The Sox hold a 14-11 record entering May and despite the defeat Friday, have been looking something like the team that had so much hype entering the year.
April was the month of Yermin Mercedes.
It was also a pretty decent 30 days for the White Sox.
Friday night’s 5-3 loss to Cleveland marked the end of the first month of the season. The Sox hold a 14-11 record entering May and despite the defeat, have been looking something like the team that had so much hype entering the year.
“It’s a good first step for a six-month season,” manager Tony La Russa said before the game.
Though a hiccup or two has occurred, there have been positive steps on both offense and the mound . Despite losing Eloy Jimenez for maybe the entire season and a slow start for reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, the Sox offense has lived up to its preseason billing.
Before facing Bieber, the Sox led the AL in runs per game (5.17), on-base plus slugging (.759) and batting average (.267), while compiling a league-best plus-31 run differential. After the game, the Sox chose to focus on the three runs they got against Bieber.
“Scoring three against one of the league’s best pitchers certainly doesn’t count in my mind as an offense that wasn’t taking good at-bats and making things happen,” La Russa said.
In general, the Sox made things happen in April. Rookie outfielder Andrew Vaughn said it’s a “special group” and has never been around a team like these Sox.
“Guys top to bottom, everybody here has the same mindset,” Vaughn said. “We want to win and winning is the most important thing. Going out there and picking up your teammates. If you have a bad at-bat, you know the next guy behind you has got you. It’s a really good feeling.”
Nobody has given the Sox, or their fans, more good feelings than Mercedes, who started the night hitting .423 and was attempting to become the fifth rookie in history to lead baseball in average entering the month of May. One of the most pleasant surprises in baseball, Mercedes has quickly become a fan favorite, as evidenced by the ovation he received after his second-inning single off Bieber.
Beyond becoming a cult hero, Mercedes has added a dynamic bat to a deep lineup and had one of the most memorable debut months of any player in Sox history.
“It’s incredibly impressive to watch,” Vaughn said. “He goes up there and he’s going to do damage every single pitch he sees. So, it’s pretty cool and it’s helping the team win. Everybody is trying to follow suit and get in there and take good [at-bats] and do some damage.”
The offense has been supplemented by a rotation that’s more than held up its end of the bargain.
Prior to Dallas Keuchel’s six-inning, four-run outing Friday, Sox starting pitchers led the AL with a 2.97 ERA. Carlos Rodon’s renaissance has been a highlight for a productive group of starters.
“It’s shaping out that we have a pretty good one through five,” pitcher Dylan Cease said.
On Friday, Keuchel was pretty good in five of his six innings. It was the four-run Cleveland third he’d like to have back, when he walked two and gave up three hits before regaining his feel for the rest of the night.
“I was very fortunate to go through six,” Keuchel said, “but very frustrated at the same time.”
As a team, there have been some frustrations to go with the generally good start.
The bullpen was expected to be one of the best in baseball but got off to a slower than anticipated start. Back in the dugout for the first time in a decade, La Russa, a controversial choice when he was hired, has had his decision-making and handling of pitchers questioned.
Obviously, drawing any conclusions after one month is foolish. There will be regressions and other peaks, but the Sox at least had a decent April that won’t make it harder for them to reach their October goals.
Shortstop Tim Anderson said the Sox are in a “great spot” despite missing Jimenez and Adam Engel. They can also improve.
“The first month was a good one,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we continue to build off this and learn from our mistakes this first month. Hopefully next month will be a lot cleaner and hopefully be better.”