Bauman: White Sox have top potential
Chicago's starting pitching could be among best in baseball
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There is one question towering above all others for the 2010 Chicago White Sox: First place in the American League Central or second?
They get a huge break if, in fact, Twins closer Joe Nathan cannot pitch. Nathan, diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament, has only been as good as anybody in the game over the last six years. The Twins have won five division titles in the past eight seasons. They play the game the right way and this year, their talent at the regular positions may be more substantial than usual. The "little piranhas" as Ozzie Guillen typically calls them, are moving to a new stadium and are dramatically increasing their payroll. They have actually become somewhat larger piranhas.
But for the Sox, it is their own level of play that will be a larger determining factor in establishing if this is a postseason team or a disappointment. This weekend, some of the White Sox were in Las Vegas playing the Cubs, which is better than being in Vegas playing the slots. But some of the Sox were not engaged in baseball tourism. They were doing the serious Spring Training labor, such as playing the Milwaukee Brewers in a split-squad game at Camelback Ranch. This didn't turn out to be much fun, as the Sox lost, 7-2. But the late relief-pitching and defensive lapses that led to this defeat had nothing to do with players the Sox will be counting upon this season.
The Sox have a rotation that could be among baseball's elite, given a healthy Jake Peavy. His last full season was 2007, but that was also a Cy Young year. Peavy's upside was irresistible for the Sox, even at the cost of $52 million over the next three seasons.
Everybody else in this rotation is a proven Major League pitcher, particularly in the case of Mark Buehrle, one of the most relentlessly consistent pitchers in the game. Two starters, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, are still young enough that growth could fairly be expected from them. Floyd, a 17-game winner in 2008, did his part Saturday against the Brewers, throwing four strong innings, giving up one run on two hits, walking none and striking out five. This was not just a stroll; the Brewers had four regulars in their lineup, including Ryan Braun, and Floyd had to pitch well.
"Fastball, changeup, curveball; it was one of those days when I felt good with everything," Floyd said with a smile. "Got to save those for the season. No, it's fine. There will be plenty of them during the season."
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Floyd sees the possibilities for this rotation, and the excitement at being part of a potentially elite group.
"I think that if we stay healthy and we live up to our abilities, both starting pitching and the bullpen, we're going to be pretty strong, real strong," he said.
In the category of young and getting better, in an already solid lineup, the White Sox have one of the most remarkable young players in the game, Gordon Beckham. A 2008 first-round Draft choice, Beckham, now 23, was summoned to the Majors after just 59 Minor League games. He played with not only obvious ability, but maturity. He was not quite as calm as he looked, Beckham suggested.
"I like to describe myself as a duck on the water," Beckham said. "It looked like everything was OK on top, but underneath the water, my legs were moving pretty fast. But it got easier once I started hitting a little bit, for a respectable average. It was a little easier to go to the park every day. At third base, I really struggled there for about a month. After that, I felt really good over there and got it going."
That was another thing. For the Chicago organization, Beckham was a second baseman, then a shortstop in Triple-A last spring, and then the regular third baseman for the White Sox last season. This year, he has been installed as the regular second baseman, batting second. These spots will be good for him and good for the Sox, but Beckham does not ask for total continuity.
"Just put me on the field, I'll be all right," he said. "This year, it's second base, and hopefully it's second base for a long time."
Beckham has plenty of youthful enthusiasm, but for this club, enthusiasm knows no age barriers.
"There is a good feeling around camp," Beckham said. "We want to win and we feel like we can win. There's a confidence here and that's exciting, really exciting. We just need everybody to pull their own weight and do what they're capable of."
That's really it. With the talent assembled here, for this club to win, nobody has to climb the Himalayas. Performances at previously established standards -- high, but reasonable standards -- will be enough.
The AL Central will probably be more difficult than many expect. The Tigers cannot be dismissed and the Royals insist that this will be the year of their long-awaited breakthrough. In any case, the White Sox have good and justifiable reasons to believe that in 2010, first place is their place.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.