Sunday, April 02, 2006

We Can Only Go Downhill From Here

And you thought Black Betsy was dead...

It's opening night, and the long offseason is over. I do have a sense of dread about the new season. After all, the Sox have reigned as World Champions for five months now - it's a good feeling that is only going to go away when the Sox are eliminated this season. The Sox's position in the world, secured by last October's 11-1 run, is now at stake. Since the Sox have only won one World Series in 88 years, you can count me skeptical that they can do it again easily. And, since they are World Champions, they are going to have a target on their backs all year. It's an unfamiliar feeling for a Sox fan to know that the Yankees are taking your team seriously.

So the pessimism is back for me. I thought it was gone, swallowed up by Uribe's dart to Konerko to get Palmeiro. But it's there, and it will probably be there unless and until the Sox do it again. I get that German saying einmal ist keinmal (literally, one time is no time) in my head - once is nothing. You have to do it more than once to prove yourself.

My goals as a Sox fan this season are a little more modest than winning back-to-back World Series, even if I think they have the talent to do it. I would like the Sox to play in the ALCS for a second straight year. That would mean they would be going to the playoffs for two straight years, something they've never done in franchise history. It would also mean that they have won at least one more postseason series. We would have at least that to hold on to.

On the White Sox e-mail list, I made my predictions known for the year. I see the Sox as a second place team, with the first place team being Minnesota. Minnesota's pitching is absurdly good, and Luis Castillo, Jason Kubel, and Rondell White are likely going to add enough offense to not only overcome the subtraction by addition of Tony Batista, but to be a premier team. I see the Twinkies as a 94-95 win team, with the Sox a hair behind at 91-92 wins and with a wild card birth. The Racist Cartoons look to me like a team ripe for a hangover - they pounded too many bad teams with meaningless runs last year. They also lost the AL's ERA champion and two key bullpen ingredients, Arthur Rhodes and Bobby Howry. I think they fall back to 86-87 wins.

The "experts" at ESPN see it differently. By my count, there are 19 "experts", of whom 11 pick the White Sox to win the division. Seven of the other eight pick the Toons, while one guy - Rob Neyer - sees the Twins as division champs. Neyer, however, picks the Sox to finish third in the division. Ouch. Collectively, the ESPN'ers see the Sox as 92-70, just about two games better than the Toons, with the Twinkies six games back of the Tribe.

If you care about the Baseball Prospectus guys, you can find their predictions here. Here's a summary: they still hate the White Sox. Five of twelve predict the Sox to finish first, six pick them to finish second (with two wild cards), and Jonah Keri picks the White Sox third. Mind you, these guys collectively picked the Sox for fourth last year (Keri had the Sox fourth last year, behind the Tigers. I guess 99 wins and getting Vazquez and Thome in the offseason has made a believer out of Keri. They are better than the Tigers).

Interestingly, the computer models had the Sox way down in wins this year, and in third and fourth places. PECOTA estimates that the Sox will go 82-80, a hair behind the 83-79 Detroit Tigers and in fourth place in the division. To his credit, Nate Silver thinks that PECOTA is a little low for the Sox. Hey, Nate, it's your system. Diamond-Mind has the Sox in third place at 86-76, two games behind the Indians for second and four games behind the Twinkies for first place. Diamond-Mind has been spotty with the Sox before:

200579-83 (t-2d)99-63 (1st)
200482-80 (2d)83-79 (2d)
200386-76 (2d)86-76 (2d)
200289-73 (1st)81-81 (2d)
200186-76 (2d)83-79 (3d)
200072-90 (4th)95-67 (1st)
199966-96 (4th)75-86 (2d)
199875-87 (3d)80-82 (2d)

So while Diamond-Mind nailed the Sox pretty well in 2001, 2003 and 2005, it was quite a bit off in 1999, 2000 and 2005. Obviously, 2000 and 2005 were two years where the White Sox came out of the woodwork and beat the pants out of the league before the All Star Break. Something about computer models cannot predict that.

The game is played on the field. And it will be, again, tonight in about 20 minutes.

Go Sox.

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