If there's one division in baseball that's always a lot of fun to watch, it's the American League Central. It seems that every year it becomes a three team race between the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins.
The past two seasons, Minnesota has taken home the division crown. This season, however, I expect the tides to turn differently. The Chicago White Sox used the offseason to make some key acquisitions and cut some of the loose ends that hampered them in seasons past.
That being said, I have a feeling that they will come out on top in the division race and do well in the playoffs. Let's take a look at the entire team and just break down how successful it can be.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen made an interesting remark about Pierzynski some years ago.
"When AJ isn't on your team, you hate him, " said Guillen. "When he's on your team, you hate him a little less."
Guillen is right. Compared to the other personalities in baseball, A.J. Pierzynski isn't exactly Mr. Happy. Yet, he is a powerful presence in the White Sox clubhouse. In 2010, he batted a respectable .270 with nine home runs and 56 RBI.
The home run total was his lowest since 2001, but one must remember that he is 34 and slowing down ever so slightly. Still, he plays a mean defense behind the plate and the pitchers love working with him. Look for him to continue to be effective in 2011.
This spring training, Paul Konerko turned 35. 2011 will be the first year of a new three-year contract he signed with the White Sox during the offseason. Even more amazing, he will deserve every penny of it.
In 2010, Konerko had an MVP-caliber season as he batted .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBI. Keep in mind, this was after two average seasons that had people questioning whether he still had what it took to hit well for average and consistently smack the ball out of the park.
He might not put up identical numbers, but fans should still expect Konerko to have an effective 2011 as he and his new protection in the lineup help the White Sox march towards a division title.
In 2009, Gordon Beckham played in 103 games. In those 103 games, he batted .270 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI. These stats were enough to garner him the Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year Award along with high expectations for 2010.
Unfortunately, Beckham ran into a bit of a sophomore slump in 2010. He only batted .252 with nine home runs and 49 RBI as he got off to a slow start out of which he never fully found his way. To add insult to injury, he was batting .320 over his final 57 games before missing all of September with a hand injury.
Beckham is only 24, so chances are he will indeed bounce back in 2011. He has a lot of potential and team management loves him, so look for him to return to his old form.
In 2010, Ramirez showed just why he is one of the better shortstops in the game. He batted .282 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI as he proved himself to be a pesky hitter at the plate.
Overall, Ramirez is a good-fielding shortstop with potential to hit for average power, maybe 20 to 25 home runs. All he needs to do is be more patient at the plate. If he can improve that part of his game, look for the 29-year-old Cuban to become a force to be reckoned with on offense.
As of now, Brent Morel is penciled in as the team's starting third baseman. He was called up in September last season and in 21 games, hit .231 with three home runs and seven RBI.
Yet, his minor league stats are very impressive. Morel split 2010 between AA and AAA ball. In 131 games, he hit 10 home runs with 64 RBI and a very impressive .322 batting average.
Overall, Morel should have a decent season. He's only 23 so team management MUST be patient with him. He has the potential to be a force on offense and has even exhibited some speed. If he can adjust to major league pitching, expect him to be a ROY candidate.
In 2011, Juan Pierre will turn 34. At that age, most would anticipate a player to start slowing down. Based on last year's stats alone, Pierre might put that theory to rest.
Never an offensive force, Pierre batted .275 with one home run and 47 RBI. At first glance, those numbers aren't particularly impressive. Yet, throw in a .341 OBP and 68 steals, and the White Sox have someone who can be a pest on the basepaths and create scoring opportunities.
Chances are that Pierre won't repeat his 68 steals, but he'll still be good for possibly about 40. The White Sox need to score runs to have a shot at winning the division, and Pierre will surely help them achieve that by scoring many of them.
Going into 2010, Rios knew that it was a make-or-break year for him. His 2009 was sub-par as he only hit .247 with 17 home runs and 71 RBI. In 2010, he silenced his critics.
In 147 games, Rios batted .284 with 21 home runs and 88 RBI. On top of that, he stole 34 bases.
Rios is a valuable asset in every way possible. He can hit well for average, has great power and speed, and has a cannon arm in the outfield. Look for him to have a great season in Chicago as the team looks to win a division title.
In 2008, Carlos Quentin turned a lot of heads as he batted .288 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI. Many thought he would emerge as a top outfielder. Since his "breakout" season, Quentin's power has been there.
Sadly, he has not been the same since. His ability to hit for average has seemingly vanished. After posting averages of .236 and .243 in 2009 and 2010, many are writing off his 2008 as a fluke.
Yet, I think I know what Quentin's problem is. Rather than just trying to get a hit, he's always trying to hit a home run. If he can change his approach at the plate and focus more on just getting on base, he will see numbers equal to or greater than those he posted in 2008.
This offseason, the White Sox made the splash they needed to in signing Adam Dunn. His contract calls for $56 million over four years. Given the type of hitter he is, he deserves every penny.
Dunn has David Ortiz-like power and great patience at the plate. People joke how all he does is hit home runs, walk and strike out. He won't hit for an overwhelming batting average, but he'll hover around .270 while smacking balls out of the yard.
Look for him to repeat his 2010 campaign, during which he hit .260 with 38 home runs and 103 RBI, as well as a remarkable .356 OBP.
As of now, the White Sox starting rotation looks like this:
Mark Buehrle: 13-13, 4.28 ERA, 99 SO, 1.40 WHIP
Gavin Floyd: 10-13, 4.08 ERA, 151 SO, 1.37 WHIP
John Danks: 15-11, 3.72 ERA, 162 SO, 1.22 WHIP
Jake Peavy (pictured at left): 7-6, 4.63 ERA, 93 SO, 1.23 WHIP
Edwin Jackson: 10-12: 4.47 ERA, 181 SO, 1.39 WHIP
All in all, this staff is average. They have two bug-a-boos plaguing them: injury and run support. Each of these pitchers needs a lot of offense in order to be truly effective, especially Buehrle. On top of that, they will be without Jake Peavy for the first month of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Yet, if the offense clicks and instills confidence in the pitching staff, look for these arms to form one of the better pitching staffs in the majors.
Last year, the Chicago White Sox bullpen was brought down by the underachieving and always-complaining Bobby Jenks. This year, Jenks is a member of the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago bullpen is due a fresh start. With Matt Thornton (pictured at left) handling the closing duties, don't be surprised if the White Sox relief pitching becomes dangerous down the stretch.
Joining Thornton in the 'pen are young lefty setup man Chris Sale, who dazzled last year posting a 1.93 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. Throw in the newly acquired Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, and this bullpen has a whole load of potential.
Despite having a reputation as a loudmouth and overall unlikeable human being, Ozzie Guillen has done a good job managing the Chicago White Sox. In seven seasons, he has an overall record of 600-535. He has guided the team to two AL Central Division crowns and one World Series championship (2005).
This year, with the lineup he has, there is no doubt in my mind that Guillen will win another division title. In what is sure to be a season full of rantings to the press, ejections from games and warnings from team management, look for Ozzie to be an AL Manager of the Year candidate.
So, now that we've analyzed each starter at each position as well as the manager, the question remains. Can the Chicago White Sox beat out the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers for the American League Central Division crown?
Well, let's be honest. The season hasn't even started yet, so it's way too early to tell. Yet, based on who they have on the roster, they certainly are the favorites if everyone stays healthy.
Konerko and Dunn will form a powerful 1-2 punch in the heart of the lineup. The offense they generate, combined with that of Rios and the rest of team, will give the pitching staff a new confidence as the White Sox surprise both experts and fans with their play. Ultimately, I have a feeling they will come out on top in the division race.
Final Prediction: 92 wins, 1st AL Central Division