With one fortnight in the books, the White Sox have accomplished the unthinkable: hot bats in cold weather.
Nobody expected the Sox to put the league's most prolific offense on the field a half-month in, especially given the produce they trotted out last year.
But the 2014 Sox don't only compare favorably to 2013's version -- you have to go back to 2002 to see a White Sox offense have a better first two weeks -- and that was a vastly different offensive era, too.
When you look at the unusually high batting average and triple-digit number of strikeouts, that should tip you off that luck is involved. Sure enough, the Sox lead the American League with a .335 BABIP.
That doesn't mean you can't enjoy what's happened, though, because the Sox usually struggle with this particular small sample size. The Sox are producing in April (when they usually can't maintain an offensive attack), and they're doing it with the help of imported starters (who usually forget how to play baseball).
I wrote about the latter last October -- the four of the last five everyday starters the Sox acquired from the outside failed, immediately and catastrophically. And even the guy who didn't register as an official flop (Juan Pierre) struggled as much as anybody in his first month.
That isn't the case with this winter's centerpiece acquisitions, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. They've opened the season fulfilling their job description beyond everybody's immediate expectations, and they've been complementary forces to each other as much as the team. Abreu leads the AL in RBI, Eaton leads the league in runs, and one probably couldn't do it without the other (Abreu's driven in Eaton six times).
Along the way, they've given the Sox a dose of much-needed confidence in their disparate ways. Abreu's version is the kind the Sox are used to -- stoic and professional -- but Eaton's high-energy brand is showing signs of sticking in a place that has proven resistant to precociousness.
Fred Mitchell's story in the Chicago Tribune offers plenty of pro-Eaton sentiment:
"I know I have a very biased opinion, but I think Adam Eaton is the most exciting player in baseball," Sox pitcher Chris Sale said of the 5-foot-8 dynamo. "Every time he gets up to the plate … something is going to happen. Whether it's a close play or a bunt single or double in the gap or a stolen base … he has never once taken a second off … never taken a step back."
"At times last year when we'd get down ... we were beaten. This year's a different team," [Jordan] Danks said. "We battle back and Eaton said before the ninth inning, 'That's why we play nine innings,' and we ended up winning. It was really fun."
"I would say we're all biased, but he brings a certain element that is exciting," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Eaton. "It's fun to watch. It's fun to see him hit a baseball and run. If we could all run that fast, run that way, we probably would. You just feel lucky he's on your team. I think guys feed off it somewhat, just his energy that he brings."
"There's good energy and positive energy," said Ramirez, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. "I'm going to mention Adam Eaton. He's always on base, he's fast, he takes the extra base and brings extra energy."
And Jeff Passan summed up the honeymoon period in his weekly column, even if the leadoff sentence isn't exemplary:
And not only is Abreu the class of an overhauled White Sox team for whom new addition Adam Eaton is playing exemplary leadoff man, too, he has blended in remarkably well among Chicago's clubhouse. Veterans like him. Young players like him. The manager likes him. Management likes him.
Eaton's done wonders to aid his assimilation by hitting .327/.419/.481. "What happens when [X] cools off?" is a popular question to ask around this time, and it applies to Eaton as much as anybody. Theoretically, a 99-loss season makes the relentless-energy guy more palatable, even if he runs into a slump.
It's easy to write off what Eaton says as cliches (read the Mitchell story for more), but they're far more novel in the context of White Sox coverage:
"A little pep and a little intensity on the bench never hurt anybody, especially in such a long year," Eaton said. "Sometimes you need a little reminder that it is a long game, long season. … 'Let's get going, we need this one!' That type of mentality. I am more than willing to deliver that message if need be. (Konerko and Dunn) have given me the leeway to kind of do that. It's been nice so far."
The idea that Eaton needs the blessing of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn will inspire plenty of eye-rolling here, but Eaton's never been through a full major-league season, so his words probably do need a co-signer. The more important thing is that nobody's trying to shoot him down, because that hasn't always been the case in previous seasons. Hopefully the established hierarchy will allow Eaton to maintain this fire even when he cools off at the plate.