CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox’s offense flexed its muscles with three home runs on Thursday night. On Friday night, they challenged themselves to take a different route.
With only three extra-base hits, none of which left the ballpark, the White Sox continued their transformation from an offensive doormat last year to a run-scoring machine, taking down the Cleveland Indians 9-6 on a night when Chicago’s staff ace stumbled.
Last year, starter Chris Sale knew if he gave up a few early runs the team was essentially buried. The 3.19 runs the team did provide him per nine innings in 2013 was the third-lowest mark in all of baseball and the lowest for a White Sox starter since Britt Burns (3.25) in 1980.
What a difference a change a year makes.
“The feel from this year is completely different,” Sale said. “We’re battling, we’re fighting.”
The White Sox's nine walks Friday were their most in a game in two seasons. They have scored 37 runs in five home games this season after scoring 48 runs in the first 14 games at U.S. Cellular Field in 2013.
Even with Avisail Garcia lost for the season with a shoulder injury, the White Sox are getting contributions up and down the lineup:
But for Sale, anyway, it all starts from the top.
“For me, I know I have a very biased opinion, but I think Adam Eaton is the most exciting player in baseball in terms of every time he gets up to the plate something is going to happen -- whether it’s a close play, a bunt single, a double in the gap or a stolen base,” Sale said of his teammate. “He has never once taken a second off, taken a step back.”
Eaton’s pedal-to-the-floor style seems to have set a tone for an offense that needed some type of charge after sleepwalking through 2013. On Friday, he collected his fourth consecutive multihit game; even when he coaxed a walk, he sprinted to first base.
Told of Sale’s compliment, Eaton played the aw-shucks game.
“Oh, geez, tell him to save it,” Eaton said. “Save it. Save it. No, he’s the most exciting player in baseball.”
Volleying compliments in the White Sox’s clubhouse. What a concept.
“You know, it’s just competing,” Eaton said. “If you compete every pitch, it doesn’t matter what the score is. You go out with your best effort and you compete, good things are going to happen. Guys are seeing pitches and playing good defense behind Sailer [Sale]. Good things are going to happen.”
Criticized at times for getting nothing out of his team last year, White Sox manager Robin Ventura is getting everything this year and more. Chicago’s offense leads the American League in most key categories.
“These guys, they just kind of have some jump when they come out,” Ventura said. “They just feel like they're going to score. Sale probably earned one of these after last year. But offensively, we just feel like we're going to get a chance. That's indicative of when Eaton, with two outs, gets on and just kind of makes it happen.”
That would have been the sixth inning, when Eaton reached on a bunt single toward first base following two quick strikeouts. Marcus Semien singled and both runners scored on a Gillaspie double.
“It can be something that just carries on,” Ventura said. “You feel that vibe every night that they're grinding for every at-bat. You look and you might not have anything going, but you still make a guy have a 20-pitch inning. You just carry that over inning to inning, and eventually you break through. That’s the feeling they have.”
The players can sense something special happening, and that’s really what matters. They might have issues in the bullpen and the back end of the rotation, not to mention a defense still trying to mend itself. But on offense, everybody believes.
“Yeah, I mean if we keep doing what we’ve been doing and making strides in the right direction, we can be a force, be a great team and it’s fun to watch,” Sale said, acknowledging there are some flaws. “I got to watch a lot of it tonight, unfortunately.”