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The Encouraging Norwegian’s Top 10 things to be encouraged about after this latest White Sox road trip

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Is a 2-8 record a reason to scrounge up hope? Not really. But there are still three months to play

Chicago White Sox v Cincinnati Reds
Yo-Yo Go-Go: Yoán Moncada [above] and Yolmer Sánchez atop the lineup paid powerful dividends on this latest death march of a road trip.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Those of you lucky enough to have been reading the entire season of South Side Sox Mach III, dating back to its origin in February, have seen a few photos of the managing editor. In them, if you can get past the overall jokiness and clownish aspects, you may have noticed: Italian. One tell: the big Roman nose. Another: the interminably paesano surname. A third: Straight outta Highwood, a northern burb as small as it was once was almost wholly infested with Italian immigrants.

But if you look a little deeper, into those soulless eyes that only 20 years of sportswriting can engender, you’ll get a little surprise: Those eyes are green. Or hazel, or something. Not brown, not black. Not ... paesano.

What’s next, I’m gonna tell you Wednesday wasn’t Prince Spaghetti Night? No, nothing that serious. But I’ve got a little family secret: I’m a quarter Norwegian. Heh.

Which makes my dad, whose unrelenting commentary on my looks, from hair length to dress and everything in between, fair game here: He’s only half-Italian, with decades of perms and overtanning as a compensation for/self-own of inauthenticity. I don’t get it, myself; embrace it, Pops!

My point? Um. Remember those Emerald Nuts commercials from a few years back? My wife, who is a bag of sunshine sitting in a bucket of love set inside a cauldron of phenomenalness, likes to, uh, let’s say, tease me a bit about my tendency to, well, fly a little farther south of her in the sunshine department. Thus, I am at times ironically dubbed the Encouraging Norwegian.

But you know what, after hours and hours and hours of dour this season, this Encouraging Norwegian is going to lay some sunny rays on you regarding this past Chicago White Sox road trip. That’s right, the 2-8 death march through catastrophic dew points, withering heat, and Minute Maid fans cheering at every towering pop fly tapped by their Astros heroes provided some cause for optimism.

Giolito’s back?

In Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros, Lucas Giolito had his best outing of the season, by a significant amount. His 63 game score (GS) matched that of opposing starter Dallas Keuchel, as Giolito went 7 13 innings with three hits, two earned, three walks, three Ks and a home run. Giolito has averaged a 39 GS over the course of the season, but three of his past four starts have been above average (50 GS): June 22 (53), June 28 (55) and Sunday. (We’ll call July 3’s 11 GS a blip ... encouraging, right?) This stretch of four starts is as good as we’ve seen Giolito in 2018, with a livelier fastball, more reliable curve and ability to steer around a meltdown inning.

Moncada’s back?

By no means has Yoán Moncada broken past the ninnied handwringing stage for White Sox fans. Not enough contact, still. But on the road trip, Moncada slashed .272/.304/.432 for a .736 OPS, all upticks on his season numbers (the on-base is essentially equal). His two walks against 13 Ks are still utterly unacceptable, but Moncada is muscling through what will likely be the toughest offensive stretch of his career — the time where pitchers catch up with his weaknesses, without concentrated time to remedy them. I’m confident an offseason diet of breaking pitches and right-handed batting will bolster Moncada in 2019, in a big way.

Additional analysis of Moncada, from the superb Beyond the Box Score:

Yoan Moncada’s development with the White Sox depends on future adjustments - Devan Fink, Beyond the Box Score
Moncada was the headliner in the Chris Sale deal, but the hype around him has subsided. Where is he at now?

Yo-Yo rules

Not getting deep into lineup science, but the six games on the trip that featured Moncada leading off and Yolmer Sánchez batting second paid nice dividends. The top of the order combined for 17-for-53 with six doubles, two triples, a homer, five runs and 12 RBIs. That’s a slash of .321/.368/.566 and an OPS of .934. Ricky Renteria has trotted out the Yo-Yo configuration in 42 games this season, so let’s hope he keeps it rolling throughout the second half.

Minor aches

Matt Davidson (HBP) and Avisaíl García (nervous hammy) both left the game on Sunday, joining José Abreu with aches on this road trip. Abreu has acceded to Renteria’s demand he bat with a shin guard to protect his tender ankle at bat, and both Davidson’s and Avisaíl’s nicks are said to be minor/day-to-day.

July 3 in Cincy (RBDQ)

One of the two wins on the trip, the 12-8, 11-inning marathon at Cincinnati, was a great deal of fun. Daniel Palka and Avisaíl clocked two homers apiece, Moncada and Sánchez hit back-to-back triples, and Hector Santiago had a scintillating two innings of relief (six Ks, one walk). It was fabulously fun, and who cares if the win came courtesy of a bullpen even more taxed than Chicago’s? The White Sox came back from 4-0 and 7-2 down to tie the game at 7-7 and 8-8 before prevailing. Ricky’s Boys Don’t Quit is, how you say, a weary trope that certainly has not always proven true, no matter how many T-shirts are printed up. But on Independence Day Eve, the White Sox roared back to brief glory.

Catcher combo

All was not lost when Welington Castillo was unmasked as a clandestine Tour de France rider. Last year’s catching platoon redux won’t lead a charge to the World Series, but Kevan Smith’s offensive push since arriving from Charlotte has seemed to have a positive effect on incumbent backup Omar Narváez. On this road trip, the platoon slashed .317/.333/.439. Narváez made a huge push, particularly in Houston, adding 20 points to his batting average and 54 OPS points since Chicago’s last home game.

Brute force

Avisaíl returned from injury in a big way on the road trip, with six homers and 10 RBI, upping his batting average by 36 points, on-base by 40 and slugging by 191. Palka, pushed to left field by Avisaíl’s return, chipped in as well, with four homers and five RBI, tacking 15 points on to his slugging percentage on the trip.

Not the worst

With Sunday’s loss, the White Sox fell to 30-60 (.333), “passing” the 1948 team in the race to become the worst White Sox club ever. The good news? The 2018 bunch is still better than the all-time worst 1932 White Sox (.325). While a 100-loss season is almost assured in 2018, all-time worst is far from a foregone conclusion. The White Sox have to finish 53-109 to avoid that fate, which works out to a 23-49 finish. That’s .319 ball, worse than the Sox have played to date — but not by terribly much. The 2018 club is in good position to avoid becoming the worst White Sox team of all time ... but don’t get sassy about it, Sox, there’s not a ton of wiggle room.

Spoiler party

No one wants to be reduced to a spoiler role as early as, say, April, but that’s where the White Sox have been and still are. And despite the utter rollover to key AL contender Houston this weekend and this season (0-7!), there is opportunity to play spoiler with more than two dozen remaining games on the docket: nine vs. Cleveland, six against the New York Yankees, four vs. the Boston Red Sox, two coming up vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, three at the Seattle Mariners, and three at home vs. the Cubs. That’s 27 of 72 remaining games against projected playoff (or close) clubs. Watch out, Boston!

The No. 1 pick is still within reach

The flip side of a healthy volume of games still to play against contenders is that the No. 1 overall draft pick is still within reach! Sure, Baltimore at 24-65 and Kansas City at 25-64 have the edge on the White Sox, but hey, we’re just 5 12 and 4 12 games behind, respectively (that’s five and four in the loss column, bub). Even better, the Sox have some control of their own No. 1 pick destiny, with three games remaining against the Orioles and 12 vs. the Royals.