You might’ve heard, but the White Sox have gotten better. And not just a little bit better, either. They’ve gone from doormats to dominators, from background noise to must-see TV. The Cubs are on Marquee, but it’s the Sox who deserve top billing in this town nearly three-quarters of the way through the season.
But what about their fourth-year manager, Rick Renteria? Has he gotten better, too?
“I won’t answer that,” he said Tuesday before the opener of a two-game series against the Pirates. “I’ll leave that all up to you guys — what you guys think you see or don’t see.”
Well, that’s complicated.
We see a guy who was 201-284 over his first three seasons with the rebuilding Sox, fighting what was — and almost certainly would have been for any manager on the planet — an unwinnable battle. We see a guy who lost big in 2014 with a rebuilding Cubs team that probably would have lost big even if Joe Maddon had arrived a year early.
We see a skipper who is lauded more for how he connects with players than for how he uses them on the field.
But we see an American League Manager of the Year Award coming his way, too. It surely will be his if — and it’s a big if — the Sox, a best-in-baseball 16-4 over their last 20 games as they arrived in Pittsburgh, keep bashing at the plate and hanging in there on the mound until they’ve won a division title.
Rookie manager Rocco Baldelli won the AL award in 2019 largely because the Twins made the most dramatic jump in the standings, from 78 wins in 2018 to 101. The outstanding Bob Melvin won it in 2018 as the Athletics jumped to 97 wins from 75 the year before. Along with the Padres in the National League, the Sox are baseball’s 2020 jumpers.
Even though it has never been clear how good Renteria is — mostly because he never had a team with a pulse before now — an award that would raise his profile significantly is within reach.
The Sox are the best road team in the AL. They’ve beaten the daylights out of the teams they’re supposed to beat. They’re undefeated — 13-0 — against lefty starters. They roll out of bed tearing the cover off the ball. They’ve pitched better than expected in spite of some key injuries. They’re vibing off one another and having truckloads of fun.
“You can give all those guys that are on the field, all those coaches [and] the players that are performing, all the credit in the world because they’re the ones that are doing the job,” Renteria said.
The manager must deserve a good-sized share of credit, too. But has Renteria — who’s signed through 2021 — erased any doubt that he’s a vital piece of the puzzle going forward as the Sox aim to maximize a giant opportunity to win for a while?
“This is the first year — in this, his fifth year in the major leagues — that Ricky has had a chance to show what he can do as a manager,” TV analyst Steve Stone said. “The jury is still out. I think the best thing that he does is communicate with his players [and] get his team to play hard every day.”
Sox pitcher Gio Gonzalez had seven big-league managers before Renteria, a group that includes Melvin, Davey Johnson, Dusty Baker and Craig Counsell, and he has done a ton of winning. He was asked what about Renteria is unique.
“Ricky’s got a hell of a lineup,” he said.
It wasn’t intended as a backhanded compliment. Let’s all be crystal clear on that. But considering that praise of Renteria has always been less than voluminous, it doesn’t make us any surer about what we see.
Tell us how you really feel, Leonard Fournette.
“For the first time in my life, I really have a quarterback,” the new Buccaneers running back said Tuesday on a video conference with reporters. “So that’s an eye-opener for me.”
You’re welcome, former Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. You, too, Gardner Minshew and — what’s his name again? — Nick Foles.
Yes, Foles. It seems he’s no Tom Brady. Who knew? As Fournette apparently sees it, Foles, who enters the season as the backup to Bears starter Mitch Trubisky, isn’t even a real quarterback.
So the Bears have that going for them.
• The strangest thing about college football so far hasn’t been the quiet of (mostly) empty stadiums. It has been the only-in-these-abnormal-times scores.
Army was favored by about a field goal against Middle Tennessee State and won 42-0. Navy was favored by about a field goal against BYU and lost 55-3.
Southern Miss was favored by about two touchdowns against South Alabama and lost 32-21. The very next day, coach Jay Hopson resigned.
If I were the Big Ten, I’d lie low for a while, too.
• Bears 20, Lions 17.
Please, no need to thank me.
• The Jose Martinez era vs. the Steven Souza Jr. era.
Feel free to throw in the Hernan Perez era or any number of other here-today-gone-tomorrow eras.
Either way, Cubs fans: Discuss.
• Speaking of the Cubs, lots of luck to newly acquired outfielder Billy Hamilton, a real speedster. May he last longer around here than it takes for him to race home from first base on a gapper.