It was an interesting few days, especially with the brief Ken Williams-Mark Buehrle saga. But everything ended on a positive note, and there seems to be more optimism than ever in regard to the White Sox postseason chances. Personally, I'm interested in watching this revamped bullpen full of young, power arms.
Let's move on to the post-SoxFest mailbag, but before I answer this week's question, here's a Super Bowl prediction, free of charge. The Bears win by three, and we can meet back here Monday for the celebration.
I continue to hear about how we have the best staff in baseball. Yet, for the second half of last year, we had Mark Buehrle at 3-7 with a 6.44 ERA, Jose Contreras at 4-9 with 5.40 ERA, and Javier Vazquez at 2-8 with a 4.58 ERA. I am worried about this staff, and you know we White Sox fans like to worry.
-- Brent, Prospect Heights
Brent, until the White Sox starters bounce back on the mound and return somewhere near the form they showed in 2005, you have every right to be concerned. But I'm here to tell you this overall bounce back will take place in 2007.
Jon Garland solidly fills the void vacated by Freddy Garcia, in that the right-hander seems to have discovered how to pitch to win over the past two years. I'm not talking about harnessing his stuff and attacking the strike zone, as much as simply going out every start and doing whatever the White Sox need to be successful. Personal numbers such as ERA aren't nearly as important to Garland as the overall team picture. It was one of Garcia's strongest attributes as a pitcher.
Contreras told me on Friday that he was healthy and ready to go, while Vazquez pitched much better than his final numbers exhibited. It's not out of the question to expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 victories from each of these members of the rotation.
Buehrle could be the deciding intangible amongst the starting five, more so than the unknown fifth starter. Although he admitted Friday that it's only natural to have your confidence shaken after the two miserable months he had in 2006, he seemed no different from the laid-back Buehrle I've witnessed coming off past successful campaigns.
I'm going on record now by saying that Buehrle posts his first 20-win season in 2007. It's an important season for him contractually and just as important from a personal pride standpoint, and I expect him to counter the league's adjustments. Remember, as Williams stressed, the White Sox starters won't have that extra month of pressure innings to deal with as they did in 2005 going into 2006. Of course, they hope it becomes an issue again this year after a second title.
I've been coming into Chicago in late January for SoxFest over the past five or six years, and I really enjoyed myself this weekend. How do you think the first SoxFest at the new venue worked?
-- Lauren, New York
I enjoyed the time I spent at SoxFest during each of the three days this past weekend, and I thought the Palmer House Hilton had a more intimate feel than past SoxFests. It just seemed like you could move quickly from one event to another. Of course, the first year for anything leads to eventual adjustments, as White Sox director of community relations Christine O'Reilly explained.
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"Initially, people were a little concerned and confused because they didn't know the space, but once they got the lay of the land, we seemed to get incredibly positive feedback," O'Reilly added.
Hi Scott, no sooner did I get finished reading your mailbag regarding Scott Podsednik being healthy and ready for a great season, when I saw the article about Scotty having surgery for a hernia injury. The report said he'd be out 6-8 weeks. How will this affect his Spring Training?
I remember last year hearing that the reason he had a less-than-stellar year was due to being injured before Spring Training and him having a shortened training period. Will this injury/surgery set us up for a repeat of last year's performance? Regards,
-- Marie, Downers Grove
After missing most of Spring Training 2006 because of groin and shoulder injuries, Podsednik started the 2006 campaign in 0-for-16 and 1-for-26 funks, respectively. But I can guarantee this current injury won't cause that same sort of start for Podsednik in 2007 because the White Sox are determined to err on the side of caution.
If Podsednik is projected to be out two months, it might end up being more like three months just so he can get the proper baseball preparation to match his physical readiness. Remember, in Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, Jerry Owens and Josh Fields, there are plenty of talented temporary options to fill the outfield void. Those names don't even include capable veterans such as Pablo Ozuna and Rob Mackowiak.
Darin Erstad, Ozuna, Mackowiak and even Tadahito Iguchi will be able to handle leadoff responsibilities in Podsednik's absence. They won't provide Podsednik's explosiveness on the basepaths, but Ozzie Guillen made it clear this weekend how he just wants a leadoff hitter who can get on base. You can't worry about stealing second until you reach first base.
I noticed that Anderson changed his jersey number to 32. Is there any reason, or is it because Toby Hall has jersey No. 44 now?
-- Matt, Buffalo Grove
Anderson joked at the Pitch and Hit Awards Dinner on Sunday night that he had about "four days of service" and Hall has five or six years, so he gave No. 44 to the backup catcher. Anderson chose No. 32 in honor of Magic Johnson, whom he considers the greatest basketball player of all time.
"I publicly apologize to the seven fans who bought my old jersey," said Anderson with a laugh.
But Anderson was very serious about the positive fan support he received this past weekend at SoxFest, even after a tough first season. For those fans who don't think they can make an impact, check out Anderson's comments.
"It's unreal to me the fan base I still have," Anderson said. "They could have easily turned on me or given me a hard time, but everyone I run into has been awesome, wishing me the best and telling me they expect big things. I hope I give them that next year."
How do you think the addition of Razor Shines on the coaching staff will affect our guys in terms of speedy baserunning and steals? It seems like several players on the Sox have the potential to be better in that area.
-- Ryan, LaPorte, Ind.
My impression of Shines from just the short time I've been around him is that he possesses more positive energy than almost any other person I've ever witnessed. I'm not sure what sort of direct impact he will have on baserunning, but he's going to provide a good comfort zone for the young, emerging players who he managed in the Minors, as explained by one of those aforementioned rookies.
"From a younger guy's standpoint, we've been around him and can let loose," said Fields, who played for Shines at both Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham. "He also brings so much excitement. I think it will be exciting for the fans just to watch him coach third base, not that it will take away from the game.
"When I was in the dugout in Triple-A and someone else was hitting, I would look to see what he was doing," added Fields with a laugh. "He pumps you up as a player and will do the same for the fans. He's very emotional and shows it and that will be lot of fun to watch."
Is it me, or am I just missing hearing the terms "Ozzie ball" and "smart ball" lately? We are celebrating all these home runs, but not a World Series.
Home runs are wonderful, but you can't produce one on-demand like a video. I want to see balls rolling slowly down the baselines while runners advance. I want to see balls bounding to the outfield behind runners trying to get another base.
-- Steve, Jacksonville, Fla.
Steve, the "small ball" argument seems to come up as a bit of a crutch when the White Sox fall short of their goals. But remember, in a ballpark such as U.S. Cellular, a team cannot survive without home run hitters.
With that fact aside, if you want to see small ball's finest hour, stop by one of the White Sox back fields at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson during this upcoming Spring Training. Guillen feels so strongly about this aspect of the offense that he's devoting one entire field every day to situational baseball such as bunting, the hit-and-run, etc.
"Everyone has to go through it besides [Jermaine] Dye, [Paul] Konerko and [Jim] Thome," Guillen said. "It's maybe four guys on that list that don't have to go through that.
"We have a different way. We're going to play games. Give bunt situations, give pointers, the way they used to teach. We're going to make it fun, but they're not going to [mess] around. I already talked to [bench coach] Joey [Cora]. Make sure that half-hour, 20 minutes, make sure we make the best of that time."
My mother-in-law just announced her affiliation to the Chicago Cubs. I love my wife and her wonderful family, but how can I cope with having a mother-in-law as a Cubs fan and my own mother as a Cardinals fan. Any words of encouragement for me?
-- Sean, Carbondale
Sean, with a Cubs fan, a White Sox fan and a Cardinals fan in the same family, I need to turn over your situation to a professional baseball therapist. Actually, I just made up that position. My advice to you is simply enjoy baseball and root for the Bears this weekend. Hopefully, you can find common ground in the NFL.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.