GLENDALE, Ariz. – It’s early, so let’s not get carried away. But those 12 home runs in their first seven Cactus League games sure has put a charge in the White Sox camp.
“South Side Hit Men” appeared in newspaper copy and on social media. “Raker’s dozen” was tweeted. And a sense of optimism, albeit measured, was palpable.
Fans dig the long ball, hitting coaches like it, too, and Earl Weaver isn’t the only manager who won’t look a potential three-run gift horse in the mouth.
After ranking last in the American League with 136 home runs in 2015, when the Sox finished 76-86 and ranked last in runs scored, the addition of Todd Frazier (35 home runs with the Cincinnati Reds last season) and Brett Lawrie (16 for the Oakland A’s) has injected some needed power onto the roster. Even the little guys, 5-8 Adam Eaton (14 homers, second on team last season) and new 5-7 shortstop Jimmy Rollins (12 with the Dodgers) muscled up last year and are on the list of 12 Sox who’ve already gone deep this spring.
Home runs are a good time. When Bill Veeck’s South Side Hit Men Sox clubbed 192 homers, the Sox hung around in a West Division race for most of the summer and hosted a nightly party with Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble, Eric Soderholm et al contributing to a team total 192 home runs, some of them landing on the Comiskey Park roof.
The Sox finished 90-72 third in the race but it was fun while it lasted. Teams that mash are always fun to watch.
And teams that score a lot of runs are always in the game. Sometimes they even win more than they lose.
“It’s always significant,’’ Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson said of the Sox’ early power surge. “A game is a game. People can say, ‘Aw it’s spring training’ but there have been a lot of spring training ghosts. The bottom line is we’re playing the game the way we want to play it. I’m talking about the overall look of what we’re trying to do every day as well.’’
Steverson sat alongside manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and since-departed bench coach Mark Parent last year and winced a lot. The Sox didn’t hit, played poor defense in stretches and didn’t run the bases with aplomb.
“We’ve seen what bad baseball looks like,’’ Steverson said. “We don’t want to be in that category. It’s been expressed to them – offensively, defensively, as a whole. They’ve said it themselves, they want to hold each other accountable for what they do on the field and put out a good product for our fans.’’
Besides Jose Abreu (30 homers) and Adam LaRoche (who underperformed with 12), Steverson said, there weren’t many Sox who posed much in the way of a home run threat.
“Now, there are more guys with raw abilities to take it out of the park,’’ Steverson said. “It’s great to have that arsenal where you can come back, instead of always having to manufacture something. Up and down the lineup it’s a lot deeper than we’ve had.’’
Ace left-hander Chris Sale, for one, is invigorated by the Sox’ power potential, and why wouldn’t he be.
“That’s exciting,’’ Sale said. “It really is. It’s fun to watch.
“With that you can’t help but to build confidence and momentum going forward.”
There’s obviously more to scoring runs than the long ball, so not to worry: The Sox aren’t putting their entire attack in the home run basket.
“I always tell our hitters, if you hit 30 homers in 600 at-bats, you have 570 to do something else,’’ Steverson said. “Thirty looks good but what did you do with the 570? Did you help the team? Did you move a runner? Did you get a guy in from third? I put a lot of credence in having quality at-bats and what the game calls for.’’
Home runs, of course, are always welcome.
“Hit ‘em all,’’ Steverson said. “Hit as many as you can.’’