The White Sox expected to give their fans plenty to cheer about last year, and they believe they are finally ready to do that.
Chicago hosts the Cleveland Indians in the home opener on Friday, hoping to deliver on the promise of last season when some big moves had the team eyeing even bigger things.
Eaton was off to a strong start, going 7 for 11 with an RBI through the first three games. That was a big change from a year ago, when struggled in a big way early on and took about five weeks before he drove in a run.
He has also been playing right field over the shaky Avisail Garcia with Jackson in center, tightening the outfield defense. Garcia, the designated hitter for the first three games, still figures to see time in right with Eaton and Melky Cabrera rotating into the DH spot.
The White Sox figure to be tested by a Cleveland team that also has eyes on a playoff spot after struggling early and coming up short down the stretch a year ago. The Indians, rained out at home Thursday against Boston, boast one of the deepest rotations and best managers in baseball.
Can they close the gap in the AL Central on World Series champion Kansas City?
That hinges on whether they can score after ranking 11th in the American League in runs, 13th in homers and stranding more runners than any AL team but the New York Yankees.
The season did not go the way the White Sox anticipated. The early returns this time are at least encouraging.
“There’s a certain amount of confidence that’s in there with all these guys coming together,” manager Robin Ventura said. “They seemed to hit it off pretty early in spring training as far as getting work in, getting the right kind of work in, gaining confidence. Until you win games, it only goes so far. But so far, we like the way it feels.”
The White Sox thought they had a playoff contender a year ago after a series of high-profile acquisitions, only to stumble to a 76-86 record.
Now, after finishing fourth in the AL Central and posting their third straight losing season, they hope to deliver on the promise of 2015.
They send John Danks to the mound Friday, with Cody Anderson starting for Cleveland, after opening with three wins in a four-game series at Oakland. The only defeat came when Carlos Rodon got outpitched by Sonny Gray in a 2-1 loss Wednesday, so it was a solid start for a team that never could pick itself up after struggling early on a year ago.
The offseason additions of third baseman Todd Frazier, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, and outfielder Austin Jackson seem to be helping. They have added to the batting order and defense while providing leadership qualities that were missing last season. The veterans have also taken some of the load off key returning players such as Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu.
“You’ve got veteran guys,” Ventura said. “You’re starting to learn how to stay with an at-bat, how to take an at-bat late in the game. They’ve been through a lot of those things. For young guys, you can learn from it. … And they’re willing to take the time and talk baseball. These guys get along fairly well. I think that’s part of it — the trust factor.”