CLEVELAND -- The earliest meeting in history between the Cubs and the White Sox comes at a difficult time for the South Siders.
Some of the luster of a solid first month has been stripped away from the revamped White Sox as key injuries -- almost too many to count -- have begun to catch up with the team.
With Adam Eaton the latest key performer to catch the injury bug, a once-torrid White Sox offense has cooled off under the weight of three Opening Day-starters going on the disabled list.
Despite their maladies the White Sox continue to show just how different a team they are from last season. On the eve of a four-games series against their crosstown rivals, Dayan Viciedo’s three-run, ninth-inning home run lifted the White Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sunday. The drive snapped a four-game losing streak and gives the White Sox even more faith they’re headed in the right direction even in the midst of an obvious transition year.
“We feel like (general manager Rick Hahn) and (Kenny Williams) have done a good job of (making a transition) while also keeping us competitive,” pitcher John Danks said. “Losing is part of it. Every team is going to have a losing streak. It’s just the best teams minimize them and counter that with prolonged winning streaks. There’s certainly no panic in here. We know we need to play better than we have, but it’ll come.”
The White Sox continue their five-game “road” trip on Monday with two games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The two then venture across town on Wednesday to finish the series.
Whereas a season ago the White Sox roster was largely built upon veteran position players, the 2014 campaign is much different. The White Sox have followed the Cubs’ lead in heading toward a youth movement, though the one on the South Side is more accelerated given the strong starts by first baseman Jose Abreu and center fielder Adam Eaton.
One of seven players on the DL, Chris Sale, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Monday, is excited about the team’s new direction. He likes what he has seen from Abreu and Eaton as well as third baseman Matt Davidson, one of the team’s top prospects at Triple-A Charlotte.
Sale can see the White Sox, who were rated by Baseball America as having the No. 9 ranked group of players 25 or younger, having sustained success for years to come.
“We’ve got some young players, but they all bring something different and good to the table,” Sale said in April. “I know Davidson didn’t make the ball club, but he’s still a hell of a ballplayer and he’s going to be a key piece to the puzzle, if not this year, next year and years beyond that.”
Last week, Hahn said the White Sox would have to think about upgrading their roster were they to stay in contention. He and Williams have their eyes focused on the future with the team picking No. 3 overall in next month’s amateur draft. But if the offense could maintain its torrid pace and a number of other factors went their way the White Sox couldn’t easily bypass a chance to reach the postseason.
But little has gone right for the White Sox of late.
Eaton, who missed five games last month with left leg issues, went on the DL on Saturday with a right hamstring strain. He joined Avisail Garcia, who is out for the season.
Sale’s return to the mound from a flexor mass strain has taken a little longer than the team first predicted. And the White Sox learned they would be without Nate Jones for at least another six weeks after he undergoes surgery on Monday.
Viciedo said dealing with injuries is tough, but the White Sox have handled it as well as can be expected.
“That’s a bad thing to go through,” Viciedo said. “But the guys who have come in have stepped it up and done their job and that’s a good thing. That’s what team is all about.”
Despite the troubles, Danks likes what he has seen. The combination of energy from the team’s new players and the health from other key figures gives the White Sox a better chance of weathering the storm of injuries than they had when they lost 99 games in 2013.
“It’s draining whenever you’re hurt and not able to play,” Danks said. “I feel like all around guys are excited. We still feel we have a chance to win every ballgame and I think that has shown.”