As Chicago rejoiced over the arrival of its football future, the White Sox were providing their own look forward Thursday night.
The Bears’ future with Fields is further off, but fans are hopeful he’ll give the city its long awaited franchise quarterback.
The White Sox future is now, of course, a World Series course charted on the South Side. If any team is going to show Fields what it’s like to be crowned a Chicago champion, the White Sox have the best shot in town.
Convincing folks that the team’s preseason expectations of grandeur are still realistic hasn’t been easy in the season’s opening month, and you only have to dial the calendar back to Tuesday to see how things have gone wrong for the South Siders. But two nights later, winning a pair of games against the division-rival Detroit Tigers, the White Sox showed exactly why the hype was so big in the first place, what things look like when everything goes right and how bright the future — we’re talking the immediate future, like October — can be.
“Talk is cheap. You have to go out there and play,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the doubleheader. “But we have an excellent chance to contend to the end and be a legitimate team to think about October.
“We’ve only got five months and 140-some (games) to play.”
Yeah, it was two seven-inning bouts against the lowly Tigers, who wasted no time showing their stripes in the first game of this series, committing five fielding errors in the first five innings. But in order to be a champion, you’ve got to win the games you’re supposed to. That’s what infuriated White Sox fans about Tuesday’s loss, but it’s also what should have them taking a brief break from the Fields fist-pumping to realize how good things can be.
There were no bigger preseason question marks than the ones surrounding the back end of the starting rotation. World Series chances seemed to hinge on Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón, a couple mystery men coming off disappointing 2020 campaigns. Well, they shut down the Tigers on Thursday. Rodón continued his sensational start to the season, which has included a no-hitter, with a career-high 12 strikeouts in Game 1, a 3-1 win. He passed the baton to Cease, who turned in one of the finest outings of his young career, throwing seven scoreless innings and walking no one in an 11-0 blowout.
“For me personally, the stuff has always been there, but it’s about how to utilize it,” Cease said. “I’m not going to get too high or low from this one. There’s a lot more starts to go, but that’s what we are looking for.
“Carlos has looked unbelievable all year. I think it’s shaping out that we have a pretty good 1 through 5.”
As Rodón keeps pointing out, it will require a full season of results like those to firmly answer the question of whether the White Sox can count on these guys to help them win playoff series. But it sure looks like there’s some depth behind the 1-2-3 punch of Cy Young types at the top of the starting staff, allowing the White Sox to dream about a potentially special collection of arms come October.
Speaking of depth, the White Sox aren’t going to be getting Eloy Jiménez back any time soon. But while plugging the hole in left field has proven difficult over the course of April, Andrew Vaughn and Leury García came to play Thursday, showing that the by-committee approach to filling in for Jiménez might have some upside.
Vaughn’s been hitting well lately, with an average north of .400 in his last seven games. He had three hits and a couple doubles in Game 2 on Thursday. That’s matched a defensive effort the White Sox have been pleased with as he learns a new position in his first taste of the majors. His inconsistent playing time continues to be a bit of a head-scratcher, but he started both games of Thursday’s doubleheader in left and did plenty to earn the at-bats La Russa has said all his players need to.
“He’s showing all of us he’s a contributor,” La Russa said. “Makes it a very deep lineup doesn’t it?”
García, meanwhile, has been much maligned for his slow start. A utility reserve thrust into a more regular role, he’s struggled at the dish. Not Thursday. He drove in five runs in the White Sox pair of victories, signaling a potential end to his slump and usefulness as the season marches into the warmer months.
“Having a day like today is something good, something that makes you realize that all the work you’ve been putting in is finally paying off,” García said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “It’s a good motivation, definitely a good motivation to keep carrying that for tomorrow and hopefully for the rest of the season.”
Of course, plugging the Silver Slugger sized hole in the lineup has shockingly not been anywhere near as difficult, and Yermín Mercedes kept on Yerminating on Thursday, launching a 449-foot moonshot into the foliage in dead center field.
The offense, in general, had a thunderous bounce back after Tuesday night’s disaster. The White Sox couldn’t turn those five Tigers errors into anything substantial, going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Just like Tuesday was no indicator of the team’s collective April performance, Thursday’s doubleheader sweep should be treated the same way. But a team looking to win the whole thing looked far more like a team capable of winning the whole thing, whether it was Yoán Moncada sending a three-run homer into the Tigers’ bullpen or Liam Hendriks slamming the door in Game 1 or Nick Madrigal going 3-for-3 in Game 2.
This is the future the White Sox envision, one where starting pitching carries the day and the offense makes the other team pay. A deep rotation will do wonders for their championship push, as will a potent lineup. Put them together, and that’s exactly what this White Sox team is capable of.
“Today was a day that we were able to combine good pitching with good hitting,” García said. “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.”
Thursday night was about celebrating the prospect of gridiron success returning to the Windy City. But if you had your remote working overtime, flipping between draft night and doubleheader day, you got to see what the next few months — and if Rick Hahn’s rebuild pays off, the next few years — could look like on the diamond, too.