White Sox better?
Reasons Sox can be optimistic:
- They're the defending champs. Hey, we did it last year, why can't we do it this year?
- Jim Thome. You've got to give Sox GM Kenny Williams credit. He didn't sit back and enjoy the rewards of a WS title. He stayed aggressive and landed the one thing the Sox lacked last year, a legitimate left-handed power bat to offset Paul Konerko.
- Starting pitching. The Sox starters were the best last year and Williams went out and traded Orlando Hernandez for Javier Vazquez. With top prospect Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen ready to go if someone gets hurt, the Sox might have more depth than last year.
Reasons White Sox can be pessimistic:
- The bullpen: Closer Bobby Jenks essentially came out of nowhere to take over the job when Dustin Hermanson's back wouldn't stay healthy. Hermanson's first half was unreal. He took over the closer's role when Shingo Takatsu proved ineffective in his second year in the majors after coming over from Japan. Hermanson didn't allow an earned run until June despite less than overwhelming stuff. The Sox had a plenty deep bullpen with Cliff Pollitte, Damaso Marte, Neal Cotts and Luis Vizcaino all used as setup men at some point in the year. Marte also was given the opportunity at times to close. Now, Hermanson's back is still bad, Marte and Vizcaino were traded, and Takatsu was released. They replaced them with Boone Logan, who has never pitched about Single A, and Matt Thornton, whose career WHIP is 1.67 and has walked 67 batters in 91 career innings. Now, Cotts is the main lefty setup man and Jenks has no one to back him up if he struggles in his first full season on the job. This is the same Jenks who the Angels just let go (either released or just not re-signed) mainly because of drinking and weight problems. When Jenks was in high school, he wasn't allowed to participate in baseball because he couldn't keep his grades up despite being the best pitcher in northern Idaho, if not the entire state. Now, there are reports that Jenks has been struggling to find the strike zone. Not good for a team whose success last year was predicated on winning the close ballgames.
- They're the defending champs. Two recent examples show how hard it is to maintain success after winning it all. The 2003 Angels had a losing record after coming out of nowhere to win it all in 2002. The 2004 Marlins were barely over .500 and missed the playoffs after also coming out of nowhere to win it all in 2003. The White Sox had that Us Against the World mentality last year because so many picked them to finish third. Now, many are picking them to repeat as champs. They're no longer the underdog and that carries a lot of expectations and pressures with it.
- Jim Thome's back. Thome played in only 59 games last year because of elbow and back problems. The back is what I would be worried about, especially for a 35-year-old DH that is 6-4, 245. If Thome can't stay healthy, then the Sox traded away Aaron Rowand, a very underrated center fielder, for practically nothing.
- Offense. On the surface, Thome would seem to make the Sox better. However, their lineup is no deeper because of the losses of Rowand, Carl Everett and Frank Thomas. Just to maintain a mediocre offense from last year, the Sox will need Thome and rookie Brian Anderson to replace the 48 homers and 182 RBIs that Rowand/Everett/Thomas produced last year.
- It can't all go right a second time. The Sox were 35-19 in one-run games. That's an insanely good record. Maintaining that record this year would be next to impossible. If the Sox were .500 in one-run games last year, like most teams, they would have won only 91 games and probably lost the division by a mile, considering they were 9-0 in one-run games with the Indians.
- Can starters repeat? Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras all had career years last year. Plus, Freddy Garcia, who has had a roller-coaster of a career, had one of his best seasons. With the bullpen worse and the offense only a little better at best, the Sox will need a repeat performance from their starters, which is a tall order.