Chris Sale was in an awkward-yet-familiar position after Wednesday's game, having to deflect praise over a personal accomplishment because the White Sox aren't winning on the whole.
The Condor struck out seven Red Sox to set a personal best with 229 on the season, which also stands as the modern-day White Sox record. Moreover, he only needs 41 to set the all-time franchise record, which Ed Walsh established in 1908 then took to the grave for 56 years and counting. But the Sox are still well under .500 despite his best efforts, so he's left to turn the focus elsewhere:
"This is definitely crunch time. A time to get going," Sale said. "We know what we are up against, but you know this is baseball. This is sports. This is a crazy game.
"Anything can happen. We aren't giving up on the season. We definitely aren't going to give up on ourselves or each other. This is a good group of guys. We are pulling from the same rope. Pick each other up, and keep going." [...]
"It's cool," added Sale of the strikeout mark. "But at the end of the day, there's really only one stat that matters and that's wins. We just have to keep fighting."
It's understandable and admirable that a competitor won't give up, but it rings hollow when watching it from the outside. The Sox were what they are (and are what they were) 60something games ago, when Rick Hahn said "the arrow was pointing up" and we could only see lateral movement at best. Some of the faces are different, but the problem remains -- a shortage of bats, and a shortage of smart baseball. It'd take a tremendous reversal for this to resolve itself before the end of the season, so it's all about personal accomplishments now. Celebrate historic paces like Sale's strikeout rate, and have fun watching Trayce Thompson ball out with his opportunities.
At the same time, the lack of personal accomplishments also comes into focus, which brings us to Avisail Garcia.
Garcia has had a nice August. He entered Wednesday's rubber match with the Boston Red Sox hitting .284/.351/.477 for the month, and started to put a dent into his horrendous walk-to-strikeout ratio (six walks, nine strikeouts over his last 15 games). But all that's done is lift him to replacement level at best, thanks to his problems in right field.
Then he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against the Red Sox on Wednesday, and there wasn't any trickery involved. Rick Porcello and Junichi Tazawa struck him out on entirely fastballs. Porcello twice struck him out on three fastballs -- although there was a dubious checked swing in the first at-bat -- and after falling behind 2-0, Tazawa attacked Garcia with three straight heaters and got a fielder's choice out of it.
All in all, he saw 11 fastballs out of 13 total pitches, and he swung and missed through five of them, including four up in the zone. Instead of GIF'ing them all, here's one GIF with three of them together.
His last plate appearance -- with a runner on first and the tying run on deck -- was especially frustrating. He got ahead by watching a Tazawa fastball well outside, then taking a curveball down. That allowed him to look fastball, and he got one ... but he was late. The same thing happened with the following pitch -- big cut, big whiff. There went his advantage, and he ended up getting sawed off on one more fastball, this one inside. That didn't seem like the way to keep the line moving.
Garcia did put one good swing on a Porcello two-seamer that resulted in a lineout to right, but it was a fastball off the plate, which seems to be the only way he can consistently barrel up decent velocity. He struggles to get good wood on anything hard over the plate, especially if it's up. That's why he only has 27 extra-base hits this year, which is a number that's appalling low. When it comes to percentage of plate appearances that results in extra bases, here's who Garcia trails:
- Carlos Sanchez: 7.5 percent
- Adam LaRoche: 7.3 percent
- Alexei Ramirez: 6.8 percent
- Tyler Flowers: 6.1 percent
- Garcia: 5.7 percent
He entered the season as The Fulcrum, and that's a good way to tip the scales in the wrong way. It's all problematic in and of itself, and maybe it wouldn't be if you only looked at his age (24) and experience (his first full season). But he's coming up on 1,000 plate appearances, and this year is a step back from his 2014, which featured a four-month absence due to a torn labrum.
The injury and lack of steady reps is still his best argument, but with the memory of Dayan Viciedo's slow backward slide still fresh, it's hard to put a lot of faith in a player with the same self-defeating combination (lack of selectivity, yet also a small hitting zone). The recent increase in walks is intriguing, but a blip until proven otherwise. That said -- give him every chance to either prove otherwise, or exhaust every excuse, because it's better for the Sox to contain their frustration to this season then let it bleed into 2016.
At the same time, Thompson should get a chance to sidle up for a direct comparison. If Garcia reaches October and only has a decent line against lefties to point to, Thompson's defense is a considerable tie-breaker.