White Sox better, but they have lots of ground to make up

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Oh, the good vibrations around SoxFest over the weekend. Fans sold out the event and cheered approvingly at every opportunity. Management took bows, and players began counting the days till Feb. 20, the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

General manager Rick Hahn and vice president Ken Williams, the offseason MVPs who connected for extra bases on almost every swing at targeted players at the top of their wish lists in almost every category of need, were the biggest stars. If metrics sharpies had stat values for GMs, Hahn would be, like, what? Fifteen wins above replacement?

Did you notice the Sox swagger? The owner and a new pitcher each threw stones at the crosstown Cubs, and Sox fans, confident their team can go from being a 73-89 fourth-place team to making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 (broadcaster Steve Stone joined partner Hawk Harrelson in picking the Sox to win the American League Central) roared their approval. When the three-day event concluded Sunday, extra cleanup crews were summoned to the Chicago Hilton to mop up White Sox Kool-Aid spilled about the place.

‘‘Let’s play now’’ should have been the SoxFest slogan. No one was expressing concerns about calm and collected manager Robin Ventura’s energy level. Nobody whined to Hahn about the roster. Aside from the usual ‘‘Any chance we get A.J. back?’’ question, the usually hard-to-please fan base seemed almost completely satisfied.


‘‘Usually this is an airing of the grievances,’’ Ventura said at the end of his fourth event. ‘‘It’s been a good weekend.’’

It will be a good year if the Sox, who view themselves as playoff contenders, meet the expectations. By no means are they close to being a cinch, not when they need to improve by eight games just to reach .500. That’s why it was good to hear a voice of reason from none other than chairman Jerry Reinsdorf himself, who probably cringed just a little when the “All In” slogan was unveiled after he re-signed Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and gave free agent Adam Dunn $56 million in 2011. That team went 79-83.

Reinsdorf knows how it often works in the unpredictable world of baseball. The best teams on paper routinely fail. Surprise teams often jump out to fast starts and ride the ‘‘nobody said we could’’ wave to the postseason.

Reinsdorf was never more optimistic about an offseason than the one that followed 2005 because Jim Thome was added to a championship team.

‘‘I really had visions of back-to-back [titles],’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a funny game. You have to play the games.

‘‘In 1983, we won 99 games, and the only thing we did the [following] winter was add [Hall of Famer] Tom Seaver to our pitching staff, and we won 74 games. You can’t get too excited in advance. You have to play the games.’’

This team, as much as it has improved on paper with the additions of Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings to the pitching staff, Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche to the lineup and Emilio Bonifacio to the bench (and/or lineup), would have to improve by 10 games to finish four games over .500. That’s a whopping step forward that might get you third place.

FanGraphs, a respected website that projects performance and outcomes through statistical analysis, says the Sox are nothing more than a bad team made decent and projects them to improve by a mere five games to 78-84, good for finishing behind (in order) the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. A couple of reasons why: No. 4 and 5 starters Hector Noesi and John Danks will pitch to 5.84 and 5.45 ERAs, respectively, according to the site’s ZiPS projections.

Time will tell. This much is for sure: Unlike the last two seasons, this Sox team at least stands a chance of making those projections look bad.

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