Why the White Sox Will Win the A.L. Central


It’s a lazy couple of days here in Glendale, waiting for the final position players to report tomorrow. Mark Teahen and Alex Rios showed up today, but other than that it’s been a quiet long weekend here. Rain cut things short yesterday as everybody stayed inside for workouts and left early.

So while we’re waiting for Paul Konerko’s long-winded, oh so wise words, let’s discuss where the team is going this season.

As always, health will dictate how everything plays out. <—-That’s my way of saying “somebody is bound to get hurt, so I’ll blame my terrible prediction on that!”

Gotta cover your tracks, right?

In a nutshell, the 24-33 start last season is what went wrong. The Sox couldn’t put anything together and had to rely on a 25-5 run at the end of the first half of the season to salvage a respectable year. They had a taste of first place but faded again in September as the Minnesota Twins laid waste to any team that stepped on the diamond with them.

So what’s different this year that will help Chicago get off to a better start and get back to the promised land?

First, Adam Dunn. The left-handed slugger is a piece to the puzzle that has been missing since Jim Thome left town near the end of the ’09 season. It has yet to be seen where he’ll fit into the lineup, but he’d look awfully good in the No. 4 hole, right in between Alex Rios and Paul Konerko.

Dunn says he’s not completely comfortable serving as the team’s DH – he doesn’t know what to do with all the down time – but something tells me he’ll figure it out. Considering it was Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones DH-ing most of the time last year, this is a major upgrade, even if he has a sub-par year.

Gordon Beckham is completely jacked coming into camp. He hit the weight room hard this offseason. Will it hurt him or help him? Let’s put it this way: Beckham hit .252 with 9 homers and 49 RBIs in 2010 with a .317 on-base percentage….it can’t get any worse than that. Brent Lillibridge will be at second base in no time if Gordon gets off to the same start he did last year. Ozzie also said Beckham will be running more when he gets on base, so the top of the lineup could look like a 2008/2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-type team that just causes havoc all over the basepaths for opponents.

Those are the two X-factors on offense. I expect Konerko to have a reasonable decline from his .312/39/111 output in 2010 (mostly the 39), but MVP-caliber numbers like those are unnecessary with Dunn around, and there should be no questioning Konerko’s leadership as he stepped up to produce like that last year. Any talk of contract year-production from him is absurd.

To the pitcher’s mound, an encouraging day from Jake Peavy, throwing BP for the first time, gives White Sox fans even more reason to be optimistic.

It really appears as though general manager Kenny Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper are all staying true to their word to communicate effectively with Peavy and gracefully tiptoeing the line by being careful with him while still letting him progress as if he were to be ready April 1.

Obviously he won’t be ready for opening day, but in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, his services wouldn’t be required until April 10. Even if he doesn’t come back until May, five months of a healthy Jake Peavy could make the White Sox the biggest story of the year.

John Danks put up career-highs in wins, WHIP and strikeouts in 2010. And Danks, turning 26 in April, is only getting better. He’s my dark horse for Cy Young this year.

Gavin Floyd is in line with Beckham, in that his 2011 campaign can’t be much worse than its predecessor. A 10-13 record with a 4.08 ERA does no justice to how his season really went. Floyd’s ERA was above 5.00 through the middle of June, and here’s the weirdest part: He was as bad in losses as he was good in wins. His ten wins were accompanied by a 1.57 ERA and his 13 losses, a 7.38 clip. It wasn’t even close. He never allowed more than two runs in any win, and only once allowed less than three runs in a loss. Extra run support this year could really steal Floyd a few more wins.

Edwin Jackson didn’t seem to be comfortable in Arizona, because as soon as he came back to the American League he showed himself to be the same man who went 27-20 the previous two years. A 4-2 mark with a 3.24 ERA after joining Chicago must have helped Jackson’s mindset going into the offseason after posting a 6-10/5.16 mark with the D’backs. His numbers aren’t sparkling, but for a No. 4, maybe 5…you’ll take it.

Mark Buehrle is going to be Mark Buehrle, with special thanks to A.J. Pierzynski for re-signing with the club. Did you know Buehrle barely even studies hitters? He just goes out there and throws what Pierzynski puts down. True story. Now CHILL before you go judging him, he’s had a lot of catchers over the span of his career and always manages to stay consistent. He’s doing something right.

The bullpen was revamped over the winter with the departures of Bobby Jenks, JJ Putz and Scott Linebrink, three of the more stressful names that could flash up on the scoreboard with a lead hanging in the balance. At any given point in a game, Ozzie will not be afraid to pull the trigger and go to one of his flamethrowing southpaws in Chris Sale (12.3 k/9 in admittedly small sample size, but dude can throw), Matt Thornton (9.8 career k/9, career-high 12.0 k/9 last year), or Will Ohman (8.9 career k/9). Then there is sophomore Sergio Santos (9.8 k/9 in 2010) from the right side, with a couple spots up for grabs. Brian Bruney (8.8 career k/9) is healthy and amped up to have a chance to make the team, so be on the lookout for him, and hitters better be ready to react quickly once Ozzie’s bullpen is warmed up.

The White Sox have upgraded in many areas from last year, the bullpen and designated hitter being the major ones. If the team can stay focused and get off to a faster start, they won’t run away with the central, but they’ll have enough to finally take down the Twins for the AL Central crown.

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