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White Sox lack leadoff options beyond Adam Eaton

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Unprecedented good health hides fact that Sox are precariously limited with OBP options

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Eaton provided a scare -- as well as a reminder -- on Friday night when he jammed his left shoulder after making a catch on a tricky liner to deep center.

It looked like it could've been a dislocation or a Carlos Quentin-grade AC sprain, but the White Sox are only calling it a jammed shoulder, and listed his status as day-to-day. Eaton said it looked worse because it reaggravated the injury that he suffered on the same shoulder late last month in Cleveland:

"If I had my way, I would be in there tomorrow, so we'll see what (manager Robin Ventura) thinks," Eaton said. "I've been dealing with it. I've been able to manage it, and today when you're running full speed, I don't care if you have a sore shoulder or not, it's probably going to hurt when you land on it."

Eaton was on pace for 153 games this season, a major improvement over the 123 he played last year. That projected number will probably decrease steadily from here on out, first because of the shoulder, and then because of the normal September slowdown, which can be expected now that the Sox are falling further from contention.

You can process that information in a couple steps.

No. 1: Eaton understands the long haul better. He hasn't thrown his body around so much this year, which is maybe one OK reason why his defensive metrics have taken such a hit. Offensively, he erased the awful April by getting stronger with each month. He owns a .365/.484/.581 line since the All-Star break, and that's even with one not-great shoulder. That kind of performance makes the occasional defensive miscue far more forgivable.

No. 2: The Sox still need more top-half hitters. J.B. Shuck's hamstring strain created a valuable opportunity for Trayce Thompson, and Eaton's injury gave Thompson the opportunity record his first two hits and score his first major league run. That's kinda neat.

The downside to Shuck's injury was that he showed enough fight in his at-bats to pull off a reasonable Eaton impression in the leadoff spot for a game or two. With both elves on the shelf, there really isn't anybody else you'd want hitting in front of Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera. And it's not like Eaton and Shuck are the sturdiest of initial plans, either -- the former because his run of good health is limited to most of one season still in progress, and the latter due to his track record and the resulting itinerant career.

Based on the stringent crtieria of "who looks leadoffy," I imagine those duties will fall to Tyler Saladino, whose OBP has fallen to .283 after the strong start that was (and still is) welcome. That's a bad idea, but one that can't be so roundly faulted since none of the others are much better, especially against right-handed pitchers.

In fact, against a righty like Jeremy Guthrie, Carlos Sanchez might be the best bet. Most of his success has come against righties, even during his second-half surge (.348/.368/.545 since the break). Everybody else one might consider at the top of the order is right-handed and with noteworthy splits, and considering the Kansas City Royals' bullpen is all right-handed when it counts, Sanchez might the most stomachable option in the late innings.

Against a lefty, Saladino isn't as bad a choice (his strike-zone control has been fine thus far), and the same can be said for Alexei Ramirez, even if they're both inspiring. The problem comes in late and close games, as any switch to the Royals' three-headed monster would disarm the leadoff spot and put one more likely out in front of the two White Sox hitters you'd like to see.

At this point, in the event of any absence, the most adventurous Eatonless lineup has Cabrera hitting first, Abreu hitting second, and then que sera sera. We know how unlikely that is to happen, but it's still worth pointing out. If the Sox aren't willing to get crazy when crazy is the most rational option, then they're going to need better contingency plans in the lineup or on the bench for next year.