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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Spring Forward to Baseball Already!
by Hal Vickery

This is the time of the year when I really get antsy. I guess my feelings pretty much match those of the players because itís this time of the year when you hear about how the players are tired of Arizona and exhibition games and want to move north and play games that have meaning. I can empathize with them.

I donít care if the temperatures this week dropped back into the thirties for highs and the twenties for lows. The sun is higher in the sky, and the days are getting longer. The government helped that along by moving Daylight Saving Time up three weeks. Itís great to get home with an hour or so of daylight to spare, but there needs to be something to fill that time. How about some baseball?

How about some baseball that counts? Thatís what everybody is itching for by now. Well, maybe everybody but Ozzie Guillen who still has to make a decision about a fifth starter based on the performances of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Charlie Haeger. According to the latest reports from Tucson, Guillen still hasnít decided which of the three will earn a spot in the starting rotation.

Itís impossible to comment on the performance of any pitcher in Tucson. Sox ERAs in the spring have been astronomical since they moved there for spring training, but they usually drop back to earth when the season starts. So you have to really just look at the pitchersí ďstuff,Ē and thatís where Guillen has a problem. He seems to like all of them. Or at least thatís what heís saying for public consumption.

There are a lot of us who worry that Kenny Williams fell back into ďProfessor ChaosĒ mode when he traded Freddy Garcia for Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Garcia was nothing if not a horse. Floyd has been a disappointment in AAA. He has spent two years there accumulating a collective 5.27 ERA, yet he was touted to be the fifth starter.

Of course Danks and Haeger have had something to say about that, too, and Ozzie says he is pleased with what heís seeing from all three of them. Heíd better be. Right now the Sox starting rotation may be the most questionable part of the lineup.

Consider that Mark Buehrle is coming off the first sub-.500 season of his career. Buehrle was not himself after he got knocked around in a couple of starts, including one against the Cubs. Hawk Harrelson attributed it to Buehrleís inability to throw an effective change-up. This has happened to Buehrle before, but not for as prolonged a period as it did in 2006.

Jose Contreras also had a sub-par second half. This was attributable to injuries, but since no one is really sure of Contrerasí age (officially 35), no one knows if heíll be the same pitcher this year or ever again. Since he has been with the Sox, Contreras has yet to put together two good consecutive half-seasons in the same season.

Then there is Javier Vazquez, the man who couldnít seem to get beyond the fifth inning. He was the guy who, once someone got a hit off him after the fourth inning, showed by his body language that he was ready to get shelled. Vazquez could be one of those pitchers whom every pitching coach thinks he knows how to fix but no one ever can. At least thatís my fear at this point. Letís hope Iím wrong and Don Cooper can work a little magic.

That leaves Jon Garland. Thereís nothing bad that anyone can say about his performance the past two seasons. Garland has come into his own since the start of the 2005 season. Of course, being a White Sox fan, that means I can reach only one conclusion: that Garland is ready for the type of season Buehrle had in 2006. Okay, Iím not that much of a doomsayer, but thatís the scary thing about baseball. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Weíve seen that with Buehrle.

Of course, thatís why they play the games, and thatís why Iím champing at the bit for the season to get underway. Those games do have to be played, and the sooner the better. Itís been a long winter. At one time the winter following a 90-win season would have been time for positive thoughts, but last season wasnít your ordinary 90-win season.

It was a 90-win season and a third place finish that followed a World Series championship. For once in the lives of Sox fans, a 90-win season was a disappointment. Weíve been saying for years that when the Sox win it all, we wonít settle for just once. We want a dynasty, and you donít have a dynasty with mediocre pitching like we saw in 2006.

The 2007 season is do or die time for the Sox. The marketing department is advertising that itís back to the grind. Ozzie Guillen has said that this team is more solid in execution than the 2006 team. Winter ends Wednesday. Spring is almost here. Letís play ball!

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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