A wager on the Chicago White Sox to win the 2010 AL Central title was in pretty good shape when the All-Star Game rolled around. Though Chicago's lead was only a half-game over Detroit and 3.5 over Minnesota at the break, the White Sox were white-hot having resurrected a season that saw them 9.5 out of the lead with a 24-33 record on June 8.
Chicago's torrid 25-5 pace from June 9 to July 11, a span that included streaks of 11- and 9-straight wins, had the Sox looking like true contenders for not only the division, but the American League and beyond.
The team picked up its 50th dubya the first crack out of the all-star break, a big win on the road against the rival Twins. Minnesota promptly won the next three games of the series and Chicago never really recovered despite sitting just four games out to open September.
Chicago did cash win total tickets for those holding 'over' 82½ futures, the club finishing with a respectable 88-74 record. Ozzie Guillen's gang still failed as plus-140 bets to take the ALC, finishing six games behind the Twins for the division title and even less of a threat to the Yankees for the wild card.
Rumors of Guillen getting the ax in Chicago have run off-&-on over the years, but the notion that he has to get this team into October or find a new job appears a solid wager. The Pale Hose have a great mix of power and speed on offense and a deep starting rotation, so Guillen should win. If not, we know he won't quit.
"I'm not a quitter," Guillen said a couple of years ago when rumors were afloat. "When I want to quit, I'll do a lot of stupid things and make sure they fire me and get paid."
Hot corner only position fight in camp
The 2010 season saw Chicago rank in the top third of the AL in homers, steals, batting and slugging, yet a pedestrian seventh in the league in pushing runs across the plate. Adding Adam Dunn to the lineup will definitely increase the pop as well as help with a higher on-base mark. Dunn's career .381 OBP is about 50 points higher than the team's seventh-best AL mark last season.
Dunn's arrival is the big news, but Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez hold the key to this lineup. The middle-infield tandem combined for a .315 OBP, with Beckham taking a huge step backwards in his development.
Third base was also a soft spot and it still may be depending how spring competition goes. Brent Morel is the best bet to emerge with the job at least most of the time. His stick is light but his glove mighty, certainly better than Mark Teahen's mitt. Teahen will eventually play both infield corners, possibly both outfield corners, and second base.
There's more versatility with veteran Omar Vizquel an infield reserve. Rookie Dayan Viciedo could also play a reserve role at the infield and outfield corners. First base belongs to Paul Konerko and catcher to AJ Pierzynski.
Juan Pierre, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin flank the outfield from left to right; keeping Quentin around for all six months of the regular season is essential to postseason play.
Peavy's return remains a mystery
There's no glitter when it comes to the Chicago starting rotation, yet there's still a lot to like. Aside from Jake Peavy's 2007 NL Cy Young that seems longer ago than that, the quintet that also includes southpaws Mark Buehrle and John Danks plus righties Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd isn't heavy in terms of postseason accolades on the backs of bubblegum cards.
Peavy's availability to start the season and then throughout the campaign remains a question mark. If he can answer the call for 25+ starts, it's a staff that has no real ace yet all can pitch like rotation No. 2's.
Trying to figure out how Guillen might use his bullpen would be most presumptuous on my part. Attempting to get inside the man's head is wasted effort always. Bobby Jenks left for Boston, so Matt Thornton appears the most logical choice to take over closing duties, and all signs point to that being the case.
Chris Sale is either the stud-starter or stud-closer in waiting. The young lefty should be in a middle/setup role out of the 'pen to open the year with right-handers Jesse Crain, Tony Peña and Sergio Santos also part of the plan. Santos is an interesting name to watch this spring, a hard thrower who is really just learning to pitch.
NL West trio part of interleague schedule
No team posted a better interleague record than the White Sox who went 15-3 on the Senior Circuit portion of their '10 slate. That included series sweeps at Pittsburgh and Washington plus a home-series brooming of the Braves.
Chicago gets the Nats again, only at home this time, plus another home-&-home with the crosstown Cubs who the ChiSox topped four times out of six last year. The remaining NL games will be three-game sets at Arizona and Colorado plus home games against the Dodgers.
Where Chicago really struggled was inside the AL Central (32-40), a mark that was in the red entirely due to a 5-13 record versus the Twins. They will only see the Twins twice (both games at home) before mid-June and won't face Minnesota after Sept. 7, making for a lot of action between the rivals pressed into less than a 12-week span.
Betting the White Sox
The White Sox are back as favorites or co-favorites to win the division once again. Some places see a dead heat between Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota, but most sports books are listing Chicago in the same plus-140, plus-150 range they had them last year in the AL Central.
Simulations averaged out to 86.8 wins this year for the Pale Hose; win total futures are 84½-85½ depending where you shop. The 'over' will suck me in once more, plus I like this team in the 10/1, 12/1 range for winning the American League. And yes, by saying that I do understand it means having to live with Guillen possibly doing "stupid things."
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