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PLAYER TO WATCH
When Jake Peavy is right, he's just about unhittable. His power mix of three fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter) and a slider won him a Cy Young Award and two ERA titles while he was with the Padres from 2002 until last July, when he was traded to Chicago. Of course in San Diego he pitched in spacious PETCO Park, the least hitter-friendly stadium in the majors. The 28-year-old righthander won't have that luxury with the White Sox, who play at U.S. Cellular Field, one of the easiest home run parks in the AL.
But the main question about Peavy isn't how he'll handle pitching in a bandbox. It's his health. Last year he sat out three months—including his first two with Chicago—after tearing a tendon in his right ankle in May. Peavy did make three late-season starts, however, and won all three, allowing three earned runs in 20 innings, even though his ankle wasn't completely healed. He ended the season with 15 shutout innings over back-to-back starts against the Tigers.
And, for the record, Peavy, who says he's healthy, allowed only one home run in 12 innings at U.S. Cellular. That's the kind of performance the White Sox need from their entire staff. "We are relying on pitching and defense, no doubt about it," says manager Ozzie Guillen. With a healthy Peavy they may have something they've lacked in recent years: a bona fide ace.
Runs scored per game by the White Sox in 2009, the third-lowest average in the AL. Though Chicago ranked sixth with 184 home runs, its scoring opportunities were otherwise limited. Only two teams had fewer at bats with runners in scoring position.
The White Sox spent much of March concerned about closer Bobby Jenks, who despite losing 25 pounds over the winter was still bothered by the right-calf injury that ended his 2009 season a few weeks early. But even if Jenks is healthy, it's time to acknowledge that he's been surpassed by lefty Matt Thornton. Over the past two seasons, Thornton has a 2.71 ERA in 139 2/3 innings, with a fantastic 164/39 K/BB ratio. He's no specialist, either: Righties have hit only .223 with a .319 slugging average against him in his career. Jenks, with a 3.13 ERA and 87/33 K/BB ratio in that time, simply doesn't keep runs off the board as well. Thornton is the best pitcher in the Sox bullpen and deserves to be elevated to the closer role—or, better still, be used along with Jenks to get high-leverage late-game outs regardless of whether a save situation is present.