KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On paper, the White Sox don’t look much better than the 2018 team that lost 100 games.
Now if that isn’t a breakfast-time lead sentence on Opening Day to make you crawl back to bed . . .
But facts are facts. Granted, Eloy Jimenez will be in left field, bringing what everyone believes will be a productive bat to the middle of the lineup. But Jimenez will see his first major-league pitch Thursday, so he is far from proven.
And while Yonder Alonso’s track record suggests he’ll upgrade the lineup a bit, and Jon Jay, too — when he gets off the injured list, that is — we’re not talking major impact here.
On the pitching side, the Opening Day starter is more of a “we need you to turn a corner” guy than a proven commodity. Carlos Rodon will make his first Opening Day start Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, a nod earned despite a terrible September. He was terrific in July and August.
The third starter, Lucas Giolito, followed a bad year (6.13 ERA) with a bad spring (8.84), while the fourth and fifth, veterans Ivan Nova and Ervin Santana, are only holding space until top pitching prospects Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and perhaps Jimmy Lambert try to prove they’re better than Rodon and No. 2 starter Reynaldo Lopez.
Where the Sox believe they are better, though, is in the bullpen with the additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera. Because of them, and the young arms falling in behind them, they believe they can now shorten their games.
“When we have a lead and it’s the sixth inning and we start rolling these arms out of the bullpen, we have a chance to win every time,” said Daniel Palka, the team’s home-run leader in 2018.
Sox holdovers from 2018 such as Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yolmer Sanchez and Palka say Year 3 of the rebuild will be better, by experience alone, and they have a point. With young players, though, exactly who they are or what they can be is a great unknown.
Yoan Moncada is a case in point. He had a big spring with the bat while making the transition to third base. Manager Rick Renteria sees the 23-year-old, who was proactive about making improvements after a disappointing first full season, having a much better year. He needs the rest of his young players in the group — Anderson, Palka, Adam Engel and all those young pitchers — to climb with Moncada.
“A lot of it has to do with mental approaches, some of it with the physical approaches — at-bats, things [pitchers are] doing when they’re attacking hitters,’’ Renteria said. “We accomplished what we wanted to do [in spring training]. Now it’s truly a matter of putting it together in the regular season, which matters most. The guys have taken to it.’’
Renteria says they have to, and it’s time for progress. In a rebuild, the Sox can’t continue spinning their wheels, he said.
Having Colome and Herrera anchoring the bullpen with proven experience, coinciding with improvement from the young core on the pitching staff and in the lineup, gives his team a legitimate chance to win more than outsiders are saying they will.
“Absolutely,” Renteria said. “They complete the rest of the guys.”
The rest are veteran Nate Jones, who was hit hard during spring training, Dylan Covey, top lefty Jace Fry and unproven righty Ryan Burr and lefties Caleb Frare and Manny Banuelos.
There is strength in numbers behind them with young arms such as Ian Hamilton (recovering from a sore shoulder), Jose Ruiz, Evan Marshall and Zach Thompson at Class AAA Charlotte waiting for their turns.
Abreu, the leading man in the lineup, predicts the Sox’ starting nine will be better, too.
“The lineup is going to be way better,” Abreu said. “The young guys have a year of experience. The new guys, Alonso, Eloy, we have a lot of talent. We’re ready for a good season.’’
One hundred sixty-two games to go.
We shall see.