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White Sox Fri Mar 25 2011

Setting the Scene: 2011 White Sox

adam dunn.jpg

Adam Dunn / Tribune photo: Phil Velasquez

With Opening Day in Cleveland a week away, here's a refresher course for any White Sox fans still getting up to speed:

Off-season recap

Despite a slow start to the hot stove season, leading many fans to suspect that the team was going the money-saving rebuilding route after another second-place finish, things began to heat up in early December with the signing of Adam Dunn and the re-signing of A.J. Pierzynski, followed by the return of The King, team captain Paul Konerko. Paulie himself wasn't sure he'd be back for 2011, but the combined efforts of the front office along with Reinsdorf's legendary loyalty and willingness to open up the checkbook brought Paulie back to the South Side. The White Sox were "All In."

Christmas on the South Side continued with the signings of relievers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, the former a notorious White Sox killer as a Twin -- a move that sapped pitching strength from the Twins while shoring up the back end of the Sox bullpen -- and the contract extensions of Alexei Ramirez and Matt Thornton. All the gory details of the White Sox off-season moves are available here, but it's safe to say that the White Sox front office had a very productive winter.

We said goodbye to a number of players as well, losing closer Bobby Jenks to the Boston Red Sox after being non-tendered by the White Sox at the deadline. J.J. Putz declined arbitration and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and, in move that made Sox fans weep with joy, Kenny Williams managed to move Scott Linebrink and his huge salary to the Atlanta Braves.

One of the few remaining 2005 World Series team members, Freddy Garcia, chose to move on to a minor-league contract with the Yankees. Hopefully, you've hung onto your Andruw Jones bobblehead, as he joins Sweaty Freddy in the Bronx after the White Sox declined to offer the Scott Boras free agent a contract. Another free agent, Mark Kotsay, crucified by Sox fans for his lack of prowess as part of the DH-by-committee scheme, headed to the Milwaukee Brewers.

With heavy losses to the bullpen, one very bright note was the shockingly fast recovery of 2007 Cy Young winner and part-time Superman Jake Peavy. Peavy left the game on July 6, 2010, with what turned out to be an unprecedented injury, a completely detached latissimus dorsi. Undergoing a groundbreaking surgery that will surely be named after him a la Tommy John, no one knew when, or if, Peavy would pitch again. Peavy's determination to recover and take his place in the starting rotation has been remarkable, with four Cactus League starts, each of increasing duration, and despite obstacles that would deter mere mortals, like the flu.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the "expected blip" has arrived in the form of rotator cuff tendinitis, likely keeping Peavy off of the Opening Day roster. Although it should not sidetrack him for long, it will require a bit of adjustment to the starting rotation
for the first few weeks of the season and might limit the number of pitches Peavy is allowed to throw the first couple of months of the season.

Who, what and where

The Opening Day lineup holds few surprises. Juan Pierre will lead off and play left field, followed by 2B Gordon Beckham, DH Adam Dunn, 1B Paul Konerko, CF Alex Rios, RF Carlos Quentin, C A.J. Pierzynski, SS Alexei Ramirez and 3B Brent Morel in the No. 9 spot.

To absolutely no one's surprise, Morel won the job at the hot corner over Mark Teahen, who will serve as a lavishly paid utility bench player, along with forever-young fan favorite Omar Vizquel. Ramon Castro will once again serve as a backup for A.J. on the rare days when Ozzie can tether the notorious veteran to the dugout. The 2011 lineup is all but set in stone at this point, with a final decision regarding the 25th spot on the roster expected Monday. While Lillibridge is much admired by Ozzie for his speed and ability to play both the infield and the outfield, Lastings Milledge has made a very convincing case that he's ready to come back to the show with an impressive spring training outing.

With Peavy's return date uncertain, the White Sox will break camp with 12 pitchers. With Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson in place, the only question is who will fill the fifth spot until Peavy returns. Despite a very poor outing Thursday against the Cubs, it appears that Phil Humber will fill the position for the time being. Ohman (look guys, a LOOGY!), Tony Pena and Jeff Marquez will provide relief, with Crain, Sergio Santos and rookie wunderkind Chris Sale setting up Thornton, the newly anointed closer.

So what can we expect?

Although the Sox look great on paper, and some people are going so far as to say Chicago is now a Sox town, they still have to show they can beat their divisional rivals after a dismal 32-40 record last season against AL Central teams, in particular, the Minnesota Twins.

Despite the Twins lack of activity during the off-season and the uncertain status of star first baseman Justin Morneau, the Sox have not had a winning record against the Twins since 2005, going just 5-13 in 2010. It's a rivalry so heated that newly acquired Crain was dissed by Morneau after joining the White Sox. Despite Rios' February bravado, the Sox know they still have to get around the "piranhas." Although their bullpen took a beating this winter with a mass exodus of free agents, if the Twins can stay healthy this year, they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

The Tigers also look tough, adding impressively to their bullpen and acquiring Victor Martinez to protect Miguel Cabrera. Although Cabrera is still something of a question mark at this point, given the recent revelation of his problems with alcohol, the team expects he, Martinez and Magglio Ordonez to present a serious offensive threat. A solid pitching staff, including Justin Verlander, Joaquin Benoit, Max Scherzer, Brad Penny, Phil Coke and Rick Porcello, means the Tigers remain a threat.

The Royals and the Indians can't be written off despite the fact that neither team was particularly active this winter, largely due to the Sox inability to beat division rivals, but they pose much less of a threat. Essentially, the AL Central is going to be a three-team race.

With the White Sox offseason additions, expect an exciting season, particularly for those sitting in right field, where Dunn's bombs should be landing. In fact, with Dunn, Konerko and Quentin in the middle of the order, this is positively a softball team, particularly in homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. The pitching rotation, with a healthy Peavy, is downright scary.

The most important factor, however, and one that can't be dismissed when talking White Sox baseball, is heart, and this team has it. The front office is on their "A" game, the fans are revved up and the players are focused on the game instead of off-field antics and in-fighting. There is a distinct 2005 vibe on the South Side this year and it's going to be a fun ride.

Brian L. / March 25, 2011 11:49 AM

Nice job, JZ! Baseball is the sport where they hit each other in the head with bats, right?

Erin B. / March 25, 2011 1:08 PM

L-O-V-E!

Agree on all parts!

Mom / March 26, 2011 9:28 AM

GREAT article, got me so excited for this season! Best part is talking about Ozzie trying to keep A.J. tethered to the bench. LOVE it! Here we go WHITE SOX!!

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