What's new on the South Side?
Gone are Nick Swisher, Orlando Cabrera and Javier Vasquez; in their places are Michael Restovich, Brent Lillibridge and Bartolo Colon. Those replacements aren't necessarily as vaunted, but that doesn't mean the Sox offense is going to be any worse. This should remain a team that's able to score runs; the question is whether the pitching can keep up.
Removing Joe Crede and Juan Uribe also removes two OBP's that can sometimes struggle to break .300. Chicago also ousted aging role players like Toby Hall, Pablo Ozuna and Ken Griffey Jr. Those moves are positive, but the batting order is still an aging one: Jim Thome (38), A.J. Pierzynski (32), Paul Konerko (33) and Jermaine Dye (35) aren't getting any younger.
Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks will need to stave off regression this year, which seems unlikely. If the White Sox are vulnerable anywhere, it's their starting pitching. At least, those are my two cents going into the season...that judgment is bound to change.
Friday, April 10: R.A. Dickey VS Jose Contreras
Saturday, April 11: Francisco Liriano VS Bartolo Colon
Sunday, April 12: Nick Blackburn VS Mark Buehrle
Jose Contreras: Can you believe this is only Contreras' seventh year in the league? The guy looks ancient and it seems like he's been around forever. At any rate, last year saw him garner the highest ground-ball percentage of his career (51%), possibly because of the additional splitters he threw. He hasn't been a strikeout guy for a few years, and every season since he arrived with the Yankees in '03 has seen hitters make more and more contact against what he offers (83.6 contact % in '08). For him to be effective, then, Contreras needs to continue to limit walks, continue to work the splitter, and to not be afraid of contact. His pitches will get hit, so the best he can do is just keep the ball down and give his defense some chances for easy outs and double plays. Be sure to check out the pysique: it's been said he's shed 30 pounds.
Bartolo Colon: In late March, Colon's fastball finally topped 90 mph. For a nearly 36-year old pitcher whose offspeed pitch came in at 84 last season, it's imperitive to keep that velocity above 90. Colon's injury history is daunting: right shoulder (2001), back spasms (2003), right shoulder (2005), right shoulder (2006), right tricep (2006), rotator cuff (2007), right tricep (2007), right elbow (2007), back (2008). I think that's all. Basically, I'm not sure what to expect from Colon. Either his right arm falls off, his back gives out, or he'll be okay. I hate to see the game taken away from guys who used to be as good as Colon used to be.
Mark Buehrle: He's anchored the Sox staff seemingly forever now, and usually he does pretty well. Buehrle can pitch late into a game, he throws more junk at you than that creepy cat lady everyone knows, and when he's in the zone there isn't much you can do against him. But the Twins know him pretty well, and he's been susceptible to big innings against Minnesota in the past, so here's hoping Sunday is a day where he finds it difficult to focus. Because on those days, he's toast. Fun fact: Buehrle hasn't pitched fewer than 200 innings since his rookie season of 2001.
Josh Fields: After mashing 23 homers in '07, Chicago largely kept Fields in triple-A last season in an attempt to...I'm not sure, probably A) let him play everyday and B) let Joe Crede play everyday. When he was healthy. He's off to a hot start (3-for-7, 2 BB), and his offense looks in the mold of Crede.
A.J. Pierzynski, Alexei Ramirez, Chris Getz, Dewayne Wise: Up the middle, the Sox have started 4-for-42. Getz and Wise shouldn't be threats most of the time, but Pierzynski is a good contact hitter and Ramirez destroyed the Twins at times last season. They could be slightly more motivated for this series.
Jim Thome: He will play until he's 50, and every season he'll do the exact same thing. No batting average, lots of walks, lots of power.
After the first two games saw Ozzie Guillen trot out the same lineup, in game three against the Royals they mixed things up a bit, although they used the same nine players. Based on that last game, expect a batting order something like this:
Conclusions & Predictions
Baseball never ends up how you expect it to; it's one of the reasons you have to love it. Having justified what I'm about to say with that disclaimer, even though the Twins are in Chicago this weekend I think they could still take two of three from the Sox. Contreras and Colon are big question marks, and after game 163 last fall I have a lot of confidence watching Blackburn take on the Black & White on hostile turf.
Game 1: Twins 5, Sox 3
Game 2: Twins 7, Sox 6
Game 3: Sox 3, Twins 1