Like the gamma bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk, or the cosmic rays that imbued the Fantastic Four with their superhuman abilities, there’s some sort of comic-book origin story for the hitters in this White Sox lineup.
That’s what Gio González thinks, anyway. It’s the only way to explain what these South Side Hit Men have been doing lately.
“These guys must have been born next to a nuclear power plant,” he said after Saturday’s 7-4 win. “They’re destroying baseballs.”
Indeed, the White Sox have looked superheroic swinging the bats recently. On a seven-game winning streak powered by an absurd amount of home runs, they seem to keep topping themselves every night, showing off a new trick with which they can bludgeon the opposition.
A night after blasting six home runs out of Wrigley Field to kickstart the first Crosstown series of 2020 with a blowout win, they only managed five Saturday night. But the twist was that José Abreu hit three of them. He’s got five homers in the first two games of this series, establishing himself as the South Siders’ very own God of Thunder.
The White Sox have hit a record-setting amount of home runs during their winning streak, 27 of them in seven games, which is a new all-time best in the major leagues.
We’ve been hearing since the spring what this White Sox lineup could be capable of, and they’ve shown it often during the first 20-something games of this most unusual 60-game season. All the new faces gave the batting order a power boost that was desperately needed, and after ranking toward the bottom of the sport in power-hitting categories last season, they’re now right at the top.
“You've got a lot of guys out there that you can just (ride their) coattails and they can carry you,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We've been very fortunate. We hope it continues and this is just a sign of things (to come) as we continue as a club, that we’ll have some consistency over an extended period of time and it will be a lot of fun to watch.”
Fittingly, Abreu is right in the center of Chicago’s mightiest lineup.
He spent six seasons consistently producing for losing teams, never once finishing above .500. That was hardly a deterrent, however, from inking a three-year deal to stay on the South Side. He spent the entirety of last season talking about how badly he wanted to stick around and to be a part of the bright future he saw coming.
The way these White Sox are slugging right now, his faith in the future of the franchise is being rewarded.
“Imagine being on the club for a lot of years and having to try to carry everything and how that might create — though he may not say it — even more added pressure to be the guy that does it all,” Renteria said of Abreu. “And then when you have a lot of guys that can pick you up along that string in the lineup, it frees you up a little bit.
“He's obviously done it. He's hit over 30 homers I don't know many years, over 100 (RBIs) I don't know how many years. He's done it under what I consider difficult circumstances, to be honest.
“Now you've got situations where he's got a lot of guys that are supporting him in a tremendously positive fashion on the offensive side, and it just looks like a lot of fun. So I'm really happy for him. I'm glad he's taking advantage of it. I hope this continues to be as we expect, and always believed, to be part of who he is as he continues to be a White Sox.”
That three-year contract Abreu got was not without its detractors. As he whacked his way past Magglio Ordoñez and into the top five on the franchise’s all-time home-run leader board Saturday night, he was out to prove something.
Age can often bring decline in baseball, that’s the way of the world, and you don’t even have to leave the AL Central to find a prime example, with Miguel Cabrera’s best days behind him in Detroit. But Abreu’s still raking. And if the three home run balls he blasted into the Wrigley Field bleachers didn’t go far enough to prove it — a combined 1,176 feet, to be exact — he wanted to make sure everyone knew he had a little extra motivation.
“I was a little emotional today because to hear people say a lot of things about you, people who doubt you or maybe don’t believe in you,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo, “I’m just proving them wrong. Sometimes it gets to you. Today was one of those moments.”
But if there’s anything that will instantly return a smile to Abreu’s face, it’s seeing what he and his teammates are doing right now. They’re bashing every opposing pitcher they face. They’ve scored 55 runs and hit 27 home runs in their last seven games, winning each game on this streak by an average of more than five and a half runs. And they appear to be having a heck of a good time doing it.
This is the White Sox future Abreu spent last year talking about.
“We’re going to be very, very good,” he said last summer at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. “I’m going to be here, believe me. I’m going to be here.
“I don’t want to miss what is coming, and I’m going to be here.”
Well guess what? The White Sox, at this moment, are very, very good.
White Sox fans will treat any series win over the Cubs as a big one, that’s how the Crosstown rivalry works. But the South Siders came into this specific Crosstown series with an opportunity to use this weekend as a different kind of measuring stick. A White Sox team with playoff aspirations is no longer just comparing where they’re heading in their rebuilding process to where the Cubs have been in theirs. They’re looking to show they’re capable of competing alongside championship contenders.
That they are one, too.
The White Sox have already won this series against the Cubs, their biggest series win of the season to date. Upcoming sets against the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians will hold more importance as they vie for the AL Central crown — the White Sox are a game back of first place after all three teams won Saturday — but this one means a lot.
The league knew what Abreu was capable of. He’s been doing it for a long while. Now he’s got some backup. And the rest of the league is taking notice.
“They’re playing really well right now,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “They grind, their at-bats are very competitive at all times, even when they’re making outs. And Abreu has been the staple there for a lot of years. … He does it year in and year out.
“The team’s been building, and there’s been a lot of hype. It’s obviously tough to be on the losing side of it, but when you see teams come together like that, it could be scary.”
Scary. That’s what they said about the Hulk, too.
González might not be entirely literal when he’s talking about the origins of his teammates’ power. But the White Sox have indeed assembled. And they look downright superhuman.