The best thing about spring training also happens to be the worst thing, when you really think about it.
It’s a time for fresh starts, fresh hopes and big, wild ideas about success stories that come almost from out of nowhere. The problem is, the more you believe in things that could happen — long shots, especially — the more you set yourself up to be disappointed.
Or, a slightly more cynical way to put it: the more you set yourself up to feel like a real yutz.
Which brings me to this: Why the heck can’t the White Sox be better — maybe a lot better — this season than they’re expected to be?
A check of a few online betting sites shows the Sox are projected to have a record around 68-94, worst in the American League and, let’s face it, a dumpster fire of a season. What were they in 2017, otherwise known as Year 1 of the rebuild? They were 67-95. If they go from 95 losses to 94, that’s not rebuilding, folks. That’s tightening a corroded car-battery bolt.
It must be said that last year’s Sox actually fell just short of their projected win totals on the betting sites; 68½ seems to have been the number most commonly given. Yet I counter with this incisive argument: So flippin’ what?
Let’s think of some of the recent teams that blew away the projections. Most sites had the 2015 Cubs going right around 81-81. Where I come from, that’s a .500 record. So how to explain a team that blazed to a 50-25 mark after the All-Star break, finished with 97 wins and ended up in the NLCS? Only in hindsight does it seem ridiculous that anyone would’ve thought those Cubs would be run-of-the-mill.
Who scared the daylights out of the Cubs last season? The Brewers, who finished second in the National League Central — with at least 15 victories above most projections — despite having been widely pegged for last place.
And how about the Sox’ AL Central rivals in Minnesota? The 2016 Twins were a hideous 59-103. The 2017 Twins — with a projected win total around 70 — made the playoffs.
Remember the Sox of 2012? Management called it a rebuilding year. Franchise great Mark Buehrle and his golden left arm were off to Miami. Yet fans who’d been assured the Sox would reek were treated to a team that spent 126 days in first place — not long enough to reach the postseason, but tantalizingly close.
In 2012, veteran Jake Peavy held the rotation together as an innings eater. Chris Sale had his breakout season at age 23, and another 23-year-old, rookie Jose Quintana, was called up to the big-league club along the way and gave the Sox a serious lift. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski had a career year. Adam Dunn struck out 222 times. OK, not everything was perfect, but somehow it all added up to 85 victories.
Just asking: Can Carlos Rodon eat up the innings? Is Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito ready for a breakout? Will rocket-armed Michael Kopech come up along the way and give the rotation a boost? Maybe a career year for new catcher Welington Castillo?
It’s spring training, baby. Now’s the time for a big, wild idea like the Sox making a mockery of their 68-94 projection. Now’s also the time to be a yutz, but we can worry about that part later.
Why the heck can’t the Sox be better — maybe a lot better — than expected?
“There’ve been articles written about ‘Is this team ready to contend for a wild card?’ ” general manager Rick Hahn told reporters at the team’s training complex in Glendale, Arizona. “We’re not going to do anything to stifle that level of excitement. At the same time, we know we’re one year into a rebuild. These things traditionally take longer than that.”
He had me at “contend for a wild card.”
“We want to work,” third baseman Matt Davidson said. “We want to win. We want to start shifting this rebuilding state to winning.”
Now that sounds like a plan.
In case you’re still afraid to take this leap of faith with me, consider the good news delivered early on in camp by shortstop Tim Anderson.
“We love each other,” he said. “We love each other, man. It’s a great chemistry in this locker room.”
Good vibes in February? Who ever heard of such a thing? Actually, it’s what practically every player on every team in Arizona or Florida says this time of year.
But what if Anderson is right? What if the Sox are one of those teams with “intangibles” coming out of its collective earhole? What if they’re more than meets the eye, greater than the sum of their parts, a success story just waiting to come almost from out of nowhere?
Yeah, I know. It’s kind of a long shot.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.