2011 White Sox Season Preview: Sox To Edge Twins In A Two-Team AL Central Race

This year's White Sox appear to have all the key edges over the Minnesota Twins. They should be picked to win the AL Central.

If he builds it, you will come.

Oh, Jerry Reinsdorf, through his intermediary Kenny Williams, has built it. And if you still don't come out to the tune of nearly three million fans to U.S. Cellular Field, then it's your own fault if the White Sox are stripped down in future seasons.

The Sox are loaded even more than in World Series champion-season 2005, or the following year, when they added Jim Thome at the cost of Aaron Rowand. Not a glaring hole exists in any part of the Sox roster. That's why even with questions still abounding regarding Jake Peavy's health, the fact the Sox added on while the Twins -- the team that has gotten into their heads so often in the 21st century -- basically stood still with a team which proved to be not playoff-worthy against the Yankees.

The South Siders' edge in the season starting Friday in Cleveland is not so much Adam Dunn's 35-homer, 100-RBI potential beefing up a competitive lineup. It is the thinning of an experienced bullpen that is central to chessmaster Ron Gardenhire's game.

With Carl Pavano overachieving and Fransisco Liriano the only other starter possessing No. 1-level potential, the Twins always depended upon a rock-solid relief corps to lock down games from the sixth inning on. But longtime setup mainstay Jesse Crain now draws his paychecks from Reinsdorf, while another ol' reliable, Matt Guerrier, fled cross country to the Dodgers. Side-wheeler Pat Neshek was waived during spring training. Closer Joe Nathan is back after a year off due to Tommy John surgery, and he's ably backed up by Matt Capps.  But Gardenhire needs much more than Nathan and Capps to maneuver through the late innings.

The Twins have a track record of molding new minor-league recruits into Gardenhire's disciplined system, but at some point continuity and depth must also be figured in. Logically, the Twins should have been in position to add on after a season's-worth of sellouts in pristine Target Field, yet seem hung up after Joe Mauer got his lifelong-security payday.

Projecting  Peavy comes back even at 80 percent efficiency by May as Phil Humber takes the occasional No. 5 starting assignments, the Sox overall have a deeper pitching staff  than the Twins. John Danks is close to ace status, Gavin Floyd has ace-level stuff, and Edwin Jackson has found his control under pitching coach Don Cooper. Mark Buehrle is not a high-teens-win pitcher anymore, but he has forgotten more about the art of pitching than some hard throwers ever learn in the first place. Matt Thornton should provide more consistency at closer than an increasingly shaky Bobby Jenks, while Chris Sale has put intimidation back into the Sox bullpen quotient, drawing wary respect from the likes of Mauer. Crain, Sergio Santos, Tony Pena and lefty Will Ohman fill out a deep bullpen.

In 2009, Minnesota fielded four 30-homer, 100-RBI types in Mauer, Justin Morneau, Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Morneau is coming back from a lingering concussion while the heady Cuddyer comes out of spring training recovering from a foot injury. Jim Thome, who killed his old team several times in 2011, is beloved, but he's also one year older as he slides into his 40s.

Dunn's arrival gives the Sox the lineup edge factoring in good seasons from Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, a more-at-peace-with-himself Carlos Quentin, and an Alexei Ramirez emerging as a run producer. With Juan Pierre, Gordon Beckham and A.J. Pierzynski rounding out the lineup, the only potential hole is rookie Brent Morel, batting ninth and playing third. But Morel's glove, favorably compared to the sainted Joe Crede's, is good enough to net him a regular's job starting out the 2011, factoring in eight other veteran hitters preceding him and Mark Teahen available to swoop in should Morel fail miserably at the plate. Teahen and ageless Omar Vizquel are leaders of a bench who can be trusted to fill in for a week or so due to slumps or injuries.

Of course, none of the above means anything if the Sox don't beat the Twins head-to-head. They've won the season series just once in the past decade. Last year's 5-13 Sox record against the Twins was simply embarrassing. The Twins are in the Sox's heads, but if they can cast out this psych-job, the Sox will be in good shape. Konerko figures 12 wins over the Twins would be good enough. Overall, the Sox had a losing record against the AL Central. That must be reversed, not only against the Twins, but also eliminating some shocking outcomes against Indians.

Shouldn't the Tigers be factored into this race to make it three's company? Logically, yes, but the Tigers seem to be missing one too many components. They have good front-line talent, but where's the beef? They don't go as deep as the Sox. And will Miguel Cabrera stay out of late-night trouble all year?

Any Sox fan who hasn't at least committed to a couple of games' worth of tickets already isn't worthy of the tag as a South Side rooter. By the classic definition, Sox fans spin the turnstiles if their heroes win. That's a likely outcome this season. The organization is "all-in" with a record payroll nearing $125 million. Can the fans say the same thing?

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