On Dec. 9, the White Sox' apparent fate was sealed in the 2013 AL Central.
Loaded with talented young hitters, the Kansas City Royals finally added some quality pitching on that date, getting No. 1 starter James Shields and hard-throwing Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchanged for a package of minor-leaguers headed by top prospect Wil Myers.
The move was enough for one national magazine to instantly change its prediction for the upcoming season.
The Sox were dropped from second place to third in the Central, behind the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers and the Royals.
Considering another national publication picked the White Sox to finish last in the division a year ago, the 2013 predictions aren't being taken too seriously.
After phoning some season-ticket holders Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field, a day before SoxFest kicks off at the Palmer House Hilton, second baseman Gordon Beckham offered his own view of the upcoming AL Central race.
"We're very optimistic about what we did last year, and we just want to build on that," Beckham said. "We understand we can compete. We know the Tigers and Royals have gotten better, but we know we have a very good team and we're very close- knit. Now that we know we can be in it at the end, it will make us stronger."
Given virtually no chance to compete with the Tigers last season, the White Sox were a big surprise under rookie manager Robin Ventura.
Aided by solid pitching and bounce-back years from Alex Rios and Adam Dunn, the Sox sat in first place for 117 days and held a 3-game lead over Detroit on Sept. 18.
That's when the bottom fell out, and the White Sox plunged to second place and missed the playoffs after losing 11 of their final 15 games.
It sure looked like players including Chris Sale (2-3, 4.11 ERA), Adam Dunn (.200, 32 strikeouts in 75 at-bats), Kevin Youkilis (.219), Jose Quintana (1-3, 6.75 ERA), A.J. Pierzynski (.237) and Addison Reed (0-1, 8.00 ERA) ran out of gas at the most important time of the season, but Beckham insists that's not the case.
"We all pressed a little bit at the end," Beckham said. "You could see that. It wasn't a lack of drive; it was too much try. So that was kind of the issue there. We're definitely wanting to do better than that this year.
"It wasn't for a lack of effort. It was too much effort, and I know this pretty well -- when you try too hard the production goes down. It's just something we have to learn from. If we get in that position this year, I bet we won't do it."
Pierzynski (Rangers) and Youkilis (Yankees) exited as free agents this winter, with unproven Tyler Flowers taking over for the former at catcher and career utility man Jeff Keppinger replacing Youkilis at third base.
Most of the remaining 25-man roster is expected to return intact, which is why the White Sox are confident they can improve on last season's 85-77 record and advance into the postseason for the first time since 2008.
"People had us picked to finish last last year and none of us believed it at all," said Reed, who set a single-season Sox record with 29 saves as a rookie in 2012.
"Same as this year. We believe we can win every game, so we are going to go out there and play as hard as we can and hopefully the result is a win."
Right-handed pitcher Zach Stewart is back with the White Sox after being claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
Stewart was sent to the Red Sox in the Kevin Youkilis trade last June and was 1-4 with an 8.58 ERA in 20 games (3 starts) with the White Sox and Boston.
Stewart also made 11 starts for Class AAA Pawtucket, the Red Sox' top farm club, and was 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA. He was traded to Pittsburgh on Nov. 28 and designated for assignment by the Pirates on Jan. 17.
Back in time:
On Sunday home games this season, the White Sox will wear 1983 throwback uniforms.
The uniforms will feature the red, navy blue and white pullover jersey with the block "S-O-X" across the chest and a vintage patch on the left sleeve, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the All-Star Game, which was played at old Comiskey Park.
The throwback uniforms also will include the tri-color Sox cap.
The '83 White Sox went 99-63 under manager Tony La Russa and won the AL West by 20 games before losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship series.
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