White Sox home opener will start their greatest challenge of the season

White Sox home opener will start their greatest challenge of the season
The man of the hour // Scott Strazzante,Tribune photo

The past two years, the White Sox have been really good about getting off to a promising and encouraging start.  In both 2010 and 2011, the first game of the year was a showdown with a Cleveland Indians team that seemed more or less unconvinced that Spring Training had ended, and was violently dispatched to the delight of the fan base.

Even though last year's debut was on the road, and the actual home opener was a cold and rainy affair against Tampa, the Rays were in the midst of hopeless stretch that led many to speculate it would be a rebuilding year for them, and Edwin Jackson struck out 13 batters in the best start of his life.

In each triumph, the White Sox did something that was in no way indicative of how the rest of the season would play out.  Jackson had and continue to has a good slider, but certainly didn't induce 15 swinging strikes with it at any other point in the year.  The 15 runs the Sox scored on Opening Day 2011 wasn't just the highest run total they're moribund offense would post all season, it was the most by 5.  After shutting out the Indians to start 2010, Mark Buehrle suffered through one of his worst years, led the league in hits allowed, and hasn't even managed to flip a single ball through his legs for an out since.  Not one.

Each year has also featured a mid-September home series against the eventual AL Central champions, who both put a stamp on the season with emasculating sweeps.

So perhaps it's better then that the White Sox begin the home season against the runaway favorite to take the division.  At least if the Sox have flukey success, it will be of great use to them.  The Sox didn't win the 2011 AL Central for a littany of reasons, but going 5-13 against the Tigers certainly didn't help, just like going 5-13 against the Twins.  The last time the Sox posted a winning record against their division, they won the division.  In general, breaking down season, games, or even plays, to one-on-one matchups is asking to be misled, but the White Sox really have to beat the damn Tigers to make any noise this season.

It's not like other teams are going to do it for them; Detroit rolls into town one bad inning short of being undefeated, with an offense that's lived up to the hype so far, leading all of baseball with 40 runs in 6 games.  The defense has lawn ornament range, and 6 games isn't a whole lot of games, but 40 runs is a lot of runs, man.  If the White Sox are an enigma, incapable of being distinguished as a fringe contender or a rebuilding team, this series will at least pair them up with one of the former and check if there's a resemblance.

Even more educational will be the pitching lineup; Jake Peavy will make the Home Opening start, and Chris Sale will start the 3rd game with Gavin Floyd in the middle.  A healthy (relatively) Peavy and Sale the starter aren't weapons the Sox had to turn to last season, and it's well-advised to turn to new blood since the Tigers hit .319/.376/.498 against White Sox pitching last season.

For his part, Peavy is continuing to hint that his skills are diminished post-surgery without committing the baseball player cardinal sin of openly addressing it.

"We'll see what level I can get back to. I'm not conceding by any means that I'm going to be average because I can't have that mentality. I'm not going to give into that. I still feel I can be a very good major league pitcher."

"Can I put up numbers like I once did?" Peavy said. "I don't know. It's to be determined. I still think that I can. And I'll do everything I can to do that. If I am healthy, I'll be looked at as one of the better guys on the staff."

Without knowing the context, or how many time Jake was asked whether something was wrong, it's hard to know whether this is him being firm as he can in the face of repeated inquiries, or a case of...

Jake: I should probably be fine

Reporter: Is there reason you wouldn't be?

Jake: Well, we'll see

Reporter: What's going on here?

Jake: Most likely nothing of significance

In either case, 100% recovery isn't something that's been boasted, and with good reason.

To counteract that, Detroit will not have Verlander available for this coming weekend, #95mph2 starter Doug Fister is already on the DL, and in his stead will be Max Scherzer, Adam Wilk, and Rick Porcello.  Scherzer should be made to face every left-handed hitter in the stadium, Wilk is soft-tossing lefty control artist farmhand, and Porcello is the extreme groundball guy in front of a terrible defense that scouts still believe can bloom into something greater.

There's opportunity here from a hitting standpoint, and it would behoove the Sox to take advantage.  The identities of teams transform so much throughout the year, it's hard to pretend that a series in April will have lessons to teach about even June, but if the Sox are going to make such a fuss about needing a fast start, they should make their hay against teams that actually matter.  Here's a chance.


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