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Unlikely Middle Infield Duo Shines for White Sox

by Matt Cotner

This year, Sox fans imagined middle infield production would come from Tim Anderson and Josh Harrison, the Opening Day duo. Over the past month, injuries forced a different plan to take shape, and a more unlikely pair has emerged: Elvis Andrus and Romy Gonzalez.

The White Sox signed Andrus when the A’s released him to act as the everyday shortstop until Anderson returns from the IL. Yoan Moncada’s brief stint on the IL shifted Harrison over to third base, which created an opportunity for Gonzalez. While their time together in the middle infield may be short for a variety of reasons, they are a huge part of the reason that the White Sox are only 2.5 games back in the AL Central – well within striking distance.

Elvis Andrus

Andrus’ production is not a big surprise. When the Athletics released him in August, they did so to give more opportunities to younger players in their rebuild, not because Andrus performed poorly. This made the signing a no-brainer. He perfectly fit what the White Sox needed: a solid shortstop that could produce while Tim Anderson recovered from injury.

Andrus has given everything the White Sox could’ve hoped for from him and then some. In 22 games, he is slashing .293/.337/.511, good for an incredible 141 wRC+. Andrus has also belted five homers in his 22 games with the club. It has been an impressive showing from the 34-year-old veteran to step in and give the White Sox not only production, but the power they have lacked for most of the season. The power has come in timely spots too, like the go-ahead two-run homer that proved to be the difference in last Monday’s 3-2 victory against the Mariners.

The gaping hole at the leadoff spot in the lineup has also been filled by Andrus. Initial attempts to plug this gap after the Anderson injury primarily centered around A.J Pollock, and proved largely unsuccessful despite some early-season success in the role from Pollock. Andrus has produced well in the leadoff role, and Pollock has performed better since he was moved down the lineup as well. Chalk this up to an important change that was made by acting manager Miguel Cairo to help stabilize a struggling lineup.

Andrus’ stability at the plate is only outmatched by his stability in the field. He has made some spectacular plays at shortstop and has not recorded an error since joining the team. With Tim Anderson struggling before his injury with his defense – and the White Sox’ defense overall being a weakness – Andrus has found yet another place where he could add additional value where the team lacked it before his arrival.

Additionally, Andrus currently carries a WAR of 2.5 on the season. This certainly constitutes an improvement from the other options the White Sox faced to replace Anderson. Without Andrus, Leury Garcia likely would have been the everyday starter at shortstop. White Sox fans have seen his struggles all season, and his WAR stands at -0.8 on the year. The signing of Andrus, then, served as a clear upgrade in a time of need at an important position.

Romy Gonzalez

The play of Romy Gonzalez is more surprising. While Andrus is a 14-year veteran, Gonzalez appeared in only 10 Major League games before this season. He only batted .198 in 33 games with Triple-A affiliate Charlotte this year as he battled injuries and inconsistent playing time while trying to find his footing. Additionally, his 135 plate appearances saw 45 strikeouts with Charlotte, good for a strikeout rate of 33.3%. It was a far cry from the 24 home runs we saw him launch in 2021 at the minor league level.

Nevertheless, the 26-year-old is making the most of this newfound opportunity, slashing .313/.328/.453 in 17 games. In the smaller sample size of 67 plate appearances, Gonzalez has struck out 21 times, producing a similar – but still lower – strikeout rate of 31.3%. While seemingly everyone padded their stats in the 14-2 drubbing of the A’s Thursday, Gonzalez was no exception, posting a four-hit game that included a home run.

Combine this with an errorless performance in the field thus far, and Gonzalez has been exactly what the White Sox ordered so far in his short stint with the team.

Middle Infield Moving Forward

What comes next for the pair? Yoan Moncada recently returned from the IL, giving Harrison the opportunity to move back to second base. This will likely limit Gonzalez’s playing time, or get him sent back down to Charlotte.

It would be harsh to send down Gonzalez after how he has performed recently. However, barring another injury on the roster, the only other player at his position that the White Sox could consider parting ways with is Leury Garcia, and the team has chosen to stick by him time and time again through his struggles.

As for Andrus, Tim Anderson should still return at some point over this stretch run, and Andrus has never played a position other than shortstop in his Major League career. However, Andrus did tell reporters that he’ll be “down for whatever he [interim manager Miguel Cairo] thinks I can do to help the team to win,” so don’t rule out the possibility of Andrus getting a chance at second, especially if he keeps hitting well.

While time may be short for this pairing to continually start, at the very least they did their part to weather the storm posed by another set of injuries to this White Sox team. Should the White Sox end up making the playoffs, fans should look back at the play of Elvis Andrus and Romy Gonzalez as a big reason why the team was able to make a late playoff push.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more updates throughout the season!

Featured Image: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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