After previewing the AL East last week, we now move farther west and into the AL Central. The Central may not have the best teams, but it always ends up being rather exciting. Four years ago, the White Sox came out of the Central to win it all. And, last year, the Central needed 163 games to once again crown the White Sox as division champs. It was a down year for the division, though, as the Indians and Tigers both underperformed expectations. The White Sox took advantage of that by playing strong, steady ball from some unlikely sources, and they hope to do the same this year.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Chicago White Sox
Last Year: 89 – 74, 1st Place, AL Central
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
The White Sox made some major offseason changes after they lost 90 games in 2007, and it worked. They increased their win total to 89 games and took home the division crown. However, GM Kenny Williams felt that the team still needed some help to continue their winning ways.
“The cumulative result of Williams’ moves [from 2007]: Chicago won 89 games, up from 72 the season before, and claimed its second division title in four years. Ramirez and Quentin were the biggest successes. Ramirez would have been AL Rookie of the Year had it not been for Evan Longoria, and Quentin might have been the AL MVP if his career year had not been halted by a fractured right wrist. And the loss of Garland was softened by the emergence of John Danks and Gavin Floyd, both of whom flourished in the rotation.
So what did Williams do after the season? He made more changes. Swisher was sent to the Yankees for a package that included Jeff Marquez, who could join the rotation this year. Veteran starter Javier Vazquez and lefthanded reliever Boone Logan were traded to the Braves for four prospects. Williams wanted to field a younger team in 2009 than he did in 2008. He will probably do that. And recent history suggests it might work. (Lindy’s)”
Chicago’s biggest strengths for 2009, in pitching and hitting, all came out of nowhere last year to surprise everyone. The pitching staff was bolstered greatly by two young stars, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, who will be relied heavily on again this year.
“Mark Buehrle’s the last man standing from the starting rotation that rolled through the playoffs in 2005. He’s the one truly known commodity in a group that now relies heavily on 2008 revelations John Danks and Gavin Floyd, who combined for 29 wins and 401 innings. Danks was brilliant in the 1-0 tie-breaker victory over Minnesota, hinting at having the No. 1 starter potential that was spoken about when he was a prospect with the Texas Rangers. Floyd got off to a fast start and tired slightly. Both Floyd and Danks, who entered ’08 as the No. 4 and 5 starters, respectively, need another strong season to truly establish themselves. (Athlon)”
But it was the revelations in Chicago’s lineup that had the most impact on their success last season. With the near-MVP season from Carlos Quentin and the near ROY-season from Alexei Ramirez, the White Sox received a lot more production from their lineup last year than they had any reason to expect.
“While performers like Thome, Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle and AJ Pierzynski return, Chicago will lean on two players that had breakout years in 2008 – Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez.
Quentin almost started the season with Class AAA Charlotte, but a strong finishing kick in spring training landed the left fielder a roster spot. Once he got on the field, Quentin blossomed into a star.
On Sept 1, Quentin led the AL with 36 home runs and was a legitimate MVP candidate. But the intense outfielder fractured his right wrist after punching his bat in a game against the Indians and was lost for the rest of the season.
He’ll be counted on to put up big numbers this year, and will get help from Ramirez, who batted .290 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs while finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting last season.
Ramirez, a Cuban defector, earned Gold Glove attention at second base. This year, he’ll replace Cabrera and play his natural postion, shortstop. (TSN)”
Athlon points out the irony of the White Sox’s success:
“Forgive general manager Kenny Williams if he secretly prays for analysts to overlook his White Sox. This team performs the best when the least is expected of it, with the 2008 AL Central title the latest bit of evidence. The bar has been raised for the upcoming season, but it is unlikely that anyone will see the Sox among the American League’s elite after an offseason in which Williams allowed free agents Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera to walk while trading innings-eater Javier Vazquez. The plan is to win with a younger, more athletic lineup and the continued contributions from a strong starting rotation. For that plan to work, the established sluggers in the middle of the order will again have to deliver more than their share of long balls.”
The White Sox received some great performances from some surprising sources last year. No one had any right to expect Danks or Floyd or Quentin or Ramirez to have the seasons that they had, but they did and it went a long way to helping the White Sox win the division. The Sox were also helped last year by the severe underperforming of the Indians and the Tigers, two teams that were predicted to be battling for the division crown all season.
I don’t know a whole terrible lot about the White Sox, but it does seem to me that everything seemed to fall in their favor last year (besides Quentin’s broken wrist, of course). Their main competition in Cleveland and Detroit both suffered some major injuries and other setbacks, and the White Sox’s young talent all seemed to have career years at the same time. I can’t say for sure, as there might be something I’m missing, but it seems to me that most teams that succeed in a situation like that tend to regress. I’d be looking for that to happen with these White Sox.