Oct 8, 2021

White Sox hitters need to take a walk

Tim Anderson White
(USA Today Sports)

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As much as Lance Lynn failed to give the White Sox a chance to win Game 1 of the ALDS against the Astros, his wasn't the most disturbing performance Thursday.

By far, it was that of the lineup, which couldn't even draw one walk against the wildest pitcher in the major leagues, Lance McCullers Jr.

The Sox were one of the best in the league at taking walks during the regular season; only three teams walked more. And nobody gave more free passes than McCullers, who to a degree uses his wildness as a feature. "Hey, sorry about that, Luís Robert — sometimes you never know where the ball's gonna go."

The Sox knew all about McCullers' schtick. They saw him twice during the regular season, and failed pretty miserably then, too. But not like this. Sox batters collectively knew they had to work counts, draw walk(s), and force McCullers to make pitches — in quantity and kind — that he felt uncomfortable with.

In short, what the Astros did to Lynn.

Instead, Sox batters worked three-ball counts on just six occasions (half of them coming in the fourth inning), and couldn't get over the hump one time. Do you know how many times during the regular season McCullers walked nobody? Never. He walked at least one batter in every single start. He walked multiple batters 25 times. It did happen once, in the playoffs a season ago, that he had zero walks in a start. That gets back to McCullers being a good pitcher, one who is getting better. He probably was going to beat the Sox in Game 1 no matter how they attacked him, but he certainly didn't have to get away with what Sox batters let him.

They can't let it happen again in Game 2 against Framber Valdez. He's kind of a left-handed version of McCullers; prone to walks, but not vulnerable to home runs (only 12 allowed in 134 innings). The Sox did get to him for a two home runs in a start at Guaranteed Rate Field during the regular season — one of two times that things actually worked out for the Sox against the Astros this year. Even if they don't go yard against Valdez, the Sox need to use their best weapon — selectivity, and the patience that comes with it. Make the other guy sweat, make the other manager bring in relief middle relievers who might or might not perform in Houston's best interests. Make the Astros squirm like the Sox squirmed against them.

Lucas Giolito could give the Sox the performance of a lifetime, something 2005, or like LaMarr Hoyt and Britt Burns did once upon a time in the playoffs back when Tony La Russa used to manage the Sox (for the first time). But if the Sox don't work the Astros like they can, and score some runs before the outcome is all-but decided in a negative way, they won't compete in the series. No matter how good their own pitching performs.

David Brown
Longtime Chicago guy. A professional writer and editor since 1998. Member of Baseball Writers Association of America since 2013.

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