Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I Know It's Early, But...

Okay, I know its early in the season, but I’m ready to drink the Kool-Aid and declare the Sox the best team in the AL Central. Everything I write from here on out will be with the expectation that the Sox will be division champs come October.

For the first few weeks of the season, the “experts” said that the Sox pitching would eventually falter. They said the Sox couldn’t continue to win with an offense that didn’t draw walks and had the worst OBP in baseball. Well, so far the experts have everything backwards.

It was the offense that was playing well below its potential. In the past two weeks the Sox have improved their OBP by over 20 points and they now stand 8th in the AL at .321. At the same time the pitching staff continues to dominate the AL with an ERA of 3.05. The next closest team are the Angels at 3.52.

Now I think we have two pitchers who will regress towards their career averages: Garland and Contreras. But I don’t think the regression will be as sharp as many people expect, as both, especially Garland, may be finally living up to expectations.

But even if that team ERA does drift closer to 4.00 than 3.00 as the season progresses, the offense should improve more than enough to keep the team atop the Central. Even now they are scoring as many runs as the Twins without significant contributions from the heart of the order. Their 4/5/6 hitters, Konerko, Rowand and Dye, have OPS percentages of .769/.663/.552, respectively, well off their career averages of .824/.804/.792. When these guys get going the pitching staff will be able give up a few more runs while still winning ballgames.

The bottom line is that Kenny Williams has built a nice solid team. And make no mistake,this is his team. His first four seasons at the helm were spent basically trying to tweak the 2000 division winners he inherited from Ron Schueler. For whatever reason, these teams were never able to duplicate its earlier success.

So Kenny finally gave up on Lee, Ordonez, and Valentin and decided to go in a new direction. So far that direction is up. The pitching staff consists of a solid starting five, if not an ace, and a strong bullpen. The offense is a nice mix of power and speed. As someone who has often criticized him in the past, I have to give Williams credit for a job well done.