(SportsNetwork.com) - Everyone has high hopes on Opening Day right?
That probably applies to the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins, as they
kick off the 2014 campaign with the start of a three-game series at
U.S.Cellular Field on Monday.
After a disastrous 2013 campaign in which the White Sox produced just 63 wins
and finished last in the American League Central, however, expectations are
not meteoric for a club hovering on the cusp of average.
Chicago probably thought 2013 was going to be a promising one after coming up
short on a playoff bid the previous season, when the club recorded an 85-77
record and finished second in the division.
The White Sox made some additions this offseason in landing infielders Jose
Abreu and Matt Davidson, and outfielder Adam Eaton. Abreu has a ton of
pressure on his young shoulders and will replace ChiSox legend Paul Konerko as
the everyday first baseman. The Cuban phenom has good size, strength and will
bring much-needed pop to the lineup.
Davidson and Eaton join a lineup that already features Alexei Ramirez, Gordon
Beckham and streaky designated hitter Adam Dunn. Ramirez led the Pale Hose
with a .284 average last season, while Dunn was tops in home runs (34) and
runs batted in (86). Alexjandro De Aza was right behind them with a .264
average, 17 homers and 62 RBI.
Chicago finished at the bottom in the AL last season with 598 runs, so more
production is needed to stay relevant in the Central.
Pitching is solid for the White Sox and having left-hander Chris Sale at the
top of the rotation doesn't hurt. He will be on the hill on Opening Day after
he led the team in wins (11), ERA (3.07) and strikeouts (226) in 2013, but had
14 losses in 30 starts.
He went 17-8 as a full-time starter in 2012 and has averaged at least nine
strikeouts per nine innings in all four of his major league seasons.
"I'm ready to take the ball whenever they hand it to me," Sale said during an
interview with MLB.com. "It's not for me to say what I am or who I am. I'll
take the ball every fifth day, leave everything I have on the field and try to
help us get the win."
Sale will be opposed by Minnesota's big offseason acquisition, Ricky Nolasco,
who will be making his third straight Opening Day start. Nolasco signed the
richest free agent deal in Twins' history this winter, agreeing to a 4-year,
$49 million deal.
Nolasco was 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA in 34 games (33 starts) combined last season
for Miami and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He just knows what he's doing," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said of
Nolasco. "He goes about his business pretty good. He's pretty tough out there
on the mound. You can tell he doesn't like to (mess) around too awful much. He
goes right at them, uses his pitches, knows how to add and subtract, all those
things that you hope when you brought him over here."
The Twins have finished no better than fourth in the AL Central the last three
years after winning the division six times in the previous nine seasons.
Again, not much is expected for the Twins in 2014, but they should win more
than 66 games, the exact total in each of the previous two years.
"We've gotten beaten up for three years now," said Gardenhire, who is two wins
shy of 1,000 with the organization. "You know you need pitching. We're trying
to get pitching. We've done a pretty good job at this point. We're looking at
position players. We said we were going to get better, and that's our goal is
to get better."
In addition to Nolasco, the Twins also added righty Phil Hughes. Meanwhile,
offensively, the Twins added a few bats in outfielder Jason Kubel and catcher
Suzuki behind the plate made the choice to send All-Star Joe Mauer to first
base that much easier.
Minnesota was 11-8 last season versus the White Sox.