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Every time the White Sox face somebody with a home run total that would stand a chance of leading the league, at least in a world where Aaron Judge never existed, my brain responds with a flicker of confusion before context asserts itself, similar to remembering a recent rule change.
For instance, when Mike Trout hit a third-inning solo shot off Johnny Cueto on Tuesday night, it startled me when I heard that it was his 23rd of the year, until another part of my brain overrode it with “Oh yeah, they’re allowed to do that now,” as though it was part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
That’s what happens when we’re 73 games into the season and the White Sox team leader has nine homers. The Sox and the Tigers are the only two teams without a double-digit dinger total on their roster, and the Detroit offense is getting headlines for its historic putridity.
José Abreu came within feet of hitting his 10th later in the ninth inning, but his drive hit the right-field wall just below the yellow line (which is still lame — balls should be required to clear a barrier), and he had to hustle into second for a double.
The White Sox aren’t spiritually prohibited from hitting 10 homers at any individual level, but that kind of sequence is what it would look like. And that made me wonder what the White Sox’s offensive ceiling would look like if the Sox knew that a guy would be tapped out, like Beethoven, once he produced his ninth.
The last time the White Sox went a whole year without a 10-homer hitter was 1949, when they hit 43 homers as a team. Bud Souchok led the way with seven homers in 84 games, which isn’t bad. Luke Appling finished tied for third with five homers at the age of 42, which is as impressive as it is pitiful. They finished with 43 homers, which was not only good for dead last in Major League Baseball, but they were almost doubled up by the next-worst team (the Washington Senators with 81). Looking at it that way, it’s a miracle they finished 63-91.
These White Sox already have 61 this year, which is merely 25th in baseball, and 20 ahead of the last-place Tigers. But with Abreu tapped out and Luis Robert with one to spare, the White Sox would need a lot of power from a lot of people and places that haven’t yet produced it.
Here’s my best attempt at figuring out how many homers the incumbents could hit while staying in the single digits.
|C||3||30||Grandal, McGuire, Perez/Zavala|
|2B||4||27||Harrison, García, Sánchez|
|SS||8||21||Anderson, Sosa, Mendick (3)|
That total of 159 is both unimpressive and a couple dozen homers ahead of the 135-homer pace they’ve set. They question is whether they could get more than 17 players with nine homers. There’s some wiggle room at catcher, where Seby Zavala could go on a heater before getting claimed by a team when Yasmani Grandal returns, following with Carlos Pérez making the most of his third-catcher opportunities. (Reese McGuire would also have to hit his first homer before hitting eight others, but this keep in mind this is a very stupid exercise.)
There’s also some cushion in the outfield, but that probably requires Eloy Jiménez to establish himself with some urgency whenever he comes back from his rehab stint, even though he’s 8-for-42 with no extra-base hits over 12 rehab games thus far. Maybe Adam Hasley picks up a couple, and then the Sox get another surge with a midseason trade. That gets the Sox to 170 or 175, which would put the Sox in the middle of the pack this year.
This is a long, dumb way to say that in order for the White Sox to finish around the league average in homers, they’re going to have to sock about 110 over the next 90 games. As much benefit as I’d get from this post retaining its relevancy for weeks, I’d prefer to see the Sox try hitting that number with a couple guys hitting 20 homers by themselves. Considering seven hitters have already reached 20 homers with more than week left in the first half — and the Sox were built around the concept of hitting balls over the fence — that doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Or, in Cueto’s case, gently command.
“I told them, ‘Hey, let’s hit homers. Let’s put the ball in the air. The ball is carrying today,’ ” Cueto said.