It’s that time of year again ladies and gentlemen, baseball season is just about upon us.  With Spring Training getting an early start this year due to the World Baseball Classic even the most ardent of baseball fans will admit to having lost some steam as opening day approaches.  Do you realize pitchers and catchers reported six weeks ago?  It’s time for the season to begin.

In typical Chi-Guy fashion I’m going to stretch my baseball season preview legs out starting on the southside of town so any mistakes or oversights I make as I get back into the swing of things will be viewed by a smaller audience.  What?  Are you saying that’s not true?

Coming off of a somewhat surprising 85-77 record in 2012 the big debate at US Cellular Field is whether the team that takes the field on opening day is more like the 79-83 2011 edition where everything went wrong or last year’s feel good story.

The cast of characters is essentially the same as the 2012 team with only Tyler Flowers finally supplanting AJ Pierzynski (whether he’s ready or not) and Jeff Keppinger stopping the Orlando Hudson/Brent Morel/Kevin Youkilis/Section 214 Peanut Vendor turnstile that was 3rd base platoon last year.  Otherwise the success of the team will hinge on the young kids continuing to evolve and the established veterans maintaining their performance and not taking a step backwards.

While generally speaking I don’t believe any of the changes are necessarily an upgrade – AJ had a career year last year with splits of .278/.326/.501 with 27 homeruns and 77 RBI.  If the Sox got three quarters of that production from Flowers I think all parties would agree they’d be ecstatic.  As for the other addition my question to you would be, have you ever actually seen Jeff Keppinger play?  A cornerstone corner infielder he is not.  A nice utility guy who can play four or five positions for an NL team (read: Brent Lillibridge) who just so happened to have had a good year for Tampa before he hit free agency is a more realistic description. 

I will say that I am an Alexi Ramirez fan, and if all the players in the league were put into a pool for each team to pull from I think Chris Sale would be amongst the first ten players taken (especially with his new contract).  With that said I think Alex Rios and Adam Dunn are prime regression candidates.  And don’t be surprised if folks are questioning that 2 year $29 million extension Jake Peavy signed by August.  You heard it here first.

With all of that said I envision a year that probably plays out a lot like last season did.  I think the team will play better than it looks on paper for the sophisticated reason of: they always do.  It’s uncanny.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Don Cooper needs to be mentioned in the same breath as Dave Duncan in STL and Leo Mazzone in ATL during the 90s as one of the greatest pitching coaches of all time.  Be honest, had you ever heard of Hector Santiago or Jose Quintana prior to last June?  Neither had I.  Similarly the fact that Donnie Veal, a 2005 Cubs draft pick who got taken by Pittsburgh in the 2009 Rule 5 draft and couldn’t stick with their organization – the 2009 Pirates for God’s sake – is now a valued contributor in the Sox bullpen is simply amazing.

Unfortunately for the Sox their division has improved.  Detroit is not going anywhere, especially with the return of Victor Martinez to an already stacked lineup, and Kansas City and Cleveland are taking steps in the right directions (I do not count myself among those who think either is astronomically better than last year however).  All this means is that some of those easy divisional wins last year are going to be a little tougher this time around. 

I think when all is said and done the Sox end up with between 80-84 wins and finish second in the division – hanging around just long enough past expectation to make the Tigers pay attention but never really making them nervous. 

Chi-Guy Record Prediction: 82-80  2nd Place in the AL Central

Additional Notes:

  • It’s a little unsettling that surprising rookie manager who came out of nowhere to do a really good job last year reportedly turned down a contract extension over the winter.  I’ve yet to hear a logical explanation as to why he would make that choice that doesn’t start with, he’s not really sure how much he enjoys the job – or – he’s not sure he’s in it for the long haul.  I would categorize that under the emotion I refer to as “Concern.”
  • If I am the Cubs I am on the phone every day seeing what kind of package it would take to pry Nate Jones free from the Sox.  Would Josh Vitters do it?  Would Rick Hahn need a little Brooks Raley sweetener?  I’m willing to spitball some ideas here.
  • Gordon Beckham – it’s kind of put up or shut up time buddy.
  • If I’m the White Sox I take my time and ensure John Danks is 100% healthy before bringing him back.  After signing a 5 year deal and with expectations low this year I think you take every precaution to ensure he’s good to go for the long term.  They need to put him in touch with Derrick Rose’s doctors.              
  • I like what I’m hearing about the next generation of outfielders on the southside in Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson.
  • I also can’t wait to see what no-name pitcher comes out of the woodwork to pitch lights out for two months this summer leaving Keith Law scratching his head as to how to properly belittle a pitching arsenal that he’s not familiar with.