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“Homers are cool, homers are fun, and they score runs,” Andrew Vaughn said after the White Sox sent four balls out of the yard in a Saturday-afternoon win.
If only they’d score more runs, though, that 5-4 win wouldn’t have needed to come in walk-off fashion.
“One or two of those become crooked numbers, and it’s a whole different ballgame,” Pedro Grifol said.
Each of the blasts off the bats of White Sox hitters Saturday scored just one run, solo shots the lot of them. It extended a dubious stretch of 15 of the team’s last 16 homers only going for one run.
So while celebrating a walk-off win and a game in which hitters unloaded on Red Sox pitching for four long balls, the work the offense did was still being viewed as less than ideal.
Of course, this has been a talking point for a bit now, as that statistic above would lead you to believe. Grifol was answering questions about not getting guys on base in front of home-run hitters well before Saturday. The White Sox came into the day right around league average in home runs but dead last in on-base percentage and next to last in walks. It all added up to a runs-per-game total just north of four, one of the six worst marks in baseball.
Saturday’s efforts should boost the home-run rank, but they will do little to improve the other categories.
A five-run output on a four-homer day is pretty hard to do.
“You have four solos,” Lance Lynn said. “Guys have the ability to do a lot of great things. Today you saw that with the home-run ball. We need to get a walk and a home run, or just a bloop and a homer, and you start adding on and the next thing you know, you’ve got six, seven, eight runs on the board.”
That’d be nice for this White Sox team that’s trying to find a way out of a deep hole it dug for itself with a miserable April. But even after Saturday’s win, they’re still 12 games below .500, a record easily explained by an inconsistent, not-productive-enough offense, considering the pitching staff has been mostly great since the end of that opening month.
This is a team that was built to bash opposing pitching, and even though injuries have made it so the lineup has only rarely been assembled as intended, that was far from the case during the massive disappointment of 2022, when the power went out completely and the team leader in homers, Vaughn, mustered only 17.
That’s been corrected this year, with Luis Robert Jr. owning the team lead with 19 long balls. Jake Burger isn’t far behind at 17. Vaughn’s up to 12. Those three, along with Yasmani Grandal, accounted for the home-run barrage Saturday. The White Sox are only just now approaching the season’s halfway point, if you’d like to daydream about season-end totals and how much more impressive they’ll be than a year ago.
In a way, though the run total might not have indicated it, Saturday was an example of what this offense is supposed to be doing on a regular basis.
“These are the capabilities that we have, four home runs in a game,” Grifol said, before getting back to the issue of base-runners. “We have capabilities of putting the ball in the seats, and I think that we’re going to continue to do that. We’ve just got to find ways to get on base prior to, whether it’s a walk or whatever the case may be. But the ability to hit the ball in the seats? We have that, we have those capabilities.
“We’ve got to turn those (home runs) into crooked numbers, I’ve been talking about it for over a week now. I believe it’s going to happen.”
The White Sox’ coaching staff is of course working on this.
Behind-the-scenes work is often difficult to specify, considering it happens out of the view of even us reporter types, let alone fans who don’t have access to the ballpark while the White Sox are practicing before games.
But it’s been difficult to miss a new installation during White Sox batting practice, tall screens in line with the pitcher that will put an immediate stop to any balls not launched in the air.
“We’re having fun with those screens, and at the same time, it’s serving a purpose,” Grifol said. “In this league, ground balls pretty much are outs, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. We have — and I’ve said it over and over again — we have capabilities of slugging on this club. So we’ll do whatever it takes, whether it’s the screens or whatever we can come up with, to elevate the baseball, which is what we’ve got to do.”
That’s the physical aspect. But there’s that pesky mental aspect, too. And Grifol’s working on that, as well. His message to his hitters?
“Simplify it,” he said. “And ‘simplify it’ doesn’t mean just simplify the game-planning or simplify your mechanics. It’s simplify the pressure and the anxiety of not producing. Just play the game, play for each other. Team at-bats versus individual at-bats. We had that talk yesterday. Just focus on how you can help us win today and let the game dictate that.
“Do the little things that are going to help us win as a ballclub. That’s what I mean by ‘simplify.’ Simplify the pressures and the anxiety that this game may bring and that it is bringing right now.”
It’s hard to say that it’s all paying off immediately. The White Sox mustered just one run on a sacrifice fly in Friday’s loss to the Red Sox. And Saturday was the as-mentioned mixed bag. But the work is happening, and Grifol and his players aren’t short on confidence that better days are ahead.
“They are doing their job every day. They are coming in and preparing. Hopefully it turns the corner for them,” Lynn said. “Next thing you know, hopefully the offense clicks (along with the pitching staff) and we are right where we want to be.”
After the White Sox blew a one-run lead in the top of the ninth Saturday, the game-winning sequence in the bottom of the inning wasn’t exactly a master class in the kind of offensive production that Grifol is searching for, with Gavin Sheets reaching on an error by the Red Sox’ first baseman, pinch-runner Zach Remillard stealing second base and Elvis Andrus plating the winning run with a single — the question even coming postgame of whether or not Andrus’ hit would have even cleared those batting-practice screens.
Grifol complimented the way the White Sox won, of course, and it’s true that even the homer-happiest team has to be able to do a bunch more if it’s going to win with any consistency.
But the manager would surely prefer Saturday’s repeated donning of the team’s home-run outfit to be a regular occurrence — just as long as more than one guy is coming back to the dugout at a time, then the White Sox won’t have to do the kind of sweating out a win they did Saturday.
Speaking of sweating, however, it doesn’t sound like the home-run outfit has been to the dry cleaner’s. Not that it’s dampening anyone’s enthusiasm for putting it on.
“I don’t think it’s an issue,” Andrus said. “Everybody would be more than happy to wear that sticky, sticky jacket.”
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