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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

The Same Boat as Last Year?

by
Guy Bacci
 

You know the old adage: “Spring games mean nothing.” Last season, the world-champion Marlins went 14-16. The Yankees went 16-16. Certainly the win-loss column is worthless when it comes to March competition (although the Royals 18-10 mark demonstrated they were ready to surprise a few people). What’s more important are individual performances. The rise of a particular player can boost a club, while the demise of a key component could demoralize a team.

 

I always like to make a pre-spring prediction on the White Sox and adjust my prediction after the Cactus League concludes, just to see if the impact of spring training has a carry-over effect into the season. For the last two years, the results for the Sox have been baffling, frustrating and fascinating.

 

After Cleveland dismantled in 2002, and the Sox acquired Todd Ritchie to add to the top of the rotation, I was confident heading into spring, and predicted 91 wins and a division title. But the Sox pitchers had a disastrous spring season, prompting everyone to blame the “thin air” in Tucson. I don’t know how thin the air was, but I do know how badly the Sox sucked. Take a look at the spring ERAs from 2002:

Foulke, 5.27
Buehrle, 7.10
Ritchie, 8.07
Wright, 8.17
Garland, 8.85
Rauch 9.92
Howry 9.97.

Egads! You can only blame so much on thin air. Randy Johnson pitched in the same park, and he managed to post a 3.37 ERA.

 

It was clearly time for an adjustment to my prediction. I dropped the Sox to 85 wins and gave the division title to Minnesota. (The Sox did even worse, finishing 81-81.)

 

The next season had the opposite effect. As spring camp opened, I didn’t see much improvement in the team. Bartolo Colon was a wonderful addition, but the Sox had lost Foulke and replaced him with the sketchy Billy Koch. Antonio Osuna and Bob Howry were supposed to be replaced by the aging Tom Gordon and Rick White. Worst of all, we were without a fifth starter. I wasn’t supremely confident, so I went with 86 wins (which is, ironically, exactly what they finished with -- I wish I had it documented somewhere). Of course, I drastically changed that prediction after the team departed Tucson.

 

It was a promising spring in 2003. Esteban Loaiza proved he could be an adequate starter (he ended up being much more than adequate) and Billy Koch appeared unhittable (he ended being more hittable than a beer-league softball pitcher). Just look at the improved ERAs in the spring of 2003:

 

Koch, 0.82

Buehrle, 1.13

Stewart, 2.05

Loaiza, 2.43

Gordon, 3.75

Garland, 4.30

Colon, 5.40.

 

So much for thin air. Sox fans were raging with confidence, so I leaped my prediction to 94 wins and a division title (which unfortunately is documented in the official WSI Prediction Thread).    

 

All of this proves nobody can possibly determine what will happen in the regular season (except for the fact that the Cubs will meet the Yankees in the World Series, at least if you listen to the media). There are too many variables to predict -- injuries, career years, down years. But that’s not going to stop me from making another pre-spring guess...

 

The Sox seem to be very much in the same boat they were at the start of spring training last year. Two solid pitchers at the top of the rotation, and a bunch of question marks. The lineup is essentially the same, with the minor exception of Willie Harris replacing D’Angelo Jimenez. With that in mind, I’m going with 84 wins. That would probably put the Sox behind Minnesota and Kansas City. But don’t fear, Sox fans! A second prediction will come before Opening Day, and I’m hopeful something will happen this spring to tack on a few wins.

 

Maybe another Loaiza? Or Shingo’s nasty slider? Or Jeremy Reed stealing the center-field spot? Or Paul Konerko being traded to LA?

 

The possibilities are endless, which is why hope springs eternal. I’ll say right now, the attitude of Ozzie Guillen may be worth an extra win or two already. He stunned pitchers and catchers on the first day of camp by dropping a string of F-bombs in his opening speech. Mark Buehrle responded by saying, “In the 3 ˝ years I was here with Jerry, I don’t think he cussed one time.” That’s precisely the change in attitude I was hoping for when I rooted for Guillen’s signing a few months ago.

 

The Ozzie haters will counter by saying he’s yet to prove his decision-making abilities, and that is true. Guillen is already talking about wanting his starters to go nine innings out of the gate, which undoubtedly has some Sox fans concerned. But I have a strong feeling Guillen is simply trying to inspire his troops. We shouldn’t take anything he says literally. When it comes to game-time decisions, Don Cooper and Joe Nossek will be there to keep him in check.

 

What is so thrilling is that Guillen is already pumping some life into the team. He really is the anti-Manuel, and that can only be a good thing. As I’ve said in past columns, even if the Sox fail to improve in the standings, they’re going to be a heck of a lot more interesting to watch. Guillen has managed to get me excited in mid-February, which is a significant accomplishment. With the Cubs destined for the post-season, and the Sox playing in a winnable division, it could be a rocking summer in Chicago.

 

Now let’s get those spring games started. I want a reason to increase that prediction of 84 wins. Or, as Ozzie might say, “I want a f------ reason to think we’re gonna win more than 84 games!” Jon Rauch, you listening?  

 


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back.  He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player.  His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay).  Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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