The Yermín Mercedes Show can't mask Sox defensive struggles originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Yermín Mercedes can seemingly do anything. But he can't cure whatever's ailing the White Sox defense.
The cause is unclear, but the symptom is unavoidable. The White Sox have committed five errors in the first three games of the 2021 campaign, leading to a whopping seven unearned runs. And a 1-2 record.
All this while Mercedes is putting on a show that's never been seen in baseball before. In his first major league start Friday night, he went 5-for-5, a first in a sport more than a century and a half old. Saturday, for the encore, he homered and added a total of three more hits, starting the season 8-for-8 before finally making an out in At-bat No. 9.
But Mercedes suddenly becoming must-see TV couldn't keep the White Sox from blundering away some more runs and suffering a second eighth-inning collapse in three nights, dropping this one to the Los Angeles Angels by a 5-3 score.
"We haven’t played a clean game, but we haven’t hit a clean game, either," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the game. "We didn’t have the at-bats we usually have. So I just think it gives you something to work on, pay attention to, but that won’t change my opinion (on the team's defense).
"Overall, it wasn’t a very clean game. There’s a lot of places we could have done more or less."
Indeed, it takes pitching, hitting and defense to win. And the White Sox fell short in all three areas Saturday.
A fly ball dropping past Luis Robert's glove and bouncing off his head in shallow center field for one error, then Adam Eaton picking that ball up and bouncing it off the pitcher's mound for another, allowed the tying run to score in the third inning. Lance Lynn, who like Dallas Keuchel a night earlier didn't make it out of the fifth inning, gave up a single to the following hitter, bringing home the go-ahead run.
Mercedes broke a 2-all tie with an RBI double in the sixth, his second RBI of the evening and sixth in the last two. But Evan Marshall couldn't hold that lead in the eighth. This time, there was no defensive misplay to blame. Though he struck out Mike Trout in the inning, Marshall gave up an RBI triple to tie the game and a two-run homer to lose it.
On the offensive side, the White Sox matched the Angels with nine hits but mustered just three runs. Though they exploded for a dozen tallies Friday, they scored three in both their losses in this series to this point.
Mercedes has been excellent, but he can't hit enough for a whole team.
But at least Mercedes — and he hasn't been the only one — has been a bright spot on offense. Until Marshall's eighth-inning troubles Saturday, the bullpen had lived up to the hype, Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet delivering particularly impressive multi-inning performances.
The defense, however, has stood out like a sore thumb. Thursday, it was Nick Madrigal's throwing error. Friday, it was Eaton's whiff on a fly ball in right field. Saturday, it was the combination of Robert and Eaton errors on the same play.
It's a tiny sample size, obviously, but it's been hard to ignore. La Russa doesn't think it's indicative of the type of defense he expects the White Sox to play this season.
"We'll have, in my opinion, one of the top five, six defensive clubs in the league as the schedule gets played out," La Russa said before Saturday's game. "I'm very confident about that. That's baseball.
"I think we have a very strong defensive club. It's just the way we started with some mistakes here or there. We're going to be really good."
The White Sox are obviously less than two percent through their schedule, and it's impossible to draw long-lasting conclusions in the early days of April. But seven unearned runs in three games is a lot. And in a trio of nail-biters, those plays have loomed large.
Still, no matter how outraged fans might be, the guys who have had to wear the defense's mistakes the last few days aren't interested in pointing any fingers.
"If you are taking the mound and have any guts, you take that every time. It's your job. Your job is to pick the guys up," Lynn said. "They pick you up when you have bad games, score runs for you and make great plays for you.
"This game is nasty. So there's no blame, no anything. You're all about making the next pitch, and that's the truth of the matter. You can't worry about what happened before, because it doesn't matter, and you've got to make the next pitch.
"My job is to get the next hitter out no matter when and where it is, and that's the way I see it."