So what do we have here? A young, explosive White Sox team itching to cause some postseason havoc? Or a team that has smacked into a wall at the very worst time and can’t peel itself off?
It’s possible both things are true, but that’s not a whole lot of fun, not with the Sox making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It would be easy to get caught up in their final regular-season stretch, a stretch that, OK, looked like a death march. They lost nine of their last 12 games. This has led to a certain amount of ugliness. By that, I mean if manager Rick Renteria were to walk down Michigan Avenue in his Sox uniform, it might not end well for him.
But forget about that. Put it behind you. Fine, put it behind you for now. The Sox take on the Athletics in a best-of-three wild-card series in Oakland that starts Tuesday. For the first time in 12 years, both Chicago teams are in the playoffs. The Cubs play the Marlins in a best-of-three series that begins Wednesday. It’s all good right now.
The Sox have a chance to show a national audience what we saw for the first 48 games of this coronavirus-shortened season. We saw team of youngsters that bashed its way to a 32-16 record and a three-game lead in the American League Central. We saw a team full of joyful kids that thought it could homer its way to winning games — and thought right. We saw a team with two AL Most Valuable Player candidates — the hard-hitting Jose Abreu and the bat-flipping Tim Anderson. We saw a team with Eloy Jimenez, Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert. We saw a team with a shiny future.
Staying with the rose-colored theme, I bring to your attention the late-season struggles of the 2005 White Sox. You remember that team, right? The one that went on to win the World Series?
Those Sox went through a miserable September stretch, losing 10 of 14 games and watching a six-game division lead shrivel to 1œ games. Lots of people, including yours truly, wrote them off after that. Then they won eight of their last 10 regular-season games, including their final five, and blew through the postseason, winning 11 of 12 games.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Well, sure. It’s the playoffs. A new season and all that. The Sox have experienced the same regular-season highs and lows the 2005 team did. The difference, of course, is that the ’05 team had a veteran lineup and deeper pitching. A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye had seen struggles before. They knew something bright could be on the other side of the darkness.
The 2020 team has a lot of young players who can’t be sure of that right now. How will they react?
Ozzie Guillen could light a fire underneath a sopping-wet beach towel. Can Renteria?
Will the Sox be able to rely on any starters besides Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel?
We don’t know the answers yet, and that’s what makes this so intriguing. If the Sox respond positively to those questions, they could do some damage in the postseason. It’s a lot, I know. They also have to deal with a dreadful recent history in Oakland, where they are 1-8 since 2017. They are 4-15 overall against the A’s during that span. In good news, they didn’t have to play them this regular season. Maybe they’ve forgotten they don’t know how to beat them.
What Renteria and general manager Rick Hahn have to hope for is some early pop from the Sox’ bats, enough to remind all those young players how good they are and can be. It also might help if the kids hark back to a two-day party in mid-August, when the Sox hit four consecutive home runs in a victory against the Cardinals and went deep six times in a victory against the Tigers the next night.
These Sox need something good to happen in the postseason. It would be nice to say that, even if the A’s bounced them in two games in the wild-card series, they would be applauded for all they accomplished during the regular season. But I think we all know that’s not how this works. Once the Sox gave fans a taste of what could be after the rebuild, expectations soared. If the team disappoints in the playoffs, expect unpleasantness from the precincts.
Even though they’re the lower seed (seventh to the A’s second), the Sox are favored to win the series. That’s partly a recognition of how good they were most of the time during the regular season. If only they could be good most of the time in the postseason. It would be a better story, and there would be a lot less grumbling.