How they got there: White Sox prove resilient

October 4th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The White Sox rebuild is complete.

OK, in all honesty, the rebuild will not be considered complete or a true success until the White Sox win one World Series title. And this line concerning the rebuild probably was employed last year after the South Siders reached the playoffs, albeit in a 60-game season, for the first time since 2008.

They’ve taken another step with their first American League Central crown since that same season 13 years ago thanks to Thursday afternoon's 7-2 victory over the Indians in Game 1 of a doubleheader. It’s a division Chicago had locked down basically since the start of July, despite numerous significant injuries to deal with throughout the campaign.

“Their resilience. The next-man-up mentality. The way they just pick each other up and grind it,” said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams concerning what impressed him most about the 2021 squad. “These are all cliches.

“They are cliches when you can only talk about them in theory. When you see it in practice, consistently, then it just becomes your reality and your philosophy and your culture.”

Here’s a look at how the White Sox got to this point.

How they were built:

Amateur Draft: Tim Anderson, Gavin Sheets, Zack Collins, Seby Zavala, Carlos Rodón, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Jace Fry, Romy Gonzalez, Danny Mendick, Adam Engel, Andrew Vaughn

International signings: Luis Robert

Free agents: José Abreu, Liam Hendriks, Dallas Keuchel, Brian Goodwin, Yasmani Grandal, Evan Marshall, Billy Hamilton

Trades: César Hernández, Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Leury García, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Craig Kimbrel, Reynaldo López, Ryan Tepera, Ryan Burr

Waivers: José Ruiz

Key acquisition: The White Sox clearly were a starting pitcher short during the 2020 three-game Wild Card Series loss at Oakland, so the addition of Lance Lynn in an offseason trade with Texas made an immediate difference. But don’t overlook the importance of Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López in the overall pitching equation. Rodón was nontendered in December, brought back via a one-year deal in February, threw a no-hitter in April and was an All-Star in July. López’s move to the bullpen became an important step for his career and for the team.

In reality, limiting this category to two or three players isn’t fair to all those who contributed with that plethora of injuries besetting this team. So look at Gavin Sheets, Brian Goodwin, Jake Burger and, of course, Yermín Mercedes as a few more moves for the team’s overall good.

Managerial decision: Tony La Russa used the entire White Sox roster, with reasons ranging from injury to keeping players fresh for October to staying true to his managerial form and style. That idea held true even in Spring Training, when La Russa didn’t want to let any of his players sit too long without playing. So Mercedes started at designated hitter during the second game of the regular season in Anaheim and finished 5-for-5 with four RBIs. Mercedes actually had hits in his first eight at-bats of the season.

The Mercedes situation didn’t end perfectly, as he was sent back to Triple-A Charlotte and even retired via social media for a day before coming back to the Knights. But the White Sox probably wouldn’t be where they are today if not for Mercedes’ excellence over the first month and a half of the campaign.

Defining season stretch: The White Sox were a model of consistency. They never won more than six in a row and never lost more than five in a row, and they never had a losing month (with September/October to be played out).

New York took three straight from Chicago at Yankee Stadium from May 21-23, but the White Sox quickly bounced back to win seven of eight. Houston one-upped the Yankees by winning four straight from Chicago at Minute Maid Park from June 17-20, but the White Sox rebounded by winning 13 of 20. Their three-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field from Aug. 6-8 represented a changing of the guard in Chicago baseball, with the White Sox taking the Cubs' place at the top.

Breakout player: Rodón and Dylan Cease both deserve mentions in this category.

Rodón showed signs of excellence early in his career after being taken third overall in the 2014 Draft, but the southpaw was limited to 42 1/3 innings total over the last two years. In ’21, Rodón was a bona fide AL Cy Young Award candidate until shoulder discomfort slowed him at the end of the season. He set a career high with 181 strikeouts over 127 2/3 innings

Cease, who told in the offseason that he was disappointed with his 2020 season, worked diligently with new pitching coach Ethan Katz beginning shortly after Katz was hired. He ranks third in the AL with 212 strikeouts.

Calling card: At full strength, which the White Sox are pretty close to, the team has power potential from one through nine throughout its lineup. Chicago has hit 101 homers since June 30, the third most in baseball during that time, after hitting only 72 in its first 78 games. The White Sox have a 71-25 record when homering, 39-6 with multiple homers and 13-38 when going homerless. But they also have a starting rotation capable of matching any other playoff team, with that front four almost certainly being comprised of Lucas Giolito, Lynn, Rodón and Cease.

Memorable moment: The Field of Dreams contest played in Dyersville, Iowa, on Aug. 12 surpassed the major expectations going into the event. The Yankees rallied for four two-out runs in the ninth off closer Liam Hendriks via home runs from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but after Seby Zavala coaxed a one-out walk from Zack Britton, Tim Anderson connected for an opposite-field stalk-off blast into the corn in right. The White Sox announced their presence on the national stage with this 9-8 win, for those who had previously missed that announcement, with Anderson rounding the bases to the backdrop of Iowa fireworks.