The pitchers and catchers will report first just like in spring training. Today I will look at the Sox starters and both catchers. Tomorrow I will go into the bullpen. The biggest question, and the key to the season is our starting pitching. This off season changed our rotation quite a bit. One of the starters was traded, and the pitcher that was to replace him was traded within the week. Here was the Sox rotation at the beginning of last year:
Here is how it should look to start this season:
Jose Contreras – This will be the third full season for Jose with the White Sox. When he was acquired for Esteban Loaiza at the 2004 trade deadline it looked as if the Yankees were getting the better of the deal. The knock on Jose was that he was good early in the season, but fell off in the second half. In 2005 he was untouchable in the second half of the season, and was one of the major reasons the Sox won the World Series. He took an unbeaten streak into last season, but limped it through. He was not the same dominant pitcher. Last year he was 13-9 with a 429 ERA and 134 k’s last year. On paper it does not look bad, but his second half tells the tale. Here are his numbers after the All-Star break: 4-9 5.40 ERA. Part of that increase in runs was the longball. He only allowed 8 home runs in the first half of the season compared to 19 homers in the second half. Before the season started Jose was named the #1 starter by Ozzie Guillen. One concern about Jose is his age. Who knows how old he really is? He does not pitch a lot of complete games so we will see the bullpen a bit more with him pitching. His back seems to be doing better, so we may see the good Jose this year.
Jon Garland – Jon has won 18 games each of the past two years. We need that to continue this year with Garland moving up two spots in the rotation. Jon had the great start to the 2005 season, then hit a rough patch in August and September. He did pitch well in the playoffs that year though so we assumed he would be okay. Last spring he was bothered by shoulder tightness. He worked it out and posted a 18-7 record with a 4.51 ERA and 112 k’s. He was also named to the All-Star team last year. It may have helped that it was his manager that was in charge of picking the pitchers. Jon had the same tightness in the shoulder to start this spring, but just like last year he has worked through it. Jon looked to regain his form from 2005 during the months of June through August. He won 13 of his 14 starts in that span. If we can get another 18 win season from Garland we will be in good shape this year. He has seemed to ditch the big inning that used to hound him.
Mark Buehrle – For the last five seasons you could count on Mark Buehrle starting for the White Sox on opening day. That will all come to an end this year. Mark not only lost the #1 starter role, he was moved to the #3 starter. Ozzie explained this by saying that he needed to split up Garland and Vazquez in the rotation. Just like Jose, Mark’s season was a tale of two halves. He had a good season until July came. From April through June he was 9-4 with a 3.32 ERA. Then July came. For the month of July he was 0-5 with a 11.40 ERA. The picture that is at the top of the page was taken in July when the Rangers roughed up Mark. He finished the season going 3-4 with a 5.35 ERA. This is not the Mark Buehrle that we have come to know. He was the workhorse of the team in previous years. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but finishes games. Last year he was getting knocked out of a lot of games getting the pen involved. He had a rough begining of the spring as well. He could not get his cutter working. That seemed to change at the end. He started to pitch a little bit better. He did not sign a contract extension before the season started so he will be a free agent at the end of the year. Maybe that will help him come back into his old form. I don’t think he will get a lot of money with a 12-13 record with a 4.99 ERA. From the way Kenny Williams is talking this could be the last season that we see Mark in a White Sox uniform. He says that he will not be able to re-sign him with the money that is being thrown around for left handed pitchers. I hope that Mark can bounce back, and that the Sox will re-sign him.
Javier Vazquez – Javier has the stuff to be a great major league pitcher. He has fantastic stuff that makes hitters look terrible. Watching him on TV you wonder how anyone can hit him. Then he has the bad inning. It seems that he loses focus, and the other team takes advantage of it. All it takes is a bloop hit, an error, or something to get under his skin and he loses his focus. If he could get that in line he would be a great asset to the Sox. He led the Sox with 184 strikeouts last year, but only had an 11-12 record with a 4.84 ERA. Maybe Cooper can work some of his magic and get Javier to concentrate the entire game. Javier is one of the biggest keys to the 2007 White Sox. Javier will be on the mound when I go to my first Sox game on April 6th.
John Danks – Who? When the White Sox got rid of Brandon McCarthy I saw the names of the players that they got in return. I had no idea who any of them were. Danks is a 21 year old lefty that won the job in spring training. Danks only pitched 14 games for AAA Oklahoma last year, and only has a 21-30 record and a 4.20 ERA in his minor league career. He has not exactly torn up the minors on his way up. He did look good at the start of spring, then fell off a bit when his name was being thrown around for the 5th starter role. His last start of the spring was a good one though. He only gave up one hit in the 4 innings that he pitched. It was after that start that Ozzie gave him the 5th starters job. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad one that one of your starters will be a 21 year old non-roster invitee. Time will tell if Ozzie made the right call. Yet again here is another question mark with the pitching staff.
It seemed as if the White Sox have improved the situation behind the plate as well this year. They have had a good starting catcher since they acquired A.J. Pierzynski before the 2005 season. What they have been missing is a good backup catcher. Toby Hall will fill that void this year. Here is a look at the two catchers that will break camp with the Sox this season:
A.J. Pierzynski – Acquiring A.J. before the 2005 season was a great move by Kenny Williams. He was just booted out of Minnesota, and the Giants were not too interested in bringing him back. He brought a lot of baggage with him, but so far he has done all right. A.J. is the type of player that you love if he is on your team, but that you hate when he is playing for the other guys. A.J. plays with a great intensity that often gets him into trouble. He always seems to be at the center of controversy. So far the Sox have come out on top when he has gotten into something. Hopefully that will remain the case. A.J. seems to handle the staff very well. He calls a good game, and you could see his effect on the team when he came over. He has also showed some clutch ability the last couple of years. Game winning home runs against the Dodgers and Cubs come to mind immediately. A.J. is just a competitor, and refuses to do anything but win. From what I have seen, his problems start when his team is not playing up to their ability. This could be a trying year for A.J. and the Sox.
Toby Hall – One of the sore spots for the Sox the last few years has been the backup catcher. As far back as I can remember this has been a problem. Who can forget Ron Karkovice batting .071 for the Sox? Chris Widger was all right for the 2005 team. He seemed to be a good guy, but his bat was not there. Last season we made the big move to re-acquire Sandy Alomar Jr. He was over the hill the first time we picked him up, and last year he showed that he was near the bottom of the hill. This year we may have snagged a good one. Toby was the starting catcher for Tampa Bay last year, but was traded to the Dodgers in late June. Despite playing in two different leagues he managed to bat .259 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI’s in 85 games last year. He will provide a decent right handed bat for the days when A.J. needs a rest. As I am writing this Hall had to leave the spring training game he was playing in for an apparent shoulder injury. Hopefully he can recover to provide some good innings for the team. If he cannot go, the job looks like it will go to Wiki Gonzalez. Oh how quickly things can change. Since I wrote this it has been determined that Hall will most likely miss the rest of the season. He is going to try rehab instead of surgery, and has a slim chance to be back in May. At this point he has nothing to lose by trying to rehab his shoulder. The Sox want to fill the job in house, but could someone else be brought in? Javy Lopez has been mentioned as a possible replacement, but I think the winds are blowing Sandy back to Chicago for his third stint behind the plate.