Can the Sox contend, Part 2: Dunn's rebound

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Can the Sox contend, Part 2: Dunn's rebound

In part one of this all-hope-is-not-lost series, we looked at how the Sox rotation will set up nicely if Jake Peavy can stay relatively healthy in 2012. Some may think keeping Peavy fresh is a daunting task, but perhaps not as much as the next key to a run at the division next year:

Get Adam Dunn back on track.

Dunn fell into the abyss last year after a decade of consistent tater-mashing, hitting fewer home runs (11) than in any season of his career -- including his 66-game rookie campaign. He was only a handful of at-bats away from posting the lowest single-season batting average in the history of Major League Baseball. And he was rated by FanGraphs as the worst player in the majors by a wide, wide margin.

So what reasons are there to think that Dunn can do much of anything in 2012?

The best statistical argument is that Dunn will experience a simple regression to the mean next season. That is to say, his 2011 season will continue to stand as an outlier. Even now, it's an outlier on Dunn's career trajectory, one that could still have Dunn angling for a Hall of Fame bid.

In plenty of cases, those outlier seasons remain just that -- outliers. Just ask Brady Anderson's 50 home runs in 1996 or Paul Konerko's .704 OPS in 2003. Sometimes, though, an seemingly innocuous outlier turns into a trend, either for good (Jose Bautista) or bad (Richie Sexson).

From a non-statistical standpoint, there are a few things working in Dunn's favor for next season. A new manager and hitting coach can't hurt. An entire offseason to clear his head should help as well. And now that he has a full year of DH'ing under his belt, perhaps Dunn will enter 2012 with a better plan of attack toward the mental aspect of not playing the field.

Consider how different the 2012 White Sox lineup could look like with a mildly successful (we're not talking about 40 home runs and a .380 OBP, think more like 25 home runs and a .340 OBP) Dunn hitting in the middle:

3. Paul Konerko 3. Paul Konerko
4. Adam Dunn 4. Dayan Viciedo
5. Dayan Viciedo 5. Alexei Ramirez? Alex Rios? A.J. Pierzynski?

Essentially, the team's No. 5 hitter -- one of the most important run-producing positions in the lineup -- goes from a hitter with enormous power potential to a handful of low-OBP guys with varying amounts of less-than-15-home-runs-per-season power. It's like replacing a potentially good No. 5 hitter with a bat more suited to hit seventh. That amounts to a huge difference when it comes to supporting a pitching staff.

2012 will be the most important season of Dunn's career. It's his chance to save his legacy and stay on Cooperstown's radar. It's also a chance for him to redeem himself with the White Sox -- because if performs well, maybe, just maybe, the Sox can make some noise in the AL Central.

If the White Sox success next season in pinned on Adam Dunn, that makes you _________. But before defaulting to responding with "horrified," at least consider the optimist's viewpoint.

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having experienced a playoff-like atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, David Robertson and Nate Jones already feel prepared for the regular season. 

The two relievers returned to White Sox camp on Friday morning bearing gold medals from a Team USA WBC title run that concluded on Wednesday night with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Robertson, who recorded the final three outs of the clinching victory, said he's glad to be back and won't need much of a tune-up to be ready for the April 3 season opener.

"Back up to speed?" Robertson said. "More like slow down and get ready for the season. I'll probably play catch (Friday). I didn't throw (Thursday), I spent the day traveling. Probably play catch today, and be ready to throw (Saturday). If I needed to throw today, I could. I feel like I'm season ready right now."

"It feels good to be back. It's been a long trip doing this WBC, so it's good to be back and relax a little bit. Have a couple days before we start the season."

Both Jones and Robertson appeared four times each for Team USA with similar results. Each allowed a solo home run but nothing else. Jones said he brought his gold medal back to camp because he isn't yet ready to put it in his safety deposit box. His favorite moments of the tournament were brought on by raucous crowds.

"Once you get a crowd chanting USA that was a pretty cool moment," Jones said. "You're proud of representing your country, and once they did that, it all kind of set in, like, ‘Wow, this is happening.'

"It's just pure excitement, everybody going crazy."

Jones and Robertson said they're pleased to have returned to the relative tranquility of White Sox camp after they lived out of a suitcase for the previous 18 days. Both were set to meet with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Rick Renteria to discuss their upcoming schedule. Jones said he expected to throw a side session on Friday in front of Cooper to have his mechanics reviewed. Robertson last pitched on Wednesday and didn't know when he'd throw again.

"They've been busy, obviously, with Robbie finishing up the last game," Renteria said. "We'll see how the schedule lines up in terms of their usage for the remaining 9-10 days."

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Robertson is pretty sure he won't need much work. Whereas the team's closer normally waits until the first week of March to appear in a game, Robertson has pitched in plenty this spring. Each of the last four has had a ton more intensity than any normal Cactus League work.

"It felt like playoff baseball really early in the year," Robertson said. "Just coming from Miami, trying to win a couple days in there was really hard. Fans were really loud. That place was a very intense environment, and it didn't feel like you were the home team at all.

"It felt like (a home game) when we were in San Diego We were the home team there, and when we got to L.A., same thing. Although, I will say that when we were playing the Japanese, it erupted a couple times when they had some big moments in their game. It was just a lot of fun to play in this whole event. It was definitely more than I expected."

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

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Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."