GLENDALE, Ariz. – Asked about the presumptive AL Central favorite Detroit Tigers, White Sox players refused to anoint them division champs in February.
“They picked up Prince Fielder, but they lost a great player in Victor Martinez,” reliever Jesse Crain said. “So we’ll see what happens. That’s what’s so great about baseball. You never know what is going to happen.”
Optimism reigns supreme for all 30 teams during spring training, and it’s no different for the Sox. Even so, the Sox have their work cut out to avoid the bottom of the AL Central standings.
But having low external expectations suits reliever Matt Thornton just fine.
“There’s nothing better than playing above the standards of what the media thinks we’re going to do,” Thornton said. “You’re under the radar and everyone thinks we’re going to go out and stink the place up. But we got a lot of guys with a lot of pride around here and a lot of good veterans and play the game the right way.”
Who knows, maybe the Sox will turn that philosophy into a new motto.
“The ‘All In’ thing got abused last year,” Thornton said. “I’m glad that one is over with, and it didn’t work out well anyway.”
Manager Robin Ventura’s belief that the Sox can contend with baseball’s best teams isn’t changing with the threat of Detroit. The Sox must find a way to win, Ventura said, regardless of the expectations.
“Detroit has kind of earned that doing what they did last season and signing some players this year, but it’s not going change the way we approach anything,” Ventura said. “We’re not going to concede anything.”
The Sox would do well to adopt the Twins’ underdog mentality. In the past 10 years, Minnesota made the playoffs six times and rarely was considered a favorite. Crain spent seven seasons with the Twins and said they were thrilled to be overlooked.
“When you’re at the top, everybody is gunning for you,” Crain said. “When you are under the radar, you can sneak up on people. That’s how the Twins were. We liked that role and you have nothing to lose when you go out there like that.”
For the Sox to surprise anyone, the 2011 underachievers have to perform to at least career levels. That need escalates with the departures of outfielder Carlos Quentin and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Sergio Santos.
“It really doesn’t matter what people think to start the year,” pitcher Phil Humber said. “I feel like as far as our talent goes, we have as much or more than anyone in our division. We had some guys that obviously didn’t have the years they’re used to having last year.
“We’re all hungry, especially with the number of times we lost to Detroit. I mean, after a while it kind of ticks you off. We’ve got something to prove.”