Winning ways against Red Sox, Yankees a sign of things to come for rebuilding White Sox?


Whether or not a 4-3 week against two of baseball’s best ends up being a turning point in this process, is it at the very least a sign of things to come from this rebuilding White Sox franchise?

An above-.500 August transitioned to a four-game split this Labor Day weekend against the Boston Red Sox, the winningest and highest-scoring team in the game, as much a favorite to win this fall’s World Series as anyone. Sunday’s decisive 8-0 victory finished off a week that started with a series win against the New York Yankees in the Bronx, something the White Sox hadn’t done since the World Series season of 2005.

With ace-like pitching from Carlos Rodon, the excitement-generating arrival of Michael Kopech, signs of progress from Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, the rapid assemblage of a futuristic bullpen and a more prolific offense than we’ve seen through the vast majority of this 2018 campaign, some are already dubbing this a turning point in Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort. And maybe we’ll look back one day and be able to definitively call it just that.

But even if the turning point is still down the road a bit — there’s reason to expect 2019 could feature the same lack of a pennant chase that 2018 does — this sort of competing with baseball’s strongest teams, two of the game’s perennial contenders, is what the planned outcome is for this whole thing.

“It just shows what kind of a team this team’s going to be over the next couple years,” said James Shields, the veteran arm who’s watching this all unfold around him. “It all starts with the starting pitching. Our starting pitching, for the most part, did really well this series, and if we can continue that — and our hitters, their approach has been great over the last three to four weeks. We’re going to try to finish strong here and build off of it for next year.”

As Shields mentioned, the most promising development has been the starting pitching, which has been mostly terrific of late. Rodon has been one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last two months, and even his first non-quality start since the end of June on Saturday has his season ERA at 2.89 and his ERA since the beginning of July at 2.19. Kopech has allowed just one run in his 11 innings as a major leaguer. Giolito has a 2.84 ERA in his last four starts. And Lopez had one of his finest outings of the year this week, holding the Yankees to one run in seven innings.

There’s reason to be excited about a new-look bullpen. After trading away Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan and Xavier Cedeno, the relief corps has gone from veteran-heavy to young in a snap, adding Ryan Burr, Ian Hamilton, Caleb Frare and Aaron Bummer to the mix. Hamilton and Frare debuted in this series against the Red Sox and each logged a 1-2-3 inning.

But perhaps the most drastic difference has been the offense, which has banged out 10 hits in 11 of the last 20 games and scored a total of 33 runs in the seven games against the Yankees and Red Sox. Daniel Palka homered for the 20th time this season in Sunday’s win. Tim Anderson set a new career best with his 18th homer. Matt Davidson is one away from 20, and Yoan Moncada is three away. Add the injured Jose Abreu and his 22 bombs to that group, and the White Sox could end the season with five members of the 20-homer club.

The team’s improved hitting of late has created some significant space between its first- and second-half numbers, with the team’s collective second-half OPS of .744 nearly 40 points higher than its first-half mark.

“The second half has just been a whole different team. Same guys, things are just clicking more consistently,” Palka said. “We are good, despite what the record is. We are playing our best right now, and it’s showing off with these series records.”

“A lot of good things are happening,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we can keep it up for the future and keep playing and keep having fun. Going out there and seeing what happens.”

If things go according to plan, then the “hardest part of the rebuild” will be in the rear-view mirror. It’s these White Sox who will show up at the start of the 2019 campaign, along with a full season of Kopech, the expected arrival of Eloy Jimenez and the beginning of an ever-increasing wave of top-ranked prospects washing ashore on the South Side.

One week near the end of a losing season might not be the defining moment of the rebuild, especially considering that many of the players in this current group — but certainly more than the number at season’s beginning — aren’t expected to play starring roles on those planned championship-contending squads of White Sox future. But going head to head and coming out on top against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, playing this kind of baseball, that is the plan.

“I think for all of us, the team, myself, the whole organization, we should feel really good about how they’re going about doing their business,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think we’ve talked about hopefully having them settle in and get a feel of who they are and what they’re capable of doing.

“All these guys are stepping up a little bit.”

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