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White Sox think they have what it takes to vie for division title

The health left-hander John Danks (50) will be key White Sox’ success this season. | Mark Duncan~AP

The health of left-hander John Danks (50) will be key to the White Sox’ success this season. | Mark Duncan~AP

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:47AM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — With 21/2 weeks of camp left, there are minor battles going on for fringe spots on the White Sox’ Opening Day roster, but the competition for jobs is minimal. The table for 25 isn’t set, but here’s how the Sox might be seated April 1:

Starting pitchers: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Jose Quintana, Gavin Floyd, John Danks.

Bullpen: Hector Santiago, Donnie Veal, Matt Thornton, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, Jesse Crain, Addison Reed.

Starting lineup: Alejandro De Aza in center, Jeff Keppinger at third, Alex Rios in right, Adam Dunn at designated hitter, Paul Konerko at first, Dayan Viciedo in left, Alexei Ramirez at short, Tyler Flowers at catcher, Gordon Beckham at second.

Bench: Hector Gimenez (catcher/outfield), Angel Sanchez (short/second), Dewayne Wise (outfield), Conor Gillaspie (third/first).

This assumes that everyone stays healthy, that Danks’ surgically repaired left shoulder gets through camp with no setbacks and that third baseman Brent Morel, right-hander Dylan Axelrod or someone else doesn’t demand a spot by performing lights-out through camp.

Throughout the clubhouse and front office, the Sox are quietly confident they’re equipped to make the postseason. Players almost always view themselves as being better than they actually are, so it would be a bigger story if they felt any other way.

‘‘Since I’ve been here, I’ve never gone into a year not expecting to be good and compete for the division,’’ Danks said. ‘‘Maybe that’s just me being dumb and blind, I don’t know, but I truly feel like we have a team that will compete for the [American League] Central. And, obviously, you get to the playoffs, and anything can happen.’’

The case that the Sox are better than the team that was in first place for 117 days before collapsing in the last two weeks of last season and finishing with 85 victories begins with a healthy Danks. It continues with hoped-for or expected improvement from second-year pitchers Quintana, Reed, Jones and Santiago and from Viciedo, Ramirez and Beckham.

The case that the Sox are similar or worse off begins with upgrades other teams in the division made. The Royals and Indians beefed up, and the defending champion Tigers will have Victor Martinez back.

The Sox lost A.J. Pierzynski and replaced him with Flowers. They won’t have Kevin Youkilis around, either, but they think Keppinger might be an upgrade. Lindstrom replaces Brett Myers, and Francisco Liriano isn’t much of a loss, based on what he contributed.

General manager Rick Hahn has no doubts this is a team to be reckoned with.

‘‘Absolutely,’’ Hahn said without hesitation. ‘‘The team’s strengths on paper are pitching and defense. Assuming John Danks continues to progress the way he has, certainly our rotation — and arguably 1-through-12 [on the pitching staff] — can match up with anybody in the league.

‘‘Offensively, we were fourth in the league in runs scored last year, and that tends to get missed in the analysis that we’ll struggle to score runs. Obviously, we have to replace the offensive production we got from A.J., but we feel we have in-house room for improvement offensively at third, second and left field and even at shortstop.’’

Manager Robin Ventura said the Sox won’t be a fashionable pick to win the division because they ‘‘had less fanfare’’ in the offseason, but he indicated he thought they will be a playoff team.

‘‘Yes,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘Last year, we had to play as poorly as we did [2-10 during one late stretch] to not make it. The focus becomes taking care of us, not looking outside to see what people perceive you as. It’s how you play together. I don’t think anybody would look at the lineups of the teams that won the last four World Series and say, ‘Geez, that’s an unbelievable All-Star lineup.’

‘‘Actually, it’s nice to have a chip on your shoulder going into it that you have something to prove. It makes my job easier to motivate.’’



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