Monday, June 4, 2012

White Sox Surprising Contenders This Year

                        White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is greeted by designated hitter Adam Dunn and second baseman Gordon Beckham after hitting a three-run homer against the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field on May 27, 2012. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

I expected the Tigers to run away with the AL Central this year. So far, they are 25-29 and 6 games out of first place. The Tigers didn't get going last year until the second half when they pulled away from the rest of the division. That still could happen this year, but they have some problems. The Tigers have a poor defense, but that was expected coming into the year. Their offense hasn't been as strong as expected and they are tied for 8th in the AL in runs scored. Outside of Justin Verlander, their pitching has been mediocre as well. The Tigers still have the talent to win the division, but they need to play much better to do so. They may need to make a trade to fill some voids on the team as well.

Not much was expected out of the White Sox this year. They stripped their team down, hired rookie manager Robin Ventura, and this year was thought to be a rebuilding year. Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Quentin parted ways in the offseason. Besides the Tigers, I thought Indians and Royals were probably better teams coming into the season. Franchise cornerstones Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski still lead the offense, and both players are off to good starts. Dayan Viciedo has stepped in left field and made up for the loss of Carlos Quentin. Jake Peavy has also had a rebound season after years of injury problems. Here's the top five reasons the Pale Hose have been better this year below.

1) Jake Peavy is Jake Peavy again

Peavy was one of the best pitchers in the game with the Padres from 2004 until 2008. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2007 and the pitching Triple Crown. He was pretty good in 2008 as well, finishing with a 2.85 ERA. However, his innings dropped from 223.1 to 173.2 in 2008 due to injuries. Since then he's barely gotten over the 100 inning mark due to various injuries. This season, Peavy's fully healthy and back to being the pitcher he was in San Diego.

2) Chris Sale is a emerging young pitcher

Left handed Sale was the Sox first round pick in 2010 and was put in the majors almost immediately. Ozzie Guillen used Sale out of the pen his first two seasons. Robin Ventura put him in the rotation this season, and he's rewarded Ventura with a AL best 7 wins and a 2.30 ERA in 66.2 innings. I'm not sure how Sale will handle the increased workload later in the year, but putting him in the rotation seems like the right move.

3) Letting Alejandro De Aza be the regular Center Fielder

De Aza played well in a part time role last season and won the CF job this spring. Alex Rios was allowed to move to his natural right field position and this has improved Chicago's defense as well. De Aza has been a good leadoff hitter for the Sox, hitting .298 with a .380 OBP. De Aza also leads the AL with 13 steals.

4) Improved Performances by Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo

Dunn had a historically bad season in his first season in Chicago last year only batting .159 with 11 home runs. This year, Dunn has been hitting for power and drawing walks again. Dunn still is only hitting .222, but he does have a .376 OBP and a .545 slugging pct., which are in line with his career norms. Viciedo has claimed the left field job after a couple of previous trials in the big leagues.

5) Ventura has done a good job

The White Sox needed a change in leadership. Guillen had wore out his welcome in Chicago and some players were tired of his drama. Ventura has been a more low key, but steady leader of the club. He's given young players a chance to play, and the veterans like him as well.

I'm not sure if the Sox will win the division or not, but they have just as good of a chance as anybody in baseball's weakest division. They have some holes on the team still and some players who are underperforming. Third base is a black hole, and second baseman Gordon Beckham has yet to live up to his potential. Alexi Ramirez is very good defensively at shortstop, but off to a slow start at the plate. Starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd haven't been as sharp as in year's past. Besides his perfect game, Phil Humber has struggled this year. The bullpen has been so-so, with Addison Reed, Hector Santiago, and Matt Thornton all getting shots at closer. However, the Sox could make a move to improve some areas if they stay in contention. Still, this is a weak division and its very possible the Sox could win it.

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