On one hand, Carlos Sanchez has received way too much rope. He's hitting .179/.218/.231 over 167 plate appearances, and 20 points below the Mendoza Line has been his glass ceiling for the last month-plus. That's problematic for a player whose production is contingent on his batting average, and his batting average is contingent on a strikeout rate that, while improved, is still way too high (20 percent, down from 24 percent). The White Sox could use offense wherever they can get it, and second base is one position where they could theoretically get more of it with in-house solutions.
On the other hand, look how he turns this double play.
Alexei Ramirez garnered the headlines for this play, and he should. This could have easily resulted in runners on the corners with nobody out, so getting it started was the more vital part of the equation.
But Sanchez's half of it is just so slick. It's more impressive in real-time, but I slowed it down just to see when Sanchez sees where Chris Denorfia is.
Sanchez turns his head just as Denorfia hits the ground, but Sanchez's lower body knows what it has to do before that point. It results in footwork you wouldn't teach. Lesser second basemen would have bounced the throw, and it would've been seen as a job well done by Denorfia, and not a mistake by the infielder.
In this case, though, Sanchez pauses for the briefest of moments to get his upper body around enough allow his arm to clear it. The result is a perfect throw and the second of five double plays.
When baseball men talk about players needing to slow the game down, this is how I picture it being done. Sanchez has no time to get this throw off ... until he makes a little for himself. Then he's able to flip it to first as casually as he might toss car keys to a valet. Which I've never seen done in person, but it happens in movies and commercials, so I assume it's a thing.
Toward the end of Gordon Beckham's days as a starting second baseman, the only feather in his cap was his ability to turn two. "The strong arm of Beckham" wasn't one of Hawk Harrelson's stretches -- it was the real deal; a howitzer that didn't need legs to operate.
But Sanchez had the ability to be outstanding on the pivot, and now we're seeing it. It's a different brand from Beckham's, and one I prefer aesthetically, if only because the Sox have been short on players who can make the game look that effortless, in any facet of the game.
(Ramirez has the same ability, which he showed during the Sox' fifth and final double play of the game. He's still lacking good contact on offense, but at least he's getting his swag back on defense.)
Studies in contrast
No. 1: The double play started by Avisail Garcia. He made a great catch off the turf, and he managed to avoid putting the entire force of the dive on one body part. But the play kinda came undone afterward, with him fumbling the transfer, then leading the receiver into the dugout.
Maybe Garcia is crazy like a fox, though. If he calmly finished a 9-3 double play instead of triggering a madcap 9-2-6 affair, Joe Maddon probably doesn't use his challenge. And if Maddon keeps his challenge, maybe he becomes more aggressive about it later in the game, like the scenario that occurred in situation ...
No. 2: It took 84 games and five tries, but Emilio Bonifacio stole his first base of the season. He made it count. After reaching base via the Hector Rondon HBP, he stole second with nobody out, which allowed him to get the rest of the way home with no hits necessary (Adam Eaton sac bunt, J.B. Shuck sac fly).
All's well that ends well, but Bonifacio was actually out. The Cubs broadcast showed the decisive replay:
If Maddon challenged this, he would have won it. And even though he didn't have a challenge, he could have stumped for the umpires to review it themselves, since it occurred in the final three innings.
The cameras didn't show the Cubs dugout between the stolen base and Rondon's next pitch due to replays, but it didn't seem like anybody gave thought to challenge. Starlin Castro didn't seem to object, and the next pitch to Adam Eaton was delivered without much of a delay.
Maybe if Maddon has a challenge burning a hole in his pocket, he looks for an excuse to use it. Or maybe the superior manager in this series made the same mistake the inferior one did months ago. Castro contributed by putting up even less of a protest than Ramirez did during that game against Detroit.
Whichever the case, the lack of a challenge -- and the lack of a reaction that might trigger one -- cost the Cubs the game, at least in the manner that the rest of it unfolded. In the process, it somewhat validated Garcia's vain attempt to get himself off the hook after running into an out against Toronto on Wednesday night. In case you missed that play, it's at the end of this video:
Garcia made a bad decision to try stretching a single into a double, the throw beat him by plenty, and Jose Reyes did apply a clear and proper tag on Garcia before his foot hit the bag. But it was closer than it appeared, and Ventura's video guys did get a chance to look at it at no cost, besides a bit of embarrassment. So it's probably better to overreact to plays, even if you lose some credibility over time. Baseball isn't a morality play, so cry "wolf" all you want.
Oh, and back to Bonifacio -- he scored the winning run, but it wasn't exactly a recipe for success. He reached base because he walked into a bad slider on an aborted bunt attempt, and then was called safe when he should've been out. His roster spot should still be heavily evaluated over the All-Star break if the Sox fancy themselves contenders in this wackadoo American League.