White Sox Opening Day outlook

White Sox Opening Day outlook

Talk is cheap, as the old saying goes.

Nobody understands that cliché better than White Sox general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Throughout the past offseason and Spring Training, the leaders of the White Sox have spoken of the vast improvements made to the team. They have talked liberally about the building of a playoff and even World Series contender, erasing last year's debacle.

But the architect and the engineer of 2005's championship effort stand more than ready for this optimism to start playing out on the field. That first test emanating from a brutally tough opening two months comes on Monday against the defending American League Central champs from Cleveland and the reigning AL Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia.

Let the doubters take their best respective shots. Their words don't mean much either to the determined White Sox.

"Our pitching staff will be fine," said Williams, in a quick look at this team. "The key will be offensively, how much we fight on an at-bat-to-at-bat basis."

Calling card
Although the offense certainly didn't shine through during a surprisingly dismal year with the bat, the White Sox will hit. They have added Nick Swisher to an already powerful middle of the order and have speed to burn in leadoff man Jerry Owens and No. 2 hitter Orlando Cabrera. This offense should return to its 2006 high-octane form.

Projected starting lineup
1. LF Nick Swisher
2. SS Orlando Cabrera
3. DH Jim Thome
4. 1B Paul Konerko
5. RF Jermaine Dye
6. C A.J. Pierzynski
7. CF Alexei Ramirez
8. 3B Joe Crede
9. 2B Juan Uribe
Projected rotation
1. LHP Mark Buehrle
2. RHP Javier Vazquez
3. LHP John Danks
4. RHP Jose Contreras
5. RHP Gavin Floyd
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Bobby Jenks
Setup: RHP Octavio Dotel
Setup: LHP Matt Thornton
Middle: RHP Scott Linebrink
Middle: RHP Ehren Wassermann
Middle: LHP Boone Logan
Long: RHP Mike MacDougal
Achilles' Heel
Contreras

Jose Contreras, Gavin Floyd and John Danks all have found various degrees of success over the past two seasons as starters, including Contreras' franchise-record 17 straight winning decisions, an amazing run which ended on July 4, 2006. But this trio needs to avoid the combined struggles faced during prolonged stretches from last year in order to solidify the rotation, with Contreras actually having lost a Major League-worst 26 times since the 2006 All-Star break. This team will go as far as its pitching staff can push it.

You'll know they're rollin' if ...
Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel are the answers to the question of, 'Who can get the ball successfully to closer Bobby Jenks?' The bullpen was nothing short of a disaster for much of last year, but adding the two best setup men who were available over the offseason should help turn a weakness into a strength. Matt Thornton and Mike MacDougal also need to bounce back from rough 2007 campaigns to complete the relief crew.

You'll know they're in trouble if ...
A large portion of the White Sox runs come via the long ball. Hitting coach Greg Walker makes no excuses for his team's power in the middle of the lineup, especially playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark such as U.S. Cellular Field. But Cabrera, Swisher and Alexei Ramirez were added to give the White Sox a bit more balance, giving them the chance to grind out runs like they did during 2005's special season.

Testing, testing

Cabrera

A barometer as to where this team actually stands will come during the first road trip of the season, weather permitting. The White Sox open with three games at Progressive Field and follow that series with three weekend games at Comerica Park. The Indians finished 11-7 against the South Siders last year, while the White Sox won their third straight season series from the Tigers and eighth in nine years. Guillen's crew needs to knock off at least one of these two in the long run to reach the playoffs.

Interleague Play
The good news for the White Sox is they now seem to play the Pirates on a yearly basis, whether the National League Central is on the schedule or not. The even better news is while they host the Rockies and travel to face the Dodgers, the White Sox also visit the Giants and won't face either Arizona or San Diego from the NL West. Of course, the six games with the Cubs always bring a playoff-like atmosphere, and the White Sox will try to avenge last year's 1-5 showing against their crosstown rivals.

The Bottom Line
Williams did a great job of addressing the weaknesses on this team, and even strengthening some of the already sturdy spots. It will be tough for the White Sox to make up some 20 games from 2007, an increase they probably would need to reach the postseason out of baseball's toughest division, but look for a highly competitive ballclub.

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