While it is not mandatory for the Chicago White Sox to open the 2023 campaign with a roaring start, early success would help soothe the lingering angst over last season's disappointment.
Following consecutive postseason berths, the White Sox entered 2022 with thoughts of the World Series. What unfolded instead was a season ravaged by injuries and marked by underachievement by missing out on the playoffs.
This Opening Day comes with the White Sox stewarded by a new manager in Pedro Grifol and reinforced by new faces around a familiar core. Chicago opens the season on the road against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros on Thursday, seeking not only a fresh start but a means to create distance from a season in which precious little went right.
"We're creating new energy, we're creating a new culture and I think it's led by the right man as well," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said. "I think the biggest thing is communication and getting guys prepared to continue to try to be successful and putting us in the right spot to be successful. The communication has been great."
Grifol understood the need to start anew. Prior to the close of spring training, he implored fans to give these White Sox a chance without tying this roster to past failures.
That evaluation process will entail throwing support behind Anderson, catcher Yasmani Grandal, third baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert Jr. while also wishing each a healthy campaign.
It will start with White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, who was second in AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2022, on the mound. Cease (14-8, 2.20 ERA in 2022) finished with a career-high 227 strikeouts while emerging as the leader of the rotation last season.
The Astros counter with left-hander Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA in 2022), who takes over staff ace duties from the right-hander who bested Cease for Cy Young honors. Justin Verlander signed with the New York Mets as a free agent during the offseason.
Valdez led the AL with 201 1/3 innings last season and went 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 18 strikeouts over two World Series starts against the Philadelphia Phillies this past fall to earn the No. 1 rotation spot.
Houston opened spring training with minimal roster concerns. The Astros will enter Opening Day with All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve sidelined for two months after a right thumb fracture during the World Baseball Classic and with right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (elbow) and left fielder Michael Brantley (shoulder) also unavailable.
The Astros are equipped to deal with the delayed returns of McCullers and Brantley, both of whom could be activated sometime in April.
Losing Altuve is cause for greater concern, not only because of his production but also due to his place atop the lineup. Mauricio Dubon and David Hensley are the top candidates to fill the void, but the Astros are remaining flexible.
"Initially we're going to let our guys play a little bit," Astros general manager Dana Brown said. "We have some internal candidates that we're excited about so we're going to watch them play.
"We have engaged outside the organization but right now we're very comfortable with what we have in the organization as we continue to talk to other teams."
--Field Level Media