David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Competition: Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox finished three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central in 2012, which is pretty devastating considering the club was in first place for 126 days and as late as September 25 before losing six of ten games to close out the season. Management and ownership couldn’t have been happier with Robin Ventura after his first season as a manager, especially due to his inability to stay out of the spotlight—something Ozzie Guillen never seemed to be able to do.

So, what’s in store for the Pale Hose in 2013, and what will the Indians need to be prepared for during their 18 meetings?

The White Sox lost several players to free agency—specifically Kevin Youkilis, A.J. Pierzynski, Francisco Liriano, and Phillip Humber. While Pierzynski will take his career year and personality to the Texas Rangers in 2013, the club had to “replace” Liriano and Humber, who combined to go 8-7 with a 6.07 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP in 2012, with in-house options, as the team stayed all quiet on the pitching front this winter.

The starting rotation will consist of Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and either Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, or Dylan Axelrod in 2013. While Peavy, Sale, and Danks are formidable, you have to wonder about their health. Peavy tossed 200 innings in 2012 for the first time since 2007, Sale reached 192 innings in 2012 after tossing just 71 in 2011, and Danks made only nine starts before being shut down due to shoulder surgery. That leaves Floyd, who has made 153 starts over the last five years, as the lone workhorse, and Quintana and Santiago, who have combined to toss 212 innings in their careers. Needless to say, with the health question marks, the White Sox will be either very, very good or very, very bad as far as starting pitching goes.

The bullpen is very interesting. Addison Reed seems to have the closer’s job locked down and Matt Thornton will continue to be a dominant, left-handed set-up man. Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and Matt Lindstrom will be solid right-handed arms between the starters and the back end of the ‘pen.

The everyday lineup will be littered with solid, aging veterans and a lot of questions as well. Tyler Flowers could be living under a microscope in 2013, stepping into Pierzynski’s spot as the primary catcher. Flowers is a career .205/.307/.388 hitter in 317 plate appearances, but he did hit 80 home runs in his minor league career while posting a .275/.391/.484 line. At 27, Flowers isn’t much of a prospect, but with just Hector Gimenez and Josh Phegley as alternatives, it’s his job to lose.

First base will be occupied by Adam Dunn and/or Paul Konerko, who will rotate between the position to keep fresh over the course of the season, as Dunn started 51 games at first in 2012. While Dunn led the majors in strikeouts for the fourth time in his career in 2012, he also lead the league in walks and rebounded to hit 41 home runs after hitting just 11 in 2011. Konerko is getting up there in age, but he’ll probably do what he has always done: hit. He was an All-Star for the sixth-time in 2012 and his right-handed bat will occupy a spot in the middle of the order for, at least, another season.

Gordon Beckham seems like a total bust after his numbers seem to have continued to slip since his strong 2009 rookie season; however, Beckham did hit 16 home runs and drive in 60 runs in 2012. If Beckham could do something with his BABIP (.254 in 2012, .277 for his career), maybe the final numbers wouldn’t look so bad. After earning $2.93 million in his first year of arbitration, Beckham could find himself non-tendered if he fails to produce again this season.

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At short, Alexei Ramirez will continue to hold down the fort. Ramirez saw his plate discipline completely disappear in 2012 as he walked just 16 times in 621 plate appearances and he posted a .287 OBP, the lowest of his career. He did steal 20 bases (a career high) and drive in 73 runs, the most since his 2008 rookie season, but his career-low nine home runs was also a sad number for the former Silver Slugger winner. At the age of 31, the White Sox will need to hope that he isn’t losing ability and that he can show solid bat speed to rebound to his previous performance levels.

The addition of Jeff Keppinger adds quite a bit of flexibility to the roster, as he played over 20 games at each of first, second, and third last year for the Rays. He’ll be manning the hot corner in 2013. While it is unlikely that he can post another .800+ OPS, the friendly dimensions of U.S. Cellular Field could help him out, while the powerful lineup around him could give him more fastballs to rip to the gaps.

Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo are solid producers in the outfield corners, but like Ramirez they can’t take a walk. The two combined for 54 walks over 1,183 plate appearances in 2012, but they racked up 55 doubles, 50 home runs, and 169 because they swung the bat. Viciedo could become one of the best sluggers in baseball if he makes more consistent contact, as the 24-year-old still has a lot of untapped potential. In center, Alejandro De Aza provides some solid speed (26 steals), gap power (29 doubles, six triples), and surprising power (nine home runs), and he is a great sleeper for you fantasy nerds.

If the starting rotation stays healthy and the consistent veterans stay consistent veterans, the White Sox will be right back at the top of the division. However, there are a lot of question marks: Can Peavy stay healthy? Can Sale’s elbow hold up after a huge workload in 2012? How is Danks’ shoulder? Can the White Sox offense overcome the swings and misses by Dunn, Rios, Ramirez, and Viciedo? The chances of the White Sox finishing anything south of second in the AL Central is slim-to-none, even with those doubts.

Tags: Adam Dunn Alexei Ramirez Chicago White Sox Chris Sale Cleveland Indians Gavin Floyd Gordon Beckham Jake Peavy Jeff Keppinger John Danks Paul Konerko Tyler Flowers

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