Despite possessing a record that sits merely at a pedestrian 9-10. April has been somewhat of an encouraging month so far for the White Sox. Coming off of a horrendous 2013 campaign, which saw the team drop 99 games, while also finishing 29th in runs scored, along with finishing in the bottom half of the league in virtually every category possible. The White Sox appear to be on the right track towards being reshaped and revamped. So far, large in part due to the fast start by rookie slugger Jose Abreu and veteran shortstop Alexei Ramirez, the offense leads the entire MLB in runs scored with 106, after only managing to notch 598 all last season. Meanwhile, their young starting pitching staff has put together 10 quality starts, good for 10th in all of baseball. The team’s win-loss record may not yet be a reflection of the optimism brewing on the south side of Chicago. However, it’s hard to deny that the White Sox talented youth inspires hope for the team’s future.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the new-look 2014 White Sox, is their newfound ability to put runs up on the scoreboard, and do so in bunches. Which is exactly what the team did in their 16-2 thrashing of the Texas Rangers in Arlington on Sunday afternoon. Six different White Sox players drove in multiple runs, as eight of the nine starters managed to hit safely. Jose Abreu also managed to notch his 5th home run on the season, and drive in his 15th, 16th, and 17th runs on the afternoon, good for second in the MLB in both categories. The 27-year-old rookie from Cuba has been a huge part of the White Sox offensive outburst so far this season, and only a few weeks into his Major League career, he has managed to look like a seasoned veteran slugger. It will be interesting to see how the young first basemen continues to adjust to the league, as the rest of the league and opposing pitchers will certainly continue to adjust to him.
Abreu isn’t the only man in the White Sox lineup who has burst onto the scene this year. In fact, the White Sox currently have four players hitting over the .300 mark. Youngsters Dayan Viciedo and Connor Gillaspie are both off to the best starts of their young careers. Viciedo leading the way for the outfield, hitting at .321. While the third basemen Gillaspie checks in at .305.
Much maligned by fans in his first season as the White Sox starting catcher in 2013, Tyler Flowers struggled mightily at the plate. He finished the season with a batting average of just .195, with an on-base percentage of .247, while hitting ten home runs and driving in twenty-four. This season though, he has silenced his critics for now. Starting off his 2014 campaign by hitting a whopping .389, with an on-base percentage of .421 through his first 16 games played.
In a story that made national headlines, Alexei Ramirez became the first player in White Sox history to hit safely in his first 17 games of the regular season. That streak came to an end on Saturday night, when Alexei failed to notch a base-hit versus the Rangers in Arlington. However, for a shortstop who is usually known to start slow early on in the season at the plate, no one in baseball has been swinging a hotter bat than “The Cuban Missle”. Through the first 19 games of the season, Alexei has gone deep four times while hitting .360, with an on-base percentage of .400. He is also currently slugging .587, which is good for a devastating .987 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
The offense has been fun to watch so far this April for White Sox fans. However, that is not to overlook the solid performances from the White Sox young pitching staff either. White Sox ace and left-hander Chris Sale continues to get better and better as he progress throughout his magnificent young career. Through his first four starts on the season, he has been nearly untouchable. His record currently resides at 3-0, while posting an ERA of 2.30 and a WHIP of 0.84. He has fanned 29 hitters through 27.1 innings of work, and surrendered only 16 hits.
Another young southpaw, Jose Quintana is off to a nice start in 2014 as well. After three starts, the 25-year-old currently holds a record of 1-1, and an ERA of just over 3.70 to boot. He’ll be on the mound Monday evening for the White Sox, as they kick off a four game series with the first place Detroit Tigers.
However, White Sox fans already knew about Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. What is more encouraging is how well the young right-handed pitching prospect Erik Johnson has rebounded from two shaky first outings. After struggling his way through starts in Kansas City and Colorado. Johnson has notched two straight very impressive performances. First, holding the defending champion Boston Red Sox to just one run on three hits through six and two-thirds innings, in a 2-1 victory. Johnson would leave with the game tied, and thus receiving a no-decision. Then, on Sunday in Texas, he held the Rangers to just one run on one hit through five innings. While notching his first big league victory.
Erik Johnson is a name White Sox fans should remember. If he can just be competent as a starter this season, all of a sudden, the White Sox pitching staff goes from looking young and inexperienced, to having four solid arms in Sale, Quintana, Johnson, and veteran left-hander John Danks.
Despite the teams ongoing bullpen struggles that have already cost the team a few games, the White Sox faithful can take solace in the fact that so much young talent finally seems to be starting to pan out. Even if this 2014 squad doesn’t contend this season, you don’t have to look very far to be inspired to tune into watch this team play on a daily basis. A starting pitching staff full of potential, and a lineup full of young bats just itching to burst out into the big league scene. Maybe even more encouraging, is the fact that the only player in the White Sox every day lineup, or pitching rotation not under the age of 30 is shortstop Alexei Ramirez (32). Last year was brutal, absolutely no doubt about it. However, the youth on this White Sox team absolutely inspires hope for the future. Perhaps one day soon, last season’s infamous 99 loss season will seem like nothing more than a distant memory.
Commentary by Richard Glenn