Last year, baseball’s Cinderella team hailed from Arizona. The reigning World Series Champion San Francisco Giants figured to be the team that would finish atop the NL West standings, but Kirk Gibson and company had other plans. The Diamondbacks, who night after night established a reputation for grinding out a full nine innings of baseball, outlasted the Giants in the 162-game marathon to seize the division crown.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, it’s hard to pick a team who might be capable of replicating the magic the Diamondbacks pulled out of their hat last season. Let’s face it – there are a lot of teams that look very strong, and a bunch of others that look like they are simply in a rebuild mode.
How about the Washington Nationals? Sure, the Nats could make a run this year, but would it be all that shocking if they were able to win 90 games? They’ve added Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to a rotation that already features Jordan Zimmermann and some kid most people have probably never heard of named Stephen Strasburg. Here’s another issue with coining the Nats as a 2012 Cinderella – have you seen the Philles? Heck, the Marlins might even have a decent team this year.
Well then maybe the Rockies. No, they don’t have the pitching. Blue Jays? No, they don’t have enough hitting or pitching. The Mariners or the Cubs? L.O.L.
There is one team. This is a team that emptied their wallets in a big way over the course of the previous winter, only to watch their expensive plans burn up in flames very quickly in 2011. This is a team that gave hints they would be conducting a full-on fire sale this winter, but as the calendar flipped to spring, they stopped before the entire blueprint went up in smoke. I am speaking of the Chicago White Sox.
Sure, the Detroit Tigers have game. Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are three of the elite players in baseball, and they have plenty of other pieces to compliment their superstars. For any club in the AL Central to finish ahead of the Motor City Bengals, some border-line shocking developments will have to unfold.
But look back at how the Diamondbacks found success last year. They did it the same way a lot of other good teams do – with awesome starting pitching. Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders all threw over 200 innings of rock solid baseball, and none of them finished the season with an ERA over 3.70. Adding on to that, Josh Collmenter threw 154 brilliant innings last year as well.
Chicago dangled two of their top pitchers in Jon Danks and Gavin Floyd for quite a while this offseason, testing the waters to see how they could maybe improve their future outlook and/or their finances. But these guys were never moved. Danks and Floyd will be back to take the hill at US Cellular with Philip Humber and Chris Sale. It’s hard to count on Jake Peavybeing healthy these days, but anything they can get out of him will help aid a rotation that can stand up to the nasty top four arms the Tigers run out in Detroit. The bottom-line is the White Sox should flash some really good starting pitching.
The White Sox will need to improve on their numbers offensively from 2011 to have any shot of making noise in 2012. But looking back on previous track records, there’s ability lurking. Obviously the Pale Hose could use a boost in production from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. Dunn is only 32 years old, and has had a year to adjust to life in the American League. One would have to think he can easily improve upon his .159 batting average and 11 home runs last year. The same can be said for the 31-year-old Rios whose numbers also fell off a cliff last year.
Chicago will be bringing back Alexi Ramirez who took home a Silver Slugger award in 2010, and Paul Konerko who quietly is still one of the League’s most dangerous hitters. Also don’t be shocked if this is finally the year Gordon Beckham breaks out of the proverbial shell. It’s hard to remember he is still only 25 years old.
I anticipate improvement in the LF/leadoff spot from Alejandro De Aza. De Aza has had to be patient thus far in his career looking for consistent playing time, and it seems this will be the year he finally gets it. In 54 games last year the White Sox’ outfielder got on base at will, and showed good speed with some pop in the bat as well.
Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain spearhead Chicago’s bullpen, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of the group is pieced together, especially with the departure of Sergio Santos. Guys like Dylan Axelrod and Will Ohman will have to step it up to keep the White Sox in tight late-inning games.
Yes, outside of the starting pitching, there are some big question marks with this team. But with a starting rotation like the Sox have, they definitely have a puncher’s chance in 2012. After all, Detroit Tigers such as Verlander, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister and Alex Avila could all be in line for a little regression this season.
For more on the White Sox, be sure to check out Southside Showdown.
Topics: Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Avila, Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale, Daniel Hudson, Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister, Dylan Axelrod, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd, Gio Gonzalez, Gordon Beckham, Ian Kennedy, Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain, Jhonny Peralta, Joe Saunders, Jordan Zimmermann, Josh Collmenter, Justin Verlander, Matt Thornton, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Konerko, Philip Humber, Prince Fielder, Sergio Santos, Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, Will Ohman