s in a stretch of four home runs in six games and is just too hot to sit. Which brings up this top-notch Robin Ventura quote:
“Ventura on rest for Frazier, Lawrie: ‘Fraze you want to give a day off, but he’s swinging well. Brett, I just don’t want him sitting by me'”
3. Mat Latos is no longer pitching to weak contact, conserving energy, using his defense or doing anything besides failing to miss bats. Wednesday’s five-walk, zero strikeout performance was the culmination of a three-start slide into ineffectiveness, and while the inability to keep hitters off his fastball (MLB-worst 1.25 percent whiff/swing rate for minimum 100 pitches) has been a lingering issue all year long, this last start even lacked the zip (90.5 mph) of previous outings.
This is not inherently crippling data, but Latos did not make his career as a high-contact, soft-tossing, junkballing guy. He flashes some very tight overhand curves and splitters, but he’s six-foot, six-inches tall and used to regularly run it up at 95 mph. He’s used to being able keep hitters off-balance and get whiffs on his fastball, and the ability just has not been there in 2016, resulting in a 11.2 percent strikeout rate that is worst among qualified starters. It was worrisome when Mark Buehrle dipped to these type of rates near the end of his career, and Latos is not Buehrle.
Latos obviously has not hurt the Sox much yet with his play, and maybe players really can make a tidal wave of adjustments to their limitations overnight (/flashes glance to Avisail Garcia), but the warning signs are clear. Mid-rotation help is not what I would have bet on for the first area of trade need, but here we very much are.
4. Hector Sanchez, DFA’d when Alex Avila was re-activated because he was out of options, has been claimed by the San Diego Padres. There will be no great Chicago ballads sung for their outgoing No. 4 catcher, but his departure, and with Kevan Smith having not played an inning since tweaking his back hours before his would-be major league debut, the Sox have no one currently on the 40-man to step up if something happens to Avila or Dioner Navarro. The next man up would be Omar Narvaez, a 24 year-old non-prospect with no major league experience.
Once Smith returns this situation looks more tenable, but even then it’s probably time to find someone off the street, if only to booster minor league depth, as neither Navarro nor Avila managed 100 games played last year.
5. Robin Ventura is probably the manager least likely to publicly raise a stink about his contract status. It would be intensely at odds with his personal style, and this is the guy who turned down an extension offer after his first and only winning season. Finally on the winning side of things again, and helming a team that both navigated an internationally recognized ridiculous clubhouse crisis, and emerged from it with all key personnel remaining publicly steadfast about their cohesion, Ventura’s consistent and relaxed demeanor is being given a lot of credit.
And why not? 23-12 is not really the time to launch an ‘in-game tactics > clubhouse management’ diatribe. But since the White Sox do not have to offer Ventura extra commitment to keep the peace with him, so he will keep the peace with the players, then they should take the full year to test whether this dynamic can work with the contending team they hope to have for at least the next two years.
Lead Image Credit: Kevin Jalrag // USA Today Sports Images