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Springtime Storylines: Can the White Sox slug their way to the AL Central title?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: Ozzie Guillen and his always entertaining White Sox.

The Big Question: Can the White Sox slug their way to the AL Central title?

For a brief time the White Sox had it in their heads that they should intentionally remove power from the lineup and try to play small ball, thinking that was somehow the key to consistently beating the Twins.

Last season that involved letting Jim Thome walk as a free agent (and sign with the Twins) while replacing him with a revolving door of designated hitters led by Mark Kotsay. Chicago played plenty of small ball, stealing the second-most bases in the league, but the White Sox also hit their fewest homers since 1999 and finished six games behind the Twins, much of which can be attributed to Thome and his 1.039 OPS switching sides while the DHs replacing him ranked 10th in homers and 13th in RBIs.

General manager Kenny Williams learned his lesson, and while re-signing Thome wasn’t an option he did the next-best thing and signed the other king of lefty hitting power and patience, Adam Dunn, to a $56 million deal. Thome spent three-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, hitting .265 with a .391 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage while averaging 38 homers and 103 walks per 150 games. During the past four seasons Dunn has hit .257 with a .382 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage while averaging 37 homers and 101 walks per 150 games. It’s a year too late, but they essentially have Thome back in the lineup.

Along with adding Dunn’s big bat the White Sox also re-signed Paul Konerko to a $37.5 million deal and avoided the temptation to trade Carlos Quentin, building another lineup capable of bashing opponents into submission with the help of a power-boosting home ballpark. Juan Pierre and Alex Rios will still do plenty of running, but the White Sox once again look capable of topping 200 homers, which they did every season from 2000-2008 except 2007, when they went 72-90.

Obviously it’ll take more than 200 homers to win the division, but the White Sox’s lineup is very dangerous and features a pair of 40-homer threats (Dunn, Konerko), a pair of 30-homer threats (Quentin, Rios), and a pair of 20-homer threats (Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham) in addition to Pierre’s small-balling ways.

So what else is going on?

  • In addition to restocking the lineup with a homers-and-walks monster the White Sox also rebuilt the bullpen after Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz departed as free agents. Jesse Crain was lured away from the Twins with a $13 million deal and they promoted elite setup man Matt Thornton to the closer role while opting to keep stud rookie Chris Sale in the bullpen. Toss in Sergio Santos’ successful transition from light-hitting shortstop to flame-throwing setup man and it’s a very strong late-inning quartet.
  • Part of the reason for keeping Sale in the bullpen was the hope that Jake Peavy would be healthy enough to begin the season in the rotation, but now that plan is out the window and journeyman Philip Humber is penciled in as the No. 5 starter. Barring pitching coach Don Cooper pulling a miracle Humber and his 5.26 career ERA will struggle, but the front four of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson can carry the load and Peavy is currently hoping to return in late April.
  • Beckham bouncing back from a disappointing sophomore season is a big key for the White Sox and I like his chances. His star potential was likely overstated following a promising rookie year, but Beckham quietly recovered from an awful start to hit .310 with an .877 OPS after the All-Star break and is a good bet to improve his overall OPS from last season by at least 100 points.
  • Position player depth should be a major strength, as Ramon Castro is among the best backup catchers around, Teahen is a much better fit in a part-time role, Lastings Milledge was a strong low-cost pickup in the outfield, and Omar Vizquel has defied the odds by remaining productive into his 40s. Toss in Dayan Viciedo waiting in the wings at Triple-A as a power-hitting replacement should anything happen to one of the corner bats and Chicago has the depth to withstand some injuries.
  • You should follow Ozzie Guillen on Twitter. Just trust me.

So how are they gonna do?

This is going to sound like a broken record to anyone who also read my season previews of the Twins and Tigers, but the AL Central has three teams that look capable of winning 88-92 games and I fully expect the division race to go down to the wire. I’d peg Chicago as the division’s second-strongest team, but realistically it might as well be a three-way tie for co-favorites.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 24:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Rich Hill made his long-awaited Dodgers debut last Wednesday, out-dueling Giants starter Johnny Cueto. The lefty hurled six shutout innings, yielding only five hits (all singles) with no walks and three strikeouts. Of the 81 pitches he threw, a whopping 32 (39.5 percent) were curves compared to 41 fastballs.

That’s been the trend for Hill over his career, spanning parts of 12 seasons: highly reliant on the curve. It’s worked out well since resurrecting his career last year with the Red Sox and continuing it this season before the Athletics sent him along with outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on August 1.

As we’ve noted in this space several times, the Dodgers have dealt with more than their fair share of injury woes, including to ace Clayton Kershaw. The club has used 30 different pitchers, including 14 different starters. Yet they enter Tuesday’s game against the Rockies a game and a half ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While the NL East, NL Central, and AL West races aren’t particularly interesting at this point, the NL West division race figures to be one of the most enthralling over the final month-plus of the season.

Hill will oppose the Rockies’ Tyler Anderson at Coors Field in an 8:40 PM EDT start. The second-place Giants will send Johnny Cueto to the hill at home to oppose the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke in a 10:15 PM EDT start.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jerad Eickhoff), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo) @ Detroit Tigers (Daniel Norris), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler) @ New  York Mets (Seth Lugo), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Andrew Albers) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 7:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Boston Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), 7:10 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Tim Tebow’s workout: power, speed but not much else

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Tim Tebow is, as we speak, working out for some 40 scouts from 20 organizations and an untold number of members of the media. So far he has run and jumped and thrown and, in a moment or two, will take his hacks. First BP swings, then live, full-speed BP off of a couple of former major leaguers.

His 60 yard dash time was supposedly excellent. On the 80-20 scouting scale he’s supposedly in the 50-60 range, according to people tweeting about it who know what they’re talking about. The guy is certainly big and strong and in amazing shape and that’s not nothing.

Also this:

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That’s from MLB’s Twitter, which provides us with some more in-action shots.

Here he is playing right field out there in the distance someplace:

UPDATE: Tebow’s workout is over. On the “pro” side, based on the assorted tweets of journalists in attendance, many based on quick conversations with scouts in attendance, Tebow’s power was described as “nuclear,” and graded out at an 80 for at least one scout. That’s as good as it gets. The speed in the 60, as mentioned above, was also excellent.

On the “con” side was his fielding, which was considered sub-par, with a scout saying that his routes were circuitous and inefficient and his arm, while alright, was nothing special, especially for a guy of his obvious physical strength.

As far as non-power hitting goes, it was also not great. His stance was very, very wide and did not leave much room for adjustments, scouts said. This was born out by his being fairly consistently baffled by former big leaguer David Aarsdma’s changeup, at which he swung-and-missed three of four times. He was one for six in simulated at bats against minor league journeyman Chad Smith, with that one hit being a single. He also drew a walk.

Maybe that power — both hitting power and star power — is too great for an organization to ignore. Maybe someone takes a chance. But as a prospect Tim Tebow sure sounds a lot like a big strong fast guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of baseball skills.