The Chicago White Sox open their 2021 season Thursday night against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, and while they’ll make their debut as favorites to win the division, many questions remain surrounding the South Siders.
An eventful offseason brought about several major changes to the team, including the firing of Rick Renteria and the hiring of manager Tony La Russa. The White Sox also made several signings adding Adam Eaton, Billy Hamilton, Liam Hendriks, Lance Lynn, Andrew Vaughn and Jake Lamb to the roster.
With high expectations for success this season and these changes come challenges, and we have five of the biggest questions that the South Siders face this season:
1) How Productive Will the White Sox Be Without Eloy Jimenez?
Chicago’s stacked line-up will have a notable name missing as slugger Eloy Jimenez rehabs a pectoral injury that he suffered during spring training, and questions remain as to which players can work to fill that void.
According to White Sox GM Rick Hahn, the outfielder is expected to miss five to six months.
In an attempt to fill the void, La Russa is giving Leury Garcia a shot on Opening Day, and he is expected to alternate between Garcia, Andrew Vaughn and Adam Engel when he returns from injury this month.
Jimenez batted .296 during last year’s abbreviated 2020 season and hit 14 home runs with 41 RBI and the team will certainly need to step up production at the plate until his return.
"We have high expectations,” first baseman Jose Abreu said Wednesday via interpreter Billy Russo. “We have a very good team, and even though I'm going to miss my ‘Big Baby’ for a few months, I think we're going to be good because we are a talented team and this is an exciting moment for us."
2) Will Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson Carry Over Last Season’s Successes Into This Year?
Abreu’s work ethic this offseason should bolster the hope of White Sox fans that he’ll be able to carry over his success as reigning AL MVP into this year.
After playing nine innings Friday in Phoenix against Milwaukee, Abreu returned to Camelback Ranch and practiced for an hour, according to pitching coach Ethan Katz.
Clearly baseball experts are bullish on Abreu’s chances to repeat his success, as Baseball Reference projects the slugger to hit 30 home runs this season.
As for Tim Anderson, it’s not out of turn to believe there won’t be plenty of swagger and bat-flipping from the shortstop this season, as he’ll look to build off the shortened 2020 season where he batted .322 and led the league with 45 runs.
If Anderson puts up similar numbers in a full-length season, his success will undoubtedly have an effect up and down the line-up, and would continue to push his name higher in MVP voting, as he finished seventh last season.
3) Is the White Sox Pitching Staff Where it Needs to Be?
It’s no surprise the White Sox pitching rotation was ranked second best in the American Leagueby MLB.com. The top of the rotation is certainly strong, with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn rounding out the top three.
Two big question marks remain, with Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon getting the first crack at rotation spots.
Cease has had a great spring training and is looking like he’ll make a solid option as a fourth starter, thanks in large to the work he’s put in with new pitching coach Ethan Katz.
However, questions remain about Carlos Rodon, who has struggled to stay healthy in seasons past.
These spots will be key for the White Sox, because if Cease and Rodon can stay healthy, even with or without Michael Kopech returning to form, it would mean this pitching staff could move from great to lethal.
4) Can Yoan Moncada Find His 2019 Form?
Yoan Moncada had a breakout year in 2019, batting .315 and mashing 25 home runs in his second full season with the White Sox, and after a COVID-impacted 2020 season, the question remains: can he do it again?
After battling COVID-19 and complaining of lingering lethargy last season, Moncada seems to have regained his swagger, and no, we’re not talking about the suave moves from the music video he released earlier this year (which he’ll use as his walk-up song).
During Friday’s spring training game against the Brewers, Moncada crushed a home run completely out of the park and onto an adjacent playing field, dissipating any doubt we’ve had about whether or not his power has returned.
5? Is Tony La Russa to Blame if Things Go South?
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said his greatest regret was firing Tony La Russa in 1986, and 35 years later, Reinsdorf has seemingly made amends by bringing in the skipper to manage the up-and-coming club.
That gesture raised a lot of eyebrows amongst fans and some baseball observers, most of whom questioned the move. The move also provoked questions among players who genuinely loved Renteria as manager.
La Russa has won three World Series titles as a manager and his plaque is sitting in Cooperstown for a reason, but only time will tell if the 76-year old has what it takes to lead this specific team in this specific era.