It's hard to not feel a tinge of jealousy when reading Toronto Blue Jays box scores. Take a look at Wednesday's, and not just because Mark Buehrle picked up his ninth win.
They scored 11 runs against the Red Sox to take over baseball's best run differential, and they did it with the long ball. Underneath the batting lines, you can see the Jays' sluggers tacking onto their home run totals:
- Josh Donaldson (19)
- Edwin Encarnacion (16)
- Jose Bautista (16)
They're on pace to hit 211. The White Sox, on the other hand, are on pace to reach 122, which would be their lowest single-season total since 1992, when the Sox hit just 110 as a team.
Everybody's part of the problem. Jose Abreu is having an OK season, but the downswing in dingers is suppressing excitement. He's on pace to hit 10 fewer homers than his rookie season, and they've been difficult to come by as of late (just one over his 17 games).
Worst yet, nobody is seriously challenging his team lead. Adam LaRoche is a good week away from doing so, but he hasn't been great about sustaining hot stretches, which is why he's on track to fall short of 20 this year. Compounding that problem, nobody was really putting that big of a scare into LaRoche's silver-medal quest ...
... until Tyler Flowers decided to hit three homers in three games, including two big late-inning blows in St. Louis. With Flowers on one of his tears -- and with LaRoche a mild possibility to be moved at the trade deadline -- the race for runner-up is cloudier than it was a week ago, with several Sox providing their own reasons to become relative favorites.
Adam LaRoche (nine homers)
The case for: He has nine 20-homer seasons under his belt. The White Sox have played 10 more games on the road, and U.S. Cellular Field in the summer should finally start playing smaller, and especially for lefties. Its park factors can't stay in the 80s forever, and regression for LaRoche should be one of the reasons why.
The case against: His strikeout rate bounced back up to 29 percent in June, settling between his April (37 percent) and May (24 percent), which could mean a loss of bat speed, or prolonged difficulty in adjusting to American League life. He could theoretically be traded at the deadline to a team that needs a first baseman (we just saw one in the Cardinals).
Tyler Flowers (seven homers)
The case for: He's homered in each of the last three games. We can't extrapolate that run, but he's experienced sustained periods of Murder Time before (.553 slugging percentage, 10 homers after the break last year). A sneakily respectable in June (.255/.321/.510) has lifted him out of the "worst starting catcher" pool. He doesn't seem to wear down with more playing time. History says he's designed to play well enough to stick around and piss off a large portion of the Sox fan base for another year.
The case against: His swing-and-miss tendencies put his offense on a razor-thin margin between productive and dismal, so he's never a great bet to continue hitting well. He set a career high in homers last year ... with 15. He's been sharing more playing time than usual with Geovany Soto, and if the team is out of contention in September, a third catcher could soak up extra starts.
Avisail Garcia (seven homers)
The case for: He's still strong. His neck is still thicker than his head. He's capable of hitting homers out to right field. Age is still on his side (just turned 24 in June). He's cut his ground ball rate to the right side of 50 percent, which could be a signal that his home-run harnessing project is moving gradually, but moving just the same. There's no threat to his playing time at any point in the season.
The case against: He still struggles hitting home runs to left (just two of his seven, and none even close to the left field foul pole), which is a step backwards compared to last year. The knee soreness doesn't help, either, and his overall graceless style makes future injuries easier to imagine than most.
Adam Eaton (five homers)
The case for: He's figured out the turn-and-burn, and The Cell aids and abets the cheap homer. It'd be really stupid if this happened, and he seems hellbent on producing the inexplicable this year, for better or for worse.
The case against: Just look at him.
Gordon Beckham (four homers)
The case for: He's hit as many as 16, and that happened in a disappointing season. He was slugging over .430 at one point in the season, which is potentially a good-enough ISO to get it done.
The case against: A 4-for-53 slump has him spiraling back to his miserable history (.207/.272/.331), and he looks the part, swinging through fastballs, hanging breaking balls and changeups. Carlos Sanchez is out-slugging him over the past 30 days, for crissakes.
Geovany Soto (four homers)
The case for: He has the third-highest ISO on the team (.162, just behind LaRoche's .167), and his home runs are generally solidly struck. He's been gaining more and more of the playing time, and there isn't a clear third-stringer who could challenge him in case of injury.
The case against: Flowers is regaining control of the position, and Soto has his own durability/productivity concerns, even if he were needed to start for an extended period of time.
Melky Cabrera (three homers)
The case for: He's been the No. 1 regression candidate for most of the season, and with two homers over his last three games after an encouraging June, perhaps he's about to explode. He's averaged 15 homers over his last three healthy seasons, and although his numbers suggest he might've developed another hard-to-diagnose issue, he's apparently in full working order.
The case against: He was never that big of a home run hitter, and with just one homer over his first 72 games, he just dug too deep of a hole.
Conor Gillaspie: He's been around his career levels since May 1 (.276/.316/.429), but he only has three this year, and he won't get the playing time to make up the ground, either because of his defense, or because of Matt Davidson getting some experimental at-bats during the second half.
Alexei Ramirez: He's hit two homers, and both came on the same day. He's nothing without the South Side Sox meetup giving him a charge. His best contact reaches the warning track right now, and there isn't even a whole lot of that.