Eloy Jiménez Is Back, and First-Place White Sox Are Even Better

Eloy is back, and the first-place Sox are even better originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Eloy Jiménez's current emotional state can best be summed up thusly:

He's like a kid who just got a trip to Disney World for Christmas, where he's been informed he can pick up his new puppy.

Yes, the always ebullient Jiménez was especially so Monday, describing his return to the Chicago White Sox as the most exciting feeling he could remember.

RELATED: Eloy's return 'invaluable' to Sox, says Lucas Giolito

"I'm really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really excited," he said.

Seriously, he said that.

It sounds like hyperbole, but it struck as completely accurate if you watched his pregame press conference Monday from Kansas City, where he opened with a vigorous wave, spent the session pointing to his three-mile smile and closed with another two-handed wave, shouting to the tuned-in media to have a good day.

It was classic Eloy.

"He's got the kind of smile that lights up the whole place," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "There's no doubt that we've got a better vibe in our clubhouse today because he's here. And that's saying something because it's been really good all along."

That, in a nutshell, is the theme of Jiménez's return to the White Sox.

They've managed to keep their World Series dreams alive without him, and now that he's back in the middle of the lineup — he was dropped right into the cleanup spot for Monday night's series opener against the Kansas City Royals — things can only get better.

"Had a message up there," La Russa said of the way he welcomed Jiménez back to the clubhouse. "It wasn't too prominent, just said, 'We're in contention when you get here, now it's up to you, all up to you.' He laughed."

The message was a joke, of course, as no one player is capable of carrying a team to the postseason, nor are they expected to. But Jiménez is a much needed reinforcement for a White Sox team that's done remarkable work in ascending to the top of the American League Central and into the realm of World Series contenders without him.

The White Sox came into Kansas City with a nine-game lead in the division standings, one of the highest winning percentages in the AL and the second best run differential in the AL. And Monday, they got a lot better thanks to Jiménez, the lineup obviously looking a lot more menacing with him than without him.

"It just deepens the lineup," La Russa said. "Not only does it, practically, give you more opportunities to score, but psychologically, what it does to guys in front of or behind him: 'I've just got to put mine in, I don't have to do more.' It's a huge asset.

"There's no doubt that he's an asset that we've gotten by without but we're much better with.

In addition to Jiménez returning, both Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal are expected to be back before the end of the regular season. And while Rick Hahn's front office has vowed an aggressive approach ahead of Friday's trade deadline, there's nothing they could do that would be of greater benefit than the White Sox getting their injured stars back.

That starts with Jiménez, who isn't just back to reinvigorate the White Sox lineup. He's back to help lead them on what they hope is a lengthy October run.

"I want to congratulate the guys here because they put in the effort every single day, every single night," Jiménez said. "What happened with a couple players, it's been impressive what they've done every single night, and I feel really excited to join them. Just continue to play hard and win some games.

"It's exciting to be back with the boys, especially with how they're playing right now. It's amazing. I'm right now really excited, I'm happy that I'm back. You know, every single one of the guys, they worked really hard to be where we are right now."

As everyone who's talked about Jiménez coming back has mentioned, he's more than just a powerful bat in the heart of the lineup. The fun-loving personality that spawned a million White Sox memes is a constant presence in the clubhouse, and a mighty positive one, at that. La Russa's spent the season marveling at how perfect the clubhouse vibe has been for these White Sox, the end result of years of work that started well before his own return to the South Side.

Now, with Jiménez back at his locker, the positivity will only flow stronger.

"What I missed the most was playing with my boys," he said. "And what I’m looking forward to is keep playing hard, keep winning games and make it to the playoffs."

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