5 Chicago White Sox Who Need a Strong Start
Let the marathon begin.
The Chicago White Sox open the 2012 Major League Baseball season today against the Texas Rangers. First pitch at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is set for 2:05 ET with John Danks taking the mound against Colby Lewis.
Managers usually preach to their teams that the first games of the season are just as important as the last. Wins are wins, and losses are losses, no matter what time of year they come, and they all count the same.
Last season, the White Sox lost a franchise-record 18 games in April. The team never recovered, and Chicago finished in third place with a 79-83 record.
Baseball is a game of confidence, and with plenty of young talent in the lineup, a strong start to the season could spring the White Sox in the right direction. It will be up to Chicago's veterans to set the tone early in the season for the team's youth.
The White Sox have a difficult opening series against the two-time defending American League champions. Chicago then takes on the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field before its home opener against the defending AL Central champion Detroit Tigers on April 13. This month also includes a six-game west coast road trip against the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. The team wraps up the month with a four-game series versus the Boston Red Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
With that in mind, here are five players who need to have strong starts for the White Sox to be successful at the beginning of the 2012 season.
In the first of a four-year, $56 million deal, Adam Dunn responded with a historic season for the Chicago White Sox in 2011.
Unfortunately, it wasn't historic in the way that the Sox anticipated.
Dunn hit a measly .159 last year, and he fell 85 at-bats shy of qualifying for the lowest batting average of all time. Since 1900, of players with at least 300 at-bats in a season, Dunn tied for the second-lowest average ever. The record is held by Bill Bergen, who hit .139 during the 1909 season.
Sox fans rained boos on Dunn throughout the season, and the 6'6", 285-pound power-hitter could not shake out of the worst slump of his career. Even Ozzie Guillen's blowup doll approach wouldn't have saved Dunn's season the way he was swinging the bat.
Is there any player in MLB who needs to have a strong start more than Dunn? If Dunn struggles again until the All-Star break, we might see a repeat of Disco Demolition night at U.S. Cellular Field—except this version would be called Dunn Demolition night.
After last season, Dunn's career averages are .243/.374/.503 with 38 home runs and 95 RBI. If Dunn can post a .240/.360/.480 mark in April and knock out six or seven homers, then he, and the White Sox, can rest a little easier heading into the final five months of the season.
Jake Peavy and the word "bust" are becoming synonymous in Chicago. Since a 2009 deadline deal that sent Peavy from the San Diego Padres to the Windy City, the former Cy Young award winner has made only 38 starts (and one relief appearance) in three seasons on the South Side.
Even when Peavy was healthy during stretches in 2010 and 2011, he posted a combined ledger of 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. Those numbers don't exactly jump out as "ace" status.
Peavy is in the final year of a four-year contract, and this season is as huge for his free-agent status as it is for the White Sox. If Peavy can stay healthy and perform well for the entire year, he is surely going to be rewarded by some team during the winter.
Health is Peavy's biggest challenge heading into the 2012 MLB season. If he has an early setback, it will hurt Chicago's chances to stay competitive because the White Sox do not have much starting pitching depth behind their five-man rotation.
Peavy has not pitched a full season since winning the Cy Young in 2007 with the Padres. If Chicago falls out of the race and Peavy posts a .500 record and a sub-4.50 ERA in the first half, he will surely be moved before July 31.
However, if Peavy returns to All-Star form during April and gets back on the mound every five days, it will provide a much-needed spark for a young ball club.
Beckham finished fifth in the 2009 Rookie of the Year voting, but those days seem long gone for a player who was expected to become a rising star during his past two seasons.
Since that year, however, Beckham has gotten worse at the plate. After a .270/.347/.460 output in 103 games as a rookie, Beckham fell to .252/.317/.378 in 2010 and to .230/.296/.337 in 2011.
Beckham needs to exercise more patience at the plate. He chases too many pitches out of the zone, especially the low-and-away breaking ball. He had 41 walks in '09, and has followed that season with 37 walks in '10, with 35 in '11.
The former top-10 draft pick is loaded with talent, and he has proven to be one of the top defensive second basemen in the American League. He still hasn't quite figured it out on offense, however, and Sox fans are growing impatient with his development.
Beckham is another player that could be moved at the deadline if he is struggling and the Sox fall out of the race. If it's three strikes and you're out, then Beckham is down 0-2 in the count after his last two seasons; another disappointing year would be the third strike, and the White Sox will be forced to make changes.
Beckham needs a fast start more for his benefit than anyone else's. His confidence will skyrocket if he hits at least .280 in April. It will remind him, and the organization, that Beckham can indeed perform at the MLB level at the plate.
The faster Danks makes the White Sox forget about the loss of Mark Buehrle, the better—for him and the team.
Since 2001, Buehrle has pitched at least 200 innings and posted double-digit wins in each season. He has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, with an average ERA of 3.82 during that span.
With Buehrle gone, the task of eating up innings and consistently performing as the No. 1-2 starter on the staff falls on Danks.
Danks started the 2011 season 0-8, and he cannot let that happen in 2012 with Buehrle gone. Manager Robin Ventura selected Danks as his Opening Day starter, and the White Sox are looking to Danks to perform like an ace this season.
Danks posted double-digit wins with a ledger above .500, and a sub-4.00 ERA for the 2008-10 seasons. He was developing into a top-tier starter before taking a step back last season, but even after his 8-12 year, the front office expressed its confidence in the southpaw by offering him a five-year, $65 million extension, which Danks accepted.
Now, the Texas native can focus solely on baseball. A hot start from Danks would set the tone for the Sox early on in the 2012 campaign.
Rios, like Dunn, has to win respect back from White Sox fans after an awful 2011 season.
Simply put, if Rios and Dunn perform like they did last year, the Sox are going to make themselves comfortable in the basement of the American League Central division.
Rios produced a meager .227/.265/.348 in 2011. He also vastly underperformed after Chicago claimed him off waivers in 2009, but bounced back for a successful 2010 season (.284/.334/.457). If Rios continues that trend, then he is headed for a solid 2012 campaign.
Rios is moving back to his natural position in right field. He is also starting the season batting sixth in the lineup, sandwiched between catcher A.J. Pierzynski and shortstop Alexei Ramirez, two solid offensive players. Rios should see plenty of good pitches in that spot.
Rios is locked up through the 2014 season, but that doesn't mean that White Sox fans will show their support for the former Blue Jay if he continues to struggle.
Surprisingly, Rios made the most contact of his career at the plate last season. He only had 68 strikeouts in 145 games in 2011, the lowest total of his career. In 147 games in 2010, Rios had 93 strikeouts.
A fast start could carry over into a productive year for Rios. If he continues to make contact, some of those balls will surely find holes in the defense.
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