The White Sox expectations haven't changed. Meeting them, however, will be more difficult without Eloy Jiménez.
That reality hits Thursday, when the 2021 season begins.
The White Sox have spent the winter and spring talking about their sky-high, championship-level hopes for the year. But the start-of-season excitement has been undoubtedly affected by the fact that Jiménez, one of the team's best players, will miss months — perhaps the entire season — after rupturing his pectoral tendon.
It will come as no surprise to sports cliche enthusiasts that "next man up" has been uttered many a time in the days since Jiménez went down. But just because something is a cliche doesn't mean it's not true, and indeed the next man will need to step up in order for the White Sox to win the World Series.
But with someone as impactful as Jiménez — he won a Silver Slugger last season with one of the best offensive campaigns in the American League — it might be worth adjusting the talking point to "next men up." Plural.
"Eloy's absence is a reality. Nobody can deny that," White Sox first baseman and team leader José Abreu said Wednesday night through team interpreter Billy Russo. "He's a guy who can hit 30-plus homers and do a lot of things offensively. He's not with us, and we, as a team, have to figure out a way to get that production.
"Whoever the guy is who's going to play in his role, I'm sure that he's going to do a good job, but it won't be one guy's responsibility. It's going to be a responsibility for all of us to do our best, to do and control what we can control. I'm pretty sure that we're going to be able to do that. Of course we're going to miss Eloy, we're going to miss his energy, his smile and all the stuff that he brings to this team. But in the meantime, we're going to do our best to try to get that and to carry that energy that he brings to us.
"We have high expectations. We have a very good team, and even though I'm going to miss my Big Baby for a few months, I think we're going to be good because we are a talented team and this is an exciting moment for us."
Much like Abreu provides so much off the field in addition to the MVP-level numbers he puts up, we've heard that Jiménez similarly has an effect that goes beyond the back of his baseball card. His ebullient personality and fun-loving antics are entertaining to fans. They're uplifting to his teammates.
"He's that guy that's bubbly, smiley, able to get everybody out of a bad mood pretty quickly," White Sox closer Liam Hendriks said last week. "We're not sure what the situation is with him this year, whether he's going to be rehabbing (in Arizona) or in Chicago or wherever it is. But obviously, in an ideal world, he'll be around the clubhouse, be able to rehab around us, as well, and we still get that personality boost from him."
Tony La Russa will attempt to plug the hole in left field in a variety of ways, it seems. He announced Wednesday night that Leury García will get the Opening Day nod in Jiménez's vacated spot. It will likely be a lot of García until Adam Engel returns from his own injury later in April.
But the White Sox tried out Andrew Vaughn, who before Jiménez got hurt was slated to be the team's typical designated hitter, in left field at the very end of the Cactus League schedule. Perhaps that opens a number of possibilities for La Russa, who can use guys like Vaughn, García, Engel, Billy Hamilton, Zack Collins, Yasmani Grandal, Yermín Mercedes, Jake Lamb and even Abreu to fill four different positions on a daily basis.
Just plugging that hole on the field, though, is not going to make up for Jiménez's offensive production, and that's where guys in need of bounce-back seasons come in. The White Sox had the most powerful lineup in the AL last year with almost zero contribution from multiple positions, while Yoán Moncada and Grandal experienced down years and while Luis Robert slumped through the second half of his rookie season. Moncada, Robert and Grandal can do well in covering for Jiménez by playing more to their individual potentials, offensively.
The White Sox showed last year how dangerous their offense can be with those holes, which should provide some confidence that, if they get the performances they need, they can weather Jiménez's absence.
But they have to do it. And it starts Thursday.
"It would be disrespectful, dishonest to say Eloy is just another player," La Russa said Wednesday. "He’s a great player, a great producer for us. So you give respect where it’s due, and you have to face reality.
"The game counts, and nobody is going to feel sorry. It’s next man up. We have options.
"You have to play with what you got. And we got enough."
PointsBet has an Opening Day Odds Special, where you can bet up to $20 that the White Sox score at least one at even-money (+100) odds. So as long as Chicago avoids the shutout, you can double your money (and turn that $20 into $40). If you haven’t signed up yet, head to PointsBet.com/CHI100 for a special signup offer as well. The Opening Day promotion is open to both new and existing customers in Illinois.
Editor's Note: PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.