So this is how this thing's going to go.
The White Sox and Twins both have All Stars at the top of their rotations and spent the offseason making numerous additions to their pitching staffs. The South Siders think Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel can be a 1-2 punch that gets them to the playoffs, while the Land of 10,000 Lakers envision José Berríos pitching them out of their postseason losing streak.
But if the season's first two games between these division rivals are any indication, the pitching can take a seat.
The race for the AL Central is going to be a Home Run Derby.
Max Kepler blasted the first pitch that left Lucas Giolito's hand into The Goose Island on Friday night, the first of two homers for him in that game. The Twins ended up hanging a 10 spot on the White Sox, somewhat dampening the months' worth of excitement in the build-up to the long delayed start of what was supposed to be their vault into contention mode.
With Nicky Delmonico talking about the White Sox hoping to "return the damage" they received in 284 losses over three rebuilding seasons, that phrase suddenly became a necessity if they didn't want to spend all of 2020's 60-game sprint to October staring up at the Twins.
Well, that's exactly what they did Saturday, returning the favor with a 10 spot of their own in Game 2. They hit five home runs, including three in the fifth inning, and scored four runs in both the fifth and seventh innings.
Of course, even in the losing efforts for both sides Friday and Saturday, there was power on display. Yoán Moncada hit a game-tying homer in the second inning Friday before the Twins regained their lead. Nelson Cruz, White Sox killer extraordinaire, drilled a three-run shot of his own off Steve Cishek on Saturday, making it a two-run game, ever so briefly.
Welcome to the race for Central supremacy. Have your tape measurers ready.
"It's going to be a dogfight, that's for sure," White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said after picking up the win Saturday. "I know we're looking forward to it, they're probably looking forward to it over there. Probably want to allow a little less runs the first couple games than what we've both allowed.
"They punched us in the gut early the first game, and then we came back and gave them a counter."
This is no surprise coming from the Twins, of course. They slugged their way to 101 wins last season, setting a new major league record with 307 long balls. A lineup as fearsome as they come got even scarier in the offseason, when they added perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, who's got four seasons with at least 33 homers on the back of his baseball card - not to mention that he's fared quite well against the White Sox in his career.
"That's one of the best lineups that any of us will see this year," Keuchel said of the Twins. "They won the division for a reason last year, and we're going to have to go through them to win this thing."
But the White Sox finally feel they have the firepower to match. They spent all "Summer Camp" talking up their own menacing murderer's row, a retooled lineup with new faces up and down the order to go along with the young core that broke out in such a big way in 2019.
Power wasn't the White Sox strong suit last year, even as home-run numbers soared around baseball, but Rick Hahn fixed that by injecting Edwin Encarnación, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and Luis Robert into the lineup, teaming their thump with the 30-homer power of Eloy Jiménez, José Abreu and, potentially, Moncada. Heck, even Leury García busted out the boomstick Saturday, with a pair of home runs.
"The power is just off the charts. I don't think I've seen this much power from a lineup that I've been on, ever," Keuchel said. "I know the Twins set the record for most home runs in a single season last year, but we rival them. I think we're just a lot younger."
Encarnación was part of the three-homer fifth Saturday, hitting a ball so convincingly far that the Twins' outfielders didn't budge. While no one's expecting him to have to put the lineup on his back and carry it, with all the help around him, he could emerge as something akin to the South Side version of Cruz, a veteran with a track record of consistent power production. Encarnación entered the shortened 2020 season with at least 30 homers in each of his previous eight campaigns.
He didn't bust out his patented parrot celebration for his first home run in a White Sox uniform Saturday, seemingly having more important things on his mind as he rounded the bases and pointed to the sky several times.
Even in a losing effort Friday, the White Sox showed their offense can bail out their pitchers, if needed. After Giolito was roughed up for five runs in the first two innings, the White Sox hitters matched that total against Berríos. Saturday, they were the aggressors. In two games, these two teams combined for 28 runs, 40 hits and nine home runs.
We knew the Twins could slug. Turns out the White Sox can, too.
"That's a really good lineup, one through nine," Twins starting pitcher Randy Dobnak told reporters after the game. "They're all pretty large human beings, as well. They're going to hit the mistakes you make, so it's all about being consistent and hitting your spots.
"That lineup's really tough, and they're going to be really good for years to come."
Forget about calling it a 60-game sprint. How about a 60-game slugfest?
White Sox, Twins race for AL Central crown will be season-long slugfest originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago