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Sox succeeding at ‘next man up’ as defense remains a worry originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

“Next man up” has worked out pretty well for the White Sox. The defense, well, that’s another story.

There’s good news and bad news on some big-picture items as the White Sox have completed the first six games of a 162-contest regular season. It’s a ludicrously small sample size, of course, not even four percent of the campaign in the books.

But considering how important each figures to be as the South Siders chase a championship, it’s worth keeping the attention zeroed in on both.

RELATED: Sox pleased with Andrew Vaughn’s defense in left field

Eloy Jiménez won’t be back for at least five months, so the White Sox need to figure out how to fill the Silver Slugger sized hole he created when he ruptured his pectoral tendon in the waning days of spring training.

So far, so good.

Yes, the end of the series with the Los Angeles Angels drove fans nuts, the White Sox going hitless with men on base and 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position in Sunday night’s loss. But in the first two of a three-game set against the Seattle Mariners, the White Sox scored a combined 16 runs and got exactly what they needed from the guys who have been tasked with being the “next man up.”

Filling in for Jiménez in both the field and the lineup is being done with a by-committee approach. But between Yermín Mercedes’ scorching start, Zack Collins homering in Tuesday’s 10-4 win and Andrew Vaughn finally breaking through for his first major league hit in the same game — not to mention pleasing the White Sox defensively in his surprising turn as a left fielder — the White Sox are finding ways to at least start to make up for Jiménez’s absence.

“If this team wants to go deep in the playoffs, that’s what’s going to happen with everybody,” Collins said after Tuesday’s win. “Somebody’s going to have to step up. It’s not always going to be Tim (Anderson), José (Abreu), Eloy, all these guys. Young guys got to step up, and so far I think we’ve done a good job.”

The easiest and perhaps most likely way to do that will come from bigger boppers. Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal all struggled or disappointed to different degrees during the shortened 2020 season, and still the White Sox boasted the most powerful lineup in the American League. Getting bounce-back seasons from those three that more closely live up to their respective potentials would be the most effective way to pick up the slack.

And indeed, that effort is underway, too, with Robert and Grandal both homering in the first two games of the Seattle series while Moncada works on getting off a season-opening schneid. He’s struck out a lot but has also been on base twice in each of the last three games.

The point is, the White Sox are doing it in the early going, getting the contributions they need to get if the offense is going to survive being without Jiménez well enough and long enough to chase down the team’s championship-level goals.

“Eloy’s absence is a big absence for us, but we have the guys here who can help us and can produce,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo after Tuesday’s game. “I think Mercedes has been doing a very good job, Zack too, and Andrew is coming. And I think among those guys, they can do a good job.

“Our mindset is win. We have to win, we have to find ways to win. And in order for us to do that, everybody has to do their job. They’re doing their job, and hopefully they are going to keep doing it.”

Getting MVP moments like Abreu’s grand-slam homer Tuesday night will work, too.

On the other hand, the White Sox defense has been poor. Fans are right to be concerned considering every little thing matters so much if the White Sox are going to have a shot at winning the World Series. Defense wins championships, the old adage goes, and the White Sox have not played championship-level defense so far.

Errors in the series against the Angels loomed especially large. Nick Madrigal threw a ball and a win away on Opening Day. Adam Eaton whiffed on a seemingly normal fly ball, setting up more runs. A ball comically bounced off Robert’s head, again leading to tallies for the opposition.

Though White Sox defenders didn’t get tagged with any errors Tuesday, a barrage of miscues wiped away a three-run lead in the third inning. Cold weather and an injury delay affected Lucas Giolito to an unusual degree, and he was giving up hits left and right in the third. But the defense made it a whole lot easier for the Mariners to score three times and tie the game.

Madrigal was again at the center of things, bobbling what seemed an easy double-play ball. This a night after he bobbled a pop up that dropped in, allowing the runner to stretch out an oddly ruled double.

“These guys make tough plays look routine,” Tony La Russa said of Madrigal’s misplay Tuesday night. “Probably bounced on him. It’s always a tough thing to answer because it sounds like I’m making excuses. I’m not out there. I just know he’s an outstanding defender. When you see something like that, it’s probably because he’s bouncing and the ball is jumping on him a little bit.”

But Vaughn, too, couldn’t complete a running catch in the left-field corner, a ball glancing off his outstretched glove for an RBI double. Collins let a Giolito pitch in the dirt get away, bringing home another run.

Fortunately for the White Sox, Robert and Abreu added multi-run homers to early Collins’ long ball, and it ended up a win that trended more toward blowout.

But the defensive troubles haven’t gone away, a consistent problem through the season’s opening week and something that will need to get better if the White Sox want to complete their World Series quest.

They’re not going to get anywhere close without stepping up in Jiménez’s absence, perhaps a more important item on the to-do list than fixing whatever’s plaguing their gloves at the moment. Thankfully for them, that part has worked out all right in the early going and inspired a good deal of confidence that they at least have the ability to weather the storm.

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