After losing seven straight games to call Robin Ventura's leadership duties into doubt, the White Sox played like a team defending his honor by rallying from a 4-0 deficit against Steven Matz to beat the Mets 6-4.
That's a results-based story construction. Removing the emotionally charged elements, the White Sox ended up on the good side of a close game, and they've played a lot of those. While the Sox stumbled into an 11-17 record in May, they actually had a positive run differential, scoring 123 runs while allowing 120.
"Sequencing" and "luck" wear thin as excuses after a while, especially when it's a leaky bullpen making close games out of comfortable ones. But despite a number of embarrassing moments, the Sox were rarely outclassed the way an 11-17 record might suggest.
Tally up the margin of defeats, and they weren't blown off the field in any one game:
- Four runs: 3
Three runs: 2
Two runs: 4
- One run: 8
Tuesday's victory was the kind of game that could've gotten away from them, but they stopped the bleeding at 4-0, and the offense was able to get some runs in the later innings. They just happened to get enough of them this time.
Ventura helped, too. The White Sox swung the bats, and he used Zach Putnam when the score mattered. Putnam, who has been the team's best reliever in May, was tasked with preserving a one-run deficit instead of coming in for pseudo-garbage time. He entered Tuesday with the bullpen's lowest leverage index among regular relievers, which needs to change in a few ways:
- David Robertson: 1.72
- Matt Albers: 1.62
- Nate Jones: 1.52
- Zach Duke: 1.48
- Dan Jennings: 0.80
- Putnam: 0.53
Ventura also used Brett Lawrie in the second spot for the first time all season, one day after using Jose Abreu, one day after using (a good) Austin Jackson for two straight games, before which he used Melky Cabrera. None of those guys are his worst-hitting middle infielder, which is who he penciled in at No. 2 over most of the first 45 games, and I welcome the departure from his rigidity.
I'm not going to call it progress -- especially when the Mets easily rope-a-doped the Sox with a Matz butcher boy in the second inning; he's one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball -- but the effort in Tuesday's game showed why the Sox have stuck with Ventura, and he showed that he is capable of adapting. Slowly, painfully, but adapting. At least temporarily.
Rick Hahn is in town, and I wonder whether he had any say in Ventura breaking his bad habits. Hahn offered a statement about Ventura's decision-making, and there's some room for interpretation.
"The game-management realm is 100 percent the manager’s purview, and I’m not going to stand here and second guess any decisions he’s making," Hahn said. "Obviously we all have the benefit of hindsight right now in evaluating a decision. Our conversations in private are about the conversations that lead up to the decision or the thought process that leads up to the decision.
"It’s important to make sure that process is sound and that he and our coaches all have the right information when they’re making a strategic in-game decision, and I’m very pleased with where they are from an information standpoint and from a process standpoint. But it’s not my place, certainly publicly, to second guess in-game managerial decisions."
Regarding what he said, the key phrase is "certainly publicly." Regarding what he didn't say, he avoided saying anything about the in-game decisions themselves. As was the case with previous changes, if the ax is dangling, he's not going to say so.
The next battleground -- at least between Ventura and White Sox fans -- could be shortstop.
Tyler Saladino pulled off a well-rounded masterpiece on Tuesday. He went 2-for-2 with two walks, two stolen bases and the go-ahead homer, capping off an exceptional May, during which he hit .372/.417/.558 over 13 games. He's outplaying, especially since he's experiencing success against righties.
So ... Ventura says Rollins is starting tomorrow:
A slightly incomplete tweet from before: Rollins is still in the plans to start tomorrow but Saladino will be getting more playing time— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) June 1, 2016
I can't say I understand the individual decision, because, my goodness, Saladino turned around a letter-high 95-mph fastball for the winner.
I do grasp the sentiment underneath it, though. Saladino's profile is shaky enough that overexposure is a concern. Two walks tripled his season total, he still has significant strike-zone concerns against righties (one walk, 11 strikeouts over 47 plate appearances), and his track record says cratering is a legit possibility.
The Sox are trying to nurse their shortstop combination as deep into the season as possible. They started the season with one viable option, briefly had nobody you'd like to see, and now Saladino is playing like he wants Tim Anderson to get plenty of seasoning in Charlotte.
There isn't a rich history of stability here, which means the most prudent path is shifting the playing time over to Saladino without dumping it into his lap, because he has been overwhelmed before. The ideal situation probably has Saladino taking care of business well enough that fans don't see the point in any Rollins start. Complaining about today's lineup might actually be a good sign, is what I'm saying.