Not everything has gone according to plan for manager Tony La Russa’s White Sox. Injuries are an expected part of a baseball season, but losing four key pieces of the offense before the All-Star break usually is not part of the script, at least not for a winning team. La Russa has yet to fill out the lineup card he must have envisioned in March.
But despite being without two outfielders, a second baseman and a catcher for large swaths of the first few months of the season, the Sox are in first place in the American League Central.
That’s partly thanks to the performances of the players who have stepped in for Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Yasmani Grandal. Most recently, catcher Seby Zavala and outfielder Brian Goodwin have starred.
Even in a losing effort Saturday, Zavala made major-league history by hitting his first three career home runs in the same game, including a fourth-inning grand slam. Grandal is still working to rehab from a torn left knee tendon that has sidelined him since early July, so Zavala’s services will be required for some time to come.
“When he gets his stroke going, he can get some hits, and he’s got some carry,” La Russa said. “He had some home runs in Charlotte. But mostly, you just want to make hard contact, and he’s got the kind of stroke that can do that.”
Zavala has a modest .235/.316/.559 slash line, but he is trending upward. He has a 1.400 OPS in his last seven games.
“I always knew I could swing it,” Zavala said Saturday. “But [I’ve been] going through a rough patch for a couple of months. I knew if I kept working, something would click, and I feel pretty good at the plate.”
Behind the plate, Zavala is earning the respect of the Sox’ pitching staff for his game-calling ability.
“We’re very blessed with some smart catchers,” left-hander Dallas Keuchel said. “Guys that really have a feel for not only the scouting report, but also in-game intuition, and he’s no different. He’s a very, very quality catcher. You can’t really say enough good things about him behind the plate, first and foremost.”
On Sunday, the Sox clinched a series win against the Indians when Goodwin hit a walk-off homer over the right-field fence. With two outs left before extra innings, he smacked Nick Wittgren’s 3-1 fastball for the 2-1 victory.
Goodwin was released by the Pirates the day Robert went down with a torn right hip flexor, and he signed with the Sox two days later. Since joining the Sox, Goodwin has been productive at the plate, hitting .248 with six homers.
“It means the world to get the opportunity, to be able to play with these guys every day,” Goodwin said. “We just got dogs. We got a bunch of dudes that come out and give you everything you want and then some. And no backing down.”
Some tough roster decisions will have to be made soon. With Jimenez expected back in the lineup this week, Jake Lamb due to return from his injured-list stint and Robert coming back not long after, some of the Sox’ backup heroes will be relegated to part-time duties or even off the 40-man roster.
Regardless, some credit is due to players such as Zavala and Goodwin for their roles in getting the Sox to where they are in the standings this late in the season.
“There have been a lot of stories to get to this position,” La Russa said. “We knew we were going to play here without their buddies, and they’ve continued to be productive. The guys who were brought into the organization late, they stepped up.”
SOX VS ROYALS
Tuesday: Dylan Cease (7-6, 4.14) vs. Kris Bubic (3-4, 4.58), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Wednesday: Lucas Giolito (8-7, 3.67) vs. Carlos Hernandez (2-1, 4.98), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Thursday: Dallas Keuchel (7-4, 4.51) vs. Daniel Lynch (1-3, 6.95), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM