Year 2 of Robin Ventura's tenure features plenty of critical stretches for his team's chances of contending in the American League. With the 2013 season getting underway on Monday, be sure to circle these dates and series on your calendar through the end of September:
April 1: White Sox vs. Royals
Opening Day pits Chris Sale against James Shields, as the White Sox season gets under way with what should be a pretty nice pitcher's duel. It's been a decade since the Royals fielded a team that finished over .500, and that year, they opened against the White Sox as well. If the White Sox win on Monday, though, they'll do something they couldn't do 10 years ago against Runelvys Hernandez.
April 9-18: @ Washington (3), @ Cleveland (3), @ Toronto (4)
As Steve Stone mentioned as part of his five keys to the White Sox season, getting off to a fast start in April holds plenty of importance, although this 10-game road trip won't make that an easy task. The good news for the White Sox is they should miss Stephen Strasburg in Washington, but that's about it. Cleveland features a deep lineup, while Toronto added the 2012 NL Cy Young winner and about every good player on last year's Marlins squad not named Giancarlo Stanton over the winter. Also of note: it could be the first time the White Sox face Mark Buehrle in the pitcher's 13-year career.
May 16-19: @ Los Angeles (AL)
The White Sox don't get many breaks on the road in the season's first two months (they also get Texas for three games in late April/early May). Four games in Anaheim, where the Sox went 1-5 last year, will be another tough test against Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver…in other words, a loaded Angels squad.
May 27-30: vs. Cubs (2), @ Cubs (2)
MLB's new interleague format for rivalries gets under way, with back-to-back two-game sets at U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field over the span of four days. The Cubs-Sox series has lost some intensity over the last few years -- something ex-Sox and current Cubs utilityman Brent Lillibridge made note of during spring training -- and perhaps this format will add a little extra to the BP Crosstown Cup.
June 10-12: vs. Toronto
This is the only scheduled chance in 2013 for Buehrle to make his return to the mound at U.S. Cellular Field. If he does, expect a warm welcome from the crowd -- just as Frank Thomas and Joe Crede, among others, received upon their returns to the South Side in recent years.
July 9-11: @ Detroit
Oddly enough, the White Sox don't face the Tigers until the 89th scheduled game in the 2013 season. Over the final 74 games, the White Sox will play Detroit 18 times. Chances are, that second-half blitz will wind up determining whether the Sox challenge the Tigers for the AL Central title or not.
August 5-7: vs. New York (AL)
The Yankees begin the 2013 season with plenty of key players on the disabled list, but by August, those guys could be healthy -- and perhaps, too, Brian Cashman will have added a key player or two. It's tough to count New York out until they're actually out of it, and while Toronto and Tampa Bay look solid (and don't forget about Boston), the Yankees very well could be as strong as ever when they roll into town.
August 26-28: vs. Houston
The Astros' first trip to Chicago as an American League team comes in late August, and if the White Sox need an injection of wins, in theory Houston could provide that. The Astros have been transparent with their fanbase about their plan, which is to contend a few years down the road. They look to be on the right track, but for now, they enter 2013 fielding by far the worst team in baseball.
August 30-Sept. 15: @ Boston (3), @ New York (3), @ Baltimore (4), vs. Detroit (3), vs. Cleveland (4)
Right after Houston comes what looks like the most difficult stretch of the season for the Sox. Boston and New York are generally tough, and while Baltimore may have a tough time repeating its success of 2012, four games on the back end of a long road trip isn't a cakewalk. And of course, following that up with Detroit and Cleveland doesn't make things easier. The White Sox faded down the stretch around this time last year, and if they're going to make a playoff push they'll need to avoid the same pitfalls against a tough slate.
Sept. 20-22: @ Detroit
These are the final three meetings between the White Sox and Tigers. If the Sox are contending, these games will be of critical importance -- although they'll come at Comerica Park, where the Sox only went 1-8 last year.
Sept. 29: vs. Kansas City
The regular season comes to an end on this Sunday at home. Needless to say, we'll know a lot more about the 2013 White Sox after their final meeting with Kansas City than before their first.