I knew I was being overly optimistic when I made my personal schedule for player previews, but it was fun to give it a shot. I also think the first week or so of the season isn't too late to finish that project either. However, opening day is here and it's time to start talking about the season ahead, what I think this team will do and where they will finish.
Let's face it, 2013 was a slap to the head to White Sox fans. We had come to expect a certain level of competitiveness from the team. Even though I'm not a life long fan, the team had never been quite as bad in all my time following them and oddly enough, the White Sox hadn't been as bad as 2013 since 1970, almost my life time. Seriously, one of the worst White Sox teams in my life time.
So, going out on a limb here and saying the White Sox will not be as bad as last year. I know, bold. How much better? That is a little harder to figure.
First the positives, giving me hope:
1. The starting pitching.
Chris Sale and company are going to be a decent bunch. After the ace, Quintana, Paulino, Danks and Johnson should keep the White Sox in most games. It was funny hearing a guy on the radio talk about how many wins each pitcher will get. I thought we've moved beyond that as a measure of effectiveness and performance. Regardless of individual wins, this group seems to be solid, if not flashy. I also like that if one falters or gets hurt (please not Sale) Rienzo is available.
2. Rick Hahn's smaller off-season moves.
Adam Eaton definitely impressed in spring training and I know the regular season is a different animal, but Eaton seems to be the best center fielder the White Sox have had for a long time, not to mention lead-off hitter. And even though Mike Davidson didn't make the big league club, he's a young prospect that baseball folks actually seem to like, a rarity in the White Sox farm system for many years that is finally changing. In addition to the off-season moves, the in-season moves which brought Leury and Avisail Garcia to the White Sox provided some much needed youth to a team that aged very quickly in 2013.
The negatives, giving me pause:
1. Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn
Yes, Adam Dunn pretty much did what he was expected to do last year, hit home runs, strike out a lot and get a lot of...oh wait, he DIDN'T get a lot of walks, at least not for him. He got 76 walks last year, boosting his OBP to .320, or the second lowest in his career. He's a liability in the field and if the three outcome batter, where walks are considered one of the outcomes is a walk is called the Thome, then perhaps we need another three outcome designation, the Dunn where the outcomes are home run, strike out, other out because that is the reality.
As far as Konerko is concerned, meh. The local media is making a lot of him not being part of the starting line up for opening day, but as Bruce Levine reports, he turned down the job. He's one of the few guys who gives the fans a case of the warm and fuzzies, he's a glorified mascot. Before long he'll be sitting in the Bullpen Bar, signing autographs and living off the World Series grand slam for years to come. Just let it go already.
2. Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez
Where have all the flowers gone? As recently as last year, these were the guys that were going to provide a strong core to the middle of the White Sox defense. And while not completely their fault, they did their fair share to make the White Sox had one of the worst defenses in all of MLB last year. I'll pillory them individually later this week, but suffice it to say I'm ready to see Leury Garcia and Micah Johnson.
3. Third base and Catcher
Both were holes last year and both are still holes. Matt Davidson might be the answer, but I'm getting the feeling his development as a third basemen is going slower than expected. Of course, have him start, have a better glove for the late innings and not have a mascot for that 25th spot...
Catching. Tyler Flowers. That is enough to give one pause.
The Big Questions: The answers could be fun or could make for a long year
There are more questions, like the newish bullpen, but those three players, especially Abreu and Eaton will have a lot to say about the White Sox fortunes this year. I'll look more closely later, but at the very least, I'm excited to see them all play, at least for now.
Ok, so what does it all mean? When looking at the roster, the numbers, the competition? As far as the AL Central goes, I think the Detroit Tigers got a little worse this year, but not enough to bet against them. The Royals are yet again projected to do better, but I take the Indians and Francona over the Royals and Yost. From there, I think White Sox settle in at fourth and the Twins at the bottom. All things considered, it looks like this:
2-3 Royals and Indians, fight it out.
Whichever team of those two (my guess is the Royals) that struggles fights out the for 3-5.
Honestly, the White Sox could finish third, and yet still be well under .500, which is where the final record will probably rest. It will be an improvement, but not to the point of contention. 77-85.
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