April was the month of Yermin Mercedes.
It also was a pretty decent 30 days for the White Sox.
The series-opening 5-3 loss Friday night to Cleveland marked the end of the first month of the season. Despite the loss, the Sox, who ended April with a 14-11 record, were looking more like the team that had built up so much hype entering the year.
“It’s a good first step for a six-month season,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Though a hiccup or two have occurred, there have been positive steps on offense and the mound. Despite losing Eloy Jimenez for possibly the entire season and a slow start for 2020 American League MVP Jose Abreu, the Sox’ offense has lived up to its preseason billing.
Before facing 2020 Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, the Sox led the AL in runs per game (5.17), on-base plus slugging (.759) and batting average (.267) while compiling a league-best plus-31 run differential.
Rookie Andrew Vaughn said it’s a “special group” and has never been around a team like these Sox.
“Guys, top to bottom, everybody here has the same mindset,” Vaughn said. “We want to win, and winning is the most important thing. Going out there and picking up your teammates. If you have a bad at-bat, you know the next guy behind you has got you. It’s a really good feeling.”
Nobody has given the Sox, or their fans, more good feelings than Mercedes, who started the night hitting .423 and was attempting to become the fifth rookie to lead baseball in average entering May.
One of the most pleasant surprises in baseball, Mercedes has quickly become a fan favorite, as evidenced by the ovation he received after his single in the second inning off Bieber.
Beyond his cult-hero status, Mercedes has added a dynamic bat to a deep lineup and had one of the most memorable debut months of any player in Sox history.
“It’s incredibly impressive to watch,” Vaughn said. “He goes up there, and he’s going to do damage every single pitch he sees. So it’s pretty cool, and it’s helping the team win. Everybody is trying to follow suit and get in there and take good [at-bats] and do some damage.”
The offense has been supplemented by a rotation that has more than held up its end of the bargain.
Before Dallas Keuchel’s six-inning, four-run outing Friday, Sox starting pitchers led the AL with a 2.97 ERA. Carlos Rodon’s renaissance has been a highlight for a productive group of starters.
“It’s shaping out that we have a pretty good one through five,” pitcher Dylan Cease said.
All that said, the first month was not perfect.
The bullpen was expected to be one of the best in baseball but got off to a slower than anticipated start. Back in the dugout for the first time in a decade, La Russa, a controversial choice when he was hired, has had his decision-making and handling of pitchers questioned.
Obviously, drawing any conclusions after one month is foolish. There will be regressions and other peaks, but the Sox at least had a decent April that won’t make it harder for them to reach their October goals.
“Today was a day that we were able to combine good pitching with good hitting,” Leury Garcia said after Thursday’s doubleheader sweep of the Tigers. “And we know that if we are able to combine that and sustain that as long as the season goes, we’re going to be in a good spot to get to the postseason.”