2006 Baseball Preview
By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 3, 2006 4:30PM
What a difference a year makes! Last year, as we embarked on a new baseball season, we discussed the eternal optimism of Chicago baseball fans in light of decades of futility. But in 2005 something most unexpected and most wonderful happened. Chicago won a World Series! And it wasn't even the Chicago team that many thought had a shot at the title. While the Cubs entered the season picked by many to reach the postseason, the White Sox were rarely mentioned among the elites of the American League.
Like many, Chicagoist predicted the Cubs to do well. We predicted they'd finish second in the NL Central but play well enough to win the Wild Card spot in the playoffs. While we didn't foresee anybody catching the Cardinals, the lack of stability in the Cubs' rotation was a big part of their disappointing season.
We also foresaw playoffs for the White Sox, even when many didn't. And not just because Chicagoist has been a Sox fan in the land of the Cubs for close to three decades. We saw where they were in '04 and how Kenny Williams methodically addressed the team's shortcomings. He shored up the starting rotation, improved the defense and balanced the offense between speed and power. We thought it was enough to make the playoffs, but World Series? Who knew!
So what do we see for 2006?
Chicago White Sox
World Champions! Obviously, the Sox accomplished all their goals for 2005 and then some. Kenny Williams' moves worked. The additions of Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi to the top of the lineup gave them better offensive balance, Jermaine Dye adequately replaced Magglio Ordonez's output, the addition of A.J. Pierzynski helped offensively and defensively, and the rest of the team put up typical numbers. Their rotation was solid top to bottom -- Buehrle and Garcia put up typically strong campaigns, Jon Garland had a breakout year, and Jose Contreras was the best pitcher in baseball after the All-Star Break. Dustin Hermanson filled the closer role nicely after the end of Shingo-time, and when his back caused problems, Bobby Jenks rose to the occasion (and Double A) with his 100 mph fastball.
Javier Vasquez - SP
Jim Thome - DH
Rob Mackowiack - UTIL
Frank Thomas - DH
Carl Everett - DH/OF
Aaron Rowand - OF
Orlando Hernandez - SP
Damaso Marte - RP
What's New for Fans: The White Sox continue to work on the last of the upgrades to U.S. Cellular Field, as the off-season work window was dramatically reduced. They're still working on replacing the blue seats with green ones -- not that you'll notice this year. Those seats should actually be filled! Oh, there'll also be some new banners - AL CENTRAL CHAMPS, AL PENNANT, and WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.
Chicagoist's Prediction: Kenny Williams worked his magic once again during the off-season. He added Javier Vasquez to the starting rotation in replace of the 41-year-old Hernandez. He filled the DH spot with Jim Thome, who could hit 45 home runs and drive in well over 100 runs. He added one of baseball's best utility men in Rob Mackowiack. Our concern is with their bullpen, especially in light of Hermanson's continued back problems and Bobby Jenks rough spring. Can he get back into shape (for him) and be an effective closer?
The Sox won 99 games last year and seem to have improved since last year. Winning 100 games and a return to the World Series is very likely.
Final record: 101-61, first in AL Central.
The Cubs face the possibility of losing the city to the other team. After years of being the "cool kid," the lowly team across town did the only thing that could have threatened the Cubs' status in this city. The Cubs once again begin the season with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on the DL. Until those two return, their rotation is suspect at best. Following ace Carlos Zambrano, they have a rapidly aging Greg Maddux, Glendon Rusch and a couple unproven kids. If Prior and Wood can combine for at least 50 starts, the Cubs rotation should be OK. The Cubs bullpen was one of their weaknesses last year, but they did a nice job upgrading their relief corps with the additions of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre. Their bullpen looks to be busy, so it's a good thing the Cubs improved.
The Cubs completely revamped their outfield from last year, replacing Jeromy Burnitz, Corey Patterson and Todd Hollandsworth with Jaque Jones, Juan Pierre and Matt Murton. After an injury-plagued stay in Chicago, Nomar Garciaparra is gone. Ronny Cedeno will get a chance to win the starting shortstop job.
Juan Pierre - OF
Jaque Jones - OF
Matt Murton - OF
Bobby Howry - RP
Scott Eyre - RP
Jeromy Burnitz - OF
Corey Patterson - OF
Nomar Garciaparra - SS
What's New for Fans: After years of bickering between the Cubs and the neighbors surrounding Wrigley, the expansion of the Wrigley bleachers will be ready for opening day. The newly named Bud Light Bleachers will include an increased seating capacity by 1,700, include a batters' eye lounge/bar, and a peekhole in the wall.
Chicagoist's Prediction: Once again, pitching is the big wild card with this team. Once again, a lot of the Cubs' success or failure depends on the health of Mark Prior and Kerry Woods. Juan Pierre should become the catalyst at the top of the batting order that Scott Podsednik has become for the Sox, but we're not sold on Jones being an upgrade ofer Corey Patterson. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez should lead the offense once again. The Cubs should score runs -- it's just a matter of being able to keep their opponent off the scoreboard.
Final record: 83-79, third in NL Central.