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How Sox can fix sputtering offense: 'More is not better' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Coming into the finale of a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, the White Sox had mustered just 11 runs in their previous five games, including just seven in the first three games of the Canadian-based set. In those three contests, they banged out 30 hits, but only three of them went for extra bases.
But baseball is a luck-based game much of the time, and one where you're frequently reminded that failing seven out of 10 times still makes you successful, so I figured asking the man responsible for the White Sox' bats could reveal something different. Just because the fans are frustrated with the lack of runs, the team can still be doing something positive underneath the one big number, right?
"No, no, no," White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said before Thursday's game. "We haven't been hitting the pitches we're supposed to hit. We've been chasing out of the zone. When we're a good club and we're hitting good, we're hitting strikes, we're not chasing out of the zone and we're taking our walks. We haven't been doing that lately."
The White Sox are indeed in a funk, and not even the return of Tim Anderson after resting his sore legs for four straight games could bring the bats back to life Wednesday night. Good pitching, of course, is partially to blame, and the stretch of series against above-.500 teams from New York, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Toronto figured to provide a challenge.
But Menechino pointed to a flawed approach from White Sox hitters in recent days that has scuttled the team's ability to score.
How does that get fixed? Well, it's easier said than done.
"You've got to try to relax them and show them that, 'Hey, you don't need to hit a home run, you don't need to expand the strike zone.' Now, expanding the strike zone, to me, is more pressure, more of trying to do too much. Because when we don't expand the strike zone and make them throw us strikes, everything goes up, all the numbers go up.
"That's the hard part about my job, getting them to relax and to remind them and show them what they do and how they do. Because when they do it right, they take their walks and they don't expand. But when they're trying to score runs and trying to do well and trying to step up their game, that's when stuff goes bad.
"More is not better. You have to relax, let the game come to you. You can't take it into the games because there is a guy on the mound who doesn't want you to do anything. So we have to take that into consideration when you're trying to execute your approach."
Of course, the White Sox' lineup could look very different in a few days' time. Yasmani Grandal will soon return from his rehab assignment and slot back into the middle of the order, where he was the team's hottest hitter when he went down at the beginning of July.
Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert were off to torrid starts upon their returns from significant injuries, but they, too, are still in the early stages of their seasons, Jiménez more so than Robert, who did play a month before going down with a torn hip flexor.
The White Sox' lineup has yet to be fully healthy and playing together in 2021. But while that's going to be a thing of the past very soon, Menechino was quick to point out it's no cure all. But indeed, Grandal has the kind of approach Menechino has noticed missing in recent days, and his presence could certainly help the team as a whole turn things around.
"One or two guys make that pitcher work, and all of the sudden he gets into a funk," Menechino said. "Absolutely, it will definitely help."
It hasn't all been bad, of course. This same stretch against good teams has featured Tim Anderson's epic walk-off homer to beat the New York Yankees in Iowa, a series win against the Oakland Athletics during which the White Sox scored 21 runs in four days and Anderson again playing hero with some insanely clutch hitting to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
It's important to remember, too, that quality pitching is what awaits the White Sox in October. And this team will need to figure out how to win low-scoring games if it wants to achieve its championship-level goals.
But certainly the lineup was supposed to look better than it has in recent days. The White Sox could flip the switch Thursday in Toronto or this weekend at home against their Crosstown rivals or at any point over the final month and change of the regular season. Nothing is more important to this team right now than playing its best baseball heading into the postseason, and certainly that can happen.
It's just going to take work to stay consistent with the sort of approach Menechino is looking for — and to carry that approach into October.
"This is the first year a rebuilding team has expectations, and that could put weight on a team and that could put pressure on a team, because expectations are pressure, OK?" Menechino said. "Looking at this team and the way they work and go about their stuff, I have to stay confident. I stay confident in everything they do. Game by game, every day is a different day, and every day you work to win that game.
"Every team we play is a playoff team, not just the teams above .500. We play Detroit and Cleveland and Kansas City, it makes their day to beat us. So when you have an 'X' on your back and you're a playoff team, everybody wants to beat you.
"Every game is a playoff game, so you've got to come prepared every day to go out there, whether it's a World Series game, a playoff game or a game against a non-contender. You have to go out there every day and do your job the way you're supposed to."
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