The Chicago White Sox ran away with the American League Central title last season.
Their roster has a familiar look as they open the season on the road against the Detroit Tigers, who might be more unrecognizable on Friday after a spendy offseason that overhauled the team.
Chicago, which finished 2021 with a 93-69 record, was eliminated by the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series, three games to one. The White Sox believe they have the pieces in place to maintain their hold on the division and advance to the World Series.
Even the loss of starting pitcher Lance Lynn for the first month or two of the season hasn’t dampened expectations. Rather than taking the mound on Opening Day, Lynn will be recovering from right knee surgery. The White Sox looking to plug the hole by agreeing to a deal with veteran Johnny Cueto earlier this week.
“We have a very good team. We have depth despite losing key players,” Chicago right-hander Lucas Giolito said. “So we just keep pushing forward and we know that we are really good with what we have.”
Giolito will start the opener coming off a season in which he went 11-9 with a 3.53 ERA in 31 starts.
Chicago added an outfielder late in training camp, trading reliever Craig Kimbrel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for AJ Pollock.
“Obviously, AJ has the ability to help us in right field, but he’s made his career in left and center as well,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said.
A full season of Eloy Jimenez could be the White Sox’s biggest upgrade. He appeared in only 55 games last year due to a ruptured pectoral tendon sustained in spring training. He has the ability to challenge for the home run title.
“I feel back to normal, and everything is going well,” Jimenez said.
Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson will miss the first two games while serving a league-imposed suspension for bumping an umpire during a brawl against the Tigers last season.
Following a lengthy rebuild, the Tigers are aiming for the playoffs. They were much improved last year in their first season under manager AJ Hinch, finishing 77-85.
They’ve made several upgrades in an effort to achieve their first winning season since 2016. Detroit signed free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to anchor the starting staff, and he will get the Opening Day nod.
Rodriguez, a 19-game winner in 2019, went 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA for the Boston Red Sox last season. He was sharp in spring training and pitched five-plus innings in his last preseason start.
“I had my command right away, and I got all my pitches right now,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what makes me proud about spring training.”
The Tigers made two other major additions to fortify their lineup. Shortstop Javy Baez, who finished last season with the New York Mets, will anchor the infield defense and provide more thump in the middle of the order. He had 31 homers and 87 RBIs in 138 combined games with the Chicago Cubs and the Mets last year.
Tucker Barnhart was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds, and he will get the bulk of the starts at catcher.
Those additions have been overshadowed by the anticipation of what Spencer Torkelson can do in the majors. The top overall pick in the 2020 draft, Torkelson earned the starting job at first base. He had 30 homers and 91 RBIs in 431 minor league plate appearances last season.
“Coming into this camp, I saw a ton of confidence,” Hinch said of the 22-year-old Arizona State product. “I saw a guy who was in control of his at-bats. I saw how he handled a couple of tough at-bats, I saw how he handled a little bit of success. As the talk started around him, it didn’t faze his work or his attitude.”
The Tigers were expected to have another prized rookie in the Opening Day lineup, but center fielder Riley Greene fractured his right foot late in spring training.
-–Field Level Media