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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

New Sox!

by
Guy Bacci

For better or worse, Kenny Williams has lived up to his promise. He said he would reshape the White Sox, and he most certainly has. Gone are homerun heroes Carlos Lee and Jose Valentin—two of the most effective Cub-killers that Sox fans have ever seen—replaced by scrappy speedsters Scott Podsednik and Juan Uribe. Gone is the best all-around Sox player of the last fifteen years, Magglio Ordonez, replaced by a hobbled but likeable Jermaine Dye. The Smash Sox are now the Scrap Sox, and nobody quite knows what to make of them.

The general consensus is that a change was needed. For the past four seasons, the Sox have tried to win with a mediocre pitching staff and a blast-off lineup, and it simply hasn’t worked. The problem with a power-oriented team is that when it slumps, it has no alternative means of scoring runs. Hence the Smash Sox would often score ten or more runs one night and zero the next. It’s no surprise they hovered around .500 in the years after the fluky 2000 season.

But with U.S. Cellular Field recently becoming a launching pad, fans are quietly wondering if turning off the lineup’s power was such a good idea. The Sox led the majors in homers with 242 last year, despite losing Ordonez and Frank Thomas to injuries. Without Lee, Valentin and Ordonez, that number should drop to around 180. Last season, the slugging Sox were third in runs scored with 865—will that number drop too?

Not necessarily.

The Cleveland Indians scored just about as many runs as the Sox in 2004, yet they hit nearly 60 fewer homers. How is that possible? Well, Cleveland’s batting average was eight points higher; their OBP was 18 points higher; they stole 16 more bases while having a younger, faster team on the base paths. And if they had any sort of bullpen, they would have finished in second place in the AL Central, well ahead of the Sox.

Many experts have pointed out that the problem with Podsednik is that he won’t raise the team’s average or OBP. That may turn out to be true. But he also stole as many bases last season as nearly the entire White Sox squad combined. (Pods stole 70 while the Sox had 78.) If Podsednik can teach Willie Harris a thing or two, the Sox may have a pair of lightning bolts on the bases next year, which, at the very least, would make them a more interesting team to watch.

Yet the most crucial aspect of Williams’ new plan is the revamped starting pitching staff. In previous seasons, Williams has been content sticking a pair of horses at the top of his rotation while hoping the scrubs at the bottom could hold the fort. He got lucky in 2003 when Esteban Loazia turned out to be much more than a scrub, but the number-five spot was such a black hole that it cost the Sox the division that season. Ditto for 2004.

Williams will be damned if it happens again. He’s dropped Jon Garland from third to fifth in the rotation; he’s picked up two former Yankees with playoff experience and incredible potential, Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras, to follow his two horses, Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia. Potentially, this is the best Sox rotation since the early ‘90s.

Potentially.

Many of Williams’ splashy acquisitions have flopped, so you’ll have to forgive Sox fans for shrugging their shoulders at this rather aggressive off-season. The disappointments of David Wells, Todd Ritchie and Bartolo Colon (who all garnered a large amount of enthusiasm when KW acquired them) have turned the current era of Sox fans into eternal pessimists. As a result, Sox faithful greet El Duque with a hefty dose of trepidation.

Rather than celebrate the deepest and most talented rotation in ages, fans wonder if Hernandez is healthy, if Contreras is a head case, if Garland is immature, and if Garcia is a fly-ball pitcher. There are simply too many question marks, preventing Southsiders from getting excited about ’05.

But there’s enough talent on hand to make even the most negative Sox fan dream. Imagine El Duque and Contreras remaining effective and healthy for an entire season. Imagine Garland maturing and Buehrle having an All-Star campaign. If that happens, the Sox could be on their way to the playoffs, and that’s without considering the improved bullpen. Luis Vizcaino, who was acquired with Podsednik, adds another strong arm to a deep pen.

Williams’ Christmas gift to Sox fans is a brand new team, one built on speed and pitching in (gulp) a slugger’s ballpark. Kenny was good on his word; he said he’d deliver a different kind of ball club, and he did. Merry Christmas, Sox fans.

For better or worse.


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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