Will the White Sox youth be a help or a hindrance in this unprecedented 60-game Major League Baseball season?
The team's newly added veterans see the youth around them as a double-edged sword.
"I feel like this team is going to go either really, really good or really bad to start," starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said Wednesday, almost eerily echoing his new batterymate, Yasmani Grandal, who said almost the exact same thing a day earlier.
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Asked about how he expected the White Sox mostly young pitching staff to fare this season, Grandal said: "There isn't going to be a gray area. Sixty games is a very small window that we have to put everything together, so it's going to be either really good or it's going to be really bad."
"Either really good or really bad" would not fly as a 2020 slogan in a meeting with the White Sox marketing team. But it's suddenly become a theme.
Granted, these guys are predicting the unpredictable, and that's the point behind their words. An abrupt halt to spring training in March, a months-long layoff while baseball watched the COVID-19 pandemic and saw fruitless negotiations between the league and players' union, and now just a three-week ramp-up period before a two-month sprint of a regular season. It's never happened before. For all their confidence in their own personal readiness, no one seems to know what kind of game shape their competition will be in. All 30 teams were built for 162 games, making it impossible to guess how they'll perform in 60.
So excuse the White Sox newcomers for providing a couple different possibilities for how things could play out on the South Side when the season gets going in a week.
"It’s that sprint. It’s no longer that marathon where you can kind of get off to a shaky start or even kind of an indifferent start," Keuchel said. "I feel like this team is going to go either really, really good or really bad to start. I would like to think we are going to go really good to start. We have the youth, we have the talent.
"It’s just really who gets out to that hot start and kind of continues it. Nobody knows what that’s going to be like until we step on that field (July 24)."
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OK, so that covers the unknown (some of it, anyway). How about what we do know?
The White Sox added some veteran help this winter, Keuchel and Grandal the two biggest names in a group that also includes Edwin Encarnación and Steve Cishek. And of course, José Abreu is back on a new three-year deal.
But the bulk of this roster — and the bulk of why the White Sox rebuilding effort looks ready to launch into contention mode — is made of youngsters who either broke out in a big way last season or have their breaking out still to come: Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Carlos Rodón, Nick Madrigal. The list makes for an exciting future.
But what does it do for the present? For that, we're going back to the unknown.
According to Keuchel, the youth provides a lot of positives, which White Sox fans can probably rattle off quite easily at this point. But if the 60-game sprint to the postseason is going to feel like a pennant chase from Day 1, well, the vast majority of these guys — Abreu included — haven't experienced that kind of thing before.
As important as Keuchel's World Series experience is, or Grandal's experience playing in the last five postseasons, or Encarnación's experience winning in the AL Central with the Cleveland Indians, that can only go so far. The rest of the team has to play well enough to make it the rest of the way.
And so the guys who know what it takes aren't quite sure whether this White Sox team will be able to expertly handle such a thing under such weird circumstances. They're hopeful, sure, but they'd be lying if they said they were certain.
"I think in this situation that nobody really has ever been in, I think youth might help out with how we are going to be doing things," Keuchel said. "We've got speed. We’ve got everything we need to compete with every other team."
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But the youth also makes the other extreme possible, a pitfall a more experienced team might not need to worry about, so says the 2017 world champ.
"The more veteran presence, the more veteran team, I feel like is going to be really, really good or middle of the road to start," Keuchel said. "I think the young team, you are going to get really, really good or really, really bad. If we can detour from really, really bad to start, we have a really good shot of staying in it and making a run at the Central (or) a wild card spot.
"That’s the one area where youth does help is (you could have) potentially a really, really hot start because of the athleticism there. They are always fresh because they are so young."
Again, don't get Keuchel or Grandal wrong. They've been as positive about the outlook for these White Sox as anyone. Heck, they signed up in the offseason because they wanted to be a part of things moving forward.
But as good as Anderson and Robert and Giolito look in "Summer Camp" right now — not to mention Keuchel, who's been pretty great himself in the White Sox intrasquad games — there's nothing at all certain about the 2020 baseball season.
"Either really good or really bad." It's not a winning marketing slogan. But it might be as accurate a prediction as you're going to get right now.
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