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It's spring! So it's time for Batter's Box to throw out our first pitch. Here begins our series of season previews, with a look at the defending world champion Chicago White Sox!

Speak up. Is there anyone out there who had ever heard that phrase before this past October?

The White Sox actually have a pretty good chance to be even better this year, not that that means much of anything. But to tell you the truth, I'd rather dwell on the past, and examine how this totally unforeseen championship came to be.

Unforeseen? Well, yeah. Did you see it coming? I thought not. But let us single out one bad forecast for special abuse. For in this very space, the Box's resident prognosticator looked over the situation and made the following pronouncement:

If Garcia and Contreras both come through with strong years, the Sox should be a little better than last year. But not by much - itíll be offset by the declining offense. I really canít see them winning more than 88 games, and thatís if everything goes right with the pitching....

I think this is the year that the White Sox do not finish second.

Who was that anyway? I pity the fool. But, as you well remember, the White Sox didn't finish second. I did get that last part right, thank you very much.

Heading into the 2005 season, the White Sox looked like a team in a rut. For four straight seasons they had won between 81 and 86 games. They had become a team built almost entirely around RH power hitters: Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Lee. Despite injuries to Thomas and Ordonez, the 2004 team tied for the major league lead in homers and were third in the AL in runs scored. They went just 83-79, however, and finished nine games behind Minnesota.

At this point, GM Kenny Williams decided that his team needed to change its approach. He had actually begun the shakeup in mid-2004. Esteban Loaiza, the runner-up for the 2003 Cy Young, was sent to New York in exchange for Jose Contreras. Catcher Miguel Olivo and outfield prospect Jeremy Reed were sent to Seattle for Freddy Garcia.

After the season ended, Magglio Ordonez was allowed to leave as a free agent. On December 9, Williams signed Jermaine Dye to replace Ordonez in RF. That same day, the White Sox also signed RHP Dustin Hermanson. I don't recall anyone saluting these moves at the time, and I don't remember a chorus of approval sounding four days later (December 13), when Williams changed his other outfield corner, sending LF Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino. Four days after that (December 17), Williams picked up Bobby Jenks from Anaheim on a waiver claim. In January, Orlando Hernandez was added to the pitching staff, and A.J. Pierzynski was signed to take over the catching duties. Finally, Tadahito Iguchi was brought over from Japan to play second base, moving Willie Harris into a utility role.

That, I submit, was a remarkably busy off-season, and when we include his mid-season moves, Williams had installed new players at catcher, second base, right field, left field, and added three new starting pitchers.

It's especially remarkable when every move you make pays off.

Jermaine Dye hit 31 homers and drove in 99 runs for Chicago. Meanwhile, Magglio Ordonez, making almost twice as much money as Dye, missed 80 games in Detroit, hit just 8 homers, and watched on television as Dye was named MVP of the Sox World Series win over Houston.

Dustin Hermanson took over as the closer when Shingo Takatsu struggled out of the gate, and was unexpectedly brilliant. Hermanson pitched far better in Chicago than he had at any point in his career, and was as good any reliever in the game for the first four months of the 2005 season. When back injuries started to trouble Hermanson towards the end of the season, Bobby Jenks stepped into the closer's role. They never missed a beat.

Orlando Hernandez didn't actually pitch all that well in Chicago. However, his impact on his countryman Jose Contreras can not be quantified. There is no doubt that Contreras, for the first time since coming to America, began to perform at the level long expected of him. Contreras had found it very hard moving from Cuba to the United States, a difficult enough transition further complicated by the special pressure of working for George Steinbrenner and some serious issues concerning his family. Hernandez may have earned most of his salary simply by being a friend and mentor to Contreras. His amazing escape act againt the Red Sox in the LDS was just a bonus.

Pierzynski found himself hitting fifth behind Konerko, which is a more important offensive role than he's really qualified for, and his hitting was a mild disappointment. However, he did a marvellous job with the pitching staff, and he provided the team with an abrasive edginess that it rather needed.

The Lee for Podsednik trade makes no sense, still, in terms of production gained and lost. Lee is a powerful offensive force. Podsednik is not. Frank Thomas was missing in action for most of the season, appearing in just 34 games. The 2005 White Sox scored a whopping 124 fewer runs than they had the previous season. Somehow I don't think losing 124 runs of offense has been a characteristic of a lot of champions. I don't really recommend it.

It can be said, however, that all these moves helped Ozzie Guillen change the culture of the team. Guillen talks incessantly about winning with pitching and hustle and aggressiveness. This is normal, and means nothing. All managers talk this way - they have to. Even Earl Weaver talked this way, and his players moaned about those "Orioles fundamentals" that they kept hearing about until they were entirely sick of it. But the idea never seemed to sink in on the south side of Chicago, where the long established way of doing things was to wait for Big Frank or Magglio to jack one out of the yard. Weaver always said "pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers." The White Sox had never bothered with the first two elements. So heading into 2005, the idea was to do without the third and see what happened.

And why not? It's not like they had much to lose.

And it certainly worked. Didn't it? While losing 124 runs of offense is not particularly desireable, the White Sox reduced opposition scoring by 186 runs. I think we need to emphasize this point. In 2005, the White Sox reduced opposition scoring by 186 runs. Some of this can be attributed to improved defense, no doubt. Of the eight everday players in the field, only four of them were holdovers from the previous year: Konerko, Uribe, Crede, and Rowand. Of those three, all but Konerko are better defenders than hitters. The new guys - Pierzynski, Iguchi, Dye, and Podsednik - similarly consisted of three guys who were better with the glove than with the bat (all but Dye.)

That helped. But mainly, the pitchers were sensational. They were the best staff in the AL, despite playing half their games in US Cellular, which remains one of the better home run parks in baseball. There were 213 homers hit at US Cellular last season, and just 154 hit in White Sox road games. The White Sox were a better team away from home, going 52-29, in large part because the pitchers posted a 3.39 ERA on the road.

Mark Buehrle had what may have been his best season, but actually trying to distinguish one Buehrle year from another is rather challenging anyway. Buehrle just cranks out one good year after another, in the tradition of Jim Kaat and Tom Glavine. Freddy Garcia likewise did nothing particularly spectacular - Garcia was pretty good, but he didn't have his best year. Jose Contreras finally put his game together in the second half - that was indeed a welcome development, although the baseball world has long believed that Contreras had always been capable of pitching at such a level.

Jon Garland... he was a surprise. Garland took a big step forward, and I still think there was something fishy about it. Garland didn't raise his rather marginal strikeout rate, and gave up almost as many hits as before. He did cut his walks allowed almost in half, from 76 to 47. This was indeed a significant improvement, but it hardly seems enough to account for 18-10, 3.50 when just one year earlier he had gone 12-11, 4.89.

The bullpen was remarkable. After Takatsu was found wanting as a closer, and sent on his way, the main men in the pen were Hermanson, Cotts, Politte, Vizcaino, and Marte. The latter two were good; the first three were well nigh untouchable.

But still... how did they do it?

Well, it sure helps to come charging out of the gate. The White Sox, as you no doubt remember, won 24 of their first 31 games. This opening burst accomplished two things. First, it gave them a little cushion atop the division, and it's better when the other guys are chasing you. Second, it demonstrated very clearly to the players that they really could win ball games without waiting for their big boppers to go yard.

How did they win 24 of their 31 games? Mainly by putting together two eight-game winning streaks, each of which featured a sweep of the Kansas City Royals. And there's a lesson for us all. If your team needs to build some confidence and belief in itself, it sure helps to have the Royals making frequent appearances on the schedule.

And so, on to 2006. Williams is still aggresively working on his team. Most of the champions are returning, but not all. Crazy Carl Everett is in Florida, no longer needed as the Plan B designated hitter. That's not a big deal, but trading Aaron Rowand is a big deal indeed. Rowand is a wonderful centrefielder, and of course some of the credit for the outstanding performance by the White Sox pitchers in 2005 must go to the defenders behind them. So they will miss him charging around in the outfield.

But... the White Sox have young outfielders just oozing from their pores... Rowand will be 29 this year and his outstanding 2004 year with the bat was probably his career year .... and besides, Jim Thome, people! Thome has been one of the game's greatest hitters, and pitchers all around the American League are muttering and cursing already. Even better, he brings a lefty bat to balance Konerko's RH power, and he surely has a much better chance of staying in the lineup than Frank Thomas.

Williams made two other significant moves this past off-season. Picking up Javier Vazquez from Arizona in exchange for Orlando Hernandez... does anyone understand this? This has a chance to be larceny on a grand scale. Does anyone in Arizona think this is their year? And if not, why would you want El Duque? For the future? In the year 2525, if man is still alive, Orlando might still be pitching. If anyone can, he can. But it still makes no sense on any level whatsoever. The Sox other pickup was Rob Mackowiak, who provides a useful LH bat, and can fill in all over the diamond.

How do they look? Thome and Brian Anderson ought to be an upgrade over Rowand and Carl Everett. Anderson's probably going to be a right fielder some day soon, and while he should hit, he will not cover centre the way Rowand did. But if Jim Thome plays 140 games, no one will worry overmuch about that. Obviously, Javier Vazquez ought to be better than El Duque. And if any of the starters falter - hello, Mr Garland! - Brandon McCarthy will start the year in the bullpen, chomping at the bit, as they say, waiting his chance. And if Bobby Jenks implodes, Hermanson and Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts are all returning, and all three pitched brilliantly in relief last season. If Joe Crede's back acts up again, Mackowiak is on hand. Ozzie has options...

So they certainly look much better to me than they did this time last year.

The only thing that worries me about them... is fate catching up. Everything went right in 2005. It's hard to see the pitching being that brilliant again. I'm sorry, but I think Garland was a fluke. I need to see him do it again. While Hermanson, Politte, and Cotts were brilliant last year, none of them are headed for Cooperstown, except as tourists.

Even more disturbing is the possibility that random chance will rise up and bite them. When I say everything went right in 2005, I mean everything. Even the things that went wrong, like Shingo Takatsu pitching so poorly at the start of the year, ended up working out for them. It's hard to see fortune smiling so sweetly on them in that way again.

Unless Kenny Williams really is a genius. Wouldn't that be something?

Nah. Prediction: 91-71, second place.

Your World Champions: the Chicago White Sox | 20 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 09:53 AM EST (#141666) #
Nicely done, Magpie. Did you know that the Sox were exactly bang-on their Pythagorean won-loss for 2002-2005? The good luck of 2005 offset the bad of the previous three. They were due for a little post-season luck too. Personally, I would say their accounts with the fates are square...but as for the Indians, Lady Luck does have some explaining to do.
Hodgie - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 10:03 AM EST (#141668) #

Good write up Magpie.

Concerning the Vasquez/Hernandez deal, it is easier to understand when remembering that Vasquez had invoked a trade clause in his contract. That said, the Diamondbacks could potentially be the ones making off like bandits in this trade. They have unloaded the large salary of a pitcher in obvious decline and in return received a cheaper rotation replacement in Hernandez AND Chris Young.

VBF - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 10:46 AM EST (#141671) #
Well they say you've got to have skill to have luck. That said, who didn't have a career year last year? And what are the odds that everyone maintains their level of production? Even with the addition of Thome (who's health is still questionable) and the depth they have, I can't see this team, and especially the rotation maintaining their success and I think a few of Williams' moves last offseason will be haunting him this year. Also note the Sox's incredible record in close games. I can't see that being duplicated.

Just my two cents. Nice read Magpie!

eeleye - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 11:49 AM EST (#141673) #
My AL Central predicitions:

1. Cleveland Indians (97-65)
2. Chicago White Sox (95-67)
3. Minnesota Twins (84-78)
4. Detroit Tigers (68-94)
5. Kansas City (66-96)
Mick Doherty - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 12:17 PM EST (#141674) #
You have the AL Central, generally seen as the league's weakest, at collectively +10 over .500? That seems, at best, unlikely, unless someone in the East or West tanks in historic proportions.
eeleye - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 12:30 PM EST (#141676) #
I'm making my divisional predictions in isolation....the number of wins won't be balanced properly with my other division predictions....It's just I think Tigers wont get any worse, and KC is bound to improve a handful of games.
eeleye - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 12:33 PM EST (#141677) #
I don't see this as a week division as all. Sox are good, Twins are good, Indians are good. Tigers are OK - Bonderman will have a good year, they have Todd Jones, and Ordonez returns with Palanco there....and KC has added Meinkewitch, Reggie Sanders, and Grudzelanek. Maybe I've inflated a few of the teams a couple of games here and there.
Jim - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 12:43 PM EST (#141679) #
Anyone who wants to take the over on Chicago and Cleveland combining for 192 wins; I'll gladly meet your wager.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:12 PM EST (#141683) #
Nothing odd about the AL Central being +10. I don't think the West improved as much as the Central and the same for the East, which may even be weaker than last year.

And also, the AL overall is even stronger than last year versus the NL, given the huge amount of talent that moved from NL to AL. I wouldn't be surprised to see the AL go almost .600 versus the NL... the difference between the two leagues is just massive at this point. The AL played .540 ball versus the NL in 2005 and just .508 in 2004, but the 29-12 record of the AL vs. the NL in the last eight World Series is probably closer to the mark. The top eight or nine teams in the AL probably could have made the NL playoffs last season, and I honestly think there were only three or at most four teams in the AL worse than the NL West champs.

Last year the East was +14, the Central -6, and the West also +14. I expect all three divisions to be over .500 this season.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:25 PM EST (#141684) #
Free agents moving from NL to AL this offseason:

Ramon Hernandez
AJ Burnett
Jeff Weaver
Esteban Loaiza
Kyle Farnsworth
Todd Jones
Julian Tavarez
Reggie Sanders
Matt Lawton
Alex Shortstop Gonzalez
Mark Grudzielanek
Miguel Cairo (OK, this is not a plus)
JT Snow

plus the Mariners brought in Johjima, and the Devil Rays brought in Shinji Mori.

From AL to NL:

Tom Gordon
Jacque Jones
Bill Mueller
Pokey Reese

Yet another massive transfusion of talent from NL to AL, basically. (I may have missed a couple). In return, the NL are signing the AL's castoffs as minor league free agents. I didn't look at interleague trades... I presume the current talent is mostly going to the AL as well, with the prospects to the NL, since that's been happening for a while now, but is it true?
Mike Green - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:28 PM EST (#141685) #
I hate to be boring, but I agree with Craig again. There seems to me to be about as much, and maybe more, talent in the AL Central as in the West now. I've pencilled in the Indians and White Sox for the low 90s, and the Tigers for the low 80s.
Mike Green - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:35 PM EST (#141687) #
I presume the current talent is mostly going to the AL as well, with the prospects to the NL, since that's been happening for a while now, but is it true?

Sort of. The Overbay trade had an element of this, as did the Vazquez deal. I don't know what you call Mirabelli for Loretta, but you certainly wouldn't call it a talent drain from the AL, but the Chris Young/Adam Eaton trade wouldn't be. Overall, I agree that the AL is likely to remain the stronger league in 2006.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:43 PM EST (#141688) #
In interleague trades involving established (non-prospect) players of note, the AL got Troy Glaus, Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez, LaTroy Hawkins, Milton Bradley, Lyle Overbay, Brad Wilkerson, Luis Castillo, Antonio Perez, Mark Loretta, Josh Beckett, Mark Redman, Corey Patterson, Ron Villone, Guillermo Mota, Edgardo Alfonzo, Terrmel Sledge, Mike Lowell, Rob Mackowiak, Vicente Padilla, Marcos Carvajal, Sean Burroughs, and Jon Leciester.

The NL got Edgar Renteria, Alfonso Soriano, Steve Kline, Miguel Batista, Orlando Hudson, Orlando Hernandez, Aaron Rowand, Tony Womack, Luis Vizcaino, Steve Finley, Damaso Marte, Yorvit Torrealba, Doug Mirabelli, Dave Bush, and Dewon (chuckle) Brazelton.

Wow. That is another massive transfusion of talent from NL to AL.
eeleye - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:54 PM EST (#141689) #
Plus you have a few aging guys that will look a lot better in that DH slot either mid way through this year or next year because they just can't be bothered to play the field anymore. Notably, for Barry Bonds, which I think would be a good fit for an AL team. I am surprised Piazza stayed in the NL, and this is why Thome moved too...Likewise, good old AL players like Sheffield or what have you will rarely move to the NL.
Jobu - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 03:48 PM EST (#141692) #
In the year 2525, if man is still alive

DAMNIT Magpie! Not again!!!

You did that on purpose! He got me again!!

And you just sneak it in there so carefuly and BAM!

stuck in my head all day.

Thomas - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 07:19 PM EST (#141703) #
I think Detroit will be stuck in the 70's somewhere, as I would peg the White Sox, Indians and Twins to all be better. I agree the White Sox and Indians will be in the low 90's and the Twins probably in the low-to-mid 80's. I don't think it's unreasonable to see the AL Central as a plus.

Craig's right - interleague could go heavily AL this year.
Lefty - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 09:16 PM EST (#141714) #
How did they win 24 of their 31 games? Mainly by putting together two eight-game winning streaks, each of which featured a sweep of the Kansas City Royals. And there's a lesson for us all. If your team needs to build some confidence and belief in itself, it sure helps to have the Royals making frequent appearances on the schedule.

Great article, and a very valid point above. The Jays always hold their own with the Yankee's and Red Sox. If they are going to be successful and get a sniff of post season ball they are going to have to beat up on Tampa, Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle, and Kansas.

To me thats going to be the key.

Glevin - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 10:17 PM EST (#141721) #
"You have the AL Central, generally seen as the league's weakest, at collectively +10 over .500? "

I agree with the general consensus on this one. The central is really tough. Cleveland and the White Sox are top-level teams and the Tigers and Twins will both be tough.
Gerry - Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 10:43 PM EST (#141722) #
I agree that pitching is a question. You wonder about Garland, I wonder about Contreras, he always looks a bit shell-shocked to me. Hernandez might have boosted his confidence last year, how will he do without Hernandez? Freddy Garcia had some average years in Seattle, the story in 2005 was he was happy playing for his father-in-law, he might not be as happy in 2006.

I think the offense might be better, I really like the Thome pick-up, but the pitching should be worse. They are a good team and probably will take the division again.
TexMex - Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 09:52 AM EST (#141732) #
Thats a lot to digest in one sitting. If the Indians
pitching goes south after the All Star break take the
ChiSox all the way. As for Garland, fluke or not, you
have to love the run production they can generate.
Good posting Magpie!
Your World Champions: the Chicago White Sox | 20 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.