A year in review: White Sox faded but turned corner in 2020

Here are some 2020 Sox highlights to ring in the new year, which brings with it legitimate optimism for even better things in 2021.

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Jose Abreu watches his two-run home run next to Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and umpire Tim Timmons during the eighth inning of a White Sox game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

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The White Sox faded late but turned a corner in 2020. On the field and off, it was a momentous season for a team that, in the fourth year of a rebuild, reached the postseason for the first time since 2008, fired its manager after the season and hired a new (old) one in a swirl of controversy.

Here are some 2020 Sox highlights, in chronological order, to ring in the new year, which brings with it legitimate optimism for even better things in 2021:

Locking up the core (Jan. 2, Feb. 22, March 6)

Prized outfield prospect Luis Robert (six years, $50 million), left-hander Aaron Bummer (five years, $16 million) and third baseman Yoan Moncada (five years, $70 million) signed long-term deals with club options for additional years, each locked in before free agency and joining young core pieces Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez under extended club control.

Camp closed (March 12)

Spring-training games at all major-league complexes were canceled and Opening Day delayed because of the coronavirus, abruptly ending a lively, optimistic Sox camp in Glendale, Arizona.

Summer camp opens without Kopech, Moncada (July 3) 

The Sox resumed training for a 60-game season at Guaranteed Rate Field without prized pitching prospect Michael Kopech, who was absent for personal reasons. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Kopech opted out of the season seven days later. Meanwhile, Yoan Moncada was one of two players to test positive for the coronavirus and missed the first two weeks of the three-week ramp up to Opening Day on July 24. Moncada was fatigued all season but played in 52 games, producing a subpar .225/.320/.385 hitting line with six homers and 24 RBI.

Keuchel’s pep talk (Aug. 10) 

On a Zoom call with media after a 5-1 loss to the Tigers — the Sox’ fifth defeat in six games, dropping them to 8-9 — veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel with a World Series ring and Cy Young plaque called out teammates for “going through the motions.” The Sox won 13 of their next 17 games.

Double trouble for Tigers’ Boyd (Aug. 12, 17)

After Anderson and Jimenez opened a 7-5 win with home runs against Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd on Aug. 12 in Detroit, Anderson and Moncada homered against Boyd to open a 7-2 win in Chicago, the first time a major-league team started a game with two homers against the same pitcher. At 14-0, the Sox were the first team to go undefeated against lefty pitching, and their .523 slugging percentage was the highest against lefties since the Brooklyn Dodgers with Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo in 1955. 

Four homers in a row (Aug. 16)

Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Jose Abreu and Jimenez hit consecutive home runs in a 7-2 win over the Cardinals, the 10th time in major-league history a team accomplished the feat. Roel Ramirez, in his major-league debut, served up all four.

Four in row — for Abreu (Aug. 21)

Abreu homered in his fourth consecutive at-bat with a 446-foot blast against the Cubs’ Yu Darvish in the second inning of a 2-1 loss at Wrigley Field, tying a major-league record. Abreu, who clubbed two in a 10-1 win Friday and three in a 7-4 victory Saturday, hit six homers over the weekend, the most by a Sox hitter in any series.

Giolito no-hits Pirates (Aug. 25)

The Sox’ 19 no-hitters are second only to the Dodgers’ 23, and right-hander Lucas Giolito’s against the Pirates at Guaranteed Rate Field was the most dominant of them all. Giolito struck out 13 for the Sox’ first no-no with double-digit whiffs. His game score of 99 was the highest in club history for a nine-inning game.

Sox clinch postseason berth (Sept. 17)

With a 4-3 victory over the defending American League Central champion Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field, the Sox clinched their first postseason berth since 2008. Abreu legged out a game-tying infield single in the seventh, and Jimenez doubled in the go-ahead run as the Sox improved to 33-17 and became the second team after the Dodgers to clinch a spot in the expanded 16-team playoff field. A 2-8 finish that included a crushing four-game sweep in Cleveland dropped the Sox from the first seed to the seventh in the AL with a 35-25 record.

Sox win a playoff game (Sept. 29)

Abreu, Grandal and Adam Engel homered, Tim Anderson had three hits and Giolito took a perfect game into the seventh in a 4-1 win against the Athletics in Game 1 of their best-of-three wild-card series. In Game 2, rookie second baseman Nick Madrigal’s error allowed two runs, and Keuchel (1.99 ERA) served up two homers. After Robert hit a 487-foot homer for a 1-0 lead in Game 3, eight relief pitchers issued a combined nine walks, helping the A’s to a 6-4 win and ending the Sox’ season.

Renteria fired, La Russa hired (Oct. 12, 29)

Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper were fired, and even more surprising, 76-year-old Tony La Russa was hired as manager. La Russa has Hall of Fame credentials but hasn’t managed in 11 years. Accelerating fans’ push-back on chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s choice, La Russa had been arrested on DUI charges in February for a second time. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving Dec. 21. Ethan Katz replaced Cooper, and bench coach Miguel Cairo, analytics coordinator Shelley Duncan and assistant hitting coach Howie Clark were added to La Russa’s staff.

Abreu named MVP (Nov. 12)

Abreu was named AL Most Valuable Player, and Anderson, Jimenez and Abreu gave the Sox a franchise-record three Silver Slugger Awards. Robert, second in AL Rookie of the Year voting, won the Gold Glove for AL center fielders. Renteria was third in AL Manager of the Year voting.

Kasper leaves Cubs, joins Sox (Dec. 4)

Cubs TV play-by-play voice Len Kasper agreed to a multiyear contract to call Sox games on ESPN 1000, the team’s new flagship radio station, and to work 20-25 games on NBC Sports Chicago.

Deals (Dec. 8, 10)

Right-hander Lance Lynn, sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2020, was acquired from the Rangers for starter Dane Dunning and prospect Avery Weems. Free-agent right fielder Adam Eaton was signed to a one-year deal.

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