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White Sox starters to set tone

White Sox starters to set tone

CHICAGO -- White Sox general manager Kenny Williams knew before the season began that his pitching staff would be something special.

With a starting rotation of playoff veterans such as Orlando Hernandez and Freddy Garcia, along with Mark Buehrle, who had anchored the Sox rotation for the past four seasons, it isn't surprising that Williams felt good about his rotation.

But how good was enough to make some people laugh out loud.

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"I felt at the start of the year that each one of our starting pitchers was capable of winning 15 games," Williams said. "I know people laughed and such, but you can't control that. I can only control my opinion of what I'm asked, and that's how I felt."

The Sox staff may have fallen a little short of proving Williams right with only three of the starters hitting the 15-win mark, but they certainly accomplished enough this season to make everyone take notice.

It was a season filled with honors for Chicago's five starters, as three earned Pitcher of the Month honors, two were selected to the All-Star Game in Detroit, and the staff finished the season with at least one pitcher in the top 10 in every major pitching category, such as ERA, wins, complete games and innings pitched.

After leading the way for most of the season, as the Sox captured their first American League Central title since the 2000 season, the staff has once again become the focus of most of the attention for the first round of the playoffs. Chicago's strength will be pitted squarely against the strong suit of the Red Sox -- their hitting.

Being counted on to set the tempo for the club has been the role for the Sox pitchers all season, and they aren't afraid to take it on again.

"I've always felt good pitching will shut down good hitting," starter Jon Garland said. "I've always thought when you get to the playoffs, you need to have that good pitching. So, hopefully, it works out in this case."

The White Sox need that to be the case, as their hitting has been suspect all season and they will be facing a strong hitting club in the Red Sox. While the pressure will also be on the bullpen, it falls mostly on the starters to set the tone from the offset. It's something that Jose Contreras, Buehrle, Garcia and Garland have done all season.

Though much was expected of the first four in the rotation, Garland, the fifth starter at the onset of the year, surprised many when he began with eight straight wins and earned Pitcher of the Month honors in April. Garland finished the first half with a 13-4 record, setting a new career high in wins, before he and Buehrle represented Chicago at the Midsummer Classic.

Early success was also there for Hernandez and Buehrle. Hernandez began the season with a 5-1 record in his first eight starts. Buehrle followed with a strong month of June, when he went 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA. Garcia earned the title of a big-game pitcher by coming up with clutch performances for the Sox when needed, especially on the road and in day games. And while he struggled in the first half and many questioned if Contreras should remain a starter, the Cuban pitcher became the one the Sox counted on in the regular season's final month. Contreras finished September at 6-0, with a 1.99 ERA in six starts and was named AL Pitcher of the Month.

A healthy staff was the main reason the Sox pitchers were able to earn such honors. Besides some short stints on the disabled list for Hernandez, the rotation avoided any major injuries. The Sox used only six pitchers as starters throughout the season, with Garland, Buehrle, Contreras and Garcia each tossing over 200 innings.

"We knew we had the capability with the pitching to do what we did, but obviously I never expected us to do some of things we accomplished," Buehrle said. "Four guys pitching 200 innings, and the way that Contreras threw the ball in the second half? It's good that we kind of carried this team into the postseason."

If the White Sox are to win a playoff series for the first time since 1917, the pitching will again have to carry much of the load. It's something that everyone, including the pitchers, expect and what the team believes will lead it to more victories.

"People say we have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and we believe that's what wins playoff games," catcher Chris Widger said. "That's what New York won all of their World Series with. If our pitching staff goes out there and does what they are capable of doing, we're going to be right in every game and give ourselves a chance to win."

And that is exactly what Williams has expected all along.

"One of the things again that we set out to do from the outset was to put a team together that No. 1 took care of business on that mound," Williams said. "We figured if we took care of business on the mound, played well defensively and hustled our tails off, we would be in this position and we'd have a chance. So, as we sit here today, I feel good about our chances, because we can take care of business on that mound."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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