GLENDALE, Ariz. — Considering his three-year, $37.5 million contract is up at the end of the season, and considering he recently celebrated his 37th birthday, Paul Konerko could be nearing the end of his brilliant run with the White Sox.
But the regular season is close enough to dissuade Konerko from talking about himself.
As for the Sox as a team, always a preferred topic, Konerko was as expansive as ever.
Simply put, the captain said there is no reason why the White Sox can’t repeat last year’s surprising showing, when they went 85-77 and led the AL Central by 3 games with 15 to play before running out of steam and missing the playoffs.
“It’s obviously tough to say right now because it usually takes a couple months into the season before you can start to get a feel for what you’ve got,” Konerko said. “But we just feel like we’re picking up where we left off last year as far as the way we’re doing things and the way everybody is going about things.
“The vibe, the culture, it also feels like an extension of last year, and I think that’s a good thing.”
There is a familiar feel in the Sox’ clubhouse this spring.
Third baseman Jeff Keppinger is new, and so is middle reliever Matt Lindstrom. But every other player expected to break camp on the 25-man roster Wednesday was in a White Sox uniform at some point of the 2012 season.
“I don’t even count (catcher Tyler) Flowers as new because he was on the team last year,” said Konerko, who ranks among Cactus League leaders with a .385 batting average, 5 home runs, 12 RBI and a .712 slugging percentage.
“It feels just like a continuation of last year in the sense of everybody jelling together and doing everything it takes to be good like that.
“But there’s obviously a lot of work to be done on the field. You can’t take anything from last year as far as the wins and stuff. We have to go out and do it again, start from scratch.”
If they do manage to overcome another round of low expectations and give the Detroit Tigers a run in the Central, Konerko said the Sox should be better insulated against a late collapse.
“From Day 1, we played pretty steady the whole year,” Konerko said of last season. “I think a lot of teams have a bad spell in May or July, whatever it might be, and ours just happened to be at the end.
“I think we ran into some good pitching, too, the last week or two, but that was always going to be on the schedule.
“I don’t feel like anything that happened at the end of the year, there’s nothing I look back on and second-guess like, ‘What if we would have done this? What if we would have prepared differently?’
“Yeah, we didn’t get the job done on the field, but that’s where it ends. There was nothing more to it than that. That happens sometimes. You just have to pick yourself up in the off-season and come back this year and go get them.”
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have the Sox finishing 77-85 this season. Last year they projected the White Sox at 78-84.
Good or bad, predictions are never taken seriously in the Sox’ clubhouse, and that’s the case again this year.
“If we learned anything last year it was that all the little things you do on the bases, on defense, that stuff matters,” Konerko said. “That’s one of the big reasons why we had a big year last year as a team. I see us sticking with that.
“We’re a very hardworking team, a very consistent team as far as showing up every day. Those two things right there, I just see more of that, and the staff is not going to let us change from that.”
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