Well I don't. None of the ESPN.com prognosticators have the ChiSox finishing above 3rd in the division. The PECOTA projection for the ChiSox has them finishing with 72 wins, 9 games below .500. Everyone in the blogger world is squawking about the idiocy of having Podsednik and Erstad at the top of the lineup. Seemingly it's all gloom and doom on the South Side. Well, fuck that.
I'm choosing to be cautiously optimistic this year. Maybe that'll work out better than the unbridled optimism I had last year. Yes, Podsednik kinda sucked last year, both in left and at the plate. But I tend to agree with Foul Balls' guarded optimism on the Podsednik front; really all I want from him is to be smarter about stealing bases and not look lost in left field. I think this is certainly doable. He doesn't have to be Jose Reyes at the plate for the Sox to win, he just needs to get his head right.
No, I don't agree with starting Erstad instead of Brian Anderson in center, either from a defensive or offensive perspective. I think BA was unjustly relegated to Ozzie's doghouse, and it's continued on into this season. But I think Erstad will be a passable defender. I just hope he doesn't sabotage this team because he's still pissed that AJ gamed the umpires in the 2005 ALCS (remember that, B.O.B.? What a freaking game...)
Besides, offense is not where this team needs to worry. I'm not saying the 2007 squad will equal the production of last year's team, but the production will be there: Thome, Konerko, Dye, Crede, and the rest of the crew will produce runs no matter if Pods and Erstad sport OBPs in the .330 range. The World Series champs scored 127 less runs and won 9 more games than the 2006 playoff-less vintage.
The problem is that the 2006 pitching staff gave up 149 more runs than the 2005 staff. Garland's ERA jumped a full run from 3.50 to 4.51. Contreras's jumped from 3.61 to 4.27. Worst of all by far, Buehrle's jumped from 3.12 to an astronomical 4.99. I don't have to tell you that this year is Buehrle's walk year and his affinity for the Cardinals has been swirling around the rumor mill for years now. Now, I don't put a whole lot of stock in guys putting up career years in their contract years (although it'd be nice, considering Jermaine Dye is in his walk year too), but I do put some stock in a career 3.83 ERA pitcher being able to post an ERA a hell of a lot closer to 4. I haven't seen him pitch this Spring, but the pessimists over at SSS see some reason for optimism. And if Garland and Contreras can pull their heads out of their asses and do the same, the Sox are in business even if Vazquez and Danks post mediocre 4.50-5 ERAs. Do your magic, Coop.
I'm not saying a return to the Series is in store, but I do think the Sox are flying under the radar again this year. Which is right where they were in 2005. They've certainly got enough talent to put together a playoff run in a division which, I think, is a bit weaker than people admit anymore. I'm gonna miss watching this 95-win, playoff-bound club with Hawk and DJ this year... after thirteen years of getting to see this team everyday, it's just not going to be the same following them from RedSoxNationLand.