On paper, the Chicago White Sox should have the best starting pitching in the American League Central, if not the league as a whole. The White Sox bring back five starters from last season’s club that ranked third in the league in quality starts and averaged 6.2 innings per start, the second-best mark in the AL.
Chicago’s bullpen remains pretty much intact, but the one significant change is the loss of closer Bobby Jenks via free agency. Jenks will be replaced on the roster by Jesse Crain and it looks like Crain may get a shot at the closer’s job as well. Other candidates include a pair of fireballing left handers in Matt Thornton and the youngster Chris Sale.
Despite Sale’s remarkable performance last season (32 K in 23.1 innings, 1.93 ERA), GM Kenny Williams is planning to prepare Sale for a starting role this spring, whether or not he winds up in the bullpen. The biggest factor in that decision may very well be…
The Health of Jake Peavy
With Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson already penciled in to the rotation, Peavy’s presence would make a very good rotation a great one. The oft-injured right hander suffered a detached shoulder muscle last summer, completely tearing the muscle away from the bone. It’s an injury so severe that it’s unprecedented in big league history. “There’s no road map for me,” Peavy told Scott Miller of CBSSports. “Everything is uncharted territory.”
Peavy completed his rehab throwing program in late January and has begun throwing off a mound at about 60 percent effort. Peavy thinks he will be ready for Opening Day, but because no pitcher has had to come back from this injury before, it remains to been if there will be set-backs. The last thing the former NL Cy Young winner wants to do is rush back from this injury and cause another. That’s exactly what happened last time, he says, when he tried to come back too soon from an ankle injury.
“I wasn’t even standing on the mound like normal,” Peavy told me. “I was hurting from spring camp on last year. What I did took awhile to happen.
“What killed me was me being so stubborn. I wanted to be the guy so bad for the team, for my teammates, for the city.”
If Peavy can make it back, Chicago is obviously in much better shape. If not, they may have to rely on a little more offense, which should come by way of…
The Arrival of Adam Dunn
There’s a lot of people in Detroit that would have preferred to see Dunn in a Tigers uniform, but the Big Donkey inked a four-year deal on the Southside. He’ll serve as the primary DH and will play first base only sparingly. Dunn had a bit of a down year for the Nationals in 2010, posting a career high 199 strikeouts while walking 77 times, his lowest total in his career for a full season.
Still, the hulking slugger hammered 38 home runs for the second straight season following a run of five consecutive years with at least 40 long balls. Clearly, he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. Dunn will probably bat fourth or fifth for Chicago and should get plenty of chances for a three-run homer given the propensity of guys like Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Paul Konerko to get on base in front of him. There are those that are worried that the switch to the AL will adversely affect his production, but putting a home run hitter in a park like US Cellular just doesn’t seem fair. If he can make the mental adjustments needed to become a successful DH, Dunn’s signing might be the biggest game changer in the division.
In signing Dunn, along with re-signing Konerko and A.J. Pierzynksi, Williams has declared that the Sox are “all in” this year. Their lineup is a bit long in the tooth in places, so they need to have some younger guys develop into stars. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez had a breakout season in 2010 and third base prospect Brent Morel has legitimate power and should have a shot at claiming an everyday role this year. But no one seems quite sure …
What to expect from Gordon Beckham
When Beckham arrived on the scene in 2009, he looked like a budding superstar. The former first round pick collected 43 extra base hits and an .808 OPS in his rookie season, just one year removed from his collegiate career. Beckham took a giant step backward last season, however. Though he saw more playing time than the year before, his home runs dropped from 14 to nine, his RBI slipped from 63 to 49, and his average dropped from a respectable .270 in 2009 to .252 last season. His on base percentage fell from .347 as a rookie to a paltry .317 last year as well.
Beckham seemed to really struggle last year because the pitchers had adjusted to him. His strikeout rate rose and his walk rate tumbled, leading me to believe that he was chasing more pitches than as a rookie. Beckham has elite-level talent, but the Sox will need him to make the adjustments we was unable to a year ago. If Beckham falters again, Chicago will turn to Omar Vizquel to fill in at second. That seemed to work well enough last year when Vizquel saw almost 350 at bats, but despite his .276 average, Vizquel’s OPS+ was just 82, or slightly worse than Beckham’s 86.
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