The Chicago White Sox enter the 2013 season with a slew of question marks. Unlike their North Side counterparts, the South Siders have the potential to compete for a playoff sport, but the White Sox will be dependent on many “ifs” in the second season under manager Robin Ventura.
A Look Back Before We Look Forward
The White Sox came up just shy of a playoff berth in 2013, finishing 85-77, three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Chicago finished eight games off the pace set by Baltimore and Texas in the Wild Card race. The White Sox strongest month was May (18-11) and their weakest was September/October, when they coughed up the division title by going 13-18 down the stretch. The Sox finally solved the Minnesota Twins, a longtime thorn in their side, but went just 3-6 against the Kansas City Royals.
The White Sox will be dependent on two aging sluggers in the middle of the lineup in order to be successful. Adam Dunn launched 41 home runs last season, but his average hung around the Mendoza line as his finished the season at .204, a slight improvement over his .159 average from 2011. From the right side, 37-year-old White Sox legend Paul Konerko has continued to prove that he can still hit. He batted .298 with 26 home runs and 75 RBIs a season ago.
The White Sox rotation has a high ceiling but is also reliant on several gambles. Chicago is looking for Chris Sale, who won 15 games and posted a 3.39 ERA last season, to settle in as the ace of the staff in just his second year as a big league starting pitcher. The key for the middle of the rotation will be avoiding the injury bug. John Danks is coming off a shoulder injury, while Jake Peavy has a well-documented injury history. Jose Quintana is still an unknown commodity after winning six games and recording a 3.76 ERA in his rookie season. Dylan Axelrod will see time in a starting role until Danks returns from his injury.
While the White Sox did not make any major splashes in the free agent market, they did make several subtle improvements to the roster. Versatile infielder Jeff Keppinger, who hit .325 with Tampa Bay last season, is expected to get the nod at third base on a regular basis after inking a three-year, $12 million deal. Right hander Matt Lindstrom, whose ERA was 2.53 with Arizona last season, will bolster a solid bullpen. Rule Five Selection Angel Sanchez notched one of the final roster spots as a utility infielder.
The group of White Sox to depart following the 2012 season is headlined by fan favorite A.J. Pierzynski, who signed a one year deal with the Rangers following an eight year stint on the South Side. Tyler Flowers, who hit just .213 in 52 games as the backup to Pierzynski last season, will be under pressure to perform early in the season, or else fans will be up in arms over the decision to let Pierzynski walk away. Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers, Orlando Hudson, Philip Humber and Dan Johnson are other offseason subtractions from the White Sox roster.
A Strong Backend
One common thread among both Chicago baseball teams this season figures to be the strength of the bullpens. Addison Reed emerged as the closer and notched 29 saves last season. Matt Thorton has developed into a consistent left handed setup man, while veteran Jesse Crain and sophomore Nate Jones (8-0 with a 2.39 ERA last season) will also be key cogs.
The AL Central
The Royals and Indians are both much improved, with the Tigers still checking in as the popular pick to win the division. Detroit has a deep rotation anchored by Justin Verlander and a potent offense led by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. The Minnesota Twins are building for the future and are the only team in the division considered to be out of the running for the AL Central crown.