The White Sox have waited a long time for the future to arrive.
Well, here it is.
A 1-4 start to a brief, 60-game season had the team’s supposed leap into contention mode looking questionable to a certain segment of the fan base that saw a little too much 2019 at the outset of the most anticipated season of South Side baseball in years.
But between Nick Madrigal’s promotion to the major leagues Friday and a Saturday-night offensive eruption starring the team’s talented youngsters, this weekend in Kansas City has improved the outlook when it comes to the idea that the White Sox rebuilding project is shifting into the long awaited winning mode.
Playing the Royals will do that, sure. They lost 103 games last season. After season-opening series against the class of the AL Central — the White Sox won just two of their first six games against the Twins and Indians — this date with one of the division’s bottom feeders would figure to cure all ills. The White Sox have 20 combined games against the Royals and Tigers this season and need to win the vast majority of them if they want to hang in the race for the Central crown.
But after a bumpy start full of poor optics — fans weren’t too pleased with troublesome starting-pitching performances and the presence of familiar rebuilding-era faces in Rick Renteria’s daily lineups — the last few games have served as quite the palette cleanser, that long discussed future finally and fully on display.
“It's been a lot of fun for me,” Renteria said Sunday of getting to watch the roster take shape at the big league level. “They're continuing to evolve and develop, and hopefully this is going to be a group of men that are going to be together for a significant amount of time. It's fun to see them. It's fun to be out here with them.
“The one thing that we can truthfully say is that these young men are very talented. They have a skill set and a gift that as they continue to mature, or even improve in their understanding of what they're doing out there, that they will be able to put some consistency together for an extended period of time. I think that's what they're working toward.”
It started Wednesday in Cleveland, when Lucas Giolito took the task of avenging a doubleheader sweep the day prior. He played stopper and delivered a masterful performance with six shutout innings. The White Sox offense took the baton from the ace of the staff and scored four runs to break a scoreless tie in the ninth, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert driving in three of those runs to fuel a slump-busting victory.
Friday saw Madrigal’s rise to the major leagues. And though he had a relatively uneventful day in the box score, his arrival signaled the completion of that “lineup of the future” folks have been discussing since before Madrigal was even drafted back in 2018. Every position on the diamond now features a homegrown star in the making or an imported piece that’s here for the long haul. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnación is the only “hired gun,” so to speak, among the group.
Yasmani Grandal, C
José Abreu, 1B
Nick Madrigal, 2B
Tim Anderson, SS
Yoán Moncada, 3B
Eloy Jiménez, LF
Luis Robert, CF
Nomar Mazara, RF
As always, injuries can rain on the parade. Mazara’s been on the injured list all season, though Renteria indicated Sunday the right fielder could be nearing his return. The White Sox will be without Anderson, too, for more than a week after he went on the injured list with a groin strain Saturday.
But in terms of reaching the major league club, all the pieces of the puzzle are in place.
“The excitement for everybody is palpable finally seeing all these young men on the field at the major league level,” Renteria said Friday. “Ultimately, it’s going to be about performance at the major league level, and hopefully it occurs on a consistent basis. But finally having them, for the most part, all together, it’s nice to see.”
Then came Saturday night, when Renteria didn’t get to just assemble the lineup White Sox fans have waited so long to see come together. He got to see what it can do.
The offensive firepower with this group was the talk of “Summer Camp,” most players theorizing that if the pitching could match, the lineup could put this team among baseball’s contenders. Not every pitching staff will be that of the rebuilding Royals, certainly. But it turns out this offense can do some mighty impressive stuff.
The White Sox exploded for 11 runs on 21 hits Saturday, with the youngsters driving the bus. Without Anderson, Robert shot up to the No. 1 spot in the batting order and collected four hits, including a homer and a pair of doubles, driving in two runs. Jiménez also had four hits, including a homer and a double, and drove in four runs. Moncada had three hits, Grandal and Abreu three apiece.
Just how Rick Hahn drew this thing up.
“We have been working hard as a group,” Jiménez said Saturday night. “I’m just happy to be with young guys like us, learning from the veterans. We have the chance to compete, so we are good. We feel good.”
That prolific output shouldn’t be expected every night, of course. After all, it was the same White Sox lineup that mustered just four hits against the same Royals one night earlier. But this lineup is capable of that kind of explosion when it’s firing on all cylinders.
Heading into Sunday's series finale in Kansas City, a trio of future White Sox stars were absolutely smoking:
— Robert: .364/.382/.636
— Jiménez: .381/.391/.762
— Moncada: .345/.424/.517
When folks were drawing up a fantasy-baseball style lineup featuring then-prospects, this was the dreamed-of result. Well, that future is now. Whether it’s enough to take down the Twins and Indians — who are setting high bars for Central excellence at the top of the division — remains to be seen. Whether the rest of a mysterious pitching staff past Giolito and Dallas Keuchel at the top can keep up with the bats also remains to be seen.
But maybe the thought that the White Sox can hang with anybody thanks to a potent set of sticks isn’t so crazy. On nights like Saturday, in three-game stretches like this, when the young stars of this group are powering winning streaks, it sure looks like this rebuilding project is ready for blastoff. Three games don't mean much in a normal baseball season. They'll carry a lot more weight in this two-month sprint to October.
Everything’s in place now. And we’ve seen what these White Sox can do.
“First five games or first six games, anything can happen. We weren’t doing the stuff that matters as a unit,” Jimenez said. “We are moving forward, and now you see the results.”