KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Where better to begin a column about Opening Day of the White Sox’ 2019 season than on May 12 of last year?
Sorry for harking back at a time when hearts and minds are intent on charging forward, but it’s simply to say this: If the Sox are going to have any sort of a season of which to be proud, the very last thing they can do is have another day as bad as last May 12.
Let the record show that Thursday’s 5-3 defeat against the Royals barely registered, by comparison, on the dreck-o-meter. Oh, the Sox’ play — which included three errors committed and no runs scored until the ninth inning — left lots to be desired. It bordered on embarrassing. It was a real bummer.
But last May 12? We’re talking all-hope-is-lost bad. The Sox were, for the seventh straight game, defeated — by the Cubs, not that the opponent matters — and fell to 9-27. Going by winning percentage, it was their low point of the year. But it was even lower than that.
Truth be told, they were defeated in more ways than one.
“It was bad, man,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
Bad for the morale of a young team that had at least hoped to outperform bottom-of-the-barrel expectations.
“By the time we got [to 9-27], it was just a weird vibe,” pitcher Lucas Giolito said.
The Sox tried to put up a positive front throughout last season, but there’s no way to do that convincingly when en route to a triple-digit destination in the “L” column. No, indeed, the team’s 2019 campaign can’t at any point get fake-their-way-through-it bad, not if the Sox want anyone outside the organization to have any faith that a years-in-the-making rebuild is on track.
No more waiting: We need to see many more victories. The playoffs? We’re not fools. An earnest push toward .500? That would count for something.
“I think I do, and you do, the fans do — everybody needs to see more victories,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Everybody wants to measure success, and rightfully so. At the end of the day, victories are what everybody’s looking for. …
“But it’s not just about me talking about it; it’s about us actually doing it. I don’t want to talk about it. We’ll let the players performances tell us where they’re at, and, at the end of the day, everyone [can] determine who we are and who we are not and judge us based on that.”
Here’s one thing we all know they’re not: a team led by slugger Manny Machado. Just spitballing here, but perhaps the Sox could have used him Thursday. At the very least, it might have given them a blind puncher’s chance of denting the scoreboard against Royals right-hander Brad Keller, who won’t make anyone forget, well, pretty much any Opening Day starter the Royals have ever had.
Just asking: If the front office had successfully landed Machado, would we really be putting the Sox on the clock right now for a winning season? Would one player — one great player — have made such a definitive difference in the way this team is perceived in 2019?
OK, enough spitting into the wind. What’s the use? They don’t have Machado. But you knew that already.
“We are looking to win every ballgame, and ideally win a heck of a lot more than we lose over the course of the ’19 season,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “But in terms of where we are as we enter Year 3 of a rebuild, how we get to that win total is more important than the actual number.”
They got to loss No. 1 only after a rain delay that lasted nearly two hours. The cynical way to look at that rain delay was that it merely was delaying the inevitable — that the Sox have another difficult season in store.
A sunnier way to look at it would be that the skies eventually dried up, nine innings of baseball was played and it marked the official turning of a page as the Sox — who haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 — seek their first non-losing season in seven years.
Perhaps the most sensible way to look at it is this: Thursday was the first day of the last year of the Sox’ old lives.
For one more season, the Sox can get away with being a less-than-serious factor in the Central Division race. That might not be how everyone feels, but it certainly reflects the conventional wisdom.
Next season, they won’t be able to get away with that noise. Not even close. That’s just the way it’s going to be.