MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

South Side Morning 5: (Mostly) Beating the Royals

Five of the White Sox eight wins this season have come against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, a fact that says more about their ineptitude against non-Royals teams than about the team’s performance as a whole. Still, even after dropping the last two of the weekend’s five-game series against the 7-20 Royals, a solid stretch of play from most of the White Sox key pieces is a fine takeaway from an otherwise forgettable series between two of the American League’s worst teams.

1. Yoan Moncada went 8-for-23 with a homer over the weekend, and going back even further, has gotten at least one hit in eight of his last nine games, raising his OPS from .724 to .887 over that span.

One of the theories that had been held throughout his debut season and during his sluggish first few weeks of 2018 is that Moncada’s passivity at the plate could be a hinderance. He’s already established a keen eye, but the selectivity was such that he’d often find himself behind in the count waiting for that perfect pitch. As you might expect, the league as a whole generally performs well when swinging at the first pitch, and even better when ahead in the count. Through Saturday, Moncada is 8-for-11 when putting the ball in play on the first pitch, and 17-for-28 when he does so on the first pitch or second pitch. Of his eight hits against the Royals, five came in those situations.

The sample size here is obviously small, and again, the league as a whole performs at an above-average rate in any of those three situations, but selective aggression obviously works in his favor. There was never much of a worry about Moncada during his slow start, but the last week-plus has been a good showcase of what kind of hitter he is likely to become.

2. A White Sox rotation that was already being held together by scotch tape was in flux for most of the weekend with Miguel Gonzalez disabled and a doubleheader Saturday. Extra innings on Friday meant the White Sox would go into the latter three games of the series with one shaky member of the rotation and the equivalent of two bullpen games while they trudged on, lacking an off day since April 19.

Carson Fulmer helped alleviate those woes a bit in the first game Saturday, turning in his strongest outing of the season with six shutout innings. With two straight quality outings, he’s rebounded quite nicely from back-to-back starts where he failed to make it through two innings, and somehow finds himself with a more-respectable-than-expected 4.32 ERA. The advanced stats say Fulmer’s gotten by mostly on luck in the last two outings, as he’s induced just six swinging strikes in his last two outings, and his DRA is an ungodly 10.66. Still, he’s throwing strikes, inducing weak contact, and providing some aid for a beat-up pitching staff. Some progress is better than no progress.

3. Yes, it was five games against the Royals, but the pitching staff as a whole showed signs of progress over the weekend. Lucas Giolito still isn’t missing bats like he did in the spring, but he battled through 5 2/3 innings in Thursday’s win, allowing just two earned runs. His K/BB is still an abysmal 11/21, but he generated eight swinging strikes against a lineup that, despite its futility, still ranks best in the league in strikeout percentage. Baby steps.

Reynaldo Lopez gave up 10 hits and only struck out two in his 6 1/3 innings of work Friday, but more importantly walked zero and got 10 swinging strikes in his 94 pitches. White Sox pitching as a whole is striking out fewer batters per nine than every team in baseball save these Royals, and are conversely walking more batters per nine than every team except the Braves. Their K/BB over this five-game series was 29/17, which is still pretty bad but a step in the right direction. (And that includes Saturday’s Dylan Covey start that featured seven walks).

4. Tim Anderson is getting in the habit of ruffling feathers. After last year’s dust-up with Marcus Stroman and rubbing Justin Verlander the wrong way with a stolen base a few weeks ago, a perceived slight after a home run led to some exchanged words with Salvador Perez and a brief clearing of the benches in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

At the risk of being perceived as biased (I am), the White Sox are on the right side of this one. Anderson himself put it about as perfectly as possible.

“They’re trying to take the fun out of baseball,” Anderson said. “This game is fun, and I went through too much last year to not have fun. I’m having fun this year. It’s exciting and I’m going to continue to be me. I’m playing this game and being me, and that’s fun.”

Anderson becoming the regular source of ire among White Sox opponents is an unexpected twist, considering his genuinely cheery attitude as well as his general anonymity as a yet-established player on an otherwise bad team. But Anderson is performing well right now — a .278/.327/.454 line with four home runs, eight stolen bases, and more than half of 2017’s walk total is a solid start — means we’ll hopefully see more of his expressing pleasure at playing baseball well going forward.

5. Oh yeah, Matt Davidson. After four more home runs at Kauffman Stadium, he’s up to nine and still slugging .619 a month into the season. And after drawing two more Sunday, he’s up to 15 walks on the season after 19 all of last season.

I still don’t know what Davidson is going to become as a player, but his pedigree and early-season success leaves room for hope of him becoming an above-average contributor going forward.

Lead Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

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