From starters to set-up man to closer, White Sox staff has fans optimistic
Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle is always going to give you a 200-inning season; Jake Peavy, the 2007 Cy Young Award winner in the National League, is fresh and out to prove he's the pitcher he used to be after missing most of 2009 and the last month of 2008 with injuries that are now behind him.
Left-hander John Danks and right-hander Gavin Floyd may be coming into their own as 200-inning, 15-game winners this season. No. 5 starter Freddy Garcia is back into the condition he was in when he helped pitch the White Sox into the ALCS and World Series in 2005. Garcia could easily return to form and win 12 games.
All five rotation pitchers are backed up by the up-and-coming Daniel Hudson, who may or may not make the White Sox's 12-man pitching staff. Hudson, who has pitched well in the spring, may lose out to a numbers crunch and have to return to Triple-A. The fair-haired child of the future rotation could probably use 15 starts in Triple-A for experience.
The South Siders' bullpen has the potential to be among the best in baseball. The season could turn on the health of closer Bobby Jenks and set-up man J.J. Putz. Jenks continues to battle through a right calf injury that has plagued him since last September. Putz appears to be almost all the way back to form after rehabbing his right elbow (bone spurs were removed in June 2009).
Left-handed setup man Matt Thornton is simply the best left-handed bullpen man in baseball. Thornton can dominate with a 97 mph fastball or blow you away with an 85-86 mph slider. Thornton's confidence at this point is off the charts. Veteran Scott Linebrink is looking for a comeback season and right-hander Tony Pena will handle the sixth and seventh innings, with left hander Randy Williams as the most likely situation left-hander for the Sox. Right-hander Sergio Santos has been one of the more pleasant surprises of White Sox training camp as well as the entire Cactus League. He appears to have made the Sox's bullpen, especially since he is out of minor league options.
Santos has a 97 mph fastball and an 88 mph slider. It appears he will either make the team or go on the disabled list with a mysterious injury. The up-and-coming aforementioned Hudson will back up both the starting pitchers and the bullpen as the most likely first call-up from Triple-A.
The White Sox have a deep veteran rotation, with a solid group of bullpen pitchers who have been through the wars and have plenty of playoff experience. The Don Cooper factor also is a huge benefit for this group of pitchers. Cooper is one of the best technical teachers in the game -- he's also helped many pitchers with their confidence. One of Cooper's main strengths is teaching the cut fastball to his students.
Wear and tear and attrition could be the only downfall of this very strong-looking pitching staff. Red flags include Buehrle's winning only two games last season after his late-July perfect game. Keep your eye on Peavy's mechanics. Scouts love his competitive nature and his stuff, but hate his arm action. They believe Peavy's arm slot is something to watch and keep your eye on. In 2008, Peavy fell from a seven-inning pitcher to a six-inning pitcher. Bullpen-wise, Jenks must shake off his calf injury and return to the form of 2008 after a less-than-stellar year (for him) in 2009. If Jenks continues to struggle with either injuries or lack of production, look for Putz to step in as the replacement.
White Sox positive headline of 2010
Buehrle, Peavy win a combined 35 games and the White sox win the American League Pennant
White Sox negative headline 2010
Peavy and Buehrle make only 40 starts, White Sox finish third in the American League Central
Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com.