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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sizing Up these Sox!
by Hal Vickery

Is it already six months since we last saw the Sox in action, and five months since the Red Sox lifted their supposed curse? Can it be true that the 2005 season is already here?

The only reason I believe it is that I’ve been to my first game, and how I wish it had been two games, even though the Sox lost both games to the Brewers at Miller Park. We ordered our tickets for Saturday’s game in Milwaukee back in January from our hotel room at SoxFest, and last Saturday was the big payoff to our winter investment.

How did these Sox look compared to the team we remember from the recent past?

Scott Podsednik led off and played left field. He’s a speedster all right, and a smart base runner. In the third inning against Milwaukee he showed enough speed and skill to go all the way to second after he grounded the ball to a pitcher and runner Juan Uribe got hung up between second and third base.

Tadahito Iguchi remains a question mark. If he is to continue to bat second in the order, he has to show patience, bat control, and the ability to get on base. His on-base percentage this spring was only around .300, just barely over his spring batting average. However, from the limited times I’ve seen him this spring, I think he’ll be a very good defensive second baseman.

Carl Everett will DH until Frank Thomas comes back from his ankle fracture. He is in a bit of a funk as the season starts, swinging wildly at bad pitches. Here’s hoping he and Greg Walker have a talk before too long about that.

Paul Konerko appears to be ready to continue his hot hitting from 2004. Konerko’s biggest problem seems to be that he is too analytical. A few years ago when he was on a hot streak, he changed his batting stance. Now why would anybody do that? The result, naturally, was that he went into a long slump. Here’s hoping he’s learned from that type of mistake.

Jernaine Dye had one of the worst springs of any of the Sox starting lineup. He is a huge question mark. He needs to hit better than the .265 he hit at Oakland last year and still hit with power if he’s going to compensate for the loss of Magglio Ordoñez. It’s fortunate that spring training games don’t count in that respect.

Aaron Rowand is also a question mark. The Sox think he will continue to develop as a .300 hitter with decent power. If he can do this, then he will be the replacement in the lineup for Maggs. So-called experts indicate that they think last year was a fluke. They could be right, but we’ve often documented at WSI how often they’ve been wrong.

A.J. Pierzynski had the worst spring at the plate of any of the Sox regulars, but if Saturday was any indication, he may be gearing up for when the games count. No one associated with the Sox has even hinted that the “clubhouse cancer” label stuck on him has any truth to it.

In fact the story came out recently that the whole incident played up in the San Francisco Chronicle came from Brett Tomko (he of the 11-7 record and 4.04 ERA) that Pierzynski was playing cards when Tomko asked Pierzynski to go over the opposing lineup with him. Pierzynski told him, “After we finish this hand.” That’s it. He finished the hand he was in the middle of, and then went over the lineup with Tomko. Tomko was upset that he had to wait and went crying to the Chronicle. Some clubhouse cancer!

Joe Crede improved on his spring numbers against the Brewers by going 2-4, but he wasn’t dazzling anybody with his bat. However, he made a couple of nice plays with his glove that showed why the Sox are a lot less quick to give up on him than a lot of fans are. Still, after putting in a batting cage and working on a problem in his swing with Greg Walker, you’d hope that he’d come out creaming the ball instead of hitting around .260.

Juan Uribe is now in his natural position at shortstop. If he can be less streaky at bat than he was in 2004, he’ll be worth giving up Jose Valentin’s 30 home runs because he’ll get on base a lot more. He’s not the prettiest fielding shortstop out there, but he does get the job done on defense.

That leads us to the starting pitching. Kenny Williams started addressing that problem last July, and put the finishing touches on his starting rotation during the off-season.

Mark Buehrle will be the number-one starter. After a scare in which it was first thought he broke a bone in his foot, Buehrle will start opening day, none the worse for the entire incident. Buehrle has always been a potential 20-game winner. Now at age 26, he could be just that.

Freddy Garcia has a propensity for throwing gopher balls at The Cell. He hasn’t matched the number he put up before being treated for an inner-ear problem a year or so ago, so this will be his year to prove himself. Oddly enough, after coming to the Sox last year, his ERA rose (much of that due to ball park factors) while he improved on his won-lost record. Go figure!

Jose Contreras comes with a lot of baggage. The experts ask why the Yankees would want to get rid of him, and the answer given by the Sox has always been that they’ve watched him and know that he often tips his pitches and has a tendency to rely on his split fingered pitch instead of his excellent fastball. Whether or not Contreras listens to Don Cooper will have huge implications for both his future and that of the White Sox.

Another big “Why did the Yankees let him go?” belongs to El Duque, Orlando Hernandez. He didn’t have a lot of speed on his fastball last year, but he got batters out to the tune of an 8-5 record and a 3.64 ERA.

To put it bluntly, neither of these acquisitions knocked anybody’s socks off in spring training. On the other hand, spring training doesn’t always tell the whole story. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rounding out the rotation will be Jon Garland, who at 25 is already in his sixth year on the major-league roster. Garland has always had more potential than he has shown, and a lot of it goes to what he does in the fourth inning. Unfortunately, that seems to be where he breaks down. It happened again Saturday where he game up two back-to-back singles followed immediately by a Carlos Lee homer. Of course after the damage was done, the next two batters struck out and the last batter flied out. Garland has to find a way to keep this from happening in close games.

On the bench the Sox will have some familiar faces. Ross Gload will back up Konerko at first base and maybe play a little outfield. Willie Harris and Pablo Ozuna will back up the rest of the infield, with Harris also able to back up in centerfield. Chris Widger will back of Pierzynski behind the plate. Timo Perez will be the reserve outfielder with Everett able to play in the outfield when he isn’t DHing.

The Sox bullpen this year has some new additions. Luis Vizcaino came over from the Brewers with Podsednik in the Carlos Lee trade. He will probably be a middle reliever but could set up on occasion. Dustin Hermanson, who played with the Giants last year was both a starter and closer in 2004. He could be a swing man, doing whatever is needed, from set-up to closing to starting in an emergency.

Returning are Neal Cotts, Cliff Politte, set-up man Damaso Marte, and closer Shingo Takatsu. None were all that impressive in spring training, but again, spring training is just that. We’ll just have to wait and see. That’s why they play the games.

So even though there are still a lot of question marks, it’s still good to hear the words, “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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