White Sox confident they can surprise in 2012
Team feels it has talent, fundamentals to contend in AL Central
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox already were a feisty bunch entering the 2012 season.
Not feisty, as in battling with each other, but more so ready to prove naysayers wrong.
Then the Sports Illustrated preseason prediction of 67-95 arrived for Robin Ventura's first year, and that feistiness transformed into indignation and defiance.
Jake Peavy actually supplied these sentiments, guaranteeing the White Sox would not lose 95 and certainly sounding like a player who believes his team will finish well above that 67-win total.
"We aren't going to give away games," said the No. 2 starter in the White Sox rotation of his team's outlook. "We are going to have some growing pains, especially with as young as we are in the back end of the bullpen. I'm sure there will be times when we may lose some tough ones or give away some games, but that's to be expected.
W: Lewis (1-0) L: Danks (0-1)
SV: Nathan (1)
"At the same time, we have a veteran presence on this team, guys who have been in the fire before, to lead these young guys. We have great leadership from a coaching perspective. We have too much pride. This team is going to compete. We are not losing 95 games, let me tell you that."
It's one thing to talk the talk, but now Peavy and company have to go out and walk the walk once the regular season begins Friday in Arlington against the Rangers. This is a team that certainly has the potential to challenge the Tigers for the American League Central title, but it also has more "ifs" than a Bread song.
If Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham can bounce back from poor 2011 campaigns with the bat. ... If Peavy is closer to the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner than the one beset by injuries since joining the White Sox. ... If Chris Sale can harness his electric stuff in his conversion to the starting rotation. ... If Matt Thornton or any other potential choice can anchor the back end of the bullpen.
Too many of these questions go unanswered, and the White Sox won't be able to tackle a Tigers squad looking as strong as any in the American League. Forget about Detroit: A large number of negatives coming from this South Side pool of unknown, and the White Sox might have trouble surpassing the youthfully talented Royals and Manny Acta's Indians crew trying to build off its surprising run of 2011.
Yet, don't try to tell the White Sox that this is a modified-rebuilding, 90-loss team. They have greater belief that this is a group with legitimate playoff aspirations.
"I hope we are not a 90-loss team," said White Sox Opening Day starter John Danks with a wry smile. "I truly think if we play the way we are all capable of playing, we can make a run at the division. So, it wouldn't surprise me. It would obviously surprise a lot of people outside of this room. The guys in this room all truly believe we can make a run. We are going to be better than people think."
"With the guys we have and the work we put in, there's going to be a lot of good things out on the field," Beckham said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes into that, and that product is going to come out. The attention to detail we've had this Spring Training, it's all going to really propel us to do the little things right, and that's going to cause the big things to go right."
Starting pitching appears to be the White Sox strength, with Danks, Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Sale and Philip Humber presenting a group of five who all could win in double-digits. Thornton, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman anchor the White Sox bullpen, but in Addison Reed, Hector Santiago, Zach Stewart and Nate Jones, the relief core features four pitchers with fewer than 70 days of big league experience, and three with fewer than 30.
Ventura has some lineup slots locked down, with Alejandro De Aza at the top, Rios, Paul Konerko and Dunn in the middle and Beckham looking to be in the eight or nine slot. The manager has played with the right fit at the two-hole, using veteran A.J. Pierzynski and third baseman Brent Morel. Dayan Viciedo, who will be getting his first Opening Day start, needs to improve from a rough spring with the bat in which he also dealt with a position switch from right to left.
General manager Ken Williams said as far back as SoxFest that if the team hits, it will win. In a recent interview with MLB.com, he took that prognostication a bit deeper.
Let's say a .500 season for the White Sox truly represents a good 2012 effort. In order to turn that effort from break-even to playoff-caliber, Williams figures the White Sox would have to pick up another 1 1/2 games per month.
How is that particular goal accomplished? Williams believes Ventura and his staff have that angle covered.
"You do that through fundamental execution. You do that through keeping yourself in games and winning the close games," Williams said. "And when I say fundamental execution, offensively and defensively, getting bunts down, moving runners, sacrificing yourself for team play.
"We have an up close and personal mentor in that area for a number of years in the Minnesota Twins. People have said they did not measure up to our teams or Detroit's team on paper. But they won the division. How did they do it? By this way."
A strong start through a tough April and May schedule, featuring 26 games against the division and 14 in a row to begin May, will be essential. Otherwise, Williams could trade off a few veteran players for prospects, making MLB.com's fourth-place projection a bit more plausible.
Otherwise, the White Sox believe they are about to shock the baseball world -- or at the very least, stun them.
"There are a lot of positives still around here," Williams said. "We are more optimistic than some other people."