South Side Morning 5: Things could be strangely good

1. Fresh off besting two AL East teams with superior run differentials and securing spots above them in the Wild Card pecking order–and dropping their two losses in bizarre enough fashion that their fans still feel irked–the White Sox sit again at .500. If it seems like an unremarkable distinction, it’s because they have been hovering around that mark for pretty much the entire month.

But instead of a gauntlet, the Sox play half of their games before the All-Star break against the moribund Braves and Twins, three games at home against the .500 and equally torn between selling and not selling Yankees, and one legitimately difficult road series against the resurgent Astros. Going into the break and the heat of the deadline trading season with a winning record while within a series of the Wild Card slot (they currently sit at 2.5) would require only mild success.

2. J.B. Shuck hit two home runs this past series against Toronto, slotted in center–as Robin Ventura switched back to emphasizing Adam Eaton‘s comfort in right field this week–and got credit for stabilizing the situation while Austin Jackson is expected to miss another month.

It would be counterproductive to lend Shuck anything but credit for his work while he remains the only real option the Sox have on the roster for fielding a decent defensive outfield, but the man raised his line to .205/.235/.333 on the season with his flurry.

The increasingly low probability of the Sox making a playoff run has sapped the incentive to sell off the top of a thinned farmed system for a team-changing bat, but even keeping up appearances of a Wild Card pursuit is hard if they’re going to give at-bats to a slap-hitter (these were Shuck’s first home runs in two years, after all) who isn’t hitting for average, and Avisail Garcia, who is somehow finding new lows (.247/.309/.358) after an unpopular decision to show more undue faith in his ability to tap into his power profile.

Jason Coats has proven once again that replacing a sub-replacement is more complicated than simply calling up the most productive hitter in Triple-A, but refusing to seek major league-level options while waiting for Jackson and Justin Morneau (both diminished in their advancing years and not committed to beyond 2016) to come and rescue the offense is too awful of a plan on its face to seriously believe.

3. Somewhere in the fog of the White Sox offensive woes, Alex Avila bashing three home runs in a single month of part-time work was enough to make him the third-best hitter on the team. At least, by FanGraphs more OBP-based wRC+ measurement. Avila, hitting .245/.354/.373, has been taking walks relentlessly despite not putting any kind of charge into the ball for the first two months on the season, and once his bat came to life at all (five extra-base hits in 55 June PAs) he vaulted up the team leaderboard. Our own more power-focused TAv measure puts him at fifth.

Either way, any sign of life from his offense puts him above Dioner Navarro (.215/.270/.366), who probably has more consistent pop but is not doing nearly enough to justify garish defensive numbers. We had the opposite conversation less than two months ago, but when the catching situation is juggling between two past-their-prime backstops, swapping them depending on who smells less like burnt toast on any given week is the process.

4. The way for Robin Ventura to warm the stonehearts of White Sox Twitter is through shameless Chris Sale stanning, and here’s hoping he embraces it.

“He’s the best,” Ventura said. “You can say I’m biased or not, he’s still the best.”

This is a charming if not entirely obvious argument, since Sale is a runaway Cy Young favorite at this point. Despite playing on another mediocre team, he has a 13-2 record, which puts him three wins over the second place Chris Tillman, and he has at least 10 more innings thrown than nearly the entire league. More to the point, he’s leading the AL in WARP among pitchers and DRA, and Corey Kluber‘s small advantage in cFIP is unlikely to allow him to make up the huge head start Sale has built over the first half.

5. Man, what are the odds.

Courtney Hawkins and Corey Zangari are nearly 500 pounds (listed, scouts estimate them well over) combined of raw power, declining positional utility and windpower from all their swing-and-miss. The pair have combined for 181 strikeouts in 471 plate appearances (to be fair most of that is Zangari) and they have a combined .209 batting average, so both of them getting hot at the same time is either a case of a historically miraculous confluence, or dependent on extenuating circumstances like Zangari being sent back to Rookie League ball the week before last, or Hawkins already repeating Double-A.

Something like that.

Lead Image Credit: Caylor Arnold // USA Today Sports Images

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