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Eloy, Robert returns could shift Sox into another gear

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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The Chicago White Sox are pretty darn good right now.

Pretty soon, they'll be even better.

"When we get Eloy and Robert back, I think they'll help us put it into another gear," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson told NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday. "I think there's more."

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Looking at the standings, it's hard to figure out what "more" might mean. The White Sox own the best winning percentage in the American League, and their eight-and-a-half-game edge in the AL Central is the biggest division lead in baseball.

But "more" can also fall under the category of expected.

After all, the White Sox made their World Series aspirations known in spring training, back when Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert were expected to be everyday contributors in the middle of the lineup. Instead, significant injuries have knocked them out for huge chunks of the campaign, Jiménez down since the end of the spring with a ruptured pectoral tendon and Robert sidelined since early May, when he tore his hip flexor.

And those two big boppers are just two of the four everyday starters currently missing from the White Sox starting lineup. Nick Madrigal is out for the year after tearing his hamstring, and Yasmani Grandal will miss an unknown amount of time — though he's expected back before the end of the regular season — after having surgery to repair a torn tendon in his knee.

 

No matter. The White Sox have received unbelievable contributions from the guys called on to fill in. They've won eight of their last 10 and 13 of their last 18, the most recent win a thrilling walk-off victory thanks to one of those fill-ins, Gavin Sheets, launching a homer off All-Star pitcher José Berríos on Monday night.

"We're in a good spot right now," Anderson said. "Everybody's playing well. But the more bats we get in the lineup, the better we're off.

"We've just got to keep pushing, man, and know what we're capable of doing and know what we can do any given night. You see it last night, (Berríos) was pitching a heck of a game, but with one swing you can ruin it and he can take the 'L.'

"We've got this far without those guys. We've been grinding, day in and day out, working with what we have. For them guys to be on the verge of coming back, they're definitely going to give us a little spark, as well, because we're going to be excited about having them back."

Jiménez, currently rehabbing at Triple-A Charlotte, and Robert, starting a rehab stint at Class A Winston-Salem on Wednesday, are about as good of midsummer additions as any contender could dream up. Jiménez is a 40-homer threat in a full season, an elite enough bat already, just 177 games into his major league career, that he won a Silver Slugger in 2020 thanks to one of the best offensive seasons in the AL. Robert, meanwhile, is so electrifying he's been described as a "six-tool player" that can change the game in a variety of ways: as a hitter of moonshot homers, a Gold Glover in center field and as a speedster on the base paths.

And though the White Sox are expected to make moves ahead of next week's trade deadline — general manager Rick Hahn promised an aggressive approach, and there are indeed needs to address — no move they could make will be more impactful than installing those two bats back into the middle of their lineup.

What is already a roster capable of competing for the championship the White Sox have been talking about for months will be wildly improved just by getting healthy. And considering the production and the winning the White Sox have been able to accomplish without Jiménez and Robert, there won't be anything more required than those two being themselves to potentially launch the South Siders into the stratosphere.

"There's definitely some big expectations for those guys when they come back, but I just want them to show up and play the game like they've always played," White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón told NBC Sports Chicago. "Hopefully they don't take any pressure on. Though the guys who've filled in, they've not seemed to worry about too much pressure. So hopefully they take the same script from them and just show up and play.

 

"I think it's going to be really exciting down the stretch when we get Eloy and Luis back, and it's going to be a lot of fun to watch."

It sure looks like it will be. The White Sox have done more than just stay afloat during the absences of their star outfielders. They've established themselves as true contenders.

With those guys back in the lineup, that's a jolt that's hard to measure. And one that could send the White Sox from contenders to potential favorites.

"We're excited to hear the news about them coming back soon," White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada said. "Not to disrespect anybody, because we have a good team here, but they are two players that we're missing and when they come back we're going to be a way better team.

"That's why we're excited."

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