By Tom Barnicle
In some of his previous columns, Dan Marich, the blog-master of In My Opinion, has made references to his “White Sox expert”. Apparently, that is me. So, immediately you ask, what makes me an expert? My answer is simple: I have no idea. To start with, I thought it might be best to examine my love/ambivalent relationship with the White Sox. You see, that’s the difference between a Sox fan and a Cubs fan. Sox fans either love the team or feel a great deal of apathy about them. On the other hand, Cubs fans either love or LOVE the Cubs.
I want to make it clear that while I am a Sox fan, I’m not a Cubs hater. I grew up watching both the Cubs and the Sox on Channel 9. Back then, WGN only broadcast each team’s home games, and both teams used Jack Brickhouse as their announcer. So along with Jack, I was cheering “That a boy Ernie!” as much as I was shouting “Woo-boy Nellie!” When the Cubs won in 2016, I was happy they won and even happier for all of the Cubs fans who had waited so long for that moment. However, I think there were a few factors that steered me toward the Sox.
First of all, there was my Dad. As an Irishman with roots on the South Side, his allegiance was obviously with the Sox. And since I would watch games on our black-and-white TV with my dad from a very early age, naturally, I cheered when he did. Secondly, in 1959, I was 5 years old and just really starting to watch baseball and getting an understanding of it, and just at that time, the White Sox went to the World Series. I remember my grandfather went to one of the home games of that series. I can still picture the scorebook he brought home from that. I poured over that throughout that whole winter.
I was so excited when the 1960 season began and my dad took our family to my first live baseball game. I remember walking up the tunnel to our seats at old Comiskey Park and being hit full-on with a blast of color that I will never forget. Prior to that, I had seen that park in only muted shades of white and black and grey. My retinas were drenched in green. Everything was alive and bright and vibrant. I fell in love with both the team and the park at that moment. To this day, I can’t listen to Steve Dahl’s “Comiskey Park” song without tearing up a little.
I think 2020 will be one of those years where Sox fans love the Sox. I’m not predicting a World Series win, or even a division win. I think they will be competitive throughout the year and at least will be in the wild-card discussion into September, I’ll be happy with 85 wins this year. I know you’re thinking, “Isn’t this more apathy?” No, it’s not. It’s being realistic. There are too many things that would have to fall perfectly into place for the Sox to be playing baseball in October. My own time, and your attention span, (if you’re still reading at this point), precludes me from going through all of them in one article. So, for this one, we will look at starting pitching.
The starters will be Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. They have the potential to be one of the best in baseball but could also be very mediocre. In 2019, Giolito was one of the best pitchers in the American League. In 2018, he was one of the worst. I do think the 2019 version is here to stay.
Keuchel may not be the same guy he was in 2015 when he won the Cy Young Award, but he is still a quality number two starter. Plus, he’s a multiple Gold Glove winner. That may come in handy with this team. Gonzalez has also seen better days, but even though he missed a lot of time last year with injuries, he still can be the guy who eats up a lot of innings and can also help mentor a young staff. Both he and Keuchel will be called upon a lot for that.
Cease and Lopez are the two wild cards of this staff. Cease has only pitched 73 innings in the majors and showed some outstanding potential. With the first time jitters out of the way, the Sox are hoping his 97 mph fastball, along with an exceptional slider and curveball, will have him blossom in 2020. Lopez showed signs of brilliance in 2019 but many more signs of inexperience that led him to the bottom of the pack of AL starters. The Sox believe he is in line for a Giolito-like turnaround this year.
Waiting in the wings is someone who could be a star. Michael Kopech has shown the kind of stuff that would make him a number one starter. He had Tommy John surgery in September 2018 and has had two full off-seasons to recover. He may not be on the opening day roster as the Sox may want him to get some minor league work in first. If he returns to form, look for him to be on the mound every five days, sooner rather than later, this season, however his innings will be monitored very closely.
Also coming off Tommy John surgery is Carlos Rodon. He likely won’t be ready until mid-July. He’s had some other injury problems in the past too. While he doesn’t possess a blazing fastball, his slider is the envy of many pitchers. But if healthy, a fresh arm entering the rotation in August could be a very good thing for a contending team.
If you’ve read this far, thank you, you’re either a Sox fan who can’t get enough information on this team, or a sadist. Those who haven’t made it this far, will never know the brilliance they could have witnessed.
If I’m allowed back again, next time I’ll discuss the bullpen.
And now, back to the action.