TWO SEASONSremoved from a World Series title, the 2007 White Sox were a colossaldisappointment, already 111‚ÅÑ2¬†games out of first by June 21 en route totheir worst record since 1989. "Guys were embarrassed by how we played lastyear," says Mark Buehrle, Chicago's lefthanded ace. "In the second halfit was tough to come to the field every day. When you're playing that bad, youdon't even want to show up."
The drive to U.S.Cellular Field shouldn't be such a dismal experience in '08. General managerKenny Williams was active this off-season, trading righthander Jon Garland tothe Angels for shortstop Orlando Cabrera and sending prospects to the A's andthe Diamondbacks for outfielders Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin, respectively.Williams also signed veteran free-agent righthanders Scott Linebrink andOctavio Dotel to shore up the seventh- and eighth-inning relief pitching infront of closer Bobby Jenks.
"We coveredthe little holes we had," says manager Ozzie Guillen. That may be true, butthere are some gaping ones--particularly in the rotation--that still needfilling.
Acquiring thegregarious Cabrera and the irrepressible Swisher was a good first step inretooling the lineup; they are playoff veterans who have made fast friends in aclubhouse that has only 10¬†holdovers from the '05¬†championship team."They bring a swagger," says DH Jim Thome. They also bring neededoffense. Cabrera, who had a .345¬†on-base percentage and is an idealNo.¬†2 hitter (not to mention a Gold Glove winner) gives Chicago a lift atshort, where last year's occupants hit only .239. Swisher, who had a.381¬†OBP last year, will play left, with speedster Jerry Owens playingcenter. "They are good team guys with good energy, but more than anythingthey're just good players," says first baseman Paul Konerko. "Thoseguys getting on base more will have an effect trickling down thelineup."
March 30, 2008
Ready to takeadvantage are the 3-4-5 hitters, Thome (37¬†years old), Konerko (32) andrightfielder Jermaine Dye (34), all of whom suffered a precipitous decline lastsummer, from a cumulative .306 average, 121¬†home runs and 342¬†RBIs in2006 to .262, 94 and 264. In all, the White Sox scored 175 fewer runs andranked last in the majors in batting average (.246), average with runners inscoring position (.243) and on-base percentage (.318). "Last year was justa broken year," says Konerko. "In no way, shape or form was thereanything good about it."
Chicago was stillsecond in the AL with 190 home runs, but the club had the majors' worst recordin games in which it didn't homer (13-44). So for the second straight springGuillen is preaching small ball and situational hitting. "Two-out hits,moving runners along and taking extra bases are a big deal that everyone'stalking about," says third baseman Josh Fields. "That's a big focus, toput pressure on the defense. It makes it a lot easier to hit."
Pitching, though,is what will ultimately keep the White Sox from contending with the Indians andthe Tigers. Buehrle and Javier Vazquez, who were both signed to affordableextensions last year, return to anchor Chicago's rotation, but the other threeslots are questionable. Aging Jose Contreras suffered his first losing seasonin '07, and John Danks and Gavin Floyd are unseasoned former first-round pickswho haven't yet lived up to their potential. Floyd, at least, has beenimpressive this spring and will begin the year as the No.¬†5 starter."He's got the nastiest stuff on the staff right now," says Buehrle."I'd give my left arm to have what he has, the way his ball moves."
With the newfaces onboard, this summer should at least be more fun. "Even though we areunderdogs in the division, we still have a lot of pressure from Ozzie and Kennyto perform at a high level," says Cabrera. But chances are, it won't behigh enough in the AL Central.
CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...
With hisfreewheeling approach at the plate and ability to play second base or theoutfield, Cuban import Alexei Ramirez (left) has drawn comparisons to AlfonsoSoriano of the crosstown Cubs. Truth is, Ramirez is a different type of playerthan Soriano; Ramirez has less speed and power but is a considerably bettercontact hitter (not to mention a better infielder). He deserves a place in theWhite Sox' everyday lineup. PECOTA, which based its projection on an analysisof previous Cuban émigrés to the majors, forecasts that Ramirez will hit .298with 15 home runs and an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage--numbers thatwould put him among the better second basemen in the American League. At a costof $4.75¬†million for four years, that's a pretty good bargain forChicago.
Difference intotal runs scored by last season's White Sox (693) compared with the moreproductive '06 edition (868). Last year's club also suffered severe drops inbatting average, .246 from .280 the year before, and homers, 190 from 236. Fourspots in the Chicago order--second, third, seventh and eighth--each ranked inthe bottom three in the majors in batting average.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER OZZIEGUILLEN FIFTH SEASON WITH CHICAGO
|NICK SWISHER(New acquisition)||¬†||LF|
|ALEXEI RAMIREZ (New acquisition )¬†(R)*||IF-OF|
|RH||Octavio Dotel (New acquisition)||155||2||11||12.0||1.34||4.11|
|RH||Scott Linebrink (New acquisition)||170||5||1||6.4||1.32||3.71|
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws *Cuban league stats
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
AUG. 10, 1959
BUT, FOR all their skill at getting on base andscoring runs, it is in the field that Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio render theirmost valuable services. "The prettiest sight in baseball to a manager,"says Al Lopez, "is the double play. It means two outs instead of one. It'sas simple as that. You seldom win a pennant without good strength up themiddle." Few teams have. World¬†Series history is alive with the namesof adroit double-play makers.
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