This will be the sixth season that I’ve penned a White Sox season preview, dating all the way back to my early days in the digital content game when I was a writer and editor at Southside Showdown on the FanSided Network. This will also be the first edition of this story in which I’m soundly convinced that the Chicago White Sox can win the American League Central, and maybe even compete for a World Series.
This winter White Sox general manager Rick Hahn stopped short of saying that the 2021 season is a World Series or bust campaign for the Chicago White Sox, but the players in the clubhouse aren’t singing to the same diplomatic tune that Hahn is.
“We want a ring,” were the words of staff ace Lucas Giolito, whose sentiments were backed by team catalyst Tim Anderson, and the reigning American League MVP, Jose Abreu at various points this spring. But do the White Sox have what it takes to win a World Series in 2021? Well, like Tim Anderson said, “why not us?”
The White Sox weren’t expected to be a playoff team in 2020, but they won 35 games and punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time in over a decade on the strength of one of baseball’s most explosive offensive attacks, and the surprise emergence of one of the top bullpens in baseball. Their downfall in their Wild Card Series can largely be attributed to a lack of starting pitching depth, and inexperience both in the clubhouse and in their manager.
The White Sox didn’t have a perfect offseason this winter, but they addressed those two areas swiftly by dismissing former skipper Rick Renteria and replacing him with Tony La Russa in October. Also out was long-tenured pitching coach, Don Cooper. La Russa replaced Coop with a younger, more forward-thinking pitching coach in Ethan Katz, and the early returns are promising.
Dane Dunning was flipped for Lance Lynn, a veteran starter with World Series experience under La Russa in 2011. Lynn has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball the past few seasons, and while he headed the Texas Rangers’ rotation in 2020, he’ll slide into the middle of the White Sox rotation this season.
Also added to the fold this winter was Liam Hendriks, a fiery Australian who has been regarded as baseball’s best closer in recent seasons with an attitude that screams Southside. He’s a perfect fit with the White Sox, and he’s the icing on the cake for a bullpen that looks to be the cream of the crop in Major League Baseball in 2021.
Of course, the winter wasn’t seamless. The Tony La Russa hiring was met with plenty of criticism and skepticism, and the news of his second DUI arrest didn’t do him or the White Sox any favors. The White Sox also failed to secure external depth behind their frontline starters, something that will be put to the test this season with Eloy Jimenez slated to miss much of the regular season with a ruptured left pectoral muscle.
Nonetheless, the White Sox wrapped up their Cactus League schedule on Tuesday afternoon and the roster is now finalized with just about 48 hours separating us from today and the start of the 2021 season.
The dynamic offense was the story from the Southside in 2020 when they made their first trip to the Postseason in 12 years, and it will be a key cog again in 2021, even with the absence of Eloy Jimenez in the middle of the lineup. Jose Abreu praised Tony La Russa’s gameplan for Spring Training and said that he has never felt more ready for Opening Day during his time with the club. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal had solid rookie campaigns in 2020 and should be able to parlary those seasons into growth here this season.
Tim Anderson continues to prove every single hater in the game wrong by just hitting everything thrown at him, all while rounding out his power stroke at the top of the lineup. If the middle of the order is right this season, there’s a good chance that Tim Anderson will lead the league in runs, while possibly making another run at the batting title. Yoan Moncada is over the lingering effects of his bout with COVID-19 last summer, and he says he feels better than he did in 2019 when he posted a 140 wRC+ and slugged 25 home runs.
Yasmani Grandal will be much better this season with a year of American League pitching under his belt and the return of in-game video, a tool that so many players rely on to make adjustments at-bat-to-at-bat. Adam Eaton is warming on fans this spring, and let’s be honest, he can’t be much worse than Nomar Mazara was last season.
Then there’s Andrew Vaughn. The former third overall draft pick out of UCLA will make his major league debut this season and spend time in left field and at DH, and he impressed everyone this spring. Many in the organization have said that Vaughn puts together some of the better professional at-bats on the team already.
The offense was a force to be reckoned with in 2020, and if all goes well, it will dwarf that performance in 2021. Still, the offense may not be the most promising group on the roster. A top-heavy rotation and a bullpen that exceeded everyone’s expectations last season, now look like one of the best in baseball.
Lucas Giolito has spent the spring becoming the favorite in many eyes to contend for the American League Cy Young Award. Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn anchor the middle of the rotation — a pair of no-nonsense veterans with World Series rings to boot. Then comes Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon, two tales of inconsistency who have yet to scratch the ceiling of their potential, but look poised to do so this season after strong spring campaigns.
“Can Katz fix ’em?”
That’s been a tongue-in-cheek line thrown around this spring, but it might be answered in the affirmative this season if Cease or Rodon looks like they did in Arizona. Dylan Cease allowed just two runs in 17 innings of work while striking out 22 and holding opposing hitters to a .213 batting average over four starts this spring. Rodon struck out 16 in four appearances and posted a 0.73 WHIP this spring. White Sox starters in general pitched to the tune of a 2.21 ERA with 97 strikeouts over 81 2/3 innings this spring.
If Katz has indeed helped Cease and Rodon unlock something inside with his approach to their deliveries and maybe, more importantly, their mental approach, then the White Sox will have one of the best rotations in baseball to compliment a bullpen that is already probably the favorite to be the best in baseball.
Of course, winning on paper is one thing, and winning when the games start is a whole different ball game. But with a Hall of Fame skipper in the dugout and a clubhouse dynamic praised by everyone involved, the White Sox might just have what it takes to do the deed or at least earn a seat at the table.
“New Year, Same Mentality: Change the Game.”
That’s the White Sox slogan this season as they continue their quest to change the game for a fan base that has suffered through some very thin years since the last time they got to watch their White Sox hoist the commissioner’s trophy back in 2005. I’ll spare everyone predictions, and urge you to do one thing this summer — enjoy it. Enjoy the hell out of what might very well be the infancy of the golden era of White Sox baseball. Soak it all in and enjoy it, and lets the chips fall where they may.
Baseball is back. The White Sox are back. Happy Opening Day, White Sox fans!