White Sox optimistic again, but should they be?
White Sox manager Robin Ventura slaps hands with fans as he is introduced during SoxFest on Friday.
It would not be SoxFest if the faithful thought their team had a chance to compete this season — or any other.
And rest assured, it's not easy finding fanatics who believe the 2013 version of the White Sox will be able to hang with Detroit again.
It is always that way, especially last year at this time when there was little trust that Robin Ventura would have his team in contention in September.
The feeling around the team, however, was quite different. Excited about a new manager and a more relaxed atmosphere, players and staff alike pointed out that every year there are clubs that surprise.
So the Sox said, "Why not us?" This year, the feeling is the same, and again no one will be picking the Sox to win the division. In many polls, they won't even be chosen runner-up.
"We like being the underdog," said a smiling John Danks on Friday night at the Palmer House Hilton, on the first day of SoxFest. "It seems like any year we're picked to do well, we have a bad year, and any year we're ignored in the predictions, we have a good year.
"So just keep picking against us. That seems to be good for us."
That's not going to be a problem for most experts, local or national.
The Sox have had a quiet off-season, letting go of A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers, Francisco Liriano and Phil Humber, while adding third baseman Jeff Keppinger and reliever Matt Lindstrom.
But they also re-signed Jake Peavy, coming off a terrific year, and could argue that getting a healthy Danks back in the rotation is about as good an off-season addition as they could hope for, if indeed Danks is 100 percent in 2013.
"A year ago, we really didn't have any major additions, and I saw us competing last season," said new GM Rick Hahn. "As is always the case here, we knew we could add on the fly if we needed to, and we did that with Youkilis, Myers and Liriano.
"This year, we get Peavy back and Danks healthy, our bullpen will be better and deeper, and all the young pitchers we had up here last year — like (starter) Chris Sale, (setup man) Nate Jones and (closer) Addison Reed, to name just a few — are a year older. I think there's a lot of reason for optimism."
Reed doesn't dispute the notion that having been through the long season once has prepared him for what is next.
"There's just no way to know what it's like until you do it," Reed said. "You go from heading to camp trying to make the team, to going into spring focused on working to get better.
"This spring, I'll be focused on my changeup and slider, and having them ready for the season. There's a lot of young pitchers on this team who can do that instead of worrying about their spot on the team."
Despite an influx of rookies in 2012, the Sox hung around all season. They held a 3-game lead on Sept. 18 and were tied for first after 154 games, but the Sox ran out of gas, finished 4-11 and succumbed to Detroit, which won the division by 3 games and made it to the World Series before getting swept by the Giants.
"There's no doubt," Danks said, "we had some tired guys."
The problem is the Tigers added Torii Hunter, re-signed Anibal Sanchez and get the return of designated hitter Victor Martinez, which is like adding a free agent who's averaged 18 homers and 90 RBI over seven years, before missing last season with a knee injury.
The Royals made some big moves and the Indians could argue they are better as well.
Tyler Flowers takes over for Pierzynski and might be able to replace the power behind the plate, but Flowers also strikes out a lot and his presence in the lineup makes the Sox awfully right-handed.
"Just because this is the roster now," Hahn said, "doesn't mean we're done."
So while fans are cautious, the team is optimistic again.
"I like what we have here," Peavy said. "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't."
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