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WSI News - News Watch

AP Previews the 2002 Sox

March 28th, from the Associated Press

From top to bottom, the lineup for the Chicago White Sox is packed with speed, power and smart hitters.

Now if only they could get some pitching to go along with it.

``This offense, it's going to be something to watch,'' said Frank Thomas, who is healthy again after missing almost all of last season with a torn triceps.

``If we get adequate pitching, I think we'll be fine. We've just got to score runs.''

The White Sox definitely have the potential to do that.

Chicago made one significant change to the lineup that batted .268 last season, but it was a big one. Kenny Lofton is one of the best pure leadoff hitters in the game, with an on-base percentage of .377.

Though he had a sub-par year last season, hitting a career-low .261 with 16 steals, he's healthy again and eager to show he can still do some damage.

``He really knows what leading off is all about and it's tough to find guys like that,'' Paul Konerko said. ``He's a guy who can not be swinging the bat well and still get on base.''

With Lofton and Ray Durham, who will drop from leadoff to the No. 2 spot, in front of him, Thomas should see plenty of RBI opportunities.

``I've never had a 1-2 this good in front of me,'' Thomas said. ``Ray and Kenny really can swing the bat, and that's going to make things very easy for me.''

That would be a welcome change for the two-time AL MVP, who's had more than his share of problems -- on and off the field -- the past few years.

After two years of sulking and struggling, Thomas regained his offensive mojo in 2000 and led the White Sox to the AL Central title.

But things got ugly again in a hurry last year, as he complained about his contract in spring training and then briefly left camp. His season lasted all of 20 games, yet that was long enough for a public spat with David Wells that threatened to divide the clubhouse.

Thomas also had to deal with the death of his father, Frank Sr.

``The last few conversations with my father, he ... told me, `You just better get back to being the old you because it's very important for you and your career. Have more fun with it. You've accomplished a lot, so you need to really enjoy it,''' Thomas said. ``And that's what I'm doing now.''

While Thomas' absence was part of the reason for Chicago's disappointing season last year, it also helped the team grow up as younger players stepped up and produced.

Magglio Ordonez batted .305 with 31 homers and 113 RBIs. Konerko had career highs with 32 home runs and 99 RBIs despite hitting .152 in May. Even Royce Clayton, who was mocked by Comiskey Park fans after his average dropped to .099, finished hitting .263.

The White Sox are the pick of many to win the AL Central partly because the Cleveland Indians gutted their team, trading Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets and letting Juan Gonzalez go.

The Minnesota Twins beat the White Sox in 14 of their 19 meetings last season. But after almost folding in the offseason, there are few changes to the team that stumbled to a second-place finish in the AL Central last season.

``I'm sure with this offense, we're going to be people's favorite,'' Thomas said. ``But it always comes down to pitching.''

And pitching sure seems to be the White Sox biggest weakness. Chicago has a solid No. 1 in Mark Buehrle, who was 16-8 in his first full season in the majors. He had a 3.29 ERA, best of any AL left-hander. The White Sox also acquired Todd Ritchie, who went 11-7 with a 4.11 ERA in his final 21 starts last season for the Pirates.

But with Jim Parque still trying to regain his velocity after shoulder surgery, Dan Wright, Jon Garland and Jon Rauch will fill out Chicago's rotation.

Rauch has never pitched in the majors, and had just six starts at Triple-A last year before getting hurt. Wright has pitched in 13 major league games. Garland counts as the ``veteran'' of the bunch, going 10-15 in his 50 appearances in the last two seasons.

While Keith Foulke could be one of the game's most underrated closers, the middle relief is shaky. Reliever Bob Howry experienced a drop in velocity and was dropped from the setup role, and lefty Kelly Wunsch is one of several pitcher returning from surgery.

``If we're healthy, we'll eventually get it together,'' manager Jerry Manuel said. ``I do feel really good about this team. I feel very confident that this team can be one of the better teams that I've had since I've been here.''


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