In the context of sports, the word “narrative” gets thrown out all the time. When the White Sox won the World Series nearly 13 years ago, one of the narratives was that the team embraced the culture created by Ozzie Guillen and believed in each other, and that’s why they won.
Narratives are important storytelling tools, but they’re also often a crutch on which we rely too heavily. What if the White Sox lost the 2005 World Series? What if A.J. Pierzynski struck out in that ALCS at-bat? What if Tony Graffanino didn’t boot that ground ball? Would those things no longer be true? Did they players not buy into Ozzie’s culture or not believe in each other after all?
Narratives exist to help make news interesting. Sometimes, it’s easy. In baseball, particularly so, and the beginning of the season is ripe with them.
The narrative of the 2018 White Sox isn’t easy, though. And not because the team is uninteresting or bad (though the latter may very well be true), but because it’s actually too obvious. It’s the same as it was last year. The White Sox narrative entering the season is about progress.
I went back and re-read my Opening Day column from last season and it said that exact thing. The best indicator of success for the White Sox was seeing enough progression from the young building blocks that you could envision them being part of the next contender. And guess what? Nothing has changed.
Some of the expectations are different, sure. Yoan Moncada has gone from hyped prospect waiting to debut to someone we’re eager to see put his skills on display over the course of a full season. Tim Anderson is still oozing with potential, but has now become someone with a lot to prove after a disappointing season. Avisail Garcia went from albatross to maybe reliable long term. Nobody had heard of Nicky Delmonico one year ago and now he’s an Opening Day starter who the White Sox hope could maybe stick around for a while. Carlos Rodon went from a potential top-of-the-rotation starter who just needs to stay healthy and prove he can put together sustained success to … you know what? Scratch that last one.
The individual expectations are different, but the goal is the same: At the end of the season, the White Sox need to be a year closer to contention than they are today.
There’s plenty to focus on, even if the odds say the White Sox playoff drought will reach 10 seasons. The growth of the young players already here: Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez. The progress of Rodon and Anderson, both of whom somehow, given the influx of new prospects, seem like they’ve been around forever at this point. Watching Delmonico, Yolmer Sanchez, Adam Engel, and Matt Davidson compete to prove they’re worth rostering at the major league level. Seeing if Garcia can prove 2017 wasn’t a fluke, and appreciating the professional brilliance of Jose Abreu.
Maybe the narrative changes. Maybe the enthusiasm that seems prevalent throughout the team is more than just pre-season excitement and translates into on-field success. Maybe Moncada is a superstar right now. Maybe Giolito’s an ace. Maybe Eloy Jimenez comes up sooner than later and is the second coming of Giancarlo Stanton. I read somewhere once that you can’t predict baseball. So who knows?
The reality is that the White Sox are probably going to lose more games than they win in 2018. There will be stretches where watching on a nightly basis feels like a chore, and where it feels like a 10-year playoff drought may as well me 30 years. Baseball season is long, and it feels even longer sometimes when you root for mediocrity or worse.
I’m not going to tell you wins and losses don’t matter. If that were the case, why watch? I’ll never recommend rooting for losses in hopes of a higher draft pick. But as the White Sox likely march toward their sixth consecutive losing season, focus on progress. Maybe we’ll be scoreboard watching late into the summer one day soon, but for at least one more year, the narrative remains the same.
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