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The White Sox Report

By Phil Barnes

Unlike the other five divisions in baseball, there is no clear-cut choice as to who is going to come out on top of the American League Central this season. Nobody should really be surprised by this for the simple reason that after 162 games last year, there still wasn't a winner.

With all that said, no one is predicting the Sox to win the division, including Baseball Prospectus, whose PECOTA rating (as of 4/3/09) have the Sox winning 76 games, good enough for fourth in the division, just a win better than the lowly Royals.

While many Sox fans can get huffy and upset hearing that last season's division winners are perceived this year as the equivalent of Kansas City, there were so many questions that have been unanswered until recently, it becomes hard to blame "experts" who have been looking at a depth chart all off-season with questions as to who was going to play where at more than half the positions.

Who will lead off? Who is in the rotation? Who will play center? Second? Third?

Though the Sox do have a load of problems, they also have a core of studs as solid or better than that of the rest of the division. Left fielder Carlos Quentin had the MVP wrapped up last season before breaking his thumb on a freak injury. Alexei Ramirez returns to his natural position at short, where he spent the majority of his time in Cuba. Then the three-headed monster of Mark Buerhle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd have a chance to win a combined 45-50 games. Throw in veterans like Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome as well as closer Bobby Jenks, and we're looking at a team that still has a lot of potential to do some damage.

I wanted to give everybody a projected pre-season starting lineup, which is below. However, since there are so many potential problems, there is a second lineup. This is probably what the team will look like come May 1, when manager Ozzie Guillen has reshuffled his stuff, something he does every late April.

Opening-Day Lineup

1. Dewayne Wise- CF
2. Chris Getz- 2B
3. Carlos Quentin- LF
4. Jim Thome- DH
5. Jermaine Dye- RF
6. Paul Konerko- 1B
7. Alexei Ramirez- SS
8. AJ Pierzynski- C
9. Josh Fields- 3B

May 1 Lineup

1. Chris Getz
2. Alexei Ramirez
3. Carlos Quentin
4. Jim Thome
5. Jermaine Dye
6. Paul Konerko
7. AJ Pierzynski
8. Josh Fields
9. Brian Anderson- CF

For some obvious public misunderstanding, the centerfield gig also came with an Opening Day lead-off spot for Wise. This projected lineup is odd for a few reasons. The first and maybe least important is that if they plan on putting a young guy with very limited experience as high as they're putting Getz, with the hopes to eventually have him lead off, why not just put him at the 1-slot now? Wise is probably the worst hitter in the lineup and will be doing nothing more than pinch-hitting come tax day.

Also, while this isn't a golden rule in baseball, it should be. Starting the game off with two lefty hitters just has disaster written all over it. There will have to be a shuffle in lineups when a southpaw takes the bump. Wise was a whopping .143 and drew no walks last year against left-handed pitchers. The Sox will be the only team in baseball to start the season with left-handed hitters batting 1-2.

The other flaw I see, is that by default, Ramirez will have to bat absolutely no earlier than 6th (most likely 7th) if he isn't going to hit first or second. This is why, come May 1, or whenever the weather remains comfortable enough for the Cuban Missile to start hitting the ball, Alexei will find his way to the top spot of the order, possibly even leading off, drawing even more comparisons to Alfonso Soriano.

Now onto the pitching.

While there are just as many problems on the pitching front as there are hitting, to the untrained eye, this half of the team is the portion that dragging down the potential of the 2009 squad. Below is a projected rotation.

1. Mark Buerhle
2. John Danks
3. Gavin Floyd
4. Jose Contreras
5a. Bartolo Colon
5b. Clayton Richard

Closer- Bobby Jenks
Setup- Matt Thornton
Middle Relief- Octavio Dotel
Middle Relief- Scott Linebrink
Long Reliever- Jeff Marquez

This is where the Sox are going to win or lose the division. The first thing that has to happen if this team is going to succeed is the bullpen needs to bring it; for the whole season. The Sox were on fire going into the 2008 All-Star break largely because the pen was rock solid. And they faded in the second half largely because they were non-existent.

Bobby Jenks is a top 10 closer in baseball, and claims to have purposely taken something off his fastball and throw more breaking balls in a new approach towards hitters. With an exception of a horrid 2/3 inning against Puerto Rico, Matt Thornton looked very good in his World Baseball Classic debut and could quietly be making a run to surpass Jenks for the closer role in the next few years. Injury-prone relievers like Linebrink and Dotel need to succeed, or they could hurt their chances.

The rotation has the potential to be the strongest, or weakest part of the team. Buerhle will get opening day start number seven for the ChiSox. Danks and Floyd will go into this year with quite different expectations than they had last season. These two must succeed if the team is going to win, not the "we'll see how they do" approach given to them last year. Jose Contreras just won't go away. And this time, it's a good thing. It looks as if he could be ready by opening day, quite a turnaround considering his ruptured achilles was initially keeping him out until at least June. Richard and Colon will duke it out for the fifth spot. Colon, who we are awaiting the return from injury/old age/obesity, will most likely get the nod. Regardless of who wins, they won't be actually starting a game until mid-to-late April because of scheduling, which is why Bart gets the job. But as stated earlier, Buerhle, Danks and Floyd have to be on if they are going to win. And it wouldn't be bad to see Jose win 12 games either.


Send your comments to Phil Barnes, and be sure to check out his contributions at Top Ten Chicago Sports.

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