2010 ended with the White Sox in second place behind the rival Twins in the A.L. Central. It’s become an all too familiar result. Since the flamboyant Ozzie Guillen took over as ChiSox manager in 2004, his teams have finished behind the Twins 5 out of 7 times. A pair of division titles keep him employed (somehow), but the word is that unless 2011 leads to a playoff berth, Guillen could be looking for work. On the other hand, the team recently picked up his option for 2012, so his status remains up in the air.
Last year’s club was about as average as average gets. Chicago finished 7th in runs, hits, and OBP– smack in the middle of the A.L. The team had the league’s 8th-ranked ERA, making the Pale Hose fairly forgettable on both sides of the ball. Even the defense was mediocre. But any team that finishes with 88 wins can’t be all bad, and the White Sox were in the playoff hunt for most of the season. With good team speed, a solid mix of proven veterans and youth with potential, and a solid if unspectacular rotation, the Sox did all they could to keep themselves in a position to make the post-season.
In the end, that didn’t happen. Instead of stepping up, key players stumbled to pedestrian numbers. The bullpen struggled in the late innings, and Minnesota was simply too good down the stretch. The White Sox went an appalling 5-13 against the division’s best team; that’s something that can’t happen if they expect to come out on top.
So will the team write a different story in 2011?
Best Case Scenario: Chicago had a strong off-season. They re-signed their offensive cornerstone Paul Konerko, and also grabbed Adam Dunn off of the free agent market. Having those bats hitting back-to-back in the heart of the order makes this lineup an instant threat, and the supporting cast that includes Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, and Carlos Quentin could reap the benefits. If the offense performs as expected, the White Sox could be celebrating another division crown this fall.
Most Valuable Players: Even with the addition of Dunn, Paul Konerko will drive this team. He’s been in Chicago for 12 years– he knows the division, he knows the organization, and he has the perfect temperament to be an effective clubhouse leader. The Sox will also rely heavily on their best starting pitcher, John Danks. With some major question marks in the rotation, Danks needs to be as much of a sure thing as he was last season.
Potential Breakouts: Of course, Danks isn’t alone out there. There are other talented arms on the team, and one of them is new closer Matt Thornton. With the departure of former fireman Bobby Jenks, Thornton will take over in the ninth for the Sox, and while he’s been posting stellar numbers for some time now, the new role (and added pressure) makes him an interesting kind of breakout candidate. Another guy to keep an eye on is third baseman Brent Morel. After flip-flopping on the issue throughout the off-season, Guillen recently stated that the starting job is Morel’s to lose. Though he offers little power, Morel posted strong overall numbers in the minors and is prized for his glove at the hot corner.
Worst Case Scenario: Although Chicago improved itself this winter, the rest of the A.L. Central wasn’t just standing pat. The Tigers made some major changes, most notably bringing in Victor Martinez. And the reigning champ Twins have to be considered the early favorite to repeat. That means that the Sox could well be looking at another second or third-place finish. And that would not sit well with the fanbase or the organization’s brain trust. New addition Adam Dunn is a reliable bat, but adjusting to a new league can be tricky– he should be fine, but we won’t know for sure until he gets out there. Several other expected starters need good showings to prove that they can cut it, and the pitching staff is under construction.
Biggest Areas of Concern: The left side of the infield has to have Guillen worried. Gordon Beckham (2B) tanked last year, former ROY-runner up Alexei Ramirez has failed to improve his numbers over the past 3 seasons, and Morel is a total unknown. Even if they perform well, the trio lacks power. If one of the big bats stumbles or gets hurt, things could be problematic.
Players Who Must Rebound: Gordon Beckham was expected to do big things. Unfortunately, last year featured an absolutely horrific beginning, and his numbers never recovered. He has to get off to a better start in 2011. The Sox plan to bat him second, and will require production from that spot. Then there’s Jake Peavy. Chicago took a risk in bringing him on board, injury and all. Thus far, he hasn’t done much. In 17 starts last year, his WHIP (1.23) wasn’t atrocious, but his 4.63 ERA didn’t cut it.
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