By Matt Spiegel-

(CBS) September is a problematic month in which to play bad baseball.

Because the 2012 White Sox did so, there’s an ugly malaise lingering with this team. People spent so long last season saying the Sox were not good enough, eventually having their cynicism rewarded, that breeding believers in 2013 is going to be a seriously uphill climb.

Yes, that September swoon lingers. Plus, the mighty Tigers add Torii Hunter in RF, Victor Martinez at DH/C/1B, and a full year of Anibal Sanchez in the rotation.

Last year, an oft-cited algorithm (which the Sox always out-perform) had them projected for 78 wins and a stalwart sports magazine predicted just 67.  I said 85. Nailed it, and that’s the last gloat on the subject. Promise.

This year the math says 77 wins, while the mag goes for 81.

I say 83-79.  This will leave them fighting from behind for the wild cards, with both the West and the East stocked.

I start this season, unlike last, conceding that 2nd place in the division is the ceiling. The Tigers are just too powerful offensively, and now go 4 legit starting pitchers deep. They’re built to survive the expected slothful defense at the infield corners.  The glaring weakness at closer will be managed creatively at first, and then fixed via trade if necessary.

Here’s what’s really good about the 2013 White Sox, with concerns/room to grow delineated.

  • Chris Sale knows how to truly pitch, even when tired.  Now, if he could actually be strong enough to maintain his best stuff for a full season, he’ll be in annual Cy Young conversations.
  • Paul Konerko continues to be as smart a power hitter as you’ll find, with an undervalued great, short swing.  I don’t think this is the year for a dramatic downslide from him, even if it is his last.
  • Alex Rios played hard, attentive, composed and smart.  Count me among those who see 2012 as a breakthrough towards consistent excellence, not just an up year to be followed by a down one.
  • Jake Peavy stayed healthy enough to earn trust as a solid No. 2 starter. Throw away dreams of dominant Padres Peavy, and take what he is now – damn good.
  • Adam Dunn rebounded to reach the acceptable bottom performance levels of a 3 true outcome hitter, and I bet he’ll stay just about there again. I’ll believe the whole “swing earlier in the count to avoid strikeouts” thing when I see it for a couple months.
  • The bullpen is pretty stacked.  It’s a very strong part of this team.  If Jesse Crain or Matt Thornton fail in a defined 8th inning role, Ventura shouldn’t be afraid to try a Matt Lindstrom, or a Donnie Veal. Nate Jones can throw. Hector Santiago as a swing guy could be a luxury.

Then we’re left with enormous questions.

  • Starting pitchers 3 through 5.  Will John Danks ever get healthy and strong? Will Planet Gavin Floyd orbit the mound properly? Make sure no one talks to him, about anything. Will Jose Quintana be a consistent middle of the rotation guy?
  • Top of the order. Will Alejandro De Aza and Jeff Keppinger get on base enough for the boppers? Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez have proven they don’t belong up there.
  • Catcher. Is Tyler Flowers a full time big league regular? He has good power, and he’ll be a defensive upgrade from the departed A.J. But 120-140 games has a way of exposing weakness.
  • Closer.  I know, I said the bullpen is stacked. But sometimes Addison Reed ends up a one-pitch pitcher, unwilling to trust an erratic slider.  And remember his propensity to not work clean. He went from July 19th to September 8th, a string of 19 straight appearances, without a 1-2-3 inning.

There’s one player who hasn’t been mentioned yet, who could swing some team results.  I’m looking at you, Dayan Viciedo.  It’s a huge year for him.  He’s 24. He’s had 760 plate appearances in the big leagues. It’s time to see if that full potential can be realized. His 25 homers in 2012 was pretty good, mind you, but this team needs more contact from him. He should have more than 18 doubles. A .300 OBP will not do. Maybe his new leg kick will be an effective timing mechanism, if he stays with it.

Assurance of a breakout Viciedo would see my 83-79 rise a bit.

But that’s not how it works.

Today is the day when teams can start proving all of us wrong.  I’m glad it’s here.

Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show.

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