November 27, 2014
Gordon Beckham, a late arrival to the party, noticed it right away.
A completely different vibe in the clubhouse.
Youth. Cheer. Determination.
“We’re an optimistic club. That’s the best way I can put it,’’ said Beckham, who until last week had missed the promising start while at Class AA Birmingham recovering from an oblique strain that sidelined him at the end of spring training. “There is a lot of optimism with the team, with who we have on the team, with where we’re going in the future. Whether the future is now or later, I think we’re in a great position to do good things.’’
Last time Beckham was in the clubhouse was at the end of a brutal 2013 season. That team was last in the league in hitting, and it lost 99 games. The future was the college football season.
This team, which is 14-14 after a tough 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers, seems to take every game to the last out as it did Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
“It’s a lot easier to go through the day and game to game when people are hitting,’’ Beckham said. “People weren’t hitting at all last year so it felt really dead in here. In my short time here so far everyone has hit well and that’s infectious. That’s good. It’s totally, totally different than last year.’’
Adam Eaton’s energy, Jose Abreu’s power, Marcus Semien’s flair for late-inning dramatics and Tyler Flowers’ and Alexei Ramirez’s unexpected bundles of hits have changed everything. The lineup has been so good that it’s not hard to see this team playing meaningful games in August and September if the pitching — which was supposed to be the team’s backbone — gets healthy and untracked.
“We’re evolving,’’ executive vice president Ken Williams said. “We believe we have a very good, exciting, talented core coming through. We believe they can win, but when exactly a young team believes themselves they can win is something they’ll show us. We won’t tell them ‘you’re ready to win.’ They’ll show us, ‘OK, we’re ready to win.’ Right now we’re really just happy with the day-to-day effort they’re going about, putting their best foot forward every day.’’
General manager Rick Hahn turned the roster over with an eye on contending in 2015 or ’16 while not closing the door on 2014. It’s not even May, so Hahn is another 30 games away from assessing his team, which had a chance to beat Justin Verlander but couldn’t cash in on good scoring chances in the seventh and eighth innings. After right fielder Dayan Viciedo couldn’t catch Austin Jackson’s deep fly ball in the ninth, Bryan Holaday scored Jackson with a two-out bunt single against Ronald Belisario (1-3).
It was a reminder that there will be growing pains and that a turnaround won’t happen overnight.
“Sometimes it happens very quickly,’’ Williams said. “Sometimes it’s slower. The good thing is we think we’ve made some strides, and you hand it to Rick and his staff for turning things over very quickly.’’
All captain Paul Konerko knows is it sure beats last year. This is why he came back for one more.
“I’m thrilled for the team, for the organization [after we] were going downhill,’’ said Konerko, who flied out against Joe Nathan as a pinch hitter to end the game. “We need to turn it around and get going back the right way, and we’re doing that. There’s a lot of work to be done. We’re not even 30 games in. It’s a very young season, but you’ve got to start somewhere. We’re not bad.’’
NOTE: Chris Sale (flexor strain) played catch again Tuesday and is expected to throw long toss Wednesday. He is eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend but won’t start until next week at the earliest.