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First two months of the season show that the White Sox are turning a corner

Is it unrealistic to think they can finish 81-81, a 19-victory improvement over last season? Not at all. They no longer merely hope they can win a baseball game. They know it in their bones. A team that went 62-100 last season has made an important psychological leap.

Chicago White Sox v Houston Astros
White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito gets doused after a complete-game shutout against the Astros in Houston on Thursday.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The White Sox have hung around .500 for the first two months of the season. I’d call it loitering, but that implies that they’ve dawdled. That they’re aimless.

Their aim has been true enough this season, truer than I thought it would be at this stage of their rebuild. And it raises a question that I hadn’t considered when the season began:

Is it unrealistic to think they can finish 81-81 or so?

The short and long answers are both the same: Not at all.

The Sox no longer merely hope they can win a baseball game. They know it in their bones. A team that went 62-100 last season has made an important psychological leap.

They showed it last week by splitting a series in Houston. When the mighty Astros won the first two games of the series, it gave them 12 victories in their previous 13 games. The Sox came back and won the last two games, including the finale on a four-hit shutout by Lucas Giolito.

It gave them a 23-26 record, which, as I see it sitting there, looks blah. So does 81-81 if you were deprived at birth of the perspective gene.

A 19-victory improvement over last season would give Sox fans something real to hold in their hands. There’s nothing wrong with hope and dreams, two of the major components of a rebuild. But results have substance. They’re tangible. Dreaming is for when your head hits the pillow.

What the Sox have done so far has been impressive. Remember how much Giolito was doubted when he came to the Sox in the 2016 Adam Eaton trade? He hadn’t been the talent the Nationals thought he would be when they took him in the first round of the 2012 draft. His fastball, we were told, had lost its will to live.

Now he’s 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA.

Eaton? He’s making headlines for being in a silly verbal slap fight with former Sox teammate Todd Frazier.

Catcher James McCann has been a surprise on the South Side only if you consider a career .240 hitter leading the team in average (.333), on-base percentage (.373) and slugging percentage (.523). Sometimes quiet offseason signings have a huge effect on a team.

With Carlos Rodon gone after recent Tommy John surgery, the temptation is to scream at general manager Rick Hahn to drag talented pitcher Dylan Cease up to the big leagues right this minute. But Hahn is correct when he says there’s no rush. All things in their own time.

In the offseason, he swung and missed on Manny Machado, who, along with Bryce Harper, was the big prize in the free-agent sweepstakes. It was a big blow to the organization, and many, including yours truly, criticized the Sox for not making a more competitive offer for the star infielder.

But two months into the season, the result of that miss doesn’t look so catastrophic. There’s no crater and no rubble where the bomb landed. There’s only a hardworking team making strides.

“It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture from time to time and get focused on one or two potential moves that may be out there,’’ Hahn said at the beginning of spring training. “But when you take a step back and you look at what we’ve been able to accomplish over the course of the first couple of years and what it’s going to start looking like over the course of the next couple, it’s hard not to get excited.”

Before the season, Baseball Prospectus predicted the Sox would go 70-92. They still might, but I don’t think so.

Some rough edges are in need of serious sanding. Heading into their series against the division-leading Twins in Minneapolis, the Sox had the second-most errors (41) in baseball and had the second-worst fielding percentage (.976).

I sat with some friends at a recent game and watched the Blue Jays abuse Sox pitcher Ivan Nova on a cool, wet evening at Guaranteed Rate Field. It was very difficult to squint through the raindrops and see a sunny future. The beer, however, was good.

There are going to be days like that for a young team still trying to find its way in the world. And there are going to be days like that whenever Nova, who gave up eight earned runs in three innings against Toronto, pitches. He’s as up and down as a staircase.

But there are going to be weeks like last week, when rookie Eloy Jimenez, fresh off the injured list, had a combined three homers in the last two games of the Houston series.

Last season was spent imagining what he might look like in a big-league uniform. Today is spent noticing his six home runs in 25 games.

Results over dreams, any day.