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A.J., De Aza Among Early Sox Contributors

I’m not planning on purchasing playoff tickets just yet, but we all should be happy at what we’ve seen of the Sox as they’ve concluded their initial road trip with a 3-2 record.

Offensively…

* A.J. Pierzynski is on fire with two homers, six RBIs and a .313 batting average.

* Alejandro De Aza also has a pair of homers (hit in the same games as A.J. hit his) and is hitting a respectable .273 from the leadoff spot.

* Paul Konerko is homerless, but has driven in five runs and has an OPS of 1.100.

* Adam Dunn is hitting only .222 with just one homer and two RBIs, but looks much, much better and has an on-base percentage of .364.

* Dayan Viciedo has zeroes in HR and RBIs, but is hitting a somewhat acceptable .267.

* And there  are always early-season stragglers looking to break out. In this case, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios and Brent Morel all need to get things going. I have to admit I’m concerned about Beckham and Rios while Alexei always gets off to a slow start.

Pitching-wise…

* Chris Sale has to be the top early story here with his terrific performance against the Tribe in his first ML start. The other Sox victories were credited to Matt Thornton in relief against Texas and John Danks, who was far from in command  yesterday in Cleveland, but gutted it out and benefitted from the 10 runs of support he got from his teammates.

* The pen has been solid with relievers Jesse Crain, Nate Jones, Addison Reed and Thornton all possessing 0.00 ERAs. And aside from surrendering a leadoff ninth inning homer in the opener against Cleveland, closer Hector Santiago has been impressive with his two saves.

Now it’s time to go home and convince the Tigers that they’re human.

Chris Sale: An All-Star Starter in the Making?

There was a lot to like last night in the 4-2 Sox victory over the Tribe.

First and foremost, Chris Sale‘s first major league start couldn’t have gone smoother. He was masterful, giving us hope that an All-Star starter is in the making. Granted, it was only his maiden start, but he has shown enough in a relief role to believe he is the real deal.

Another positive was the performance of Alejandro De Aza, who we need to live up to expectations. He led off the game with a homer and pounded out another hit. He needs to keep it going.

Hector Santiago recorded his second save, though he did give up a leadoff homer in the ninth. The good news it was a solo job and he calmed down enough to strike out two batters in the inning.

For the record, I’m ignoring the one big negative–Alex Rios‘s dropped  a “can of corn” fly ball that could have been disastrous if Addison Reed didn’t get the Sox out of the inning. Of all the mysteries on this year’s squad, Rios is probably the most perplexing on multiple levels.

A Night of “Firsts”

Last night in Arlington proved to be a winner for the White Sox as their nail-biting 4-3 triumph over the Rangers was built on a series of “firsts.”

For starters, it was the first Sox win of the year as they rebounded from a 3-2 defeat the day before in the season opener. It was also Robin Ventura‘s first victory as a manager, an accomplishment that earned him a beer shower from the troops. And it was rookie Hector Santiago‘s first major league save.

Aside from the “W” itself, the most satisfying “first” of all had to be Alex Rios‘s game-winning homer–over the centerfield fence.  It’s too early to make any legitimate assessements, but Rios showed that maybe there’s some potential for a turnaround from his disastrous 2011 as he slugged his personal No. 1 round-tripper.

We’ve said all along that Adam Dunn and Rios could be the keys to a Sox surprise this season. So far, so good.

Sox Will Have to Bring Their “A” Game as Tough Foes Dot April Schedule

Happy Opening Day!  And now the flurry of questions about our 2012 White Sox will begin to be answered.

The April schedule won’t be a cakewalk. First it’s three against the Rangers, beginning this afternoon, then three vs. the Tribe–all on the road–then home for three against the mighty Tigers and four vs. the Orioles. The month concludes with a six-game road trip to Seattle and and Oakland and a four-game homestand against the Red Sox.

I hate to get ahead of myself because facing the two-time defending American League champs the next three days is imposing enough. But the facts are the facts. The Sox, in need of getting off to a good start to excite the South Side fandom, have their work cut out for them.

Today, we’ll see Robin Ventura‘s managerial debut and a new lineup that will look like this:

DeAza, CF

Morel, 3B

Dunn, DH

Konerko, 1B

Pierzynski, C

Rios, RF

Ramirez,SS

Viciedo, LF

Beckham , 2B

Danks, P

One mystery is the identity of the closer. Ventura has been mum on the subject, but it seems Matt Thornton, Hector Santiago and Addison Reed are the likely suspects, in no particular order.

One game won’t make or break the season, but it sure would be nice to get out of the box with a “W” against the league champs. And it would be even sweeter if Dunn is a big part of it so he can exorcise those 2011 demons sooner than later.

Your 2012 Opening Day White Sox (Barring Any Late Moves):

After yesterday’s roster speculation about the bullpen and bench, the White Sox have now confirmed the 25-man roster that will open the season on Friday vs. the Rangers in Arlington.

Here are your 2012 Sox:

Pitchers (12):  John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale, Philip Humber, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman, Addison Reed, Hector Santiago, Zach Stewart and Nate Jones

Catchers (2):  A.J. Pierzynski, Tyler Flowers

Infielders (6):  Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel, Eduardo Escobar

Outfielders (5): Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, Brent Lillibridge, Kosuke Fukudome

And the  Robin Ventura era begins…

As Ventura Era Begins, Hector Santiago is a Most Interesting Piece of the South Side Puzzle

Just because I haven’t posted lately, it doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly awaiting the 2012 season. And it makes it more fun when the so-called experts, who frankly don’t have much more insight than those of us fans that follow the game closely, predict doomsday for our Sox.

Things seem to be coming together with a week to go before the opener against the defending A.L. champion Rangers. The remaining roster spots are in the bullpen and on the bench.

It looks like the pen will shape up with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman, Addison Reed and Hector Santiago with two of the following five fighting it out for the two remaining spots: Eric Stults, Brian Bruney, Nate Jones, Zack Stewart and Dylan Axelrod. The specific roles, including the annointment of the closer, are yet to be determined. The most interesting candidates are the rookie Reed, who closed for Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State, and Santiago, a New Jersey native who has impressed everyone in Glendale with an effective screwball.

If nothing unusual happens, Eduardo Escobar has won the last spot among position players. He’s had a good enough spring and displayed enough infield versatility to prompt the Sox to send the likes of Dan Johnson, Dallas McPherson, Jim Gallagher and Jordan Danks back to minor league camp.

It’s so hard to know what this team is going to be. For now, let’s sit back, relax and watch the Robin Ventura era begin.

Another Andy Strasberg Masterpiece: Baseball Fantography

Today, I’ll be writing about a new book that should be in bookstores and on Amazon.com as we speak. It’s called “Baseball Fantography: A Celebration in Snapshots and Stories from the Fans (Abrams Image).” It is written and compiled by  Andy Strasberg, a long-time baseball executive with the San Diego Padres and one of the most creative marketers in the game. A man who has also worked with Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and umpire Doug Harvey.

The genesis of the tome came when Strasberg unearthed a snapshot of himself as a teenager with his idol, Roger Maris. Andy felt many others would have similiar photos and he set out on a long journey to find them.

Before I tell you about the book, which I absolutely love, here’s a disclaimer. Andy happens to be one of my best friends. A friend of more than 40 years in a relationship that has surivived the 3,000 miles in between his home in San Diego and mine in New York. But my affection for the book has little to do with my enduring affection for Andy. It’s just a wonderful project that I would appreciate if  I didn’t know Andy Strasberg from Stephen Strasburg. It will take us back into time and bring up our best baseball memories.

Baseball Fantography is Andy’s latest passioniate idea turned into reality. What he has done is put together hundreds of iconic baseball photos, all taken by fans, and assimilated into a very personal collection of images with accompanying stories.

You’ll find a young Roberto Clemente, a graying Carl Yastrzemski and classic images both on and off the field of the likes of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Tony Gwynn, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Cal Ripken, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Derek Jeter and Jackie Robinson, among many others.

Have no fear, White Sox fans, we’re included too, as evidenced by the photos below, that all appear in the book. In order, that’s Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm,  pinch-hitter extraordinaire Smokey Burgess;  hard-nosed outfielder Jim Rivera; and Bob Shaw, a stalwart hurler on the 1959 American League Champion Sox.

I’ve given you a little taste here of this amazing new book and there’s much, much more. Treat yourself and buy it–or have some you love buy it for you. Enjoy!

 

 

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Glendale, AZ—The uncertainty I’m feeling about the 2012 White Sox remains after having witnessed five spring training contests. As has been the pattern since the Sox left Sarasota for Arizona, the record is below .500–2-6 as of this morning. While that in itself is not serious cause for concern, all things considered a win is always better than a loss.

A few observations that contribute to the continuing uncertainty:

* Adam Dunn (knock on wood) looks much, much better. He’s making contact and looked his old powerful self with a three-run shot and a solid double against the Rangers last week.

* Alex Rios really hasn’t made an impression one way or another. A bit disappointing for those of us hoping for his revival.

* John Danks is struggling with his command. He doesn’t seem concerned since it’s happening so early in the spring, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

* Nestor Molina, who was acquired for Sergio Santos, got lit up in his first appearance, but seemed to be much more relaxed in a good outing the next time he took the mound. Simon Castro, who came to the Sox in the Carlos Quentin deal, had an appearance he’d like to forget. Entering the game in the top of the ninth with a 6-5 lead, he imploded with a walk, a wild pitch, a hit batsmen and then surrendered a grand slam home run, sending the Sox into defeat. Neither one will make the opening day roster, but much will be expected of both as early as this summer so it’s worth watching.

* I like what I’ve seen of Brent Morel. I think he’ll just get better and better. His infield mate Gordon Beckham, in somewhat of a do or die situation, has also been a positive. Defensively, they will combine with Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez to give the Sox a stellar infield presence.

* Matt Thornton is the leader in the clubhouse for the closer role, but youngster Addison Reed is lurking. Seems like the call won’t be made until the end of the spring.

* Tyler Flowers, the backup backstop, has struck out a lot, but has shown power. Those who have watched him see his potential at the plate, but he’s yet to show it on a consistent basis.

* One reserve position player will likely be selected from Eduardo Escobar, Ozzie Martinez, Dan JohnsonDallas McPherson and Jim Gallagher. I would say Johnson is the guy right now.

It’s just been that kind of a spring.

Will the Sox Be Pulling From the Same Rope?

I’m a week away from my annual trip to White Sox spring training to watch the Sox with my own eyes, but I like what I’m hearing from Camelback Ranch.

While Ozzie (Remember him?) is on the cover of Sports Illustrated  representing the circus that will personify the Miami Marlins, our new low-key skipper is talking about “effort,” giving positive feedback to his players and acting like this club is going to confound the so-called experts and be a major surprise in the A.L. Central. And to that point it seems the troops are responding by saying all the right things with a sense of renewed camaraderie.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that every team thinks they have a chance in February and March. I’m just saying that after the Ozzie years Robin Ventura‘s approach is a breath of fresh air. As big a fan I was of Ozzie’s, it’s just time for a change.

The Sox marketing slogan this year is “Appreciate the Game,” low-key like the new skipper. I have no quarrel with that, but I could have been just as satisfied with something like, “No More Drama.”

Changing Times

I just finished watching the video of Robin Ventura‘s gaggle with the press after yesterday’s initial spring training workout. Not that it comes as a surprise to any of us, but it’s more obvious than ever that we’re not going to recognize the aura around the White Sox for a while in this post-Ozzie existence.

It was pretty startling to hear the low-key, wry-humored Ventura interact with the media after eight seasons with the non-stop, often profane rants of Ozzie. I’m not making a value judgment, just observing that we’re living through changing times with the Sox and it’s going to be an interesting exercise.

The hope here is that Robin’s more even demeanor will have a positive and calming effect on a team that will be looking a new identity and direction as they attempt to prove that they are better than all the pundits are predicting.

So, as you’re watching the Sox perform these spring, also keep a close eye on how their collective personality is being formed. It could be the difference between success and failure.

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