When the White Sox left spring training there were questions. The renovated bullpen would be watched closely, as would the back end of the rotation along with the defense and baserunning.
One area that seemed settled after the active offseason was the offense, but more than 50 games into the season it’s looking like it could be the Sox’s biggest issue.
“I think that’s probably something that was lower on the list of concerns heading in,” general manager Rick Hahn said before the Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 4-3 in 11 innings after Avisail Garcia was hit in the right arm by Alex Wilson’s pitch with the bases loaded.
Entering Friday, the Sox were at or near the bottom of the American League in numerous offensive categories. They were last with 191 runs, 35 home runs and a .651 OPS, 14th with 121 walks, and tied for 13th with a .299 on-base percentage.
No, the offense isn’t where anybody expected, contributing to a slow start that’s left the Sox in last place and outsiders wondering whether they’ll be sellers before the July 31 trade deadline. That said, the lineup has players like Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez with reputations that give reasons for optimism.
Adam LaRoche’s homer with two outs in the ninth off Joakim Soria tied the game at 3, two innings after Garcia hit a home run off Kyle Ryan, giving some reason for that positive outlook.
“We haven’t been hitting many (home runs),” LaRoche said.
“These are, for the most part, veteran guys who have track records so you do expect them to perform at their traditional levels in the not-too-distant future,” Hahn said. “And I do think we have seen progress. We had a big offensive outburst two nights ago. I think balls are going to start flying out of this place a little more consistently.”
That usually happens when the temperature is higher than Friday’s 55 degrees. Of course, that won’t be the norm all year, but hotter weather doesn’t guarantee that an acceptable amount of runs or homers will come.
“You wish it would be easier just to say, ‘Hey, just hit home runs.’ It’s not necessarily that simple for us,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You do scratch your head sometimes with guys that have a track record of hitting them that are not hitting them. Eventually you just have to keep moving on and take it as an at-bat instead of going up there thinking about I have to hit a homer.”
On Friday, the Sox made a notable change in the lineup, dropping Cabrera to the sixth spot for the first time and bumping Ramirez to second for only the third time. Ramirez scored on Abreu’s first-inning double, which was the Sox’s last hit until Garcia’s homer led off the seventh.
“There was a lot about the offense to like and we think there’s still a lot about the offense to like in terms of how it compliments each other, in terms of the power in the middle, the ability to run and show some athleticism and do some of the little things to help you win,” Hahn said. “But we just haven’t been consistent.”
The Sox haven’t been, but the homers came when they needed against a Tigers team that’s lost eight straight. They also got a win in a rare way, with Garcia’s the Sox’s first game-winninghit-by-pitch since A.J. Pierzynski on April 5, 2007.
“It’s a gutty game,” Ventura said.
Jose Quintana went seven innings and allowed three runs and nine hits but remained winless since May 13.