CHICAGO -- The White Sox have one of the best teams in the American League, at least on paper, if not in all of the Major Leagues.
And with the 2021 campaign beginning on April 1 in Anaheim, with Lucas Giolito on the mound, the White Sox know they are good and know their ultimate goal of winning a World Series title clearly is in reach under the guidance of new manager Tony La Russa.
“Tony and his staff have created a great environment,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “The new coaches have melded very well with the pre-existing staff. The relationships with the players seem strong. The communication has been great. We're eager to get going.”
“Everyone feels great,” White Sox catcher Zack Collins said. “We’re extremely confident in the five guys we’re going to throw out there on the mound, and with those guys pitching every day the way they have been, we have a chance to beat anybody.”
Here’s a deeper look at the White Sox as they prepare to begin what they hope is a special 2021 campaign.
What needs to go right? Stay healthy.
This theory holds true for any prime contender, but it’s an idea reinforced after the punch to the gut taken by the South Siders with Eloy Jiménez out of action for the next 5 to 6 months. The left fielder suffered a rupture of his left pectoral tendon, which will require surgery. The lineup is potent enough to withstand a loss to even one of its best run producers, but an area such as the starting rotation might not be as fortunate if something were to go wrong.
Speaking of the rotation, getting production from the back end of the starting five also becomes key for a successful White Sox squad. Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn match up with most front threes, but Chicago wants Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón to continue pitching as effectively as they have during Spring Training. Michael Kopech will start in the White Sox bullpen but also could move to the rotation at some point in ’21.
Great unknown: Can Andrew Vaughn play left field?
When 2021 Spring Training began for the White Sox, the question was whether Vaughn could handle the designated hitter’s role with just 245 Minor League plate appearances on his resume -- none above High-A Winston-Salem -- and only work at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., last season. But Jiménez’s unfortunate injury opened up the outfield possibility for the 22-year-old, who is the No. 1 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline. Vaughn made his left field debut against the Brewers in Cactus League action, handling four chances flawlessly, and has the makeup and seemingly undervalued athleticism to handle the defensive spot on at least a semi-regular basis.
Team MVP will be: José Abreu
A healthy Yoán Moncada looks primed for a big season and quite possibly will put up better overall numbers than Abreu. But regarding Abreu’s importance to the lineup as its top run producer and a true clubhouse leader, he is the most valuable player on this team. He also happened to be the 2020 AL MVP during the seventh season of his tremendous career.
Team Cy Young will be: Giolito
Giolito is in the best place of his career -- physically, mentally, mechanics-wise and confidence-wise. He threw a no-hitter against the Pirates last season and took a perfect game into the seventh inning of the White Sox victory over the A’s in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series. But Giolito will top both of those achievements this season, as the right-hander not only will be the team’s Cy Young but will also win the 2021 AL Cy Young. And if you think that Giolito talk is bold ...
Bold prediction: See you in the ALCS
For the first time in franchise history, the White Sox will reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons. But getting to the playoffs is not enough for this group. The bullpen figures to be one of the best in baseball and the starting strong, one through six, with the return of Rodón and Kopech. Although Jiménez might not come back until September -- assuming he does at all -- the White Sox have financial room to maneuver, according to Hahn, if they need to make an outside addition. Those maneuvers might come well before the Trade Deadline.
The Twins and Yankees also look to be very strong, but as mentioned above, the White Sox are right there with them. Last year’s bold prediction had the Cubs facing the White Sox in the first all-Chicago World Series since 1906, and while both teams made the playoffs, both exited in the first round. So, the ALCS advancement is as bold as I’m going to get here.