Offense slipping as Abreu return looms

CHICAGO – Of chief concern, now that the Chicago White Sox's offense has been exposed of late, is whether their current funk is too much for even Jose Abreu to make an immediate impact.

White Sox batters struck out 10 more times against San Diego Padres pitching Saturday, meaning they have struck out 23 times in the first two games of the current series. Going back to the start of the recent Cleveland Indians series – which the White Sox did sweep – and it’s 50 strikeouts in five games.

Numbers like that show that Abreu’s return Monday from ankle tendinitis can’t come soon enough.

Considering the kind of power hitters the White Sox have in guys like Adam Dunn, Tyler Flowers and Abreu, when healthy, strikeouts were expected to be a problem. The curious thing is that the team had been able to keep the swings and misses in relative check over the early part of the season.

The recent strikeout trend is what is making this most recent offensive downturn a little more than just the product of Abreu being on the shelf.

“I think you're sputtering, and that's part of it,” manager Robin Ventura said of the strikeouts. “Guys realize it's been sputtering and you're trying to do maybe a bit too much instead of just staying within yourself, going the other way. They've been doing a good job of that and the last couple of days, there's part of that and then you tip your hat to the pitcher.”

Padres starters Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross have been tough on the White Sox the past two days, but the Padres' bullpen might have been an even bigger issue. Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit and Huston Street have combined to completely shut down the White Sox the last two games.

In the first two games of the current series, the White Sox have one hit, two walks and 14 strikeouts from the fifth inning through the end of the contest.

“They got some guys that can throw the cutter and the slider and they spot up and you gotta hand it to them,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “We'll continue a steady approach and hopefully the wind will change and come our way.”

Could it be as simple as White Sox hitters seeing that they are days away from getting a huge boost that will come with Abreu’s return and finally showing some mental exhaustion?

“I hope they're not waiting around for that,” Ventura said. “He is coming back but you still have to play the game. They’ve been good so fare of just staying focused in the moment and going through it. You get a couple of days where it just doesn't look good.”

Eaton insisted that this isn’t a collective limp to the finish line that is the end of Abreu’s DL stint.

“It's only two games,” Eaton said. “We just swept the Tribe, so let's not anybody freak out. We're playing good baseball, and we're planning on coming back tomorrow and having a good, steady approach like we have. Win the last one and have a happy trip out West.

“No one's freaking out in here. It's just baseball sometimes. And you know Ross is a good pitcher. I faced him quite a bit when I was with Arizona. He's got kind of a funky, quick delivery, he's got good stuff. Like I said, just wash this one and we'll come back tomorrow and try to salvage the series.”

And after Sunday’s game, Abreu will provide a nice offensive boost, starting with six games in the Los Angeles area against the Dodgers and Angels. Anything would help a White Sox team that has scored just three times in two days against the Padres, with only one of those runs coming via a hit.

“I don’t know if (Abreu’s presence) helps with pitch selection but you add another bat like that in our lineup, and obviously it doesn’t hurt,” said Dunn, who struck out three times Saturday. “We’ve been doing a pretty good job of putting up runs while he’s on the DL, but it will be nice to have him back for sure.”