Early momentum important for young White Sox
Organization sees success as key to players believing they can contend
CHICAGO -- The phrase "needing to get off to a good start" becomes about as cliché for a Major League Baseball team as taking the season "one game at a time" or a player being in the "best shape of my life" entering Spring Training.
Nobody wants to open a 162-game schedule with a 2-12 or 15-30 record and then expend extra energy over the next month simply getting back to .500. But where the 2014 White Sox are concerned, it's a cliché that definitely rings true.
This reshaped model on the South Side has been geared for ultimate contention in 2015, 2016 and beyond, as the young core of players such as Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson, to name a few, develop together. But don't think for a second the White Sox have written off 2014 and are hoping for nothing more than a nice improvement over last year's 63-99 struggle.
W: Sale L: Nolasco SV: Lindstrom
There's an organizational belief that this team not only can be competitive but also can contend in the American League Central. For that contention to happen, the 2014 White Sox have to get going in the right direction pretty much from Opening Day.
"I think this is the type of team that could be really dangerous if we get off to a good start because then they start to believe," said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams. "Right now we are better than outsiders think we are. And I think we are better than [the players] believe we are."
"Whenever you have a new group together, you don't know how quickly they are going to jell," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "We've tried to emphasize sort of a longer term viewpoint at this point. But it certainly is possible that the clicking starts on Opening Day or very soon thereafter, and this team builds that momentum that we see forward in the future sooner than some anticipate."
Numerous changes have been made by Hahn since last July, and it's hard to imagine a White Sox team that isn't more fun to watch than last year's version. There aren't All-Stars necessarily at every position, but greater competition and depth exists, giving options to manager Robin Ventura and his staff if problems or subpar play exists at certain spots.
Abreu holds one of the most highly anticipated debuts of anyone in the game. The free agent from Cuba, who agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal, sits at the middle of this short-term, long-term rebuilding.
During Cactus League action, Abreu proved that he could play through soreness, handle the spotlight and has a true plan at the plate greater than using his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame to swing for the fences. The spotlight only intensifies once these games count in the standings.
Pitching will drive this contention bid, topped by Chris Sale, who makes his second straight Opening Day start, and Jose Quintana. John Danks stands as the most crucial member of the starting rotation, having found control of his all-important cutter and a slight uptick in velocity almost 20 months removed from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
A strong Danks gives the White Sox three near certainties at the top of the starting five. Nate Jones looks to be the slight favorite of a still unknown closer situation, bouncing back from a left glute strain at the start of camp, while Matt Lindstrom missed all but the last week of Cactus League action due to a left oblique strain.
Jeff Keppinger (right shoulder impingement) and Gordon Beckham (left oblique strain) could open the season on the disabled list, with Beckham a projected middle infield starter. Marcus Semien temporarily would replace Beckham at second.
Staying healthy actually ranks above a hot start for the White Sox. They have greater talent options than one year ago, but aren't strong enough to sustain a significant loss of someone such as Sale or Abreu or Quintana.
But the sooner the White Sox believe, the faster this reshaping process progresses. Look at 2012, when a win on May 17 started the turnaround from a team four games below .500 into a team that sat in first place for 117 days.
Yes, that team fell short in September and yes, there certainly was no build in '13 off that success. A different plan, though, is now in effect.
"When you look at a lineup that has Eaton and you now see the energy that he comes with every day and you get that every day, and then obviously, Avi Garcia, and the big boy on down, you see Davidson coming along as well," Williams said. "And I don't want to leave anyone out.
"It's a young core that is like, 'Whoa, wait a minute now, this has a chance to do something very quickly.' How quickly? It remains to be seen, but just to think about the possibility of it happening and the turnaround from you know where we had gotten to."
White Sox players would agree with Williams' assessment, aside from one previous point. He thinks the players don't know the potential this team has, but Danks believes they do.
"We are good, with the feeling of other guys and just the excitement every day," Danks said. "The 25 guys and the coaches truly believe that we can contend.
"Every team wants to get off to a fast start, especially us, kind of proving that everything is behind us and we are as good as we think we are. It doesn't mean that we are doomed if we don't, but it definitely helps."