KANSAS CITY -- James Shields had a special feeling about the 2018 White Sox long before their MLB Opening Day record-tying six-home run outburst against the Royals during a 14-7 victory at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday afternoon.The veteran right-hander, who picked up the victory in his eighth career Opening Day
KANSAS CITY -- James Shields had a special feeling about the 2018 White Sox long before their MLB Opening Day record-tying six-home run outburst against the Royals during a 14-7 victory at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The veteran right-hander, who picked up the victory in his eighth career Opening Day start, told MLB.com at the end of the 2017 campaign about a rebuilding White Sox team with the possibility of immediate playoff contention. The team's showing Thursday only reinforced Shields' belief, even if there were many who scoffed last September -- and quite a few who would do the same now.
"These guys want it bad," said Shields after Thursday's victory. "They are an unbelievably talented group of guys, group of young guys. The chemistry, you can see it building.
"We made some big strides at the end of last year. We brought it right into Spring Training this year."
One strong, exciting showing amid a 162-game ledger makes it just a bit early to start planning out October plans or a November World Series parade route in Chicago. But here are five few reasons supporting Shields' theory centered on the White Sox being in it to win it in 2018.
1. Potential on offense
Only one team scored double-digit runs on Opening Day, and it was the White Sox. The team won't feature that sort of output on a daily, or maybe even weekly, basis. But from top to bottom, they have a good mix of power and speed. The team hit 186 home runs last year, tying for 24th in the game, but that power can be a game-changer -- especially in the summer months at Guaranteed Rate Field.
"The home runs are there. We have some power guys," said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who hit two home runs on Opening Day, trailing Matt Davidson's trio of homers among the six. "Just got to continue to play and see what happens."
2. Experience matters
Let's take Yoan Moncada's 2017 season as an example. Fans were worried when he started 4-for-40, but he returned to can't-miss projections after a September in which he hit .276 with five home runs and 11 RBIs.
In reality, this overall stretch represented valuable big league experience gained by the switch-hitting second baseman. The same can be said for right-handed starters such as Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, not to mention slightly more experienced players such as Davidson and Anderson. There's a more confident feeling around this group.
3. Help will be on the way
General manager Rick Hahn almost certainly won't make significant trades to help the White Sox solely contend in 2018, even if they remain in it by July. Those moves aren't part of the long-term plan for contention, but he also has help from within. Left-handed starter Carlos Rodon is making great progress on his rehab road from September arthroscopic left shoulder surgery, while right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech (No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and/or outfielder Eloy Jimenez (No. 1 prospect) could become Major League ready this season.
4. There are wins in the American League
On paper, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, Red Sox, Twins and maybe the Angels appear to be the elite AL squads. There will be some surprises, but there could be wins there for a young, hungry and talented team such as the White Sox. The AL Central alone features the Tigers and Royals in their early stages of a rebuild.
5. The players believe
A special camaraderie has formed among this group usually reserved for teams playing together five or six years or longer. They believe in the process and they believe this team has championship mettle. If not quite this season, then soon.
"A lot of us don't have a huge track record in the Major Leagues, so the confidence is going to be a big thing," Davidson said. "Actually seeing the results in front of our eyes is going to be huge for us and our development. We want to keep on having those days so we remember we're that good, because there are going to be days we're bad. We just have to forget about them and remember how good we are."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.