"We have a few guys that can run, and that's what we are looking for: advance that extra base as much as we can," said White Sox center fielder Alex Rios of the team's 2010 focus. "We have that sort of talent with this team to play that game."
"Baserunning is important, and it wins games," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Our game forgot a little bit about baserunning, defense and pitching because there were a lot of guys hitting home runs every two seconds."
Guillen made a promise back at SoxFest in late January as to how White Sox fans would be darn near stunned with the style of play shown by the team during Spring Training. Almost everyone would be put in motion to steal bases, hit-and-runs regularly would be in play and Guillen wouldn't even be afraid to use the squeeze early in these contests.
Although the overall Cactus League results didn't turn out completely favorable for the White Sox, Guillen proved to be a man of his word. There was one game against the D-backs during the final week of spring competition where Guillen put on a hit-and-run with slow-footed catcher Ramon Castro on first base and then tried to squeeze in the fourth inning with Gordon Beckham at the plate, Omar Vizquel on third and Juan Pierre on first.
Ultimately, the White Sox scored a run in that fourth when Pierre swiped second base, the throw rolled a few feet into center and Vizquel raced home from third. It's all about putting pressure on the other team and forcing the opponent into mistakes, or manufacturing those one or two crucial runs.
And those one or two extra runs will be important for a team possessing the best pitching staff in the American League Central and one of the AL's top group of arms overall.
"One thing about it, with people in scoring position, give us your best at-bat," Guillen said. "We don't need a home run. We need the ground ball to get the guy in. Having a one- or two-run lead with our staff, we should be pretty good."
"It looks like we can generate some runs if we need them," Beckham said. "We can get on there and make things happen. It comes with more speed and having Juan at the top. I like our lineup. I think we are very balanced. We have guys who can hit it out of the park and get on base and run around."
Beckham stands as one of the many White Sox players who fall into both categories. He has the ability to knock out 20 to 25 home runs but also can steal 15 to 20 bases. To varying degrees, the same theory holds true for Rios, Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay, Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin, Mark Teahen and even Jayson Nix off the bench.
Where Rios is concerned, the center fielder holds the rare potential of a 25-home run, 30-stolen base sort of player. But Guillen has gone on record saying he would rather see more stolen bases from Rios than have him swinging for the fences.
"He wants me to use everything in a balanced way," Rios said. "Hitting home runs and stealing bases would be better than focusing on one thing."
During the sub-.500 effort as a team from 2009, the White Sox finished tied for last in the AL with a .258 average. They were third from the bottom with 724 runs scored and ranked second to last with their 246 doubles. Their .329 on-base percentage as a team also fell in the bottom five.
This particular team still banged out 184 home runs, finishing sixth in the AL overall. The long ball receives a bad rap in connection to the White Sox, as they will need big boppers such as Paul Konerko and Quentin to survive in a hitter-friendly ballpark such as U.S. Cellular Field. Rebuilding the White Sox as the Rays simply won't work on the South Side.
Moving away from a home run-reliant offense, though, has become the goal. The speed component means doubles will score runners from first with greater ease, and the same holds true for singles with runners on second. It means a single, stolen base, ground out to the right side and sacrifice fly quickly can present the White Sox top-flight rotation with an early lead.
All of these components add up to the name of the game being aggressiveness and excitement for the 2010 White Sox, and what they hope will be their second trip to the postseason in three seasons.
"There's no question we will be more athletic running the bases," White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said. "We still need to get on base to be able to do that, and we'll hit for most of our on-base percentage. I don't think there will be a lot of guys with high walk counts. We still have guys in the middle who can bang it around, but once we get on base, there will be more action."
"When I see Kotsay stealing third, to me it's exciting," Guillen said with a smile. "Before, I was sitting there like, 'Oh, God. Someone hit home runs.' Now, we can create some runs. Baseball is going back to the basics, and as long as we do the basics right, we have a chance to compete every game."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.