The White Sox starting pitching was advertised as their strength going into this season and last. But the way the lineup shapes up, the "South Side Hit Men" of 1977 may be a pale imitation of the 2011 wrecking crew.
Without Adam Dunn, the jolliest post-surgical patient around -- he had an minimally-invasive appendectomy only 34 hours before Thursday's home opener and was knocked out just 90 minutes in the procedure -- the Sox still racked up five runs and 12 hits, nine against fine Tampa Bay starter David Price. They've collected 10 or more hits in five of their first six games.
But graft dominant starting pitching on a lineup that is scary even with a couple of key cogs injured or slumping, and the Sox have got something really special going. That's why Edwin Jackson's career-strikeout best of 13 in eight innings Thursday is a prime example of the Sox with their potential realized.
Should Jackson bottle the smoothing out of his delivery he begun last August at the direction of Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, look out, American League.
Sox captain Paul Konerko is simply thankful he doesn't have to face Jackson at his best.
"'Jack's' got nasty stuff," he said. "There's no two ways about it. He locates that fastball, he's throwing strikes, he's very tough. He's one of those guys if you've faced him, it's very uncomfortable. He's one of those guys we're looking forward to really put it together for a whole year. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he has a monster season."
"I had a lot of strikeouts with sliders," Jackson said. "I was able to mix it up a little bit in the count, keep them off-balance, then put them away when I had chances to.
"I was able to come out early in the game and establish an early rhythm, and continue on with it. I didn't really have too many innings where I was too wild."
Earning his 50th career victory, Jackson can never predict warming up in the bullpen if he'll have dominant stuff. All he knows is he works for a pitching coach, Don Cooper, who smoothed out his inconsistent delivery last year to help him regain good control, and won't let him fall off the wagon this year.
"I had some of my best games after some of my worst bullpens," Jackson said. "I try to find a rhythm in the ‘pen and bring it out into the game, but sometimes it's not that easy."
Jackson, a healthy Jake Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd have No. 1 starter stuff on their best nights. That's a comforting thought, knowing the arch-rival Minnesota Twins only have one potential No. 1-stuff starter in Francisco Liriano.
And it's even more assurance when the starters dip to No. 3-level efficiency, the lineup is good enough and deep enough to pick up the rotation.
"It's never impossible" to shut down the Sox, Konerko said. "You catch a hot pitcher on a certain night. You can always be beaten. But we feel pretty good about the top, the middle and the bottom as far as guys having good at-bats. The ability to have different guys on different nights drive in some runs and get on base.
"It's pretty balanced. Anytime you have a Silver Slugger Award winner (Alexei Ramirez) batting eighth, it's a pretty deep lineup."
Jumbled up without Dunn Thursday, the lineup showed its depth. Alex Rios, batting third, had a two-run double, then doubled again before scoring on Konerko's single. Ramirez, promoted to sixth, had two hits and a stolen base. Brent Lillibridge, moved into the lineup in right while Carlos Quentin DH'd in place of Dunn, had two hits. Manager Ozzie Guillen won't wait for the clubbing to move runners along. The Sox stole four bases Thursday.
They hit in the cold in Cleveland. They hit when it was 39 degrees and foggy Thursday. How will they hit when The Cell turns into its homer-happy other side in late spring? How will they hit against those No. 3 and No. 4-level starters and a thinned-out bullpen?
If the answers all don't turn out to be positive, the disappointment will be huge. But don't bet on it.