White Sox looking to rebound in '08
After difficult '07, South Siders aim to challenge for AL Central
A.J. Pierzynski had to go back 14 years to answer the following question:
When was the last time he played on a losing team?
"The Minor Leagues, I think," Pierzynski said. "I can only remember being on one during my first year in the Gulf Coast League. It has been a long time."
Those GCL Twins saw Pierzynski as a member in 1994, so it's been quite a run of success since the White Sox catcher has held a featured role on a debacle such as last year's 72-90 showing from the South Siders. It certainly was the first losing team Pierzynski played on during seven full seasons in the Major Leagues.
It was no prize for the organization as a whole, either. The White Sox last losing season came in 1999 (75-86), and the team hadn't dropped as many as 90 since 1989 (68-92).
But the 2007 season now stands as nothing more than an unpleasant but distant memory. The White Sox have a somewhat new alignment in 2008, on display Monday afternoon at 2:05 CT in Cleveland, with general manager Ken Williams adding Nick Swisher, Orlando Cabrera, Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel and Alexei Ramirez to give the team a different look and feel.
Dotel and Linebrink provide all-encompassing band-aids to one of baseball's biggest open wounds last year in the White Sox bullpen. But factoring in the attitude and talent Swisher and Cabrera bring to the equation, they could provide the biggest immediate impact.
"Swisher makes a big difference to keep this team together," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
"To add two professional hitters is huge," White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker added. "The biggest news is that Cabrera and Swisher are exactly what we thought they were going to be. That's not a surprise, but to actually see them in the [batting] cage and see how they go about their business, they are low-maintenance pros, winning players who bring a lot of energy."
In order to avoid a repeat of last year's precipitous drop, the White Sox need Jose Contreras to bounce back and produce near his 2006 All-Star form, young starters such as John Danks and Gavin Floyd to work deep into games, bridge men who can get the ball to All-Star closer Bobby Jenks and an offense that can grind out runs. Easier said than done, right?
Pierzynski, for one, believes the above challenge is achievable. He doesn't foresee a second losing year on his big league resume.
"It was tough," said Pierzynski of 2007. "I mean, going through that, and with the expectations to win we had coming in for the team. It just changes when you lose every day. It's tougher to come to the park, and not as fun.
"So, it's just one of those things, a bump in the road. It was a fluke year, and it's over. Now, we go in very confident."
CWS: LHP Mark Buehrle (10-9, 3.63 ERA in 2007)
The $56 million man makes his sixth Opening Day start in the past seven years.
CLE: LHP C.C. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21 ERA)
The lefty as a 2-0 record in the past four head-to-head starts with Buehrle.
The right-handed-hitting Ryan Garko and Jason Michaels both figure to be in the lineup against Buehrle, and that's good news for Cleveland. Garko has seven hits in 11 at-bats against the White Sox ace, who is 5-4 lifetime at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) while Michaels is 10-for-28 with two home runs against the lefty.
Official game notes On television
WSCR, The Score, 670-AM
Wednesday: White Sox (Javier Vazquez, 15-8, 3.74) at Indians (Fausto Carmona, 19-8, 3.06), 6:05 p.m. CT
Thursday: White Sox (John Danks, 6-13, 5.50) at Indians (Jake Westbrook, 6-9, 4.32), 11:05 a.m. CT
Friday: White Sox (Jose Contreras, 10-17, 5.57) at Tigers (Nate Robertson, 9-13, 4.76), 12:05 p.m. CT
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.