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White Sox goal? From rebuild to contenders

@scottmerkin
July 22, 2020

CHICAGO -- The time for focus on lofty individual statistics has been pushed aside by the White Sox in what could be a very important 2020 season, marking the organization’s transition from rebuild to contention. “First and foremost, the goal is just win and win the World Series with this

CHICAGO -- The time for focus on lofty individual statistics has been pushed aside by the White Sox in what could be a very important 2020 season, marking the organization’s transition from rebuild to contention.

“First and foremost, the goal is just win and win the World Series with this team,” said White Sox rookie center fielder Luis Robert through interpreter Billy Russo. “That's the main goal for everybody on this team. Just try to help this team win. I know if the team does well, I'll be good, too, because I'm going to be part of that success. That's my main focus right now.”

Of course, Robert wouldn’t mind winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, too. But that sort of success certainly will contribute to the team’s overall prowess in this 60-game season, with the Twins and Indians sitting as the early AL Central favorites. After a 3 1/2-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago is ready to play and win.

“Going on YouTube and watching various intrasquad games from around the league, watching our team throughout this Summer Camp, I feel like the players have done a really good job of preparing themselves for a season,” White Sox Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito said. “It seems like everyone's prepared, everyone's excited, so I think it's going to be really high-quality baseball coming over the next few months.”

What needs to go right?
Because of the youth on this roster, albeit highly talented youth, there’s a wide variance of expectations for the 2020 White Sox. If Chicago's young players can’t make adjustments on the fly, the abbreviated campaign might go sideways quickly.

White Sox among 5 teams that need a fast start

So, this young core needs to hit its stride quickly and fight through any sort of prolonged slumps. If they establish and maintain momentum, the White Sox could be in for a special season. While all teams need to get off to a good start, it becomes especially important for Chicago to build momentum while playing 19 of its first 26 games against the AL Central.

Big question: What will the White Sox get from Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López?
The pair of right-handers didn’t have impressive 2019 seasons on the mound, but they appeared to be moving in the right direction during Spring Training and Summer Camp. Cease struck out eight during his final intrasquad start and said he feels the best he has in his career.

López worked as hard at the mental aspect of his game this offseason as the physical part, following the lead of Giolito, and he believes he’ll be better equipped to handle momentary struggles this time around. The ability certainly is there for both pitchers, who could turn a good White Sox rotation into something great.

Prospect to watch: Luis Robert
A good case could be made for Robert, MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect, as a Team Most Valuable Player candidate. With his wide of array of elite talents and ability to affect the game in many ways, Robert could legitimately carry the White Sox for stretches. Fans have been waiting for Robert’s arrival since he signed in 2017, and their chance to watch him is here.

Robert among AL ROY candidates

“I am going to try to do whatever I can to bring that happiness to them, and that joy and to help this team,” Robert said. “Just to enjoy this game and do the things I can do. It definitely made me feel good knowing the fans want to see me and expect a lot of things from me.”

On the schedule
The White Sox open with three home games against the Twins, who captured the AL Central title in 2019. They also have 15 of their first 19 contests against AL Central opponents. And if the White Sox hang in until the very end, they could have a chance to clinch a postseason berth with three home games against the Cubs to finish the regular season.

2020 60-game schedule

Team MVP will be: Yasmani Grandal
Maybe this should be the catching tandem of Grandal and James McCann as a whole, but let’s focus on Grandal. The switch-hitter not only gives the White Sox another power bat in the middle of the order but also a great on-base offensive presence who consistently works counts. Grandal’s pitch framing is considered elite, and he has done a good job of connecting with White Sox pitchers since he first signed with the team. Grandal is the veteran version of Robert, in that he can affect the outcome in many ways.

Team Cy Young will be: Lucas Giolito
This might resonate as a little too much of a chalk pick, based on Giolito’s breakout season in 2019. But Giolito felt that the changes made in his pitching mechanics, mound mindset and work done in between starts going into ‘19 marked just the beginning of his push to excellence. Giolito now knows what he needs to do, but he must continue refining things, such as the change he made with the grip on his slider for ‘20.

There are others who will challenge Giolito, with the deep rotation being a good problem for the White Sox to have. But Chicago's Opening Day starter still is No. 1 in this rotation and has embraced that designation.

Bold prediction: An All-Chicago World Series
The White Sox will win the AL pennant and face the Cubs in a seven-game World Series.

You wanted bold, right?

In all seriousness, if there ever was a time for a crazy "L" Train Chicago World Series, this 60-game sprint would be it. Both teams should be very competitive, and with a few breaks ... well, this prediction might need more than a few breaks to play out.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.