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Can the White Sox ape the Red Sox?

Koji Watanabe

The contrast between the hitting and pitching of the 2013 White Sox was most striking just before September started. The team ERA was among the very best marks in baseball, but the team was at the bottom when it came to runs scored. Then they finished the season with a 7-23 stretch, including a six-game span in which they were outscored 43-7. That put a dent in the ol' ERA.

Even with the emetic finish, the White Sox still finished the season with decent-to-good pitching numbers. The rankings:

ERA+:108 (8th out of 30 teams)
ERA: 4.00 (21 of 30)

How excited you get depends on how much you trust the park factors that go into ERA+. Is U.S. Cellular Field really that much of a hitter's park? It has been in previous seasons, but the difference between the adjusted and unadjusted numbers is striking. The adjusted numbers suggest the White Sox were as good at preventing runs as the Red Sox and Pirates, and better than the Cardinals, A's, Rays, and Indians.

As with most things, the answer is probably a combination of the extremes. But I don't feel silly suggesting the White Sox were half a playoff team in 2013. In another year, with another lineup, they could most certainly have been a contender. If you're looking for evidence, the 2012 season will do just fine. The paradigm was the same, but the White Sox didn't have quite as wretched of a lineup in '12.

Wretched? Wretched. The White Sox hitters were stunningly wretched. Those rankings:

Runs: 598 (29 of 30)
OPS+: 82 (29 of 30)
OPS+: .680 (27 of 30)

If you're skeptical of the park factors that go into the ERA+, that means you're skeptical of the park factors that go into OPS+. Either way, it's clear there's a monumental gap between the White Sox' pitching and their lineup.

So if you're wondering why a 99-loss team just shelled out $66 million for an enigma, there's part of your answer. Jose Dariel Abreu was one of the only players with power on the market. He might be a bust, but it'll be danged impossible for him to be worse than what the White Sox fielded last year.

Let's look at the White Sox lineup, as currently constructed:

1. Alejandro De Aza - CF
2. Gordon Beckham - 2B
3. Alexei Ramirez - SS
4. Jose Abreu - 1B
5. Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko - DH
6. Avasail Garcia - RF
7. Conor Gillaspie - 3B
8. Dayan Viciedo - LF
9. Tyler Flowers - C

That's not a playoff lineup. But now consider the statement of the Abreu signing. It was the White Sox saying a) we'll spend a little bit, and b) if we're willing to push Paul Konerko and/or Adam Dunn out of the way, no one's job is safe. That last part is important because that attitude gives them a blank slate like this:

1. ??? - CF
2. ??? - 2B
3. Alexei Ramirez - SS
4. Jose Abreu - 1B
5. Dunnerko - DH
6. Avasail Garcia - RF
7. ??? - 3B
8. Dayan Viciedo - LF
9. ??? - C

This assumes that Viciedo isn't someone the White Sox want to give up on just yet (he's still just 24). This also assumes that the Sox will be content with Dunnerko because they're already paying them a billion dollars. This also also assumes that the Sox are tired as all get out of Gordon Beckham.

Still, the White Sox have four lineup spots that potentially could be upgraded this offseason, depending on how creative they get. This reminds me of another offseason from another last-place team.

1. Jacoby Ellsbury - CF
2. ??? - RF
3. Dustin Pedroia - 2B
4. David Ortiz - DH
5. ??? - 1B
6. ??? - LF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C
8. ??? - SS
9. Will Middlebrooks - 3B

Maybe I'm high on narrative, but there's something to this. The Ellsbury/Pedroia/Ortiz head start can't be overstated -- those three players staying healthy and effective meant more to the Red Sox than any free-agent acquisitions. The White Sox don't have three players that good, either. But they have options now, just like the Red Sox did. They have holes to fill if they want to fill them, and the Abreu deal was a mighty fine head start.

I'm not going to play Rick Hahn and fill in the gaps, but there are options, just like there were for the Red Sox. And even without Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy, the White Sox still have an enviable front four. I'd give that rotation better odds for success than I would have given the Red Sox this year.

It's still a long shot. The White Sox lost 99 games because they were a spectacularly awful team in a lot of respects. But the Abreu signing indicates they aren't giving up. And the success of the 2013 Red Sox indicates they shouldn't have to.