The Chicago White Sox exceeded everyone's expectations in 2012. Yet their season still had to be considered a disappointment.
In first place for 117 days and the better part of the second half, the White Sox crumbled down the stretch and eventually lost control of the American League Central to the Detroit Tigers with two weeks to go in the season.
The 4-11 finish may have left a bad taste in most people's mouths, but still Robin Ventura's club ended the year 85-77 and was in playoff contention up until the final few games of the season.
First-year general manager Rick Hahn didn't make any drastic offseason changes, but he did re-sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy, while letting popular clubhouse leader A.J. Pierzynski walk as a free agent.
Chicago should once again be in the wild card mix thanks to what is expected to be a pretty solid rotation headlined by breakout star from a year ago, Chris Sale, and a group that could get an even added boost with a bounce back year from John Danks.
Offensively, the club is still veteran heavy led by Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and boom-or-bust slugger Adam Dunn.
Ventura's club was a surprise in 2012. It won't be as easy to sneak up on people this year.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the White Sox, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
White Sox Projected Lineup
(85-77) - Second Place (AL Central)
Key Offseason additions
Jeff Keppinger (3B), Matt Lindstrom (RHP), Blake Tekotte (OF), Angel Sanchez (INF), Lars Anderson (1B/OF), Zach Stewart (RHP)
Key Offseason subtractions
Brett Myers (RHP), Francisco Liriano (LHP), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Kevin Youkilis (3B), Philip Humber (RHP), Dan Johnson (1B)
CAN THE WHITE SOX WIN WITH THIS ROTATION?
The big question heading into last season was how the White Sox were going to overcome the loss of lefty Mark Buehrle. Well those questions went away pretty early on once lefty Chris Sale started to establish himself as the team's new ace.
Sale, who recently signed a 5-year, $32.5 million extension, went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and made the All-Star Game in his first season as a starter. However, he was just 6-6 after the break with a 4.32 ERA.
Peavy was re-signed to a 2-year deal and the White Sox are expecting another solid season from him following a year that saw him go 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 32 starts. He also made the All-Star team for the third time in his career, while pitching over 200 innings for the first time since 2007, when he won the Cy Young Award with San Diego.
The White Sox also picked up Gavin Floyd's option. Floyd went 12-11 with a 4.29 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 29 starts last season. The 29-year-old has reached double-digit wins each of the past five years.
But, the biggest wild card in the mix could be John Danks, the team's Opening Day starter a year ago. Admittedly Danks never felt right from the start and was just 3-4 with a 5.70 ERA in nine starts before being shut down after shoulder surgery.
Danks hasn't been good this spring and will likely start the year on the disabled list. But, if he can get back to being the pitcher who won 15 games in 2010, the White Sox are going to be real good.
The final two starters figure to be a revolving door all season long. Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod will both begin the year in the rotation, but Hector Santiago figures to join the mix at some point.
Either way, the starting pitching looks to be just fine.
IS TYLER FLOWERS READY TO REPLACE A.J. PIERZYNSKI?
It doesn't really matter if he's ready or not, Tyler Flowers is now the starting catcher for the White Sox.
White Sox pitchers enjoy throwing to Flowers, just as they did with A.J. Pierzynski, so there shouldn't be a drop off in game-calling or defense.
The real question with regards to Flowers is will he be able to produce with the bat? He's only had 273 at-bats overall, but he's only hit at a .205 clip. Last season was a disaster, as he hit a miserable .213 and struck out 56 times in only 136 at-bats. He did, though, belt four home runs in 29 at-bats in August and did have a .412 overall slugging percentage. So the potential for some power is there.
In a perfect world the White Sox would settle for a .250/.350/.400 slash line similar to the one he posted in his final season at Triple-A Charlotte.
That may be asking a lot, though.
HOW MUCH DOES PAUL KONERKO HAVE LEFT IN THE TANK?
It seems almost ridiculous to think that here we are in 2013 and the focal point of the Chicago White Sox continues to be first baseman Paul Konerko.
The 37-year-old Konerko, who has been one of the game's most consistent players over the past 14 years, had another terrific season a year ago, hitting .298 with 26 home runs and 75 RBI.
With 96 homers in his last three years, not to mention 291 RBIs and a low average of .298 to go with two years at .300 or above, Konerko is still one of the best hitters in the AL.
But how much longer can that go on? This is the final season in a 3-year, $37.5 million deal he signed in 2010 and as much as fans on the South Side of Chicago don't want to hear it, there have been whispers that this might be the end of the road for Konerko.
And if Konerko does slip, who is going to step up?
Alex Rios posted career-bests in average (.304), homers (25) and RBIs (91), but he has been so up-and-down over the course of his career, it's hard to count on him. And really, does anyone think Adam Dunn is going to be anything more than a guy who hits 35 home runs, but still strikes out more than 200 times? That's who he is.
Quite simply, the White Sox need Konerko to produce in the middle of that lineup if they are going to repeat what they did in 2012.
X-FACTOR: DAYAN VICIEDO: As we've discussed there is not much youth in the White Sox lineup. The one player you can point to as the future of the White Sox is outfielder Dayan Viciedo, who hit 25 home runs last season as a rookie. The Cuban import, like most young hitters, was a little over aggressive at times and managed just 28 walks and a .255 average. However, he will only become more patient as a hitter as he matures, and it doesn't hurt that he is surrounded by a couple members in the 400-HR club in Konerko and Dunn. If he can come through again, this is a dangerous lineup to face, between Viciedo, Rios, Konerko, and Dunn.
The White Sox are one of the harder teams to get a handle on heading into the 2013 season. Their pitching seems solid and their division appears weak aside from the Detroit Tigers. But there are a lot of question marks when it comes to Chicago?s position players. The White Sox certainly aren't elite, but they aren't mediocre either. They should again win around 85 games and if that happens they should once again find themselves right in the thick of the postseason races.