The 2021 White Sox entered the season with high hopes for a deep playoff run. Coming off the 2020 season where they went 35-25, and with more young players developing, the team had every reason to believe that they could compete with the best teams in the American League. New manager Tony La Russa brought his Hall of Fame resume to the team, and things were looking up as spring training started.
Personnel-wise, the Sox added veteran outfielder Adam Eaton, starter Lance Lynn, and closer Liam Hendriks. The anticipated growth of players such as Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, the return of Michael Kopech, and the debut of Andrew Vaughn added to the excitement. Expectations were sky-high for the South Siders, and with good reason. The rebuild has transformed the team into being a perennial contender. A new era has begun.
2021 White Sox: Assessing The First Half
With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, how are the White Sox doing? As Sox fans can tell you, the 2021 White Sox have worked through several devastating injuries and managed the to earn the best record in the AL. The club stands at 54-35 at the break, despite injuries to Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Adam Engel, and Nick Madrigal, among others. They are percentage points better than the Astros, who stand at 55-36.
So, how have they done it? The biggest factor in the Sox first-half success has been their starting pitching. Lynn has combined with Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Dylan Cease to form the best rotation in the AL. This helped overcome a bullpen that has been shaky at times. Additionally, the offense is sometimes sporadic but still ranks among the league leaders in runs, on-base percentage, batting average, and other categories. Ironically, the offense has done this while ranking near the bottom of the league in home runs.
All in all, given the injuries to key players, and the inconsistency of the bullpen, the White Sox performance in the first half was excellent. The team will start the second half of the season with an eight-game lead in the AL Central, the biggest lead of any division. It is hard to complain about that.
Building On Success: What To Look For In The Second Half
If the 2021 White Sox are to play deep into October, a few things need to happen. The club will definitely need their starting pitchers to continue to pitch well. While the starters rarely go deep into games, they give the team a chance to win virtually every night. Especially of interest will be Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease. Rodon has been sensational, and fans will be watching to see how he holds up after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Cease is still trying to find consistency, and, until he does, he will be relegated to the back of the rotation. He needs to pick up his game if he hopes to pitch in the postseason.
The bullpen will definitely need major improvement. Michael Kopech can be a major weapon for manager Tony La Russa, but they will need more than Kopech. Hendriks has been effective in his closing role, even earning a spot on the All-Star team. However, unless the starters magically start going seven innings or the lineup starts hitting home runs, the bullpen needs to get it together.
Offensively, the Sox will get some help soon, in the person of Eloy Jimenez. The Silver Slugger winner suffered a serious injury in spring training and has not played yet this season. He is currently rehabbing at AAA Charlotte and should rejoin the Sox by the end of July. He would be a big boost to an offense that has struggled at times against quality pitching. Additionally, the Sox hope to see Robert back sometime in August. The Gold Glove center fielder has big-time power potential and would bring more energy to the lineup. Having a healthy Jimenez and Robert would be a big boost to the offense.
While Jimenez and Robert could provide a much-needed spark, the 2021 White Sox still have two major question marks (excluding the bullpen). The first of these is second base, and who will play it on a daily basis. Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick have been playing in Madrigal’s absence. They have done an adequate job so far, but neither is a proven everyday player. The Sox are actively looking elsewhere for an everyday second baseman for the rest of the season. The two prime targets appear to be Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar and Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier. It remains to be seen whether the Sox will be able to acquire either of these players. However, either of them would be an upgrade over Garcia and Mendick.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal suffered a serious injury earlier this month and is expected to miss at least four to six weeks. That timeline seems optimistic. The Sox may consider acquiring a catcher for the stretch run and possibly the postseason. Ironically, Grandal had just started to hit with power and drive in runs. If he is unable to return this season, that would be a significant loss for the Sox.
And The Fun Begins
Sox fans anxious to see postseason play will almost certainly get their wish this season. The AL Central is theirs for the taking. The rotation should be able to carry the club at least that far. After that, though, many questions persist. Do they have enough hitting to beat playoff-caliber teams? Will Jimenez and Robert be able to reclaim their batting strokes? Will somebody in the bullpen step up and help build a bridge to the closer? Will they find an everyday second baseman? Will Grandal be able to return?
These questions will be answered in the next two and a half months. It promises to be quite a ride for South Side fans. The 2021 White Sox have led their fans on a rollercoaster throughout the season. There is no reason to think that the rest of season and the playoffs will be any different. Let the fun begin.
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