Chicago baseball Twitter has been something else over the last two days. The White Sox swept a pair of exhibition games against the Cubs, outscoring the North Siders 12-6 in the process. The Sox inflicted damage with a big inning in each contest before coasting to victory.
The reaction was pretty much what you would expect to see from the two fanbases. When the Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Sunday, there was a lot of Twitter chest-thumping, particularly when Luis Robert was thrown out by Willson Contreras attempting to steal second base. The conversation got decisively one-sided once the Sox put up a six-spot in the top of the fifth, while their B-squad of pitchers shut the door from there.
In Monday’s affair, the Sox jumped all over Yu Darvish for five runs in the first inning, capped by an Eloy Jimenez grand slam, as the first five hitters reached base. The inning mercifully came to an end after a James McCann single forced Darvish’s pitch count up to 30, and the teams mutually agreed to not continue the bloodbath any further.
A pair of Danny Mendick errors in the seventh inning allowed the Cubs to score three unearned runs against Jimmy Cordero. Between starter “Diamond” Dallas Keuchel, Evan Marshall, the aforementioned Cordero, Jace Fry, and Alex Colome, Sox pitchers induced 15 groundball outs on the evening. Overall, it was a solid performance from the Sox pitching staff.
Again, social media conversations were very one-sided on this evening. Once the game ended, however, the tenor quickly turned to “these games don’t matter, congratulations on your meaningless victories,” and other similar comments. I’m sure had the outcomes been reversed, the tone of the conversation on social media would’ve been identical. Cub fans surely wouldn’t resort to dancing on the proverbial graves of Sox fans, because after all I’m told they don’t care about the Sox or our fans.
The Bigger Picture
But what, if anything, did we learn in these two games? My feeling is similar to how I would feel about any particular Cactus League game. It isn’t so much the results that I look at (although winning is certainly better than losing), it’s the process. As Dennis Reynolds once famously said, “You want to see the transition, you want to watch the process.”
The process is one that can easily be identified, particularly, by the two big innings the Sox utilized in each victory. During last night’s game, a graphic depicted the 2019 White Sox having the fewest innings in all of baseball in which they scored five or more runs. It happened only eight times in all of 2019! To see it happen on back-to-back nights when the team didn’t utilize their full complement of weapons is encouraging to say the least.
During each of these big innings, we saw several at-bats where Sox hitters were able to fight off tough two-strike pitches from more than capable Major League starters in Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish. So they weren’t out there bum-slaying, they were doing it against two top-of-the-rotation arms. This is what good offenses do. They make pitchers work and force them to throw more pitches than they would like in plate appearances. In fact, this was one of the hallmarks of the Sox opposition on Monday during their recent run of success.
To me, seeing the likes of Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, and others put tough starting pitchers through the wringer is of greater significance than the outcomes. Had the Sox not been able to capitalize, sure it would have been frustrating, but it would’ve been a worthwhile endeavor to see White Sox hitters tax capable starters in such fashion.
This is the type of thing the reconstructed and elongated 2020 White Sox lineup should be able to do with regularity. They should be able to extend at-bats and innings, taxing opposing pitchers to the point of mistakes. Again, this is one of the hallmarks of a good baseball team in the current era. For too long, we as Sox fans have been accustomed to eight-pitch innings that we miss entirely because we got up to go the fridge or walk into another room. I believe that won’t be the case any longer, and it is a welcome sight.
Granted, these were just two exhibition games and it’s possible they could be a fluke. I personally don’t believe that is the case, as I feel this is going to be the new norm for the White Sox offense. This is an offense that will leave opposing pitchers very few opportunities to catch their breath, and boy has it been a long time since we’ve been able to say that.
The outcomes were favorable over the last two days, but the ongoing process of this revamped offense is much more important. I know I will be watching that process intently as we get ready to start the season. Optimism is starting to multiply across the fanbase, and I think we are about ready to see fun baseball return to 35th/Shields for the foreseeable future.