The bar for a successful April now looks modest in hindsight.
Opening the season with a road-heavy slate and a stretch of 2015 playoff teams to close it out, a .500 record and a reasonable distance from the top of the division would've qualified as a success for the White Sox in April. After all, they hadn't had a winning record since 2009, and had a habit of soiling themselves when the expectations were highest:
- 2015: 8-11
- 2014: 14-15
- 2013: 10-15
- 2012: 11-11
- 2011: 10-18
- 2010: 9-14
Credit the White Sox for not settling for acceptable. Instead, by going 17-8, they tied a franchise record for April wins and pulled off their best month of any kind since July 2010, when they went 18-8.
Oh, and they have the American League's best record and lead the Central by three games.
Better yet, there's room for improvement. The Sox' .688 OPS is only good for 10th in the AL, hampered by problematic production from DH, shortstop and center field. Jose Abreu had his worst month, and is rebuilding value by using the opposite field almost exclusively. And yet they have the league's best record by 2½ games.
Todd Frazier embodies the April Sox better than anybody. I'm continually surprised that his batting average (.229) and OBP (.299) are as low as they are. Recency bias is in his favor, as he's hitting .271/.343/.627 over his last 16 games. He also brought the dingers -- if you're going to be tied for third in any category, home runs is one of the better ones.
Like the rest of the offense, his close-and-late numbers cover for the early out-makingt. Frazier's hitting .333/.357/.917 in such situation, and the team as a whole is even better. Entering Saturday's game, they were tops in the AL at .319/.392/.968, or 141 points of OPS better than runner-up Baltimore. Frazier did what he could to boost those numbers further on Saturday:
Throw in the great defense and the genuine energy, and the whole of his game gets the most out of overall numbers that are merely OK. That's why he's basically the entire team distilled into one player.
It's also a hugely important change of pace on a personal level. The Sox bet heavily on him, and his first nine games resembled the miserable starts by other big-ticket acquisitions that ended up sinking seasons. Frazier, however, found a way to brush it off, and now another good week or two will flush the season-starting slump out of his numbers.
That's not a given, of course. The season is only one-sixth over in terms of months, and it's an even smaller slice of the pie in terms of games played. Frazier's probably not a 45-homer guy, and the Sox are probably not a 110-win team, so you can count on slumps, injuries and bad breaks keeping it too close for comfort. Any multiple-game losing streaks will likely bring the unseemly breed of self-loathing Sox fans out of the woodwork.
I'll take that over waiting to get hot, and weighing the excuses for why it hasn't happened yet. Usually at this point, the Sox need one more great month to get back in it. This time, one more great month could make the postseason a whole lot easier to visualize.