White Sox dig in for AL Central chase

Despite all the tremors around the division, the Chicago White

Sox stood their ground.

They shuffled their front office, committed to their top two

starting pitchers and split with one of their final links to the

2005 championship team. One thing they didn’t do was make any

splashy acquisitions, and if the perception is that other teams

might have caught or passed them, well, so be it.

”Obviously there are teams that look stronger but I think there

is a general feeling here like there was last year that it will be

OK, that we’ll battle through it,” Paul Konerko said.

The White Sox spent 117 days in first place last season only to

fade down the stretch and finish three games behind Detroit in the

AL Central with 85 wins. They dropped 10 of 12 in late September

and were left to watch as the Tigers rolled all the way to the

World Series.

They were largely spectators, too, as the rest of the division

underwent a makeover. And now, they’re saying bring it on.

”The focus becomes taking care of us, not looking outside to

see what people perceive you as,” said manager Robin Ventura, in

his second season. ”It’s how you play together. I don’t think

anybody would look at the lineups of the teams that won the last

four World Series and say, `Geez, that’s an unbelievable All-Star

lineup.’ Actually it’s nice to have a chip on your shoulder going

into it that you have something to prove. It makes my job easier to

motivate.”

The White Sox weren’t exactly dormant this offseason. They just

didn’t dominate the headlines.

They made some noise by promoting Rick Hahn to general manager

and bumping Ken Williams to executive vice president. They

re-signed Jake Peavy before he hit the free agent market, a quick

strike to retain one of their top pitchers. They also locked in

All-Star pitcher Chris Sale for the long term this month, but there

were no headline-grabbing additions.

There was, however, one key subtraction – A.J. Pierzynski.

The White Sox let the veteran catcher sign with Texas, severing

ties with one of the final players left from the title team while

leaving themselves short a left-handed hitter.

Meanwhile, other teams in the division loaded up.

Detroit has all its top players back, with Triple Crown winner

Miguel Cabrera, slugger Prince Fielder and ace Justin Verlander,

and a key figure returning to the lineup in Victor Martinez. He

missed last season with a knee injury. The Tigers also spent big

money to keep Anibal Sanchez in their rotation and added Torii

Hunter to play right field.

Kansas City re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, acquired Ervin Santana in

a trade with the Los Angeles Angels and landed James Shields and

Wade Davis from Tampa Bay.

Cleveland got a boost by hiring Terry Francona, who led Boston

to two championships, and landing outfielder Nick Swisher in free

agency.

”I think it’s going to be tough for any one team to run away

with it in the Central this year,” Hahn said. ”I think it’s going

to be a fun summer.”

And the White Sox aren’t conceding anything.

With a strong rotation and a deep bullpen, they believe they

have the pitching to compete and that their lineup will be good

enough.

Peavy is coming off a rebound season in which he put aside all

his recent injuries to post a 3.37 ERA in 32 starts. His reward was

a contract that pays $14.5 million in each of the next two seasons

and includes a $15 million conditional player option for 2015.

Sale, meanwhile, emerged as an All-Star last season and got the

nod to start the season opener against Kansas City. He also got

long-term security in the form of a five-year, $32.5 million

contract after a 17-win season.

There is some concern surrounding John Danks, last year’s

opening day starter. A shoulder injury limited him to nine starts,

and he’s expected to open the season on the disabled list after

struggling in spring training.

The White Sox are also short on left-handed bats, particularly

with Pierzynski gone.

They let him sign with Texas because they wanted to re-sign

Peavy and because they believe Tyler Flowers is ready to take over

behind the plate. He’s shown he can call a game and field the

position. But can he hit?

The same question applies to second baseman Gordon Beckham.

And what about Konerko?

At 37 and entering his 15th season with the White Sox, the

veteran understands his career is winding down and even

acknowledged this could be his final year. He’s also coming off a

wrist injury that required surgery after the season to remove a

bone chip that lodged in his joint.

”We have something collectively that amounts to something that

you can’t put down on paper,” Konerko said. ”A lot of that comes

from Robin and the staff. The culture has been changed and is

changing as we go here, but from where we were a year ago through

the season I look for us to keep that ball rolling down the

hill.”