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2 Chicago White Sox By adding an ace and a flamethrowing closer, they're back in the playoff hunt

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

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March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

2 Chicago White Sox By adding an ace and a flamethrowing closer, they're back in the playoff hunt

Mark Buehrle has never wanted to be the center of attention.
Growing up in St. Charles, Mo., he was the kid in the back of the
classroom who didn't raise his hand. After he was cut from his
high school baseball team as a freshman and a sophomore, Buehrle
just wanted to keep to himself and work his night job as a Pizza
Hut delivery boy. But on the eve of tryouts in his junior year,
Buehrle was persuaded by his father, John, to go out for the team
one last time. Mark made it, and he played the next two years. At
Jefferson (Mo.) College his coaches urged him to be more of a
vocal team leader, but it wasn't in him. So it figures that when
he heard in January that the White Sox had traded for the most
prized pitcher on the market, Buehrle phoned manager Jerry Manuel
to tell him how ecstatic he was. Buehrle, a 19-game winner last
season, was no longer the staff ace. The 24-year-old lefthander
would gladly step aside for Bartolo Colon.

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

"I've never seen myself as an ace," Buehrle says. "For me, it's
big to be able to pitch behind a guy like Bartolo. Now he's an
ace." This spring Buehrle and Colon have been greeting each other
the same way every day: Gran Jefe (Big Chief). Buehrle's quiet
rise into the ranks of the American League's best starters has
been sudden. Over the past two years, his only full seasons in
the majors, Buehrle ranked in the top three in the AL in wins
(35), complete games (nine), shutouts (four) and innings pitched
(460 1/3). His fastball tops out in the low 90s, but his command
of four pitches--fastball, curve, slider and changeup--is beyond
his years. "He's the most mature and poised young pitcher I've
ever played with," says catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., a 13-year
veteran. "He's got the confidence to throw any of his pitches for
a strike in any count."

Likewise Colon, a 29-year-old righthander, has never been better.
Though his strikeouts per nine innings have steadily declined
over the last three years (from 10.1 to 8.1 to a career-low 5.8
last season), that trend is proof that he has become more than a
one-dimensional power pitcher. "He's at a different level now,"
says pitching coach Don Cooper. "He's getting people out earlier
in the count." Colon's pitches per inning dropped from 17.2 in
2000 to 16.4 in 2001 to a career-low 15.2 last year. Splitting
the season between the Indians and the Expos last season, he had
career bests in wins (20), ERA (2.93) and walks (70 in 233 1/3
innings, another career high). More bad news to opposing hitters:
This spring Colon unveiled a wickedly deceptive cutter to
complement his 100-mph heater.

But even with Colon and Buehrle at the top of the rotation,
Chicago's weakness remains starting pitching. Whether the White
Sox can catch the Twins will come down to this: How many quality
innings will they get from the rest of the rotation? Promising
righthanders Jon Garland and Dan Wright combined for a 4.88 ERA
last season, and both have struggled with control. (Garland's 83
walks were the third most in the AL, and Wright's 3.3 walks per
nine innings ranked sixth.) Righthander Esteban Loaiza is 20--21
with a 5.33 ERA over the past two years.

Scoring runs won't be a problem. Outfielder Magglio Ordonez,
first baseman Paul Konerko and designated hitter Frank Thomas are
all capable of batting .300, hitting 25 home runs and driving in
100 runs without breaking much of a sweat. In the off-season
Ordonez spent six weeks working out with Rangers shortstop Alex
Rodriguez. The two friends, with help from trainers from the
University of Miami football team, focused on improving their
agility by participating in grueling exercises. "In the past I
worried about getting bigger," says Ordonez. "Now I have both
power and quickness. I've never felt stronger."

The additions of closer Billy Koch and setup man Tom Gordon are a
huge boost to the bullpen, but the best sign for the team may be
the positive vibe in a clubhouse that was filled with bickering
last year. "Everyone's in a great mood," says Konerko. "Sure,
it's only spring training, but with the new guys we have, the
makeup of the team seems better. With what we have on paper, this
kind of clubhouse could make all the difference in the world for
us." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN SECOND IN COMMAND Buehrle wasn't comfortable as the No. 1 starter, but he still has the makings of a 20-game winner.COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES CREDE

IN FACT

Closer Billy Koch converted 44 of 50 save opportunities for
Oakland last season, and in five of those six blown chances he
ended up with a victory.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the White Sox

"Some people say they won themselves a pennant when they made
their off-season moves, but with the 3, 4 and 5 starters they
have, it's going to be tough.... Physically Bartolo Colon looks
better, more fit than he has before. If the playoffs started
tomorrow, you could match him with anyone in baseball. Mark
Buehrle had question marks going into last year, but he relaxed
and flourished.... The other guys continue to throw harder, not
smarter. I'm not sold on Jon Garland or Dan Wright. Their control
and command haven't caught up to their stuff.... Billy Koch was a
steal. He's what a closer is all about. He'll blow a save or two,
but he's a flamethrower and will come in and fire up the team....
Offensively they're strong. Defense is the weakness. Aaron Rowand
is not a major-league-caliber centerfielder. Paul Konerko is
shaky at first. There are questions up the middle about Jose
Valentin and D'Angelo Jimenez.... Joe Crede is a future All-Star,
but they need to be patient. He's going to go through rough
patches, but he can hit and he can hit for power.... Frank Thomas
looks the best I've seen him in two or three years. He can still
be a force."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Jimenez
SS Valentin
DH Thomas
RF Ordonez
1B Konerko
LF Lee
3B Crede
CF Rowand
C Alomar Jr.

D'ANGELO JIMENEZ*

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 220 .252 4 44 6

JOSE VALENTIN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 107 .249 25 75 3

FRANK THOMAS
DESIGNATED HITTER

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 63 .252 28 92 3

MAGGLIO ORDONEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 11 .320 38 135 7

PAUL KONERKO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 43 .304 27 104 0

CARLOS LEE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 121 .264 26 80 1

JOE CREDE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 164 .285 12 35 0

AARON ROWAND

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 194 .258 7 29 0

SANDY ALOMAR JR.* [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 265 .279 7 37 0

BENCH

TONY GRAFFANINO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 305 .262 6 31 2

BRIAN DAUBACH [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 285 .266 20 78 2

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Bartolo Colon*[#] 5 20 8 7.1 1.24 2.93

LH Mark Buehrle 10 19 12 7.0 1.24 3.58
RH Jon Garland 144 12 12 5.8 1.41 4.58
RH Esteban Loaiza[#] 176 9 10 6.1 1.52 5.71

RH Dan Wright 148 14 12 5.9 1.38 5.18

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Billy Koch[#] 19 11 4 44 1.27 3.27

LH Damaso Marte 189 1 1 10 1.03 2.83
RH Tom Gordon[#] 231 1 3 0 1.36 3.38

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

81--81
second in AL Central

MANAGER

Jerry Manuel
sixth season with Chicago