Exceeding Expectations: 2019 White Sox Season Preview
In the winter of 2017 the sports and culture website The Ringer published an article titled “How the White Sox Win the World Series.” In it, the author lays out his not-impossible, albeit highly, highly improbable, case for the Pale Horse to surprise everyone (including the defending World Champion Cubs) and make a deep playoff run. Their odds were 300-1 to win the World Series that year, and they did not disappoint.
The White Sox were well invested in their rebuild in 2017 and finished the season with a 66-96 record. But The Ringer was on to something, so allow me to borrow their format and take it in a new direction for the 2019 season. Let’s talk ourselves into the White Sox making the postseason. Here’s what it would take.
The entire point of the White Sox embarking on a rebuild was to accumulate talent by the truckload, reassemble a core around that talent, and add pieces when needed to supplement it and create a winning team. Three years into the tank, the talent seems to be reaching a turning point and 2019 could be a make-or-break season for the team to either establish itself or continue onward mired in mediocrity.
The post-teardown core is slowly emerging from the wreckage of a 100 loss season and will take this shape on Opening Day:
1B Jose Abreu/Yonder Alonso
2B Yolmer Sanchez/Leury Garcia
SS Tim Anderson
3B Yoan Moncada
LF Eloy Jimenez
CF Adam Engle/Jon Jay
RF Daniel Palka
C James McCann/Welington Castillo
The initial rotation:
Although the Sox broke camp with more players than listed here, this is the basic roster that will see the most playing time. And this roster is surprisingly not bad. Of course, the catch (there is always a catch with the White Sox) is that this roster is largely unproven; there is a reason they lost 100 games last season. Moncada set the single season strikeout record; Giolito was a special kind of awful; Rodon was injured and had a difficult time bouncing back; Anderson committed a lot of errors; Engle’s offensive production was anemic; Abreu ended the year with injuries; and so on.
But what if 2018 was the rebuild’s rock bottom? What if Moncada, Anderson, and Eloy have breakout seasons, Abreu returns to normal production, Palka hits 30 home runs (and improves his defense), and Rodon-Lopez-Giolito stabilize the rotation and reach their potentials? And with a legitimate claim to have the best bullpen in the division, games that start strong can finish strong, too.
If the developing core actually develops the team will have a good chance at winning games that were out of reach last season. At any rate, the offense figures to be more productive than last year’s, and the pitching shouldn’t be too far behind. Why can’t they win at a consistent clip?
Another point in the White Sox’ favor is the relative weakness of the American League Central compared to the rest of the league. Recall that the Central in 2018 was the only division in baseball that had two 100-loss teams, and a third that lost 98 games (the AL East, by contrast, had two 100-win teams, and no team in the National League lost 100 games).
In any case, the Central will be weak again this season. The Tigers and Royals are deeper in their rebuilds than the White Sox are and will not offer serious competition even as the season goes on. The Twins had a quiet winter and are in a position to either jump ahead or regress from their 78-win 2018. Like the White Sox, the Twins’ fortunes will be tied to the emergence of their young stars.
The Indians, of course, are the favorites to win the division (again) but their road should be more difficult this year than it has in the recent past. With the departures of Yonder Alonso (now on the White Sox), Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley, along with early season injuries of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, the Indians could very well enter the season hobbling. And if the White Sox start hot, it will surely come at the Indians expense.
The White Sox play almost as many games against teams in the Central (76) as they do against non-Central teams (86). If the they can take advantage of the weak division, and break even (or even dip slightly below .500) against non-divisional opponents, a postseason berth is suddenly within striking distance.
There is a saying among the baseball faithful: a team will win a third of its games and lose a third of its games every season. It’s what they do with the other third that matters.
So far, the premise of this season preview can be boiled down to two assumptions: one, that the stockpiled talent will begin to get results on the field, and two, that the White Sox’ weak division will work to their advantage.
But the 2019 White Sox are not the 2001 Mariners; they will not be winning 116 games on talent alone. They will not even win 85 or 90 games on talent alone. They will need a little luck. Unfortunately, luck is impossible to quantify. We all know it happens: weird hits, missed catches, wild pitches, odd bounces, and so on. Sometimes these add up to wins (see: 2005 ALCS Game 2). For the White Sox to pull off a playoff appearance luck will have to be on their side from March through September. The odd breaks in games that are the difference between winning and losing have to work out for the Sox more often than not, and they have to play heads up baseball to take advantage of those opportunities. It is a tall order asking the baseball gods to put the White Sox in lucky situations. It is not a tall order to ask the White Sox to use them.
How would this all play out in real life? Here is a not-completely-unrealistic (yet highly, highly improbable) example how the White Sox can make the postseason:
White Sox 85-77
Kansas City 70-92
This example admittedly assumes a lot, like the White Sox winning 85 games in the first place and clinching the division, as well as the Indians having an eleven game regression season-to-season and topping out at 80 wins. But baseball is weird, and wild seasons like this happen more often than we remember. Consider the difference in the Central between 2004 and 2005:
White Sox 83-79
Kansas City 58-104(!)
White Sox 99-63
Kansas City 56-106(!)
The 2004-2005 offseason was productive for the White Sox — they acquired Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik, A.J. Pierzynski, Bobby Jenks, and Tadahito Iguchi — but nonetheless they jumped by 16 games while Minnesota dropped by nine and Cleveland picked up 13.
Could a scenario like this happen again? Could Cleveland fall apart, could the Twins stagnate, and could the White Sox click? With a little talent and a lot of luck, they absolutely can. Making the postseason might not be as far off as it seems.