There's a lineup controversy brewing on the South Side.
OK, really, when isn't there a lineup controversy brewing in every fan base across baseball? But still, White Sox fans are going to have feelings about this one.
Luis Robert is having himself a heck of a start to his major league career. He leads the American League in WAR, his teammates are calling him the league MVP, and he's showing off every one of those tools we've been hearing so much about.
And since Tim Anderson went on the injured list last weekend with a groin strain, Robert's been doing his dizzying array of dazzling baseball things out of the leadoff spot. If you think his overall numbers in his first dozen big league games are impressive — a .354/.415/.542 slash line to go along with two homers, three doubles, six RBIs, eight runs scored, five walks and an AL-leading four stolen bases — just wait till you see what he's done in five games as the White Sox leadoff man: a .429/.520/.667 slash line with one of those homers, two of those doubles, two of those RBIs, five of those runs scored, four of those walks and three of those stolen bases.
It's a pretty compelling argument to keep him there, even when Anderson returns from his 10-day stay on the IL, which should be soon. Anderson worked out at full capacity Thursday at the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg. He says he's ready to return to action and should do so next week.
But if you want to see Robert kept as the White Sox permanent leadoff man, you're not going to get your wish.
"I look at the guy who's actually had the experience," manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. "Right now, Luis is doing it on sheer talent. You can see some at-bats that look very, very impressive and some that might be not as impressive. But overwhelmingly, his talent is taking over on his ability to do what he's doing there.
"I still consider Timmy our leadoff guy. And we'll find a way to continue to adjust the lineup a little bit. We'll see how Timmy's feeling after his stint over in Schaumburg. ... Once he comes back, see where he's at. I've got to talk to him and see how he's doing and then figure out where I'll insert him. But right now, if the question is, 'Will I insert him at the top of the lineup?' my answer to you right now is yes.
"I still plan on inserting him at the top of the lineup. If that's enough to give everybody some fodder and some conversation and question: 'Why would I do that?' Well, he's a pretty good hitter, and he's done pretty well for us up there."
That will surely cause bouts of furious rage in some corners of the fan base. It will prompt "attaboy" cheers from another. There will be plenty who don't care who bats leadoff as long as the White Sox keep winning.
But the debate is an interesting one. Personally, I agreed with Anderson when he pointed out Thursday that you only lead off once, which not only sounds like the title of a pretty lame James Bond movie but also is true. A manager only gets to line up his hitters in one inning per night. The rest is up to to the flow of the game. You might never put a stereotypical No. 5 hitter in the leadoff spot, but if the cleanup man makes the final out of the first inning, guess who's leading off come the second? The idea, and the White Sox are trying to do just this, is to have good, capable hitters in all nine spots in the batting order, meaning no matter who's up, there are no gaping holes.
Obviously, there's more to it than just those things, and Anderson, the reigning big league batting champ, isn't exactly looking to take himself out of the top spot in the White Sox potent lineup.
"I get the party started," he said with a laugh. "I get to start the party. I get to set the tone. If I’m able to start out with a double, there is a chance that I’m going to score that inning. Just being able to set the table and getting the party started."
Robert was slotted down in the back half of the White Sox lineup when the season started. The idea of batting Robert seventh was to allow him not to feel any extra pressure while getting his first taste of the major leagues. Then the injury bug took an oversized chomp out of the White Sox, and things changed. Even with a sudden promotion to the top of the lineup, though, Robert has fared extremely well.
But while watching from the press box or on TV might reveal one thing, Renteria insists there's a lot more going on that Robert and the White Sox need to deal with.
"You guys are measuring it through the eyes of just the sheer talent right now," the manager said. "I take every at-bat and look at every swing, every approach in every pitch that he takes, to kind of measure where he's at. There's a couple of at-bats where I know he walks away from the batter's box and I know he's kind of scratching his head, thinking, 'Man, what just happened there?'
"He's still learning, he's still young. He's reacting. I want him to be anticipatory. ... Right now, he's reacting. It's pure skill that he's bringing to the table. But I don't want him to lose that positive energy that he brings and that confidence that he has. We just want to help him understand how to direct it in a much more efficient way."
That likely won't sell those who will let their objections be known when Renteria's lineup gets tweeted the day Anderson returns from the injured list. But that's the kind of thing that comes with playoff expectations and winning ways.
Renteria welcomes all the lineup chatter, however critical of him it might be. There wasn't quite the vitriol when his lineups included Welington Castillo, Ryan Cordell and A.J. Reed. He likes this better.
"I'm glad that I have the problem of lineup construction. I'm glad that all of you have the opportunity to discuss lineup construction because that means that the Chicago White Sox are in a great place," he said. "We might not always agree on where I put things, as I'm told many times. ... I'm not really a big follower of a whole lot of things, but I'm told many times. 'Why'd I do this?' or, 'Why'd I do that?'
"And that's great. I love the fact that people are conversing about the Chicago White Sox in that manner because that means we have significant pieces. And I'm very thankful for that, to be honest.
"I'll always try to give you a reason. You might not agree with the reasoning, but I'll always try to give you a reason. We are very thankful to have the players that we have right now that are giving us a lot of potential joy as we continue to move forward."