There are two sides to Adam Eaton.
When Eaton transforms into Mighty Mouse, he’s a little guy who’s a big talker, stronger than he looks, and he puts his body on the line.
Here’s Mighty Mouse showing up in perhaps the biggest moment of Eaton’s career. Down 2-1 in the fifth inning of game six, the Nationals were on the verge of coming to a very scary place. Trailing 3-2 in the series, they were in real danger of losing the 2019 World Series.
But here comes Mighty Mouse to save the day.
But there’s another side to Eaton, one that speaks to his feisty character and natural underdog quality. Specifically, it describes a strikeout-averse compact swing adept at punching base hits to the opposite field.
Sure, Eaton’s dual personality can be broken down, more or less, into pull swings versus hitting the ball the other way, but there’s just a touch more psychological depth involved. Mighty Mouse, after all, is a confident sonuvagun. He’s well-liked, a snazzy dresser, and he rarely draws the short straw. He’s actually a bit of a front-runner.
Not like Spanky. Anyone named Spanky has to scrap and claw for what he’s got. Spanky doesn’t have much smoothness to him. No, he gets the job done, but he does it ugly.
This season, the White Sox came into the season looking like Mighty Mouse, but they’ve had to lean into their Spanky side to stay atop the American League Central. Let’s delve a touch further to see how the ChiSox have taken on the dichotomous personality of their popular right fielder.
The White Sox were quickly becoming a favorite dark horse World Series pick. The additions of Liam Hendriks and Lance Lynn vaulted the start-up contender into pole position in the AL Central. The Twins and Indians have dominated the division for the past five years. The Tigers had a four-year run of their own from 2011 to 2014. In between, the Royals won the division just once, but they were also the only team from the AL Central to win a World Series since Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox improbably swept the Astros in 2005.
In short, every one of their rivals has sat at the head of the table since the White Sox last won the division in 2008.
But coming into this season, the White Sox were arguably the favorites in the division behind some power names like Lucas Giolito, Yasmani Grandal, José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Liam Hendricks, Luis Robert, and Eloy Jiménez.
But that’s not the team that’s shouldered the responsibility on the field thus far. It’s been the Spanky side of the White Sox that have scratched and clawed to keep the team afloat. As for the Mighty Mouse portion of the club, those expected to be the heroes, well, it hasn’t gone so well.
- Jiménez tore his pectoral and he’s likely to miss the season.
- Robert was excellent when he was healthy, leading Chicago’s position players with 1.1 fWAR. But he’s now on the shelf alongside Jiménez, out for the next three to four months.
- Hendriks has two blown saves in seven opportunities. He’s served up four home runs in 11 2/3 innings after giving up just one all of last season.
- Anderson missed nine games with a hamstring injury.
- Abreu, the reigning MVP, has been just two percent better than average with the bat while slugging under .400. He’ll turn it around, but it’s been a slow start.
- Grandal has also started slow: 101 wRC+ with a .138 ISO. He’s also sporting an absurdly low .125 BABIP – his luck will change.
- Giolito had perhaps the worst start of his career against Boston. On the whole, he’s been better than his numbers, but through six starts, his numbers aren’t healthy: 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA/4.24 FIP.
The injuries to Robert and Jiménez are legitimate bummers, and they have no clear internal path to replacing their production. Those losses hurt, no doubt. Brian Goodwin might be better than Billy Hamilton, but neither are good solutions when we’re talking about replacing two of the brightest young stars in the sport.
But better days are ahead for the rest of this crew. In the meantime, they can be thankful for the less-heralded portion of the roster. Robert and Jiménez are the player equivalent of a home run, but they now need some opposite-field singles to move the line and keep this offense chugging along.
Here’s the plan: Abreu will be the big bat to anchor the order, Eaton will captain the outfield, and Carlos Rodon has some potential to surprise out of the rotation. Here’s the year: 2015.
And yet here we are in 2021, Eaton spent four years in Washington, winning a World Series. Rodon’s once-considerably hype has been undermined by two arm surgeries to the point where he was DFA’ed this past winter. Meanwhile, Tony La Russa is drawing much ire due to his managerial decisions. Billy Hamilton has a starting job in center. Michael Kopech and Rodon are starring on the hill.
It’s been a bizarre first month of baseball for the White Sox. Somehow, barely thirty games into the season, and Eaton is unequivocally the best and most durable outfielder on the White Sox roster. On a roster with World Series aspirations. What a disaster.
Except, it’s not, thanks to Spanky.
The Spanky faction of the White Sox includes Yermin Mercedes, Kopech, Rodón, Dylan Cease, José Ruiz, Andrew Vaughn, even Eaton himself. These aren’t the guys that make the White Sox the favorites. But they’re the ones who are making good on the projections.
- Mercedes went 8-for-8 to start his big-league career. The 28-year-old rookie has a 196 wRC+.
- Whether starting or coming out of the pen, Kopech has thrived: 1.33 ERA/1.58 FIP with a toasty 43.6 percent strikeout rate.
- Cease has been a surprisingly sturdy presence in the rotation, particularly in his last two starts. His last couple of times out, Cease earned a win while striking out 20 hitters and allowing just four hits across 13 innings. Studly.
- Rodón threw a no-hitter, nearly a perfect game. He sports a shiny 0.72 ERA through four starts.
- Ruiz has been a bright spot out of the bullpen when a few of the more established arms have struggled. The 26-year-old righty has a 1.59 ERA/2.49 FIP in ten games.
- Vaughn is learning a new position on the fly in his first exposure to big-league life. He’s been seven percent better than average with the bat, collecting 0.4 fWAR through 68 plate appearances.
- Eaton himself has just a 95 wRC+, but he’s been a revelation in the field. He looks rejuvenated in right, and while his crash-test-dummy style is fun when it works – and it has so far – the White Sox simply can’t afford to lose Eaton to injury. He’s the only player on their roster who is both worthy of an everyday lineup spot and an outfielder.
The White Sox have the best run differential in the division by a fair margin, and despite their myriad injuries, they are right there near the top of the division, currently trailing Cleveland by half a game. They’re a half-game ahead of Kansas City, with whom they begin a series today. Kansas City is relying on a very young starting staff and an offense that can’t take a walk. They’re going to be aggressive with in-season additions, but they can’t match the White Sox talent level. The Indians have the pitching staff to compete, but their offense is lame.
The Twins were thought to be their primary competitor, but they’ve dug a hole for themselves with an 11-19 start. We can’t count them out entirely, not by a long shot. But if the Mighty Mouse contingent of these White Sox can find its form, the Twins are going to have an uphill climb making up the deficit.
The injuries are tough to take, but the White Sox don’t need anyone to come save the day.
To keep the pressure on, the White Sox need only look to Eaton. Not as their on-field leader, but as their spiritual avatar. He wasn’t a top prospect, and he’s never been an All-Star. He’s not now nor has he ever been at talented as Robert. He’s just a guy with two nicknames.
Some days the White Sox are going to look like Mighty Mouse and some days they’re going to look like Spanky. The fact that they can be both is why they’re going to win the AL Central.
Designed by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)