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Opportunity knocks

Paul Konerko, who is 2-for-14 lifetime against Joe Nathan, will not miss the Twins' closer. Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images

Clearly it would have crossed all boundaries of sportsmanship and good taste for the White Sox, the Tigers or anyone else in the American League Central to express anything but empathy and sadness at the news of the season-ending elbow injury to Minnesota closer Joe Nathan.

Paul Konerko talked about how the Twins have a history of successfully replacing injured players. "It will be some player that no one is even thinking about now that will probably be lights out for them," said Konerko, 2-for-14 lifetime against Nathan.

Detroit's Brandon Inge said the division will be the poorer for it.

"I'm a competitor, and I always want a team at their best," said Inge, who is 1-for-15 against Nathan.

In Nathan's absence, the summing up is Mariano Rivera-scary.

Nathan is 30-for-30 in save opportunities against the Tigers with an ERA of 1.55 while holding them to a collective .153 batting average. Against the Sox, he has 24 career saves with an ERA of 2.06, holding them to a .151 batting average.

Combined, the Sox, Tigers, Indians and Royals hit .161 against Nathan.

Eventually, the relief trickled out.

"It's sad news. ... On the flip side, it's good for our team knowing that we don't have to face him in the ninth," Inge said.

"Now," said Sox starter John Danks, "they have to play a full nine-inning game."

Nobody is suggesting that the Twins will curl up and go away. Not with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and their usual power-hitting lineup, along with newcomer Jim Thome, smacking the ball around the new Target Field. But as long as we're still fantasizing, that has to be an adjustment, right? And more than that. No wild bounces, no fly balls swallowed by the roof, no skewed foul-line dimensions, no annoyingly deafening crowd noise.

And so we submit the White Sox as the new Central Division favorites, buoyed by Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's freshly released team slogan, "Don't Hate Ozzie. Hate the White Sox."

"A lot of people hate me," he explained. "I want them to hate my team, too. Because we want to kick some [butts]. Nobody hates anybody when you're horse [expletive]. When you're horse [expletive], nobody cares about you. When you're good, that's the people you want to beat, the people you hate the most."

For the Sox to be most detestable, however, a few things have to happen. Like Jake Peavy has to pitch like Jake Peavy; Carlos Quentin has to be the good Carlos Quentin; Andruw Jones, the younger Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel, merely under 40.

Mark Teahen and Alex Rios have to shed the soreness of this spring. Gordon Beckham has to avoid a sophomore slump; Mark Buehrle has to hold out a little longer; and Scott Linebrink has to be better. Ditto Alexei Ramirez, who inspired Guillen to lament that the Sox were so bad defensively last season that they made errors at DH.

Konerko has to keep hitting home runs since it's not clear yet if anyone else will. And Bobby Jenks has to learn how to, um, I don't know, maybe stretch once in a while?

The Sox bullpen, with the sneaky great Matt Thornton, the addition of an apparently healthy J.J. Putz and The Natural, otherwise known as the hard-throwing minor league infielder-turned-big-league-righty reliever Sergio Santos, could actually be fun to watch. And if everything goes according to plan, they should not be overly taxed with a sterling starting rotation of Peavy, Buehrle , Gavin Floyd, Danks and Freddy Garcia.

With Juan Pierre leading off, Guillen has the kind of team he wanted and the style of baseball he loves. The only trouble with being the little team that grinds out runs is that when you're not hitting, it tends to get very ugly very quickly. And that's when the thought of grabbing Jones and Teahen and Mark Kotsay while missing out on Johnny Damon and Chone Figgins tends to gnaw at people.

Until then, Jones and Rios looked great in the spring. And with any luck, they'll all be hated by July.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.