I’m writing this as I’m watching the White Sox destroy Cleveland 14-0 (and yes, it’s only the 4th inning). Who cares that they lost Lebron last summer, Cleveland sucks anyway, right Joakim? Back to the White Sox though, I’m feeling really good about this season. To be honest, I’ve felt really good about every season since the 2005 World Series, but the Sox have come up short. This year things will be different. We are going to win the division, win the pennant, and win another World Series…..Right???
That prediction may be a little farfetched, since high expectations have doomed the Sox since ’05, the AL East is STILL stacked, and the West always has a couple of contenders. But still, I’m feeling good.
Jerry Reinsdorf finally gave Ken Williams the green light to pursue a big name free agent this offseason, and the green light to spend all his money (if it helped the team). Williams delivered by signing Adam Dunn to a 4 year, $56 million contract, not to mention re-signing free agent Paul Konerko for 3 years, $37.5 million and free agent A.J. Pierzynski for 2 years, $8 million. Pierzynski statistically may not be the best catcher out there, but he’s a clubhouse, glue guy that everyone on the team loves. Plus, without him, we’d still be complaining about a World Series drought like those little bears on the north side. The Konerko signing was huge. Add him to a lineup that now features the reliable get on base guy Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Quentin, and the Sox should compete for league lead in runs scored.
That crazy line up isn’t the reason why I’m feeling so good about the Sox. It’s the pitching. Mark Buerhle started his 9th Opening Day game today, and for years he’s been the Sox most durable, reliable, and defensively awesome pitcher. He doesn’t get a lot of strike outs (4.24 per 9 innings last year) and uses a fast ball or a change up 90% of the time, yet he’s still very effective and finishes games in about 20 minutes. Following him in the line up is John Danks, who is arguably the BEST pitcher on the staff. After a great year last year (over 150 K’s in 200 IPs, posting a 3.82 ERA) Danks is in his contract year and is expected to improve those numbers. If he can keep the velocity up and be a little more consistent and effective with his pitch usage, I believe he’ll compete for the Cy Young. The underrated Gavin Floyd may be this years breakout player for the Sox. Fans know what to expect from Floyd, especially considering his “worst” year saw him win 17 games with a 3.77 ERA. Increasing his ground ball percentage to 50% last season helped him alleviate the home run problem he’d been having in previous seasons. Edwin Jackson is probably going to throw like 900 innings this year, which he can handle. Whether or not he actually helps the Sox is dependent on Don Cooper’s ability to help him relax late in games and keep control of his stuff. If he manages to keep his ERA around the 4.00 mark, pencil the Sox in for a 1st place Central finish.
All that without mentioning the money man, Jake Peavy. In a season that ended for him just as he was getting hot and dominant again, Peavy was the piece missing that left the White Sox just short of the Central title. Starting this season on the 15 day DL (probably will miss around 4 starts), it should take him a little to get into game shape. Assuming he averages around 6 innings for the first couple of months, and pitches around 150 for the whole year, he should still be fresh come playoff time. That’s why he’s the X-Factor this year. He has the potential to be any staff’s number 1 pitcher and that’s one hell of an asset to have in the playoffs. Throwing a 4 man rotation of Buerhle-Danks-Floyd-Peavy would defiantly compete with the Phillies for the toughest rotation. If Peavy can get healthy, watch out.
So the rotation is there. What about the bullpen? Former fan favorite (now on Ozzie Guillen’s hit list), Bobby Jenks switched his sock color this offseason, and is no longer with the team. Matt Thornton will most likely assume the closer role, with stud rookie (although he pitched in 21 innings last year) Chris Sale setting him up. Sale is a 6’5″ freak of nature, who could compete for Rookie of the Year if he pitches enough innings. Solidifying the bullpen is former Minnesota Twin, Jessie Crain. Don’t know much about him, but he pitched in the Twins bullpen last year that was flat out nasty, even without Joe Nathan. Once again, on paper, this is another part of the Sox that is very, very solid.
A guy that’s hit .260 his first two years in the league is my MVP? Yeah, I think Gordon Beckham will be that good for the Sox. He’s always been a guy that has pounded doubles into the outfield like they were nothing, and this season some of those doubles may turn into triples, or even homers. The clutch gene is alive and well in this kid, and at the 2 spot he’s going to get on base and wait to be driven in by that crazy 3-4-5-6 stretch the Sox boast. He’s one of the most important pieces this year, and if he’s on, it’s going to be a really good summer.
So to sum things up, here are all my picks. Hopefully the “good guys” can put something special together this season.
2011 Predicted Record: 90-72, 1st in Central
Sox MVP: Gordon Beckham
X-factor: Jake Peavy
Home run leader: Adam Dunn
Breakout player: Gavin Floyd