The 'Catch 22' that has defined Sox offense so far in 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The White Sox offense has not been the ghastly mess it might seem to some folks watching on a daily basis.
Entering play Sunday, the White Sox actually ranked seventh in baseball with 69 runs scored. They led the American League with 64 walks.
But there's no doubt that the bats have taken on a "Jekyll and Hyde" vibe in the early going, and the team's 6-8 record through 14 games owes as much to a hit-or-miss offense as anything. The White Sox have frequently failed to cash in on scoring chances and have routinely been unable to come up with big hits with runners in scoring position.
So simultaneously, they're doing one thing as well as they ever have — they didn't rank above 20th in baseball in walks in any year in the last decade, yet ranked third in the game as of Saturday — while serving as a constant source of frustration for not coming through in clutch situations.
And it's defined the season to this point.
"It's a Catch 22," White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said Sunday. "You've got guys up there trying to be patient, wait for their pitch. And you've got pitchers out there that don't want to give us too many good pitches to hit in the zone. So on one hand, we're doing a good job of taking our walks. On the other hand, when we've got men in scoring position, we're kind of being too selective or chasing.
"Man on third, less than two outs, guys are in between. 'Do I stick it out and wait for my pitch and now I'm 1-2 or 0-2? Or do I go ahead and try to drive this guy in early and (end up) swinging at balls?' That’s the flow of the season so far."
That's a general evaluation of how the White Sox have fared and doesn't necessarily apply to the specifics of each player. But it's a useful explanation for how one thing can be going so right and one thing can be going wrong as often as it has.
The White Sox offense already had a challenge before the first pitch was thrown on Opening Day. The injury that knocked Eloy Jiménez out for five to six months blasted a Silver Slugger sized hole in the middle of the lineup. And making up for that loss of production has become a near daily item on the to-do list.
The White Sox seemed like they had the offensive firepower to weather Jiménez's absence, and Yermín Mercedes has been a huge help in that department, emerging as a threat at DH. But both those who participated in last season's power display — when the White Sox boasted the most potent lineup in the AL — and those who had down years in 2020 have yet to really explode like we know they're capable of.
It's not just been fresher faces still learning the ropes who are still trying to find their footing in 2021. It's consistent veterans and established core players. That includes the likes of José Abreu, the reigning AL MVP, as well as Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada.
"I don't get concerned with them," Menechino said. "I know they're putting a little pressure on themselves to pick up the slack for Eloy.
"It’s early. These guys are trying to feel out how the year is going, how guys are going to pitch to them now that Eloy is not there. But you know what? They’re working, doing everything they have to do. It’s a matter of time before we start clicking and hitting the way they should."
There's enough blame to go around for the White Sox start, which while not disastrous by any means has disappointed plenty of fans following a spring full of World Series talk. The bullpen has been saddled with seven losses already, and the defense has looked ugly on too regular a basis.
But the fix that could make the biggest difference is what's happening at the plate. Menechino isn't wrong not to worry about Abreu and the other established hitters in the lineup. They have the track records to back up a belief that they'll end up where they should. And a 14-game sample size is nothing to base season-defining opinions on.
That said, the sooner the White Sox can figure out how to escape the "Catch 22" that's got the bats stuck in a bit of a funk, the sooner they can escape the .500-ish purgatory they've been locked in the first few weeks of the campaign and start playing to their potential.
"Hey, I'm happy that the opportunities are there," Menechino said, "now it's time for them to relax and not try to do it."