Sunday, April 03, 2005

Opening Day

Tomorrow is the season opener for my beloved Chicago White Sox. The Sox last year yet again finished second to the Minnesota Twins. With three consecutive second place finishes, General Manager Kenny Williams completely retooled the offense, trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino, letting go Magglio Ordonez and signing A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi and Jermaine Dye. Williams shifted the offense from a streaky power hitting team that could score 20 runs one night and 2 runs the next night to a more consistent, but less explosive, speed and contact oriented team. Williams also added depth to the starting pitching staff by signing Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. This was probably the Sox's most important signing because it allows Jon Garland to move down to the 5th starter spot, which will be a significant upgrade over the combination of Neal Cotts, Felix Diaz, Jon Rausch, Jason Grilli, Danny Wright, Arie Munoz and Josh Stewart who all at one point served as the Sox's 5th starter last year.

So how good will the Sox be this year? The Sox are relying on a lot of ifs. El Duque, Carl Everett and Dye have had injury problems in recent years. It also remains to be seen whether Sox's closer Shingo Takatsu will continue to fool hitters with his 55 mph change-up. In addition, Jose Contreras continues to frustrate Sox coaches with his inconsistent starts despite having some of best stuff in the AL. If Contreras gets off to a slow start, he could find himself replaced in the rotation by 21 year-old phenom and Jack McDowell clone, Brendan McCarthy, who gave up only 1 earned run in his first four spring training starts.

In addition to injury and pitching questions, the Sox have question marks at the top of their lineup with Scott Podsednik, Tadahito Iguchi and Frank Thomas. Podsednik stole 70 bases last year but his average dropped from .314 to .244. Iguchi was a star in Japan for the past several seasons, but he's far from a sure thing as Kazuo Matsui of the Mets can attest to. Frank Thomas will begin the season on the DL, and if he is slow to recover from his off-season foot surgery, the Sox's offense could struggle to consistently drive in runs. If all the ifs fall the Sox's way, they win the division by 5 games and play in the ALCS. If not the Sox could easily finish 4th in a competitive AL Central.