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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Pale Hosiery
by John Dianis

Five Key Players in 2006

by John Dainis

It was only October. Christmas was still two months away and America’s Fall Classic was still being played out late in the year. The hopes and dreams of thousands of Chicagoans hung in the balance.

Then, on that one magical evening in Houston, White Sox Nation got an early Christmas present. As Paul Konerko squeezed his glove closed for the final out of the 2005 World Series, 88 long years of agony had all been erased in one triumphant and unforgettable moment. Our Sox were champions of the world once again! What a moment we’ll never forget…

Today, the White Sox, barely removed from that extraordinary Wednesday in October, are in the midst of scripting more headlines, even though the taste of a World Series victory still remains so sweet in our mouths. Just in the past week, two of baseball’s most prolific homerun hitters were united with hopes that they could revive an oft anemic White Sox offense. Jim Thome, acquired from the Phillies for fan favorite, Aaron Rowand, comes at a pretty cheap price considering his reputation and success as a masher. Combine him with newly re-signed Paul Konerko, and suddenly you’re looking at an even stronger Sox cast for next year. But what should really intrigue fans the most about the upcoming season are the players that don’t necessarily make every headline. These had some very good seasons, but have flown under the radar a bit because of some of the bigger names.

Here are the five players who figure to best determine whether the White Sox can repeat as champions in 2006:

Scott Podsednik: 2005 proved to be the best overall year of Podsednik’s short career. He batted a career-high .290 and stole 59 bases in just 129 games, certainly exceeding the expectations of many and proving to be the best leadoff hitter the Sox have had in years. Creating havoc on the base paths, getting under the skin of opposing pitchers, and jump-starting the rest of the lineup, he was a major reason why “Ozzieball” was successful. One can’t help wonder in all of this though, what more Scotty might have done had he not gone down with a hamstring injury in mid-August. Could he have stolen 90 bases? Maybe 100?! We’ll certainly never know the answers to those questions, but we can hope for a healthier Scotty in 2006. If he can stick around for 150 games, there’s no telling how dangerous the left fielder could be. Maybe he WOULD steal the 90 bases he was on pace to nab before his injury. We’ll just have to wait and see what he has in store.

Bobby Jenks: When “Big Bad” Bobby was called-up from Double-A Birmingham in July, no one at that time could have ever imagined the 24-year old would storm onto the scene with such dominating stuff and never relinquish a closer’s role that often seemed to be up for grabs. The pressure of having to close out games for the best team in the A.L. should have been too much for him, yet he somehow found a way to look like a seasoned veteran, finishing 2005 with a 2.75 ERA and nailing down the biggest game he will ever pitch in, Game 4 of the World Series. For those reasons and probably a handful of others, it’s safe to say that Jenks is the “real deal” and should have no problem with job security on the Southside for years to come. Knowing how much he accomplished in such a short period of time, the young closer should be able to pick up in ’06, where he left off in ’05. Then maybe along the way, he can also trigger a few more Jeff Bagwell-type swings when other hitters step into the box.

Mark Buehrle: The Ace of the pitching staff for 5 years now, Buehrle has been the ultimate model of consistency across the major leagues, throwing 220+ innings and winning at least 14 games in that time frame. In 2005 there was more of the same, although it was arguably his best year in a Sox uni-, finishing the season with 16 wins and a career-best 3.12 ERA. As in years past though, Mark also fell victim to some bad luck (a.k.a. poor run support) that cost him at least a handful of wins. Since winning a career-high 19 games in ’02, Buehrle has not been able to get his head above the 16 win plateau. With the promise of a more potent offense in place for 2006 though, the left-hander should be able to scrounge up a few more one-run victories and finally reach the 20-win pinnacle.

A.J. Pierzynski: As one of the main men behind the success of the World Champion White Sox, A.J. managed the arms that propelled the Sox to new heights in 2005. Under his leadership and guidance, the Sox’s pool of young, talented hurlers finally fulfilled expectations and lived up to their billing as a quality pitching staff. In the end, A.J. proved to be a God-sent, despite a down-year in many offensive categories. Though he did go on to finish the year with a career-high 18 HRs, he also batted a career-low .257 and was only able to muster up 12 RBIs the last two months of the season. Of course, you know it’s hard to criticize anyone, particularly A.J., after a World Series win, the numbers do speak for themselves. Given his raw talent and dedication to the game, however, there’s no doubt he should rebound quite nicely in 2006.

Tadahito Iguchi: Coming over from Japan to play his first major league season in the United States, Iguchi quickly adapted to American baseball and certainly impressed his new White Sox family. He ended the 2005 season with a .278 batting average, 15 HRs, and 71 RBIs, while also hitting a monumental three-run homerun off David Wells in Game 2 of the ALDS. What more could you expect from a rookie, right? Well, given the fact that Iguchi admittedly was never fully comfortable in his role as the number two hitter, we could expect a bit more from him. As a featured member of the Daiei Hawks’ lineup in Japan, he got more opportunities to drive in runs and change the outcome of games, not just take pitches and advance runners as he did with the White Sox. Ozzie Guillen, recognizing Iguchi’s untapped talent, has already voiced his intentions to move the second baseman lower in the order to get him more run-producing opportunities in 2006. If the one-time Daiei Hawk can get back to his roots, the White Sox should have another offensive threat on their hands in their quest to repeat as champions.


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