Leading up to Opening Day, we stressed the importance of a strong start for the White Sox on a fairly frequent basis. It's obviously important for every team to avoid burying itself, but it felt especially pertinent for this club, what with the...
Hot seat: In the last year of Robin Ventura's contract, the White Sox hired cromulent managerial candidate Rick Renteria as his bench coach.
Lagging attendance: White Sox fans who invested in the exciting offseason of 2014-15 received first-degree burns from the exceptionally boring baseball, and they'd have to be won back with a better product.
Big picture: While Rick Hahn tried to accelerate the timetable two winters ago, the 2016-17 window was the idea all along, which made some of the failures of the previous season extra concerning. If the Sox handcuffed themselves out of impatience and limped to another losing record, they'd have to seriously entertain blowing it up afterward.
I think we can say the White Sox have achieved that strong start. They're 10 games over .500 after their second consecutive series sweep, and they gained three games on the Kansas City Royals, who were swept by the Angels over the latter set. That certainly takes the heat off everybody, whether it's the manager, the fifth starter or the right fielder.
The middle item is more difficult to gauge, considering the Sox opened with such a road-heavy schedule and the usual iffy April weather. However, if the surge in South Side Sox Facebook page likes are any indication, White Sox fans want a baseball team to believe in, more so than other years spent in contention.
It's not like the Sox can let up now, since they close out April with a tough series in Baltimore, followed by a division-heavy month of May. But should/when they hit a minefield, they're now equipped to absorb it.
Over at FanGraphs, Owen Watson reached the same conclusion, which he phrased in the headline, "The White Sox have gotten the start they needed." That may actually be a bit of an understatement, because they've more than doubled their chances.
The White Sox have now won at least 15 games in April with pitching, timely hitting and great defense. It’s early, and the playoffs are just a glimmer in some faraway imagined future, but Chicago is playing like, well, a very good baseball team. That doesn’t mean everything, but it means something, and it’s always better to have a great April than to have a mediocre or bad one. There will be regression. Mat Latos will come down to earth. The offense might not be as clutch in the future as they have been. But Abreu will pick it up; Rodon will probably even it out. A month ago, the idea of the White Sox making the playoffs was contingent on them meeting myriad above-average expectations. Since then, they’ve done nothing but check those boxes, one after the other.
To update the post, the Sox have now won at least 16 games in April, and they have a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs (47.4 percent chance of making the divisional series).
And compared to FiveThirtyEight, that's on the pessimistic side. From this set of projections, the average simulation has the White Sox finishing at 91-71, with a 66-percent chance of making the playoffs, and a 46 percent chance of winning the division. That represents gains of nine wins, and double the probabilities.
Basically, it only took three weeks for the Sox to turn the preseason projections on their heads. If you're an optimist in Vegas, you'd bet on those odds. If you're scarred, then you'll chalk it up as a small sample size phenomenon that makes such systems meaningless so early in the season. Either way, both sides should be having fun. Even if you think the White Sox can't get the postseason without adding more help, they may have already gone on the run to convince themselves to buy in further.