If the White Sox truly are contenders in 2020, then Friday’s Opening Day loss to the Twins should hurt like a late-July game against a division rival normally would.
Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito struggled, the defense behind him was suspect at times, and even an impressive offensive night from the team’s young stars proved to be too little against the American League Central favorites in a 10-5 loss.
“Every game means so much, so it hurts to lose tonight,” Giolito said.
All the excitement that has built up over the last nine months evaporated as soon as Giolito threw his first pitch, a 95 mile per hour fastball that Twins right fielder Max Kepler hit 365 feet into the visitors’ bullpen.
“Pretty much the story of the night was no fastball command, so I got hurt,” Giolito said.
Kepler got him even worse in the second inning, hitting another home run – this time 407 feet. Overall, Giolito gave up seven runs in just 3.2 innings of work, and considering he will likely only make 12 starts in this 60-game season, that 17.18 ERA might be enough to dash any Cy Young hopes.
But hope is an interesting word, because Friday only represented 1/60th of the season and the White Sox’s young lineup still provided plenty of hope, battling from an early 5-1 deficit to tie the game at five in the second inning. And it was Yoán Moncada – cleared from COVID-19 just eight days ago – who delivered the biggest blow with a 435-foot home run off Twins ace Jose Berríos.
“I think that’s the beauty of extreme talent. It’s a gift,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said.
With no fans in the stands, there were no fireworks at Guaranteed Rate Field after Moncada’s home run, but you didn’t need them because the sweet crack of the bat was plenty loud to count. Renteria has said over and over again that he’s going to be cautious with Moncada, admitting that he was considering sitting the third baseman on Saturday. Not anymore. He’ll be in the lineup again after going 3-for-4 with a home run, double and single.
Meanwhile, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert also provided hope that the White Sox’s first loss will simply be an outlier. Jiménez reached base three times, while Robert laced the first Major League pitch he saw into left field for a single that registered a 115.8 exit velocity. For perspective, that’s the highest exit velocity on a first-career MLB hit by any player since Statcast began. Later in the game, Robert hammered a double off the base of the right field wall.
Luis Robert now has the highest exit velocity (115.8 MPH) on a first hit of any player debuting since #Statcast began. The previous record was held by Nate Lowe at 113.3 MPH on 4/29/19.— Jason Bernard (@JasonBernard_) July 25, 2020
“I kept my approach today,” Robert said. “I went into every at-bat trying to make solid contact and I got the pitches to hit, so I did it.”
Yes, Robert continues to prove he’s for real. That hype train isn’t slowing down.
And yet, one could argue that the Twins at least sent the White Sox on a different track than planned. Giolito’s outing wasn’t the only pitching concern, as reliever Aaron Bummer also struggled in his 2020 debut, allowing two hits a walk and run.
But perhaps causing the most angst among White Sox fans Friday night was the defensive play at second base. Against the backdrop of the somewhat controversial decision to send hot prospect Nick Madrigal to Schaumburg to start the season, veteran Leury Garcia had a night to forget at second base. Some of it was his fault and some of it wasn’t, but it only stoked the brewing Madrigal fire. Perhaps most costly was a bobbled exchange on a possible double-play in the first inning. Shaded towards first base, Garcia had to go a long way to make the turn, but it was there. Giving this Twins’ offense extra outs is usually a mistake, and they capitalized with a four-run first. At other times, García’s range looked limited and an unfortunate bounce off the lip of the infield grass sparked a three-run seventh inning for the Twins – not that Madrigal’s height would have made a difference (they’re both 5-7).
Despite the anxiety after just one game, there should be plenty of encouragement from what Moncada, Jiménez and Robert showed, although the days of celebrating individual accomplishments after White Sox losses should theoretically be over.
When the team arrived at Guaranteed Rate Field at the beginning of the month for “Summer Camp,” Renteria said he would treat the 60-game season like 102 had already been played and the White Sox were tied for first place. If that were the case in a normal season, this late-July series against the Twins would be an enormous one.
And it is. The White Sox are no longer in first place, but they are still in a division title race. Friday night’s loss should hurt like a late-July loss for any contender.
But there’s still 59 games and plenty of hope left.
“We have another tomorrow,” Giolito said. “Dallas (Keuchel) is taking the ball tomorrow and hopefully will pick me up.”
And if he does that, the White Sox will be right back on track.