The beginning of year No. 3 of the contention window has arrived, and so far, the results of the rebuild are mixed.
On one hand, the White Sox made the playoffs in both of the past two seasons. This was the first time in franchise history that the White Sox found themselves in the postseason in back-to-back years. This was not solely due to expanded playoffs, either, as both of those teams had a win rate of better than 57%.
On the other hand, despite the regular season success, the White Sox are still seeking their first playoff series victory since the magical 2005 season. The 2-1 series loss to Oakland in 2020 and 3-1 series loss to Houston last October have left fans wanting more. Especially given all the seasons in the 2010s that the team had basically no chance of postseason success, this demand is justified.
Did the front office make the right moves to set the 2022 squad up for success against the best of the American League? Well, the offseason, like the first two years of the contention window, had mixed results. Though this was a high bar to clear, the starting pitching situation in 2021 certainly appears to be better than the rotation heading into 2022. Despite having a terrific bounce-back season, the front office decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Carlos Rodón. Instead, they simply let Rodón test the market, and Rodón ended up with San Francisco, at a rate just a bit higher than the QO. Other unfortunate factors that contribute to a probable decline in starting pitching quality include an unfortunate injury to Lance Lynn, while Dallas Keuchel seems to not have much left in the tank. Michael Kopech and Johnny Cueto should be able to cover some of those innings this season, the front office’s attempt at addressing starting pitching in the middle of a contention window left a bit to be desired.
The late trade of Zack Collins for Reese McGuire earns my seal of approval. Backup catcher was a need, and the White Sox seem to be the winner, at least on paper, of this backup catcher swap. Collins still has not proven that he can defend or hit well enough to earn serious playing time at the major league level. Meanwhile, though McGuire’s hitting value is similar to that of Collins, McGuire is a significantly better defender. FanGraphs loves the catching duo of Yasmani Grandal and McGuire, predicting that the White Sox will accumulate more WAR among catchers than any other team in the majors.
The supplement of Josh Harrison at second base along with Leury García has a wide range of outcomes, Harrison’s deal is affordable (guaranteed $5.5 million this year and can earn as much as $9.5 million in two years if the White Sox pick up his option). Harrison still appears to have some good baseball left in the tank at age 34, accumulating 1.5 bWAR and 2.1 fWAR in 138 games in 2021. While this deal has a couple of stereotypical “Reinsdorf transaction” traits, it has potential to be one of the bigger bargains of the offseason.
I have no complaints about the Craig Kimbrel-for-AJ Pollock trade. The only slight reservation is that the Dodgers are the ones who traded with the White Sox and not, say, the Marlins, but that alone is not a reason to worry. Considering the Dodgers are taking on all of Kimbrel’s contract, this was about as strong a return the White Sox could have hoped for.
So, 91 wins and another AL Central title seem reasonable for the South Siders. The race for the division should be a bit more eventful than it was in 2021, but division races rarely come that easily. This time around, the Tigers give the White Sox the most competition, showing that the beginning of their contention window is closer than many believed it to be. Early on in the season, it’s easy to imagine that the Tigers jump out to a lead. The Tigers hold a four-game edge on the South Siders on May 15, worrying many in the online White Sox community, but the early hot streak proves to be unsustainable. Ultimately, September 2022 comes nearly as stress-free as September did for White Sox fans in 2021, and the South Siders win the division by seven games.
Like they did in 2021, the White Sox enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the American League. The good news is that unlike last year, being the No. 3 seed means they get home field advantage in the first round (a best-of-three in the new 12-team format). That home field advantage makes a difference in a tight series victory over the Rays, as the South Siders avenge their 2008 ALDS loss to Tampa Bay. The highlight of this series is a go-ahead single in the seventh inning of Game 3 by AJ Pollock.
Then, in the ALDS, the White Sox face the Houston Astros for the second straight year. That series plays out entirely different this time around, with Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease pitching back-to-back masterpieces to open the series. From there, the White Sox ride a big performance from the offense to seal it in Game 4 to advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2005.
The magic runs out in the ALCS, as the Toronto Blue Jays stay hot, and the reliable White Sox pitching is unable to keep up with Vlad Jr., who has a 1.250 OPS during the series. That gets the Blue Jays to the World Series, and just more than a week later, the Blue Jays win the World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers.