There is reason for optimism on the South Side as the White Sox get ready for the 2010 campaign.
General Manager Kenny Williams brought in some new faces over the winter in the hope of erasing the bad memories of a 79-83 finish last year.
Manager Ozzie Guillen – always good for a notable quote or two during the season – didn’t even wait for camp to break this year, saying he wants people to hate him and his team. For Ozzie’s sake, here’s to hoping it’s for the same reason that fans love to hate the Yankees and Red Sox…and not because Chicago is 17 games out of first by the trade deadline.
The Minnesota Twins are the favorites to repeat as AL Central Champions, but the pressure will be on early as they open a new outdoor stadium (keep tabs on how many of those April games get postponed due to weather), and native-son Joe Mauer tries to meet expectations on his monster, new 8-year contract extension. In other words, it’ll be a perfect time for the Sox to start strong without the spotlight directly on them.
Health questions aside, the Sox’ pitching staff is one of the best in the division…if not all of baseball. Mark Bueherle takes the mound in Monday’s opener against the Indians for his franchise-record eighth Opening Day start. If Jake Peavey can revert back to his Cy Young-winning form of 2007 (with the San Diego Padres), then this is a formidable one-two punch.
The reliable Gavin Floyd and John Danks are in the three and four spots and give the White Sox three veteran starters (Bueherle is 31) who aren’t even 30 years old yet. The shortest leash will be on Freddy Garcia who anchors the number five spot (for now), as he tries to shake off a dismal Cactus League showing, and make his second stint with the White Sox a lasting one.
Closer Bobby Jenks didn’t exactly light it up in Arizona early this spring either, but he settled in over his last few appearances and declared himself ready-to-go…bank on 35-40 saves. J.J. Putz who spent most of last year on the very crowded-DL with the New York Mets, provides some bullpen depth as the new setup man – a role he was reportedly unhappy with in Flushing after spending three seasons as the Mariners closer. Should he struggle, look for lefty Matt Thornton to resume that role as Scott Linebrink’s struggles from 2009 have carried over into the spring.
Offensively, Guillen is happy to have a team that is built to manufacture runs. New acquisition Juan Pierre (Dodgers) should get on base a ton and rack up the steals. 2009 Rookie of the Year candidate Gordon Beckham switches from third base to second to make room for the reliable Mark Teahen, who’s new-in-town from Kansas City. It will be interesting to see what Beckham does offensively for an entire season, as he put up impressive numbers after his June 4th debut last year, and whether playing out of position again (he’s a natural shortstop), affects him.
In the middle of the lineup, first baseman Paul Konerko – who’s in the last year of a five-year deal – provides the pop as he plays for a new contract. Carlos Quentin seems to have recovered from a foot injury that kept him on the shelf for 63 games last year and a return to his 2008 numbers (.288/36/100) is critical.
Alex Rios remains an enigma…has he already reached his full potential, or will he shine now that Jermaine Dye is gone and he gets a chance to play every day again?
Andruw Jones, on his fourth team in as many years (!) is in the DH slot for now. Expect to see veteran Mark Kotsay get his share of at-bats in that role while occasionally spelling Konerko and getting some action in the outfield.
Future Hall-of-Famer Omar Vizquel who rankled some die-hards by donning fellow-Venezuelan Luis Aparicio’s retired #11 (with Aparicio’s blessing) will back-up stud, shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
While the Wild Card will likely come from the American League East this season…if all goes well, the White Sox will win 89 games. The biggest question is… will it be enough to prevent looking up and seeing the Twins come October 3rd?
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Written by Pete Copeland