When I start thinking about the upcoming season for the White Sox I am almost always excited, but cautiously happy. You see being a White Sox fan means you're used to the heartbreak more so than the happiness. In fact, you are quite easily the anti-Yankee. A legion of fans who are much more used to confetti and rings than they are to utter despair and losing. The Yankees currently come off yet another World Series campaign looking just as strong as last year. The White Sox come off a disappointing 79-83 yawn fest. However, with the sunshine, fresh cut grass, and everlasting hope that spring yields; I find myself riled up and realistically believing that not only are the White Sox good enough to win the division again, but perhaps much much more. You see, if i'm to believe that the Yanks are the team to beat, then how exactly do the White Sox match up to them?
When comparing these two teams, you can wade through statistics and pour over projections, but the truth is that if you simply use some of the timeless simple statistics you quite often find enough to decide which player is better than the other.
Let's begin with the outfielders. On one side I see Bret Gardner with his 375 career AB's potentially starting in left field. In center we have a definite Sox killer in Curtis Granderson and one my 5 least favorite players in baseball, Nick Swisher, in right. If the names in this outfield dont scream Monument Park to you, then that makes two of us. This seemingly weak outfield gets credibility ONLY from having Granderson patrolling centerfield, but then loses a notch for Randy Winn being the backup. The White Sox roll out a new looking outfield with newcomer Juan Pierre taking over in left, Rios trying to bounce back in center, and the Fragile Mr. Quentin in right. Pierre has 60 steals and a .280 average written all over him, which could overshadow what could be some shaky defense. Quentin should have a major comback season and be the key to the Sox offense. Something in the are of a .300 AVG, 30 HR's, and 110 RBI sounds right to me. If Rios gets anywhere close to his old self this one is a slam dunk. My prediction is that Pierre and Quentin are both better than their counterparts which gives the Sox the advantage in 2 of 3 OF spots.
The catching spot is a tough one for me. Even though A.J. is coming off a very solid offensive year , he doesn't have the pop of Posada. Both of these guys fit their teams perfectly and are backbones to the pitching staffs. On gut feeling only I'm giving the VERY slight edge to Posada.
The DH for the Yanks is expected to be Nick Johnson. For the Sox it appears to be a platoon of Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay. I expect Nick Johnson to have a very solid year hiding in the bottom half of that very talented Yankees lineup. He should get more pitches to hit and more RBI opportunities than he is used to. The DH situation on the South Side has disastrous possibilities as well as genius ones. Jones' swung the bat very well this spring with a .333 BA and .611 SLG. If he Jones stays in the mix they may very well succeed with the DH by committee idea. I'm one that always believes two heads are better than one, as long as Omar Vizquel isn't one of them, so Sox edge out the Yanks in the DH department.
Paul Konerko is one of my very favorite White Sox. He's no Frank Thomas, but he has held down first base quite admirably over the past eleven years. I assumed he would have a bounce back year last year, but his 28 HR even surprised me a bit. I think he is very capable of having 25 HR, 80 RBI, and 60 BB this year. If he can get close to those numbers hitting in the middle of the Sox lineup it will be a successful year for the Sox. However, he is not on the same level as Mark Teixeira. If Pujols is the very pinnacle of hitters in baseball, then Teixeira is not very far behind. This one goes to the Yankees in a landslide.
Up the middle of the field the White Sox are very talented and very young. Gordon Beckam is the future of this franchise, while the Cuban Missile may very well be in Chicago quite awhile as well. To me I feel like the sky is the limit for Beckam. He may never hit .400 or knock out 40 HR's, but he may very well become the stable, steady leader that Jeter currently is for the Yankees. Robinson Cano had a quietly successful year last year and may have changed some minds about how high his ceiling is in New York. Jeter is as classy as it get, but when comparing both teams up the middle I can't do better than a push.
No offense to Mark Teahen, but I can't even waste space on this one. A-Rod hand's down.
Pitching will be the key to the White Sox hopes this year. If they can survive the gauntlet of the AL Central, their pitching will match against any other team's in the postseason. Jake Peavy gives them a Cy Young caliber ace to stick in front of "Mr. Perfect", Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and either Freddy Garcia or Dan Hudson in the fifth slot. Sabathia is one of the game's best and he will equal anything Peavy can do. Burnett and Buehrle match up quite well in that two spot with both getting 13 W's last year. I believe Garcia may begin as the fifth starter, but by summer Hudson will have the job. Between the two I think they cancel whatever Phil Hughes is able to do after coming back out of the bullpen. The ageless wonder that is Andy Pettitte seems to be a good third starter, but Gavin Floyd has top of the staff ability when he has control. Danks could be the real sleeper of the bunch as he will see a lot of favorable opposition pitching from the fourth spot. In what are two of the better starting pitching staffs in all of baseball I believe it's easiest just to play the old Sesame Street game, which one of these thing's doesn't belong? Who might that be? Javier Vazquez of course. The guy should have stayed in the NL. He had a good thing going in Atlanta. It was quite obvious he didn't have what it takes to play with the big boys of the AL. He will be the downfall of the Yankees staff, thus giving the White Sox a one man edge in the starters department.
While Joba and Rivera make for a very formidable late game combo, the White Sox addition of J.J. Putz has changed the whole bullpen. Adding a legit right handed set up man to go along with, one of the very best lefty set up men in all of baseball, Matt Thornton. This late game combo may ultimately out duel even the Yankees, but for now I give it a push. If Sergio Santos makes the club he will be a power armed wild card. The names in the Sox middle relief won't exactly set the world on fire, but Linebrink is due for a bit of a bounce back. I can not in good conscience say that the Yankees have an advantage when the may start the year with Damaso Marte and Boone Logan as their bullpen lefties. Neither of these two former White Sox cast offs have dominating stuff. Mitre has a very high upside and for that I will politely give the Yankees a push on the entire bullpen.
Using my best math I find that these two teams are locked in a 4-4 tie of talent if you will. The only logical tie breaker then is to look at the man running the show. Girardi vs. Ozzie Both have the always important WS ring to show off, both have a division title, and both have a Manager of the Year award. Heck, Girardi is 11-4 in the playoffs while Guillen is 12-4. Both are very good managers so I must again go with my gut. Something tells me that if the White Sox didn't make the playoffs this year Ozzie would DEFINTELY still be around next year. Meanwhile, in New York, I'm not sure they would fire a man one year removed from a World Series, but not making the playoffs would take Girardi from the parade float and shove him right back on the hot seat. There is something to be said for longevity in baseball, i'm going with Ozzie. So there you have it. The White Sox have goals and ambitions of World Series glory. If you're going to be the best, you gotta beat the best. In my very humble opinion I think the Pale Hose match up quite nicely against the champs.