The 2013 season was definitely one to forget for the Chicago White Sox, as they stumbled their way to a 63-99 record and last place in the American League Central.
After a season like that, the only direction to go is up, and the White Sox brass is certainly hoping that's the case in 2014. As always, it starts with pitching. As bad as the 2013 team was, pitching was actually one of their strong points.
Of course, it helps when you have a guy like Chris Sale to anchor your rotation. The White Sox made a solid move last year when they locked up the 24-year-old Sale with a five-year deal worth $32.5 million, including two option years. By doing this, they ensured that they will have an ace at the top of their rotation for the foreseeable future.
Sale and the rest of the White Sox staff did not receive a lot of offensive (or defensive) help in 2013 and therefore did not see a lot of victories, especially within their division. Once again, the White Sox were miserable against the AL Central, posting a 26-50 record, which included a ghastly 2-17 record against Cleveland.
And what's worse is that the they did not have a winning record against anyone in their division.
Needless to say, there's room for improvement.
The White Sox and everyone else will be chasing the Detroit Tigers, as they are once again the favorites to win the division. Unlike the White Sox, Detroit was 47-29 against the rest of the division. It's no secret that if you beat the teams in your division, you'll probably have a shot. If you don't, then you won't. That's it.
General manager Rick Hahn made some moves this off-season that should excite White Sox fans as the team has gotten younger and hopefully better in several areas, but it still needs to translate to the field.
Starting pitching is one area where the team looks to be fairly strong, but there are still some question marks. So, here is a breakdown of the starting rotation and what it may look like on March 31st.
Locks (2013 MLB Stats)
Chris Sale (11-14, 3.07 ERA)
Jose Quintana (9-7, 3.51 ERA)
John Danks (4-14, 4.75 ERA)
In The Mix (2013 MLB Stats)
Erik Johnson (3-2, 3.25 ERA)
Felipe Paulino (DNP in 2013)
Andre Rienzo (2-3, 4.82 ERA)
Eric Surkamp (0-1, 23.63 ERA)
It's still early in camp, but at this point it appears that at least three of the spots in the starting rotation will be filled by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks. All three guys are left-handers, which means the team would probably like to round out the rotation with two right-handers, but that certainly doesn't mean they will.
If you don't know about Sale's abilities on the mound by now, you probably don't watch much baseball. He is coming off a season in which he went 11-14, but had a 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 226 strikeouts in 214.1 innings. If he gets any kind of run support this season, he is a definite candidate to win 20 games. He's a two-time All-Star who really is one of the elite pitchers currently in the game, and the White Sox are counting on another solid season from him at the top of the rotation.
Jose Quintana is a guy who has quietly turned into a solid No. 2 for the White Sox's rotation. He is also coming off a year where his 9-7 record (3.51 ERA) does not indicate how well he pitched. Like Sale, he threw 200 innings and also set an American League record with 17 no-decisions in 2013. In six of his no-decisions, Quintana threw at least seven shutout innings, which tied him with Joel Horlen for the most in team history, according to Jim Margalus of Southsidesox.com. The White Sox are hoping to get the same kind of production from him this season and hopefully get him a little more run support.
The 2014 season is a big one for John Danks. He is now almost two years removed from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the majority of the 2012 season and eventually led to surgery in August of that year. He was able to come back and start 22 games for the White Sox in 2013, but he was clearly not fully recovered. He struggled to reach 90 mph with his fastball and often got hit hard, but like the rest of the Sox staff he was better than his 4-14 record (4.75 ERA).
This will be Danks' eighth season with the Sox, but he's still only 28 and has stated that he feels as strong as he has in a long time this spring. If he can regain the form that helped him win 40 games from 2008-2010, the White Sox could have one of the better rotations in the league.
The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs, but it appears that the front-runners are Erik Johnson and the recently acquired Felipe Paulino. Johnson spent the majority of 2013 in the minors, with stints at both Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte and combined to go 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA. The big right-hander then came up to make five starts for the White Sox at the end of the year and went 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA.
When asked about Johnson's chances of starting the season in the rotation, pitching coach Don Cooper said, "He’s definitely in the mix, he ended the  season with us. He’s penciled in pretty firmly so if he goes out there and does what he could do, there’s a pretty good chance that he’s got an edge,” per Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com. It's a safe bet that the club's third-rated prospect will start the season in the rotation.
Paulino is a unique story in that he didn't even pitch in the majors in 2013. He was with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, but he spent the entire season in the minors rehabbing from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2012. He then became a free agent after the 2013 season, and the White Sox decided to take a chance on him, signing him to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million.
In five season in the majors, Paulino is 13-32 with a 4.93 ERA, which makes you wonder why the White Sox would want a guy with his injury history and lack of production. However, prior to being injured in 2012, Paulino produced a 1.67 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings, and all indications are that he is healthy and ready to go to start the 2014 season. The hope is that Cooper can work some of his magic with Paulino and turn him into a productive starter.
There are couple of other guys in camp who have a shot at one of the final two spots. Andre Rienzo, who started 10 games for the White Sox in 2013, is one of those guys. Rienzo went 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA and struggled with his control at times, walking 28 hitters in 56 innings. The team certainly likes his upside and his competitive demeanor, but he may need a great spring to land in the rotation.
Also in the mix is Eric Surkamp, who the White Sox claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants during the offseason. Surkamp only pitched one game for the Giants in 2013 and was lit up for nine hits and seven runs in 2.2 innings. However, he did go 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA at Triple-A Fresno. With the amount of lefties already in the rotation, it seems unlikely that Surkamp will be added, but he will be given the chance.