White Sox

In opening weekend, we got a taste of what the White Sox offense is capable of

In opening weekend, we got a taste of what the White Sox offense is capable of

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nothing that happens in the first month of a baseball season is assured to carry through to the remaining five. And certainly nothing that happens in the first three games of a baseball season is assured to carry through to the remaining 159.

But in the finale of the White Sox opening series against the Kansas City Royals, everybody got a glimpse at what this offense is capable of.

Surely there will be higher-scoring days than the six runs the White Sox scored Sunday in a 6-3 win. And surely there will be lower-scoring days. For an example of what this offense can look like at its low points, just rewind back to Thursday's opener, when the White Sox mustered just three base runners through the first eight innings of that game.

But Sunday was a great look. Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso, batting third and fourth, went back-to-back with home runs in the fourth inning, starting the scoring. Those two ended up reaching base four times apiece. Yoan Moncada added two more hits to his early season hot streak, raising his batting average through three games to .462. Eloy Jimenez picked up his second career RBI, amusingly on the second of back-to-back bases-loaded walks in the sixth inning, giving him two RBIs without an RBI hit in the early going of his big league career.

But six runs, 11 hits and five walks? That's a good look for a team that needed to show some offensive improvement after last year's 100-loss season.

"We've just got to be competitive. We've got to make sure we hand the bat to the guy behind you, not try to do everything, not try to do too much," Alonso said after the game. "Just making sure you have good pitches and get good pitches and when you do get them, make sure you don't miss them.

"I think our lineup is good. Our lineup, we can run, we can do so many different things. We can hit the long ball, we can play small. It's just nice to see. We've just got to continue our work and continue to get ready every single day."

Moncada's red-hot start to the season is the most eye-opening of the developments in the White Sox lineup. In three games in Kansas City, Moncada — who struck out a major league leading 217 times last season, the most talked-about aspect of a disappointing 2018 — went 6-for-13 with a home run, a double, three RBIs, five runs scored and a walk. After going the first two games without striking out, Moncada did so twice Sunday. But pair the offensive success that's carried over from a torrid spring with solid defensive play at third base (he made a real nice pick on a hard-hit grounder Sunday), and there's something worth getting excited about.

Abreu could also use a bounce back in 2019 after an uncharacteristic slump and a couple fluky injuries prevented him from reaching his usual levels of production in 2018. He's already got a pair of home runs, a couple of walks and four RBIs.

Alonso, who is splitting time with Abreu at first base and designated hitter, was brought in to provide pop and on-base skills for this lineup. He's already walked four times in three games and got his first hit in a White Sox uniform, the homer, Sunday.

Jimenez will be the story of the season, and while he went hitless in two of the three contests against the Royals, he had two hits on Saturday and left Kansas City with a pair of RBIs.

Tim Anderson, unmentioned to this point, quietly picked up four hits in the opening series. James McCann had two hits in Sunday's game.

None of this is to suggest the White Sox tore the cover off the ball, nor is it to suggest that Sunday's strong showing canceled out the woefulness from the vast majority of Thursday's opener. But the somewhat transformed middle of the order — Moncada, Abreu, Alonso and Jimenez — has been a positive for the White Sox as the season has started, and it could make for a different kind of summer than the one that ended with 100 losses last year.

Sunday's performance is hardly a guaranteed sign of things to come, but at the very least it was a taste of what this White Sox offense is capable of. And it appears to be capable of more than it was a year ago. If the top and middle of this order could become something reliable, something dependable, that would make a world of difference for this team.

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What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria won't lock in Lucas Giolito as Opening Day starter just yet

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Your 2020 White Sox Opening Day starter is ... (drumroll, please) ... we don't know yet.

That's not entirely true, of course, as Lucas Giolito is the overwhelming favorite to take the mound March 26, when the White Sox open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But if you're talking about an official announcement from the manager, well, you're going to have to wait a little longer.

"You want the scoop?" Renteria teased Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. "We won’t lay out a scoop yet."

Giolito has expressed on multiple occasions during the early days of camp that he hopes to be the guy that gets the Opening Day nod. In his first meeting with the media this spring, he said he'd "hopefully" be the Opening Day starter and expanded on that in a couple interviews Wednesday.

Giolito's enthusiasm for the job isn't enough to convince Renteria to move his announcement up to the first week of full-squad workouts. But even the skipper, known to take his time before announcing such things for public consumption, can't deny that Giolito, after his transformational 2019 campaign that saw him go from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff, has earned a shot at the title of Opening Day starter.

"I’m glad he wants to be the Opening Day starter. He’s really grown, and I certainly wouldn’t say to you that you would be surprised if you saw him doing it.

"He’s definitely earned an opportunity to possibly have the Opening Day start."

Giolito was sensational last season, posting a 3.41 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 29 starts. Even with this offseason's signing of Dallas Keuchel, who has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume, Giolito still looks to be the ace of the staff heading into 2020.

Finishing sixth in last year's AL Cy Young voting would seem to indicate that Giolito has reached the status of one of baseball's elite arms. But here's a question: Can he get better? After all, he's just 25 years old, and many of these young White Sox are said to only have scratched the surface of what they can do. Can Giolito surpass what he did in 2019?

"I don’t know I want him to go past it as much as remain consistent and just continue to have incremental growth," Renteria said. "That was a huge jump for him. And it was a great jump for him. He learned a lot from that season. He learned a lot over the previous year and made the adjustments he needed to over the winter. He came in and did what he needed to do and was able to go ahead and be so effective for us.

"All in all, good health, knock on wood, he gets back out there and he has a chance to continue to do what he does. His pitch sequencing, his pitch mix gives him an opportunity to do that. Hard to pick up a ball out of his hand, now with the new delivery. He just needs to get back out there and pitch."

Certainly that's what Giolito is hoping to do, particularly after he gets past the strained chest muscle he suffered trying to work a little too quickly while still feeling the effects of the flu last month. As Giolito said last week, though, he has a "zero-percent" concern that injury will have any significant impact on his readiness for the season.

So bring on the Opening Day start, right?

"Hopefully," he said last week. "We’ll see. I’m excited.

"That’s not my decision."

Well, it shouldn't be too difficult of one for the person whose decision it is.

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