White Sox Opening Day Outlook

White Sox Opening Day outlook

The White Sox came to Tucson with very few questions to answer following the team's first World Series title in almost nine decades.

Any remaining weaknesses were strengthened by general manager Ken Williams' shrewd maneuvering during the off-season, and even some of their points of excellence were enhanced a little further. After last season's amazing finish, and the continuation of glory into the offseason, there is no reason for Ozzie Guillen's crew to doubt its chances to repeat the title effort in 2006.

Jim Thome's addition provides a left-handed power presence in the middle of the order, not to mention one of the sharper batting eyes in the game helping to drive up opposing hurlers' pitch counts. Super-sub Rob Mackowiak, acquired from Pittsburgh, could play an important role early in left field and at the top of the order with Scott Podsednik battling a strained left abductor. Right-hander Javier Vazquez also gives the White Sox five viable 15-game winners in their starting rotation.

It's true that the White Sox didn't exactly set the world on fire during Cactus League play, finishing well under .500 for the second straight spring. But Guillen simply wanted his team to leave healthy and well prepared for the regular season, when the statistics and the games actually matter.

BATTING ORDER
1. Scott Podsednik, LF:
The fleet-footed leadoff man is the igniter of the White Sox offense. Podsednik's plan is simple: get on base in any way possible and score runs.

2. Tadahito Iguchi, 2B:
Originally intended to hit lower in the lineup for 2006, the exceptional handler of the bat is back in his familiar second slot. Iguchi has a prime goal to hit over .300 for the 2006 season.

3. Jim Thome, DH:
Thome appears to be fully recovered from back and right elbow issues that cost him much of 2005 with the Phillies. In the hitter-friendly confines of U.S Cellular Field, Thome could hit 40 home runs in 2006.

4. Paul Konerko, 1B:
Captain Konerko is as steady as they come, both on and off the field. Pencil in at least a .280 average, 40 home runs, and 100 RBIs for the consistent slugger.

5. Jermaine Dye, RF:
The World Series Most Valuable Player gives the White Sox a powerful and productive middle of the order, not to mention a solid defensive presence on the outfield corner.

6. A.J. Pierzynski, C:
Pierzynski just might have been the most important addition made to the team for the memorable 2005 season. Despite setting a career-high with 18 home runs, Pierzynski would like to raise his average back into the .280 to .300 range.

7. Joe Crede, 3B:
As good as there is defensively at third base, Crede looks to be hitting his stride offensively after a tremendous postseason. Crede is one of the better hitters in the American League, if not all of baseball, with the game on the line.

8. Juan Uribe, SS:
Uribe has started to earn recognition among the elite class of shortstops in the American League. He has great hands in the field and has the potential to hit 25 home runs and drive in crucial runs from the bottom of the order.

9. Brian Anderson, CF:
Replacing Aaron Rowand in center field will not be an easy challenge for Anderson. But the rookie simply has to play his own game and fit into the overall team concept in order to contribute.

ROTATION
1. Mark Buehrle, LHP:
Put Buehrle in the rotation, and it's a guarantee of 15-to-18 victories and 235 innings pitched. This could be the year when Buehrle pushes for 20 victories and his first Cy Young award.

2. Freddy Garcia, RHP:
Known as a big-game pitcher, Garcia already has been game-tested going into the regular season after making two strong starts for Team Venezuela during the World Baseball Classic. He's exceptional both as a starter in day games as well as on the road.

3. Jose Contreras, RHP:
Very few pitchers in baseball had a better second half to 2005 than Contreras, who has the ability to win 20 games. Contreras battled through a little elbow soreness during Spring Training but appears to be on track to make his first regular-season start.

4. Jon Garland, RHP:
Garland lived up to his vast potential in 2005 with a team-high 18 victories. With one of the best sinkers in the game and a more fluid style on the mound, there's no reason to believe Garland's success can't continue.

5. Javier Vazquez, RHP:
After struggling for the last 1½ seasons in New York and Arizona, Vazquez already appears to have found a home with the White Sox. He needs a drop in home runs allowed after giving up 68 over the past two years, but he would be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on most other teams.

BULLPEN
Bobby Jenks recorded the last out in the AL Central clincher, the American League Division Series clincher in Boston, and during Game 4 of the World Series in Houston. Yet, there still is some doubt concerning the burly right-hander. His velocity was down four or five mph during Spring Training, and Guillen questioned the big man's conditioning. But Jenks has every confidence he'll be able to anchor this important position on a full-time basis once the action begins against Cleveland.

Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte are coming off of career-best efforts in 2005 and should provide late-inning assistance to their hard-throwing closer. There are some relief questions, though, primarily focusing on whether Brandon McCarthy can handle a full-time relief role, and if Spring Training phenom Boone Logan continues his high level of success during the regular season.

OPENING DELAYED
Dustin Hermanson's balky back leaves him on the 15-day disabled list at the start of the 2006 campaign. Although no set date has been announced for Hermanson's return, the right-hander has talked about being ready to contribute in July.

BURNING QUESTION:
While the bullpen seems to be a tad less stable than it was entering 2005, the biggest issue for the White Sox is on the medical front. The team has better overall depth than it has in recent years, but the White Sox still can ill afford any serious injuries.

They enter the season with Hermanson, their one-time closer, starting on the disabled list, and Podsednik nursing a slightly strained left abductor. While Guillen can substitute Mackowiak or Pablo Ozuna for Podsednik, the White Sox need Podsednik to get their offense going. Otherwise, the South Siders are as good of a team as any other in the American League, on paper.

ON THE RECORD:
"Being close to winning it, that burning desire and edge always has been there. I think looking at that as a player, you know how special it is when you haven't done it. These guys have done it and should feel very proud they've accomplished it. But you also have to move on. We want to try to do something that not a lot of teams have done, to get back and win it again." -- Jim Thome.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.