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All In. Chicago White Sox 2011 Season Preview

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.

Please stay healthy. Please.

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

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Is this the year? Chicago Cubs 2011 Season Preview

Will Matt Garza lead the Cubs to the promised land?

For the last 10 years of my life I’ve heard this question asked at the beginning of the MLB season: Is this the year the Cubs finally win the World Series?

The short answer here is “probably not”.

After coming off of a horrific 75-87 year in 2010, the Cubs are looking to rebound with the additions of starting pitcher Matt Garza, first basemen Carlos Peña, and relief pitcher Kerry Wood. But are these newcomers enough to get us a division title?

The answer, once again, is “probably not”.

Notice a trend here? General Manager Jim Hendry seems to have dug a hole for the Cubbies in his recent years with the franchise. Currently, we are in a bind financially due to the overpaying of players like Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Aramis Ramirez. Thankfully, most of these contracts are up at the end of this season. That means no more double play balls from Aramis Ramirez. No more .260 seasons from Kosuke Fukudome. Hopefully in 2012 we can witness Pujols in Cubby blue. But we can all dream right?

But this isn’t about next year. This is about this year.

On the bright side, the Cubs took a 14.6 percent decrease in payroll this season, the first cut since 2005. Also, (not to celebrate an injury) the injury to Cardinals’ ace pitcher Adam Wainwright only helps the rest of the division. Now we only have to deal with Chris Carpenter, who is 35 years old and isn’t the most durable. A division title is definitely attainable if all things go our way.

Another roadblock that stands in our way is the Milwaukee Brewers, who seemed to benefit the most from the Wainwright injury. They are debatably the favorites in the NL Central, after adding pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum through trades. Offensively, the Brewers pack power with first basemen Prince Fielder and outfielder Ryan Braun, in addition to third basemen Casey McGehee and Rickie Weeks, who combined for 52 home runs last year.

On another note, the Cubs have a bright future in shortstop Starlin Castro and outfielder Tyler Colvin. Castro, at 20 years old, hit .300 and got 31 doubles and 5 triples. Colvin hit 20 home runs as a rookie last season. Hopefully the sophomore slump doesn’t affect either of these guys, or the Cubs will be in big trouble.

We should be seeing a lot of this from Castro

The X-factor for the Cubs has to be Aramis Ramirez. A former 38 home run hitter, the Cubs success seems to revolve around his play. When he’s on, the Cubs are on. Recently he hasn’t been hitting at all, which seems to correlate directly to the Cubs lack of success in the past few seasons. In a contract year, Ramirez needs to get back in form if he wants a job next season or he will be remembered as one Jim Hendry’s many questionable signings.

Pitching is still a question mark. Will Carlos Zambrano remain inconsistent? Will Matt Garza rebound from his less-than-mediocre spring training play? Great pitching for the Cubs seems to be as rare as great quarterbacking for the Bears. Garza should be able to easily dominate in the National League, considering he’s coming from the stacked American League East, where he had to face teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees more than most pitchers. Moving down to the bottom of the rotation is where the Cubs will likely struggle the  most. Randy Wells is coming off of a 8-14, 4.26 ERA season. 2008 first round pick Andrew Cashner will anchor the fifth spot in the rotation, after the Cubs released the other fat, angry Venezuelan. Cashner possesses a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a hard breaking slider that resembles a curveball. He’s a former closer and pitched in relief for the Cubs last season. It will be interesting to see how he pans out as a starter at the major league level.

The bullpen may be a pleasant surprise for Cubs fans this season. Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, and rookie Marcos Matteo all look like solid middle-inning options. The acquisition of set-up man Kerry Wood certainly helps. Carlos Marmol may end up as one of the game’s best closers at the end of the year, barring a lack of run support. If the Cubs somehow make a playoff push, I can see him with upwards of 50 saves. Realistically, he’ll get around 30-35.

Overall, 2011 looks like it’ll be year 103 in the longest drought in sports. As a Cub fan it hurts me to say it, but sorry to have to break it to you: we aren’t winning it this year. To make it all up I made a predictions list below:

2011 Predicted Record: 72-90, fifth in the central

Cubs’ MVP: Starlin Castro

X-factor: Aramis Ramirez

Home run leader: Carlos Peña

Breakout player: Jeff Samardzija

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