The White Sox were pegged as a losing club in most circles a month ago. Vegas said they were a 75-win team, an also ran in the AL Central.
Toss that in the trash. This is a decent team, the biggest threat to Detroit in the AL Central.
Philip Humber's perfect game was the big news from the weekend, and the White Sox have followed up that performance nicely. The Pale Hose finished the sweep of Seattle on Sunday, then blanked Oakland in Monday's series opener, 4-0.
Jake Peavy looked every bit an ace during Monday's victory. He needed just 107 pitches en route to a three-hit shutout; Oakland launched 14 harmless fly balls on the night. Peavy's fastball is back up a tick this year (91.4 mph) and he's also throwing his slider harder (and more often). Have a look at the scouting tape, see what you make of it.
Peavy's stats through four starts jump out at you: 1.88 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, four walks, 26 strikeouts. You'll find a bunch of luck stats under the hood, sure; that's going to be the case with any outlier ERA. A .219 BABIP is a gift from the roto gods, and ditto the 2.4 HR/FB rate. But when you're striking out almost seven men for every walk you issue, you're making a lot of your own good luck. And Monday's start was Peavy's first against a weak offensive club; his first three turns came against Texas (in Arlington, no less), Detroit and Baltimore (no laughing, those guys can hit).
Past form might be scaring people off the Peavy case; while he's owned in 72 percent of Yahoo! leagues, that number still looks light to me. Here are some curious arms currently owned in more leagues than Peavy: Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda (even with DL tags, he's dead to me), Ubaldo Jimenez, Chad Billingsley, Jeremy Hellickson (don't mess with the AL East, baby), Kyle Lohse (I like him but in a deep-filler way), Max Scherzer. If you can swap anyone in this group for a hale Peavy, I'm on board. Keep in mind, this is Peavy's first full season after his 2010 shoulder surgery. He's still just 30. The timing is right for a major comeback year, and the radar gun (and the early results) show you he's healthy.
Peavy isn't the only reason to like the 2012 White Sox, of course. On offense, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are the two big (and obvious) comeback stories, positive-regression picks who are yielding early dividends. Dunn's 2011 nightmare was tied to so many potential flukes and explanations, no one could be sure which one to buy into first. He had a strong camp and he's kept it going into April, off to a .250/.366/.550 push with four homers in 16 games. Here's a look at the latest Dunn tater, launched in front of the smattering of Oakland fans (buy a ticket to an Athletics game and you have a 50-50 chance at coming home with a souvenir baseball).
Brandon Funston gives his full endorsement to Rios in his current Pickups of the Week, and I'll back that up here. Last year's .237 BABIP flashed as an obvious outlier; Rios's career mark in that stat is .317. It's too early to tell if Rios will run a lot in 2012 — we're still getting a feel for Robin Ventura as a manager — but Rios's strong start (.360/.414/.520) seems legitimate. He's pushed his walk rate up, he's striking out less, and he's spiked his line-drive rate up to 21.7. He's still out there for immediate pick-up in 52 percent of Yahoo! leagues; this is your last call, gamers.
And one more reason to like the White Sox in 2012 is the deep bullpen. One of the reasons why I've tempered enthusiasm on closer Hector Santiago — don't mistake this for me writing him off — is the outstanding depth behind him. Matt Thornton, Addison Reed and Jesse Crain could pitch for anyone, and even unheralded rookie Nate Jones has been effective thus far. The White Sox bullpen currently has a nifty 2.27 ERA; that's a far cry from where Tampa Bay and Boston sit. If Peavy, Humber and company can get through six or seven innings with a lead, a lot of their wins are going to hold up.
The division is going to help the White Sox as well. Sure, they have to deal with Detroit, fine. But the AL Central also offers a couple of teams with 90-loss potential (Minnesota, Kansas City), and I don't see Cleveland as anything more than a .500 team. Everyone knows how loaded the AL East is, and the AL West should have at least two formidable clubs when the Angels eventually wake up. If you're looking for the downhill ride in the American League, it's in the Central Division.
• Bartolo Colon took the loss against Peavy and his final line doesn't jump out at you (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K, 2 HR), but I watched every pitch and think Colon threw better than the numbers indicate. For one thing, he couldn't buy a borderline call from home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt; I guess Mr. Wendel didn't hear about Colon's 38-strike parade against the Angels last week. Colon was also hurt by his defense over the course of the night; the Athletics infield made two errors (this Luke Hughes experiment isn't going to work out) and the gracious official scorer shielded them from two more. Colon is a tricky play in K/9 leagues and he'll have to deal with Oakland's crummy offense all year, but I think he's worth permanent ownership in deeper leagues, especially if innings are uncapped. He'll work at Baltimore on Sunday (I'll use him), and then a visit to Tampa Bay (sit him under the catwalk).
• We live in a world of outcome bias, so Daniel Bard's relief stint Monday is going to get a hero's welcome. Bard entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth at Minnesota, with one out and a runner on third. No margin for error. Josh Willingham greeted him with a line drive, but no one will care because the pellet zipped right at Kevin Youkilis. Ryan Doumit's routine fly ball ended the inning (after an intentional walk to Justin Morneau).
Alfredo Aceves desperately needed an uneventful ninth inning and he came through, sandwiching three outs (two comebackers, one deep fly) around a single. I'll be shocked if he's the leading save man for this team when all is said and done, but there isn't going to be an immediate change. It's not that Aceves can't be a useful reliever (or even a spot starter), but his skill set doesn't ideally fit the closer role (for one thing, he doesn't miss a lot of bats). The team will probably be better off if Aceves eventually settles into a spot where he can throw multiple innings in any appearance.
Cody Ross was Boston's offensive hero, crushing a homer to left and coaxing a second homer (the game-deciding hit) over the right field wall. It's encouraging to see a pair of Ross homers off right-handed pitchers — he's known as a lefty killer. Then again, no one throws a parade when you connect off Jason Marquis and Matt Capps. Ross has a safe path to playing time while Carl Crawford rehabs; after that, the Red Sox have to make some decisions. Ross played left and batted eighth Monday, with new center fielder Marlon Byrd (1-for-4) in center, batting ninth.
• It wasn't a banner night for the Rangers, as New York got to Derek Holland (seven runs) and rolled to an easy victory (there's no stopping Derek Jeter these days). But Josh Hamilton gave us another highlight, cracking his eighth homer of the year in the sixth inning (and off CC Sabathia, no less). Hamilton is off to a .408 start.
If you drafted Hamilton a month ago, you're in an interesting situation. You know the upside with Hams: he was an absolute monster in 2008 and 2010. But we also have to consider that he's missed 72, 29 and 31 games over the last three years. Does contract-year motivation kick in nicely for Hamilton, help him keep his eyes on the prize? Or is it a good time to lock in profits on Hamilton, try to deal him now as a Top 5 or Top 10 commodity, sell while the selling's good? If you're a proud Hamilton owner, let us know your game plan in the comments.
• The Braves pitching staff is looking forward to a four-game set with Pittsburgh on the weekend (Friday-Monday), but Jair Jurrjens won't be part of the plan. Jurrjens was roughed up by the Dodgers on Monday (3 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 0 K) and received an option to Triple-A after the game. Essentially the Braves have decided they'd prefer to keep Randall Delgado in the rotation over Jurrjens for now; they'll also get Tim Hudson back at some point in the next week. Eventually the pitching-rich Braves can opt for prospect Julio Teheran or swingman Kris Medlen if the situation calls for it.
Underrated LA lefty Chris Capuano scored the win over Atlanta, overcoming a rocky start and working through seven innings (6 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K). He's going to have plenty of stream juice this year — we saw his zesty strikeout rate in New York last season (tied to some unlucky secondary numbers), and now he has Chavez Ravine and the womb of the NL West to buoy him. You might want to give him a run Sunday at home against the Nationals.
Speed Round: The Giants scored an easy sweep at Citi Field, taking advantage of mediocre New York pitching. Nate Schierholtz went 6-for-10 in the twin bill with a homer and a stolen base; I wish I knew the Giants would play him all the time, because he could be a 15-15 type of player (maybe even better) if the team would commit. Tim Lincecum picked up a win despite five uneven innings (hard to say much from this outing), and Pablo Sandoval crushed a homer that still hasn't landed. … It was a pitch-to-contact story for Brandon Morrow (10 ground balls, 1 BB, 3 K), which enabled him to get into the seventh inning at Kansas City. The hapless Royals have lost 11 in a row, and they're 0-10 at home. Good grief, Charlie Brown. Under-the-radar reliever Luis Perez (season: 11 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 12 K) picked up the hold, then Francisco Cordero retired three of four for the handshake. Sergio Santos received good news in his visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum, though he still won't do any throwing for another 10-14 days. … John Axford has just one clean inning on seven appearances this year, but we won't ding him too much after watching him strike out three of four Astros on Monday. Zack Greinke was 11-0 at home last year (a bit lucky, tied to a good-not-great 3.13 ERA) and he's already 2-0 in front of the Cheeseheads this season. Jose Altuve (two hits, one steal, two strikeouts) continues to be a spark for the Astros, though he's still batting eighth most of the time.
The Phillies offense didn't do a thing against Wade Miley, of all people, and the Phils didn't even touch home plate until a meaningless five-run rally in the ninth inning. This anemic lineup could be a season-long problem; maybe Ryan Howard will get in form quickly when he returns, but I'm tempering expectations on high-attrition Chase Utley. The Snakes had their way with Kyle Kendrick (3 IP, 11 H, 7 R), though Juan Pierre's opening gaffe in the bottom of the first (ruled a gift double for Gerardo Parra) didn't help Kendrick's cause. White Sox fans know all about the Pierre experience; he almost single-handedly ruined Thornton's closer bid last spring. … Arizona finally got a homer from Justin Upton, but Chris Young (shoulder) will probably need more than 15 days on the disabled list. … If you've got some free time Wednesday afternoon, give a scouting look at Oakland hotshot Jarrod Parker; the 23-year-old righty is being recalled for his AL debut. First pitch is set for 3:35 pm ET, and if you feel like tossing the streaming dice, he's still out there in 88 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Baseball America rated Parker as the No. 26 prospect in baseball before the season, and he was off to a snappy start in Triple-A (2.18 ERA over 20.2 innings, 6 BB, 21 K). Big park, swing-and-miss stuff — that's enough to make us intrigued in medium and deep mixers.