Brendan Quealy: Opening Day is a tale of two teams

Mar. 27—When the first pitch is thrown at about 4:10 p.m. Thursday and the regular season officially gets underway for the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox, the two major league squads sharing the same field will already be heading in opposite directions.

As a longtime White Sox fan who now lives and works in Michigan, I have seen my Southside pride slip away into despondency and an oxymoronic apathetic anger over the — to put it politely — poor management of a talent-laden roster that was seen by many MLB experts as a team capable of winning multiple World Series titles at the start of this decade.

Now, the 2024 White Sox will be lucky if they can avoid losing 100 games for the second season in a row. And I don't expect any luck to befall this organization any time soon, which is no less than ownership deserves and far, far less than the team's devoted fanbase deserves.

The Tigers, on the other hand, are driving toward a bright horizon and might just be the next Detroit team to fire up the whole state if that success reaches Lions-eque levels this season. I mean, if all goes well for the Tigers — and the Red Wings avoid a late-season collapse — 2024 could see three professional Detroit teams make their respective postseasons.

I recently wrote about how I'd jumped on the Lions bandwagon, but I'm not sure if any amount of personal disdain for my favorite childhood team could make me swap my White Sox hat for a Tigers cap. I guess I'm still a little salty about that brawl back in 2000.

In its preview of the American League Central Division, the Associated Press said the 2024 Tigers are "more hopeful than recent years," "feeling optimistic about what appears to be a plus pitching staff and some promising players" and "could make the playoffs for the first time in a decade."

The same preview was, in all honesty, kinder to the Southsiders than it should have been, given that the franchise's offseason has been marred by rumors of owner Jerry Reinsdorf moving the team to Nashville if he can't get a billion dollars of taxpayer money to build a new stadium just 30 years after building the new Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field.

"It was a tough 2023 for the White Sox, who lost 101 games. It's unclear if 2024 will be much better," the preview read. "The White Sox hope that pitchers Chris Flexen and Erick Fedde can solidify the back end of the rotation while the offense has a handful of proven offensive players in outfielder Luis Robert Jr., first baseman Andrew Vaughn, outfielder/designated hitter Eloy Jiménez and third baseman Yoán Moncada."

Despite their immense talent, calling Robert Jr., Vaughn, Jiménez and Moncada "proven" is more than a stretch. They all still have a lot left to prove, and Robert Jr. has been the only one to show satisfactory growth.

The Tigers feel like the White Sox of about four years ago. A wealth of young talent brimming with exciting potential that could see the team have a sustained run of success if things go right.

That's the big key ... "If things go right."

Southpaw Tarik Skubal, who won four straight games and gave up just three runs over his last five starts to end last season, gets the Opening Day nod against Chicago's homegrown lefty Garrett Crochet. Skubal will be the first Tiger homegrown talent to pitch Opening Day since the legendary Justin Verlander in 2017. Crochet will not only be getting his first Opening Day start, but it will be his first Major League start after the flamethrower moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

Skubal's appointment as the Tiger's No.1 signals that he is seen as one of baseball's top up-and-comers on the mound. That makes sense given how strong he finished the 2023 campaign, allowing one run in 23 innings with 36 strikeouts and just two walks over his final four starts to earn AL Pitcher of the Month honors. The AP said Skubal's "changeup, once the missing piece in his power-centric arsenal, became one of the nastiest offspeed offerings in baseball, with a 50.6 percent whiff rate, according to Statcast."

Skubal will be followed by a pair of veteran righties in Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty. Flaherty was a big free-agent splash in the Tigers' offseason, and the franchise picking up the former St. Louis Cardinal was another sign that the organization believes this team has the talent to win and win now. Add into the mix the ultra-talented Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, outfielder Parker Meadows and second baseman Colt Keith, who signed a guaranteed deal worth at least $28 million before facing his first pitch in the majors, the Tigers are one of the most exciting young teams in all of baseball.

That was what many once thought of the White Sox. Now, they are considered to be one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory.

Hopefully the Tigers — for the sake of the organization and the fans — can avoid falling into that same category, because I wouldn't wish the fall from grace we White Sox fans have experienced on any others. Even if I still am salty about that brawl back in 2000.