How they got there: Young stars propel CWS

September 29th, 2020

CHICAGO -- The 12-year playoff drought for the White Sox has officially come to an end, as manager Rick Renteria’s crew clinched a 2020 American League postseason berth on Sept. 17 with a 4-3 victory over the Twins.

This season unofficially marked the transition from three years of rebuilding to the beginning of a competitive, contention phase in the AL Central for the South Siders. But the results in this abbreviated 60-game campaign turned out even better than expected.

“We had no idea how long that middle stage was going to take,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “We were happy that we were moving into it, and we were looking forward to moving out of it, so you get to that next, final stage of winning, of competing for championships. But we just had no idea how long that middle stage was going to be.

“Certainly, it seemingly only lasting a matter of months or so before we found ourselves in a position to compete for a championships is a real good result for us all. But it doesn't change the fact that we know our work's not done, we haven't won anything yet and that really the goal was to put ourselves in a position to win repeatedly and do this on an annual basis. There's still work to be done to get to that level, even if this potential middle stage is moving along as quickly as we probably would've hoped it would.”

How they were built:

Amateur Draft: RHP Matt Foster (20th round, 2016), RHP Codi Heuer (sixth round, 2018), LHP Garrett Crochet (first round, 2020), SS Tim Anderson (first round, 2013, 2B Nick Madrigal (first round, 2018), INF Danny Mendick (22nd round, 2015), OF Adam Engel (19th round, 2013), LHP Jace Fry (third round, 2014), LHP Aaron Bummer (IL) (19th round, 2014), LHP Carlos Rodón (IL) (first round, 2014)

International signings: CF Luis Robert

Free agents: LHP Gio González, C Yasmani Grandal, C James McCann, 1B Jose Abreu, DH Edwin Encarnacion, RHP Evan Marshall, IF Yolmer Sanchez, LHP Dallas Keuchel

Trades: RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Dane Dunning, RHP Reynaldo López, RHP Dylan Cease, Closer Alex Colomé, OF Jarrod Dyson, OF Nomar Mazara, OF Eloy Jiménez, 3B Yoán Moncada, OF Leury García (IL)

Abreu could be considered on the international side, although the Cuban native signed as a free agent and then came back to the team this past offseason through free agency. The addition of Robert and the trades for Moncada, Giolito and Jiménez began to build the core of this first-place squad.

Key offseason acquisition: Keuchel

This category also should include Grandal, and if we are getting technical, the return of Abreu via a three-year, $50 million deal. But Keuchel has been a stabilizing force in the rotation, while holding that same role as a veteran clubhouse leader since agreeing to a three-year, $55.5 million deal.

It was Keuchel who talked to his team and then the media about showing up and being ready to go every day following a 5-1 loss in Detroit that dropped the White Sox to 8-9 and into fourth place in the AL Central at the time. The White Sox posted a 27-16 record since that night. Keuchel also provides a solid one-two force at the top of the rotation with Giolito, although Keuchel has been dealing with back soreness throughout the season.

Managerial decision: Young players making a difference

Let’s rename this section "Organization decision," with 11 White Sox players making their Major League debut in 2020. Much has been written about Robert’s prowess, with the center fielder emerging as one of the AL Rookie of the Year favorites despite a September slump, but Renteria also has given a chance for Foster and Heuer to pitch high-leverage relief innings in important games. The same holds true for Dunning, who moved from the Tommy John rehab trail to becoming the team’s third or fourth starter in the playoff rotation. Madrigal has shown off his elite bat-to-ball skills and his strong defense at second since joining the lineup, and the high-octane relief work of Crochet can’t be overlooked.

Defining season stretch: Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field

As a team, the White Sox launched a single-month franchise-record 54 home runs in August so this weekend on the North Side simply rates as a subsection of these 31 power-packed days. The White Sox hit six home runs in a Game 1 win over the Cubs, followed by five more homers in a Game 2 victory and then Abreu’s solo homer in a Game 3 loss. Abreu hit six for the weekend, and from his last three at-bats Saturday and his first at-bat Sunday, he homered in four straight trips to the plate.

That weekend gave a full view of the offensive prowess within this lineup. A 2-1 loss to Yu Darvish on Aug. 23, when Moncada grounded out against closer Jeremy Jeffress with the bases loaded to end the game, also demonstrated how this team could stick with other top teams in playoff-style baseball.

Breakout player: Heuer/Foster

There’s a strong possibility neither Heuer nor Foster would have broken camp with the team out of Spring Training back in March. In fact, it’s a near-certainty. With this shortened-season opportunity, Heuer has thrown scoreless baseball in 14 of his 17 appearances while holding right-handed hitters to a .156 average. Foster has fanned 26 of the 84 batters he has faced and has tossed 15 scoreless outings among his 18 appearances.

Calling card: Potent offense

There really doesn’t appear to be a weak spot in their lineup from one through nine, although the White Sox starting pitching, bullpen and defense have been close to as dominant. But the club ranked first or second in the AL in six offensive categories.

Memorable moment: Giolito’s no-hitter

The White Sox ace hurled the 19th no-hitter in franchise history on Aug. 25 at home during a 4-0 victory over the Pirates. Giolito struck out 13 among his 101 pitches and walked Erik González on four straight to open the fourth as the only baserunner. Adam Engel made a slick sliding catch in right off González’s line drive to end the no-hitter. Only two no-hitters have been thrown this season, and they both were from Chicago baseball teams (Alec Mills for the Cubs on Sunday in Milwaukee).